“All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII” is… vital and alive and one of the best Christmas records you’ll hear this year.”
I think we’ve learned an important lesson this year. I didn’t get it at first but, after listening to “All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII”, it’s becoming clear to me.
The Matrix is broken. I mean, there is a way Christmas records are made. There are months, possibly years of planning. Song selection is critical. Arrangements are meticulous. The proper studio is booked, the proper musicians hired. And, with all that, the vast majority of holiday releases in any given year are insipid and instantly forgettable. And I know you look at this blog and say, “But, but, but, Stubby, you like everything.” And I do legitimately like and love the music I talk about and review. But you have to know that, for every album I rave about, there are hundreds that I consider a detriment–nay, an insult–to the seasonal canon. Let me give you an example. There’s a record out there this year called “A Chrisley Christmas”. This is the first (and last) time I’ll ever mention it. I won’t even put it on our chronological listing. Yes, I’m familiar with the TV show. No, you couldn’t pay me enough to watch it. Now I’m sure there’s someone out there who likes the record. Probably a bunch of people. To which I say, get your own damn blog. That record is nothing short of air pollution (IMHO). And, while I realize we’re about to enter into an upsidedown world where air pollution is celebrated (welcome to Trumpland), I, personally, don’t want to breathe it.
Geez, I always get sidetracked. Here’s the point. Green Monkey Recordsdoesn’t waste any time with planning. Tom Dyer, who runs the label, sends out an email to a bunch of artists in the Pacific Northwest (primarily) that he knows or knows of, saying, “Hey, anybody want to do a Christmas song this year?” Green Monkey spends zero time on song selection. Whatever comes in comes in. Arrangements? We don’t need no stinking arrangements. We just play and that’s that. Hell, we don’t even need every song cut in a professional studio. That Wollensak in the bedroom is fine. And yet, somehow, every GD year,Green Monkey puts out one of the best Christmas albums of the year. How? The Matrix is broken. In fairness, I’m sure the artists involved put in more time and effort than I’m suggesting. And they’re pros. They know what they’re doing. Although, kids, this is one time where you can go ahead and try this at home. Not saying you’ll find the same kind of magic, but it could happen.
Green Monkey Records has been around since 1983 (like a 45 record, there’s a hole in the middle where the label took a bit of a siesta while they waited for the rest of the world to catch up to where they’d already been for a decade). They are all about Rock And Roll–Alt Rock, Indie Rock, Garage Rock, Underground Rock, Old School Rock, New Old School Rock, Experimental Rock, Experimental Indie Alt Underground Garage New Old School Rock. Rock.
I say it every year, but “All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII” might be Green Monkey’s best yet.
You couldn’t start the festivities any better than with Free Creature’s “Youse A Humbug”, an updated Christmatized version of the Snuff Smith classic “You’re A Viper”. Remember how excited you were the first time you heard Squirrel Nut Zippers? This is so much better than that. I’d call it Punk Swing but, as Free Creature themselves say, “Who needs a genre when you can make people dance?” And that bit of “Dreidle, Dreidle” in the middle? Genius.
That’s followed by “The Potato Song” by Uncle Tiki–perhaps the only song ever that could match “Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn” for sheer exuberance. Except, this song gets down to the true meaning of Christmas…the food. Then its on to the tune which gives the collection it’s title “(All I Want For Christmas Is A) Big Black Eye”from Tom & Jim’s Yuletide Contraption which combines“Hit The Road Jack” “walking” rhythms with New York Dolls attitude, and production choices worthy of Sir George Martin (another light we lost in 2016). Really, you’re going to want to listen to this one a lot, if only to figure out everything that’s going on back there.
The Fresh Prince of Brain Wizard grace us with a superbly Dream Poppy “Christmas In The Modern Age”. Tom’s hoping to get a full Brain Wizard album out in 2017. One listen to their Christmas song and you’ll be anxiously waiting for that. The Green Pajamas, who have long been a favorite of mine, surprise and delight with an original arrangement of a traditional Mexican carol that’s as haunting as Marley’s Ghost and as beautiful as a perfect sunset. The Dyer Spawn bring a bit of Indie Folk Rock (with some Blues overtones–subtle, but its there) on “Wild Christmas”.
