Noisey feed for https://noisey.vice.comenSun, 09 Dec 2018 17:57:47 +0000<![CDATA[Blink-182's Big, Dumb, Anti-Christmas Spirit Lives On]]>, 09 Dec 2018 17:57:47 +0000There are dumb Christmas songs—brash, adolescent, sex-obsessed, donkey-brained pieces of music that return to playlists every December like misbehaving college freshmen coming home to workshop their smuttiest "stuffing" puns. There is, however, no song as proudly imbecilic as Blink-182's "I Won't Be Home for Christmas." It is the Family Guy of Christmas songs, the New Jersey boardwalk T-shirt of holiday jams, the gurning, half-stoned brat of Yuletide anti-merriment. We're nine days into The Noisey Advent Calendar, and there's no point in putting it off any longer:

Fifteen years after hearing this for the first time, I'm still amazed by how fully Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and then-drummer Scott Raynor realized their goal here. Released as a radio promo in 1997—shortly after Dude Ranch had marked them as goofy pop-punk insurgents—"I Won't Be Home..." fit the band's aesthetic and ethos perfectly. It was dressed up as a song against Christmas, but it was really a song against adults and normal people, all of whom are boring and stupid and uncool. Its title negated a swooning holiday staple. It told wallet-chain-wearing kids in late-90s suburbs what they already knew but somehow hadn't heard often enough on the radio—that their parents were goofy and annoying, and Christmas was just a week-long stretch of putting up with their corniness.

Hoppus's lyrics don't leave anything to chance. "Outside the carolers start to sing / I can't describe the joy they bring / 'Cause joy is something they don't bring me," he deadpans before going onto introduce us to his girlfriend, a character who will never return. Her purpose is singular—to set the protagonist up as the type of guy who has a girlfriend. Our hero's Christmas Eve will soon spiral out of control. He attacks the carolers with a baseball bat, they flee, and the cops turn up. Like another famous Christmas anti-hero, he finds himself in jail on Christmas Eve. And, of course, jail can only mean one thing to a suburban, middle-class, teenage dumbasses—blow jobs from a man named Bubba. "You people scare me / Please stay away from my home," Hoppus sings in the chorus, stumbling down that fine line between rebel and sociopath. "If you don't wanna get beat down / Just leave the presents and then leave me alone."

I loved this shit as a kid. Obviously. It was daring and revolutionary, like saying the word "balls" in class or glueing a picture of Stewie Griffin to a notebook. So-called civilized society wasn't ready for it, but Blink-182 were right there shouting their takes anyway, threatening to violently attack the wholesome. Grown-ups didn't get it, man. Christmas, like, sucked or whatever.

Blink replaced Raynor with Travis Barker in 1998, and the band went on to genuine superstardom, dropping some of their more puerile material as they grew up and started pushing at pop-punk's boundaries. But "I Won't Be Home for Christmas" never died. It came out as a fully-fledged single in 2001, then made it onto the Immortal Records compilation A Santa Cause: It's a Punk Rock Christmas in 2003. It outlasted every other pop-punk Christmas cut, including their own infantile "Happy Holidays, You Bastard" from Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Nobody else was able to quite copy Blink's mix of loathing, dick jokes, and power chords, so nothing ever replaced this in the anti-Christmas canon.

The recent rise of emo-rap might be able to mount a challenge though. Just last Friday, pop prodigy Lil Aaron released a five-track EP called WORST CHRISTMAS EVER. The highlight is the second song, "FUCK CHRISTMAS," an Auto-Tuned glob of pop-punk that I suddenly can't stop playing. It's certainly concise. Here's the chorus:

Fuck Christmas, I hate it
It’s so overrated
I’d rather be naked in bed
Fuck Christmas, It’s stupid
These presents are useless
I’d rather get faded instead
Fuck Christmas

Aaron is every bit as misanthropic and sick-of-this-shit as Hoppus, but he's seemingly less inclined to chase after folks on the street with a potentially deadly weapon. "FUCK CHRISTMAS" picks up on the same teen-Scrooge idea that Blink were selling, but does away with their giggly homophobia and replaces it with tired fury—it's more anguished than it is cruel. "Somebody tell me when it’s over," he sings, "Cus until then I won’t be sober / Yeah it was really nice to know ya / But get me back to California." He's so clearly picking up on Blink's legacy here. WORST CHRISTMAS EVER was produced by Travis Barker, and you can hear his influence in the crunchy, palm-muted chords as much as the crash-heavy beat.

