Artists: Varied, but not much between the two
Titles: Tinsel Machine & Enter Snowman
Label: Small Bear Records
Keywords: 8-bit, Christmascore, Punk, Alternative Rock, Indie, Lo-Fi
Reviewer: Santa Claus
Ho, ho, ho! It’s a-mee! Mario!
Just kidding, it’s jolly ol’ Saint Nick here.
I know it’s not Christmas yet, but I never catch a break. There are just too many kids out there for me to deliver presents to on Christmas eve, so the last few years I’ve been splitting my naughty and nice list. This early in December I like to start with the naughty kids, get them out of the way so I can spend all of the eve doling out cool stuff to the nice kids who brush their teeth and tie their shoes or whatever. The ones who stay out of trouble, as defined by the authoritative standards of their respective societal institutions.
Coal’s been a bit short up north, though, so I’ve been having to get creative…
… funny, that. It’s kind of related to what I came here to talk about. Every year these… these “alternative”, weird Christmas compilations come out… and, you know, every single one of them seems to find their way to my place at the pole. After awhile I’d just hoard them, since I don’t have the time to listen to them anymore, or the tolerance. Most of them are total crappola.
Then, I had the brilliant idea of passing them out to all the naughty kiddos! It’s a win-win situation, for me anyway.
I’ve got a great, huge sack of ’em right here in the back of my sleigh and I’m ready to go! The main-deer crew is off until the holidays, so I’ve got my mod squad harnessed in.
Go Rancid and Sickly and Goner and Pimply! Go Goofy and Donald and Jerry and Shithead!
Let’s see, first stop… ah, there’s Suzie’s place… I’ll see about that chimney…
… here we go. I’m in!
Suzie: HEY! You’re not Santa, it’s not even Christmas yet! I’m calling the police!
Santa: What!? No, I am Santa Claus!
Suzie: Really? Prove it!
Santa: I’ve got a sack of gifts right here, a red and white suit, a beard… what else you want, Suzie?
Suzie: How do you know my name!? … wait, those are presents? Give ’em to me! All of them! Otherwise, I’ll call the police right now and they’ll take you away!
Santa: Now, now… it doesn’t work that way…
*Suzie kicks Santa in the shins*
Santa: OUCH! You little shit!
Suzie: See!? Santa doesn’t swear! I’m calling the cops!
Santa: Sorry, kid, but you’ve been really bad this year. I’m dropping off this, uh… Bandcamp hyperlink…
Suzie: What’s that?
Santa: It’s a link that takes you to a Christmas compilation titled Tinsel Machine.
Suzie: … But, that’s not what I asked for!
Santa: I know it isn’t. You should have been nicer and you might have gotten that, uh… pony, or whatever it was.
Suzie: I wanted a DOG!
Santa: Same fuckin’ thing. Regardless, this is what you’re getting. Don’t like it, too bad.
Suzie: Fine! What tracks does it have on it?
Santa: Huh? Oh, right… uh, let me see… it’s got some some kind of alternative indie rock thing by Postcode called ‘Not Afraid’, some grimy and awful cover of ‘Away In A Manger’ by Kraul, an almost unlistenable folksy rock buttstorm by Dan Ankers titled ‘Driving Home For Christmas’, Clara Barker’s snoozy interpretation of ‘Feliz Navidad’, that one even has kind of a lame lyrical nod to the record label that put it out… then there’s Phil Reynolds And The Dearly Departed trying to be all epic while shoving a boring piano riff up my craw on ‘Next Year Won’t Be Long Enough’. After that is ‘It’s Christmastime, Like’ by Bri Slutcher & The Gnasher Downham Experience which sounds like they got the whole family drunk on eggnog and whisky in the living room and they’re ’round the piano doing a REEAAL COCKNEY snarl in their gaudy red sweaters, it’s a Christmas classic for sure… then Tom Ende’s ‘Leichtes Scheinen’, it’s not particularly good but it’s also probably the least irritating thing so far. Synthpop group Eight To Infinity’s ‘There’s Nothing Very Interesting To Say About Snow’ is like some friendly, over-produced chiptune-ish stuff that’s kind of the odd one out on the compilation… it’s followed by ‘Christmas Spirit’ by Harmony Dischord, which at least has a few interesting sounds, but isn’t particularly good either, then ‘A Walk In The Snow/Oh Tannenbaum’ by Phil The Tremoloking which was a name that took me a few seconds to process as anything but a Tolkien-esque goblin’s name. It’s got a lot of bells and pianos and sounds like ultralite-music for a fancy hotel ballroom in a town inhabited by small elf-folk. Matt Bouvier is after that, with ‘Christmas Comes Again’, an electro-xmas piece of silliness that sounds really weird following the previous title. Who is Nanaki? Nanaki is Nanaki. Nanaki is also next with a track titled ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, a fuzzy alterna-gaze thing that eventually gets a bit uptempo with some electronic buzzing MicroKorg-ish vocoder voice lingering underneath the guitars which all kind of ruined the vibe of the track for me. Neurotic Wreck’s ‘Exmas’ totally failed to captivate me. ‘Good Night, Sleep Tight, Christmas’ by Expo had some synths, but it didn’t really go anywhere. Then, it’s The Bordellos with ‘Crushed At Christmas’, an acoustic guitar and hollow drum with vocals and nothing else worth describing. Last is ‘Welcome To The New Year’ by Y Shinkickwrs, and it’s got that style of vocals that feel a bit contrived now, like someone’s just telling a story you’re unable to really focus on over the music, which is like this acoustical repetitive (and occasionally wavering) folkbore that serves no purpose but to make this a “song” instead of a “spoken word poem”.
