Let's avoid the debate on what makes a compilation of so-called "punk" bands doing Christmas songs ironic or not, because it'll only lead to the consequential argument of Christian punk and how it can and does prevail in a community that, at least at some time, questions the power and stance of religion altogether. This is a compilation of Christmas songs performed by newer "post-hardcore" and most certainly quotation-marked "emo" bands in the independent music community, and that's what it should be criticized as. This will now instead lead to one other small problem; I have pre-determined opinions on nearly every band that makes up the track listing of Taste of Christmas, one of Warcon Records' freshest releases, and many of them are admittedly not extremely positive. But even brushing aside the admitted bias here, I still draw the continuous conclusion that this is a mostly improperly sequenced, hardly festive parody of Christmas songs that are barely fun and not nearly cheery.
Things kick off with a standout. Street Drum Corps, made up of several very street punk-looking figures who play random items (garbage can lids, cat litter bins, pockets of change, kitchen sinks too I'm sure) collaborate with the Used's Bert McCracken to cover John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." The lyrical content is certainly timeless and that's proved in the present course of the presidential administration, which makes the track all the more powerful. McCracken's awfully nasal voice is most definitely a detracting factor, but the song overall is relatively faithful. Its mid-tempo stomp is a bit slow to begin the compilation however, and would likely have been best left to close the album or at least provide a powerful interlude. The makers of Taste of Christmas carry on with this thought completely void in their minds as Funeral for a Friend's somewhat lethargic "Miracle of Christmas" comes next, leaving the compilation flat-footed yet again.
Things don't progress much from FFAF's offering. Skindred's "Jungle Bells" is a horrible reggae-rap-metal stopover, and then we stumble over TOC's worst sequencing problem. The Used is placed smack dab at track 4, giving the distance between McCracken sung tracks a whopping 2 songs. A listener can only take so much; but in all seriousness, these two should have been spread out much, much farther apart because of the vocalist factor.
The Smashup's Social Distortion-meets-mascara-metal is the sole "punk" ambassador here, and their song, "Coventry Carol," is comparatively good. Amped provide the fifth-rate MxPx rendition of "We Three Kings." Emery at least to attempt to give the disc some seasonal character with the softly jingling bells and gentle piano of "The Last Christmas;" it's not a hundred percent engaging, but it's packed with "living room and a fireplace"-style imagery in its narration and it at least aims for some sort of festive flavor unlike most of its album companions.
The third quarter is where it gets awfully slow-paced and downright boring. My American Heart's unintentionally funny rendition of the classic "First Noel" sounds just like what it is: A bunch of nü-emo kids doing an X-mas song. The cringeworthy falsetto wailing in Like Yesterday's "We Might Be Alone Tonight" ballad sounds like a coked-up Juliana Theory in a homeless shelter sipping liquored hot chocolate. Bleed the Dream snore through "No Smiles on Christmas," and Versus the World do a painstakingly dragged out track in "Blue and Cold," which sounds just like the same damn song before it with the acoustic guitars and overdramatic string arrangement in the background.
The most interesting part of the disc, for better or worse, is a three-track tongue-in-cheek bonanza -- at least, it's what the trio comes off as -- towards its end. BEDlight for BLUE Eyes' "Christmas Song" is HILARIOUS. It will have you laughing from front to back, but I doubt if it's fully meant to be so hysterical. As its chorus states, the song is a tale of Christmas in Berkeley Heights (read: bro-down holiday party while a snowstorm occurs), and contains the band's trademark over-the-top, ridiculously theatrical lead vocals, awkward swagger, and hair metal guitar play. The track culminates with the party apartment's power going off and the group of people telling the Nutcracker story before being cut off with a knock at the door. You'll hear several voices speculate who it is (including the choice line of "Bro, I think I sh*t my pants"), before the music is cut off with our hero declaring in an egregiously New Yawk drawl "Ho ho ho b'otches! I got the Bacawdi!" A celebartion ensues, and if your gut isn't aching by now, you do not have a sense of humor. Or you just may enjoy BFBE on a regular basis. Gatsbys American Dream step up to the plate next and hit a triple with "Saint Nicholas," an obviously jokey power-metal track laden with keyboard licks and grandstanding vocals from Nic Newsham; it's cool, and perhaps the best TOC has to offer, but a bit un-Christmas-like aside from the holiday's namedrop and an overall clear similarity to Reggie and the Full Effect. From First to Last end this intriguing trilogy with "Christmassacre," which is also meant to be tongue-in-cheek apparently (see the chorus hook of "Santa's going to diiiie! Santa's going to diiiie!"). But aren't they normally a double bass, scream-and-whiny-melodic-vocal-driven faux-metal wannabe act on a normal basis anyway?
Opiate for the Masses state it best with the ridiculous, Disney orchestral touches of the nü-metal/industrial "Christmas Evel." This is the compilation's problems in a nutshell: It's awkwardly tongue-in-cheek, if that even, not at all fun, nowhere near festive, and just plain bad. If this is just a "taste" of Christmas, I'd hit up your local airlines for some holiday shopping; I hear barf bags are all the rage.
Taste of Christmas
Street Drum Corps featuring Bert McCracken - "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" [Quicktime / Windows Media]