Today's teenagers finally have a pissed-off anti-Christmas anthem all of their own. And even though "FUCK CHRISTMAS" is the better song, the kids still have Blink-182 to thank.

Alex Robert Ross would rather be naked in bed. Instead, he's on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" Is a Wholesome Alt-Holiday Classic]]>, 08 Dec 2018 17:46:18 +0000You can tell a lot about a song from its parodies, so before diving into to Run-DMC's still-perfect 1987 holiday rap cut "Christmas in Hollis," it's worth watching "Jingle Barack," the Chance The Rapper-starring Saturday Night Live sketch from two years back that was thankfully a little less awful than most late-era SNL bits.

With Obama leaving the White House in a few weeks, Chance and Kenan Thompson wanted everyone to celebrate the holidays by stocking up on the sorts of things that decent societies provide to their citizens: birth control pills, legal weed, same-sex marriage licences. In the second verse, Chance took a turn for the apocalyptic—"This year I bought four Christmas trees / Stockpiled all the Home Alone DVDs / I got batteries, canned food, everything I need / There'll probably never be another Christmas Eve"—but even then he was suggesting it might be worth breaking his own arm before Obamacare was repealed. You had to get what you could before Trump cancelled Christmas "for a new holiday called Regular Winter." It was all about abundance.

That's what Run-DMC were driving at with "Christmas in Hollis" too. The second-ever hip-hop Christmas hit—the first being Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'," which we'll get to soon enough—was welcoming, wholesome, and a little fantastical. It retained all of the energy and bluster that turned Run-DMC into such a devastating trio in the mid-80s, but its lyrics embraced an ideal family holiday, tied together by gifts, lights, myths, and, most importantly, a gluttonous amount of food.

The song was cut for A Very Special Christmas, a charity record dreamed up by legendary record producer Jimmy Ioivine. He wanted to make a Christmas album in honor of his father, who had died in 1985, and his industry connections helped him to get just about all of the biggest names in pop music at the time: Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Madonna, and Bon Jovi.

Despite the esteemed company, Run-DMC flat-out refused to record a track for the album at first. They'd just released Raising Hell, a gargantuan LP that turned them into rockstars and helped to confirm rap as a commercially viable genre. (It hit the top-10 on the Billboard 200 and eventually went triple-platinum.) Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay were supposed to be hard-nosed insurgents, street poets, torch-bearers for an uncompromising and honest new movement. They didn't want to turn into a hokey punchline by following up with a novelty song. DMC told The A.V. Club in 2013 that they felt almost insulted by the idea. "We’re not doing it," he remembered saying. "That’s what they try to do to hip-hop. They commercialize you and try to make you corny. We’re totally against anything that’s going to be fake. If it ain’t beats and rhymes and DJ-ing and graffiti, we ain’t doin’ it! Here you go again with the corporate America powers that be and Hollywood trying to ruin hip-hop! We ain’t going out like that!”

But the band's publicist, Bill Adler, who knew how good the opportunity was, had a secret weapon. According to a New York Post article from last year, Adler collected oddball Christmas songs, so he brought a crate of stuff over to Jam Master Jay to see if anything would inspire him. They hit on Clarence George Carter's horny-as-hell 1968 funk cut "Back Door Santa."

"Run and DMC were in the next room and came in as if they’d been drawn to the scent of a big Christmas pie or something," Adler told The Post last year. "They nodded at Jay, and everybody knew that was going to be the sample."

