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by Jason Gross

16 Dec 2008

After reading a great article in the Wall Street Journal about holiday music, I thought back to a few days ago when I was finishing up my seasonal shopping.  As I heard the 50th version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” cycle through on the store’s speakers after being there for only a few minutes, I wondered what it would be like to have to hear that for about 7 hours a day.  “Does that drive you nuts?” I asked a sales clerk.  She couldn’t even answer- she just rolled her eyes and shook her head.

The WSJ article does go some way to explain the tradition of communal songs and why we like them (though we say we hate them) but I lean much more towards “hate” when I hear these tunes too much.  One reason that I love to shop online now isn’t just because I don’t have to deal with the crowds but also because I don’t have to deal with the same holiday music again and again.

Don’t get me wrong- I don’t hate holiday music.  I actually like to write about it and I always collect holiday albums.  In this week’s edition of Time Out New York (print edition), I wrote about a heavy metal Xmas album, a singing saw Xmas album (from Merge Records), a movie star’s band doing Xmas music (Billy Bob Thorton’s Boxmasters), a garage-rock Xmas album (Fleshtones) and a collection of festive humorous Jewish music.

The common thread is that this ain’t music that you’re gonna hear in malls and stores and that’s exactly why I enjoy it (also try out this mash-up holiday music).  As the WSJ article points out, the mush they play in stores is purposely generic so it’ll appeal to the most people.  Not to me though- I’ll try to block out that music and eventually just leave a store if I can’t and not even buy the present I wanted there.  It’s kind of a horrible reminder about everything that we hate about the holidays- how commercial it is, how sickly sentimental it is, how we have to buy into someone else’s version of being happy that time of year.  It can actually get pretty damn depressing when you think about it and the same ol’ music doesn’t help.

So why can’t stores be just a little more adventurous and try something other than the sappy, syrupy garbage that they belch out every year?  You might even attract some customers in this crummy buying season. 

If you need some other ideas for alternative holiday music, Other Music has thoughtfully provided some good downloads.

by Kirstie Shanley

16 Dec 2008

Fans waiting for Mercury Rev to take to the road again won’t be disappointed as this tour—to promote their recently released seventh studio album, Snowflake Midnight—is more commanding and memorable than past performances.

This time around, the five piece group has increased the use of visuals. Projected behind them, at the back of the stage, came everything from favorite record covers to cherished quotes. The lighting also highlighted the dramatic quality of their songs, both in terms of colors and transient bursts of light. When lead singer Jonathan Donahue wasn’t at his microphone, he stood by the drum kit with his arms spread as if cherishing an ethereal experience as the light and color enveloped him in a bright, psychedelic wonderland.

The second thing that has increased is the immensity of the sound. Creating a sense of largeness and space, the perfectly balanced elements of instrumentation and vocals meshed to construct music that alternated between dreamy and grandiose. On record, Mercury Rev’s songs are characterized by a unique sense of sound courtesy of Dave Fridmann’s production. The translation of this studio trickery to the stage has not always been effective, but with Donahue singing his heart out theatrically and adopting iconic poses, it was impossible not to feel the band’s deep sense of accomplishment.

Donahue and guitarist Grasshopper still possess a great live chemistry, and their shared history was evident as the band played a mix of recent material and songs from a more distant past. Long time fans of the band will be happy to hear that they are not only playing newer songs, such as “Snowflake in a Hot World” and “October Sunshine”, but also “Holes”, “Opus 40”, and “The Funny Bird” from 1998’s masterpiece, Deserter’s Songs. 2001’s fantastic album All is Dream also received a fair amount of attention with “Tides of the Moon” and “Spiders and Flies” being definite highlights of the set. By the end of the night, as lights and projections interlocked with the music, it was impossible not to marvel at the wonder of it all.

by Karen Zarker

16 Dec 2008

Humor is relative. I just wish he were related to somebody else. I just made that up. I think. But I probably heard it somewhere else in the past, oh, 80 years of American humor that is captured in pop culture and ray-gunned at my susceptible brain from the boob tube, from radio waves, from subliminal messages flashing on the silver screen, from my own sick, twisted genetically programmed need to find some things in life to be just so damned funny while my mate sits beside me, arms crossed, eyes rolling. Indeed, most all of the humor captured in this anthology of “The Funny Business of America” is relatively funny. OK, that’s corny. But one can’t help but be inspired to give it a shot when flipping through these pages of funny quotes, funny pictures, and funny bits of historical trivia that, well, really make you laugh, or guffaw, or at least giggle a bit. (Any less than that and if you’re not already dead then you should be, dammit.) You may prefer Phyllis Diller (from the “Nerds, Jerks, Oddballs, and Slackers” section) to Richard Pryor (in “The Groundbreakers” section), but no matter the shade of your quirk (slapstick? dark? sophisticated? crude?), this book has you covered.  Based on the documentary film of the same title by Michael Kantor (aired on PBS), give this coffee-table-sized book to someone whom you want to make, at the very least, smile.

AMAZON

by Karen Zarker

16 Dec 2008

“How do you like your murder? Well done, served with proper silverware and linen? Or rather on the rare side, and you’ll use the tail of your shirt to wipe your mouth? Depends upon your mood, does it?  Well then, for the evening you’re inclined toward a sip of the sherry, partake of any of the 19 discs of polite, proper mysteries adapted from the novels of Caroline Graham, enjoy sips of “evil lurking beyond the well-trimmed hedges of Midsomer”, but be careful, lest you get rattled and spill. We’re not that polite, here.  Rather perverse at times, in fact.

Fans of Law & Order will sink their teeth into the equally gritty Trial & Retribution: Set 1 (perhaps best washed down with a throat-searing scotch). They’ll already know Prime Suspect (same creator, similar gritty approach), and crave the depravity, moral ambiguity, and simply very bad, anti-social behavior on display from crime to conviction, here. It’s all rather lip-smacking, delicious stuff.”

Trial and Retribution Set 1

Midsomer Murders - The Early Cases Collection

by Sarah Zupko

16 Dec 2008

Cross’s history of Kurt Cobain’s life uses the standard words and pictures to tell its story, but then throws a curveball by including pull-out documents of Cobain drawings, writings, photos and bits of Nirvana memorabilia. It’s the compelling “museum in a box” concept that worked so well for Marvel Comics last year and DC Comics last year. One of these “objects in a book” includes a CD of the Nirvana frontman’s unreleased spoken word material. It’s a compelling way to tell this enigmatic figure’s life story in a fresh fashion.

AMAZON

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