Suzie: I… I don’t want this.
Santa: Merry Christmas.
*back at the sleigh*
Well, where next? Not too many bad kids in this neighborhood… or this one… aha, here we go! I think I see Jimmy’s house. I’ll hit the breaks and we’ll stop here!
Now to see if I can squeeze down this tiny chimney… these new houses with their miniature chimneys, they look more and more like a withering vestigial appendage. Don’t people burn shit anymore?
Jimmy: Santa? Santa! You are real!
Santa: I am indeed, ho ho!
Jimmy: Everyone told me you were a phony!
Santa: Well, everyone’s full of shit.
Jimmy: Santa? It isn’t Christmas yet, so why are you here? Would you like some cookies? Some milk?
Santa: Uh… I’ll pass on the cookies and milk for now. I’m here to tell you… you’ve been put on my naughty list. I know what you did this year Jimmy, and it was not nice.
Jimmy: Oh, golly. I didn’t mean to worship Satan, Santa.
Santa: It happens. Just try to do better next year, eh Jimmy?
Jimmy: Ok… oh! Hey, does that mean I’m getting some coal?
Santa: Actually, ah… we’re all out of coal at the pole, but I did bring you a hyperlink to a special Christmastime compilation from on Bandcamp.
Jimmy: Huh? Is that like… a cd? With music?
Santa: Sort of.
Jimmy: Well, what’s it called? What’s on it!?
Santa: Hmm… let’s take a look. It’s called Enter Snowman, which is never a good idea, and first there’s a strangely sad and almost kind of nice cover of ‘Jingle Bells’ by RedXIII, or Nanaki I meant. It would be nicer if it weren’t a cover of ‘Jingle Bells’, and does briefly allow you to forget from time to time that that’s what you’re listening to, but it is what it is and I’m trying not to let that ruin it for me. Eight To Infinity brings us a ‘Christmas Single’ afterward, and it begins very opulently with some pads and bells and stuff before turning into a cheese basket with dry summer sausage… next is Weirdo’s ‘Last Christmas’, which starts off promisingly enough with music box and some vinyl crackling, then fucks it all up by trying to rock when it’s produced to sound like a steady stream of limp, unchanging mid-range guitar overdrive and vocals, every other sound is like an afterthought in the mix, no consideration beyond the notion that a rock band typically features these other instruments. Richie Moore is ‘So Far Away’ that I would never have needed think about him, but now I’m recoiling from his bland folk guitar ditty. Actually, I liked the one small part of the chorus during which he sings “Dreams of you”, I wish we could have lifted that and put it somehow in a completely different song, an entirely different context. I’ve heard worse guitar solos too, but I already feel like I’m giving this too much flattery. Postcode comes on after, with ‘Rudolph Are You Flying Tonight?”, the title made me want to gag a little and then I heard the music! Ew, yuck, next please… ah, that would be Clara Barker and her song ‘Christmas In New York’. It’s a warm, frothy mug of pap. Then it’s Circus WorlD with ‘Walking In The Air’, it’s… uh… yeah. Really strange, and not altogether horrible… it’s like a bad Nick Cave impression. Actually, I might prefer this artist’s voice to Nick Cave’s. I kind of like the guitar solos on this one, as well as the strange sounds. Bizarre and intriguing. Decoration continues the comp with ‘See You In The New Year’, sounding… dare I say… nice? At first, anyway… I mean, it’s kind of boring and I don’t really like it that much, but it’s mostly inoffensive. ‘Little Donkey’ by Phil Reynolds And The Dearly Departed is a queasy, confusing piece that frequently made me feel like I was leaning off a barge puking up nachos. Then ‘It’s Another…’, by Against A Dark Background… a squeaky, distorted pseudo-industrial rhythm with a playfully terrible duet, it kind of reminds me of when, like… nu-metal bands would go all electronic on a track or two in the studio. And it would usually be kind of terrible, but just good enough to sound like they knew what they were doing. Album producers probably deserve writing credits for a lot of those. This one is strangely reminiscent of Korn, or rather what it would have sounded like if Coal Chamber had put out something akin to Follow The Leader. It’s bad. Anyway, an interesting juxtaposition with John Smiley’s ‘The Marvelous Toy’! Half-clever lyrics, acoustic guitar folk, and it’s bad, but it might make you smile for a moment. ‘A Snowflake Fell’ by The Bordellos is all wanton bass and vocals early on, but the track seems to be all about these abrupt, gumption-driven choruses with flat notes and slop. Nothin’ but clams. ‘Empty Chair’ by Matt Bouvier, is a tone-deaf masterpiece! It made me feel frowny, but also kind of happy, because I had this amazing mental visual of a guy with music dreams and no talent just… doing it anyway, you know, and maybe not even realizing, but it never turned out to matter because around him are people encouraging him and saying, “yeah, that was really good man.” That right there… is the spirit of Christmas. Got some organ on ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, a John Lennon cover by Harmony Dischord. I think I prefer the original in this case. The next track, ‘All The Little People’, is by Tate! I wasn’t meaning to end that sentence, but Tate! … well, as you can see, it comes with it’s own punctuation. It’s got some chipmunks talking, some church bells and rockin’ soundszz! It freaks me out, so I must dial over to the final track, ‘I Just Froze’, by Y Shinkickwrs who it would appear often close a compilation album. It’s a mostly uninteresting folksy rock track. Yeah…
Santa: Merry Christmas. Here’s your link.
Well, time to be off again… let’s fly!
Hoooo, dee do dee dodo! That’s all I’ve got for you for now, but remember, I’ll be flying around up here just in case there are any more of you naughty children out there waiting to receive a suck-tastic Christmas compilation! Hohoho!