“Black Dog Christmas”, by GMR regular Three Ninjas, is what you’d get if Bob Dylan wrote a song with Billy Joel and then handed it to a one-man band to record. Amazingly, it works. Parental Advisory on this one and, thematically, its about how you can’t pick your family, but you can sure pick your dogs. And your dogs will love you unconditionally and never pass judgement on you. A solid and important Christmas message. And, like pretty much the whole album, I like it more with every listen.
The Fastbacks live up to their name with a Garage Punk take on “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”. It’s said to be from an obscure 1984 cassette compilation, “He Knows When You’ve Been Sleeping”. Awesome! Just when you’re thinking, well, they can’t possibly surprise me anymore, along comeCain Morehead and the Elves Bells with a juicy Garage Psych original,“All Those Christmas Songs”.
Zelda Starfire is back from last year’s set with some more Indie Uke Pop. This year’s is an anti-Christmas tune, “I Hate Christmas”. The weirdness flows on “Christmas Boogie Woogie” from Captain Christmas & The Winter Solstice Singers. Attributed to an old 78, the sure to be Dr. Demento favorite even ends in a skip. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but, if your mixtape comes up a minute short, “Christmas Boogie Woogie” will likely get better reception at your Christmas party than any other one minute track I can think of (and I do know a few).
Steven Martelli’s “Pretty Cute Christmas Kitty” is….I guess you’d call it Alt Lounge. Musically, it’s fascinating. But the vocals don’t do it for me. I did go check out some of Steven’s other stuff and his vocals are great elsewhere. But the song’s about a kitty (I think…unless it’s a metaphor……………….nah!), so I’ll give him a pass.
Ed Portnow’s “(Peace Can Happen) On Christmas” is another amazing and unforgettable original. Ed provides all the vocals and plays all the instruments on a song that plays out its verses over OPM–other people’s music. Even the Rocky Horror Show “contributes”. And, of course, the title is a nod to John Lennon.
Not that his fingerprints aren’t all over this record to begin with, but Tom Dyer steps up to the mic solo (more or less) on “Joy To The World”. Tom plays it straight and the organ is what makes it work. We get Garage Surf on“Winter Wonderland” by Pleasure Island. Guns of Nevada shows us how Roots Rock is done, son, with“Liquor In My Stocking”. The Write Brothers Sonic Soul Consortium featuring Stefanie Lee Knowltoncontribute possibly the most beautiful song on the album. “A Misspent Mercury Tear and A Cold Obsidian Heart” is one part Indie Rock one part Classic Rock. And it has to be said: combining the name of the band and the name of the song, you’d get in just under the wire on Twitter. Might have enough characters left to say “is great” or “is awesome”, but that’s about it. I suspect, though, the song is destined for a long life on Internet Christmas playlists.
And what do we get when we get to the last track on “All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII”?
Sorry. I couldn’t resist. No. What you get is a Tour de Force of Experimental Avant Garde, eh, I’m not really sure what it is (but the meaningless French words come closest). What it is is nearly 12 minutes of “12 Drummers Drumming” from Eric Padget. This one’s going to require some patience–and I know most folks are gonna bail early on. But those who stick with it and listen to it a few times are going to discover that there’s a method to this madness. Yeah, I know. You’re gonna bail. So just take my word for it.
I’m sure I probably missed a Parental Advisory along the way although, let’s be honest, your kids probably already have those words in their vocabulary. My personal faves from the album? “Youse A Humbug”, “All Those Christmas Songs”, and “(Peace Can Happen) On Christmas”. Close behind are “Christmas In The Modern Age”, “The Potato Song” and “Black Dog Christmas”. You’ll find your own favorites, I’m sure.
“All I Want For Christmas: GMR Xmas VII” is, as the title suggests, the 7th Green Monkey Christmas compilation. It is vital and alive and one of the best Christmas records you’ll hear this year. Tom describes the process as “a minimum of planning and a maximum of chaos”. Well, whatever they’re doing, it’s working. Those of you who have been addicted to Christmas music as long as I have know…we would have killed to have an album like this in the early days. Can you imagine the joy we’d have felt if we found a Green Monkey Christmas compilation in the record bins in those days…before the Internet as we know it? Though, recognizing its a digital release, we might be pretty stoked to find it in the record bins today, too. And, as if the music weren’t enough reward, all proceeds raised will go to charity–specifically MusiCares. Scroll back to the top for purchase links or to visit Green Monkey Records.