Jay chopped it up, turning the original's parping horns into a blaring and unforgettable hook. With that solid base, Run and DMC were free to explore. They set their verses in their hometown of Hollis, Queens, but took two different stances. Run reached for the absurd, writing his own Christmas myth about encountering Santa in a local park, picking up his lost wallet, and dutifully trying to return the million dollars that St Nicholas kept in cash—though it turned out the money was Santa's gift to Run all along.

DMC instead went with realism, detailing past Christmases at his own home. It's all very sweet. He raps about Santa leaving gifts, the house covered in Christmas lights, snow on the sidewalk outside. And, most importantly, he raps about the food: "Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens / Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese."

This wasn't fiction. According to that A.V. Club interview, DMC's childhood home was full of good food and good spirits. He said that his mother would cook up six-course meals, steak, pork chops, clams, different meals every day. "My house was a restaurant," he said. "And I think the importance of food is a big part of the reason why that song was able to touch so many people—Asian people; Hispanic people; Italian people; Catholics and Buddhists and Muslims. People could relate to that video, because what do you do during holidays and celebratory times? You sit down with your family and share that special meal." DMC's mother even appears in the song's now classic video, chasing a troublesome elf out of the house with a broom while everyone else opens their presents.

One is an alt-holiday classic and one is a terrified send-up, but "Christmas in Hollis" and "Jingle Barack" have that much in common. The overblown threat to Christmas in the SNL sketch is a threat to basic human decency and a threat to their God-awful meal of "eggnog and chicken and turkey and fries." So, if you're looking for some form of political resistance this Christmas, look to DMC. Eat the best food you can, and lots of it.

Alex Robert Ross is chillin' and coolin' just like a snowman on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[The Guide to Getting Into Siouxsie and The Banshees, Dark Pop Outsiders]]>, 07 Dec 2018 20:48:10 +0000 "Flexed-Up, Sexed-Up Siouxsie Sioux Wisely Loses the Lost-Girl Image," the Los Angeles Times proclaimed, two days after Siouxsie and the Banshees played LA’s Universal Amphitheatre in 1992. The British alternative band was on tour supporting Superstition, its tenth full-length album, and the release that spawned its biggest US hit, "Kiss Them For Me."

By 1992, the post-punk outfit was already more than 15 years into its career, and past the point where frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux was being compared to Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde. Now, with her dark makeup and fetish aesthetic, she was being cast as the leader of a cult of weird chicks in a review that spent five paragraphs on her looks and a whopping two on the music. Maybe, at that point, the band was used to that: From its punk origins to the dark pop of its later career, Siouxsie and the Banshees would spend its career flouting convention and playing with public perception, all the while maintaining a fanbase that stuck with them as outsiders scratched their heads.

Siouxsie and the Banshees formed in 1976, during London's punk heyday, when a last-minute slot opened up at festival put on by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. Sioux and bassist Steven Severin—the band’s only two consistent members throughout the band’s 20-year run—were Pistols acolytes, and jumped in to play a 20-minute improvised rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Sid Vicious played drums.

Buzz swirled around Siouxsie and the Banshees. What was intended to be a one-off gig lead to frequent shows, a magazine cover, and turning up on Tony Wilson’s punk-heavy TV show, So It Goes. But it wasn’t until 1978, after the Sex Pistols disbanded and the original punk scene was essentially dead, that the band released its first proper album, The Scream, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. By 1980, though, ex-Slits drummer Budgie had joined and would remain part of the band until its split in 1996. Other members came and went, including John McGeoch of Magazine and Visage, The Cure’s Robert Smith, Jon Klein of the goth band Specimen, and multi-instrumental 4AD staple Martin McCarrick.

Siouxsie became an iconic front-person of the era, and it is nearly impossible to separate gender from her work. Before the Banshees, she was the Sex Pistols fan rocking A Clockwork Orange-inspired makeup and a cigarette on the British show Today—a member of the band’s on-stage posse who rolled her eyes and made a sour face when host Bill Grundy hit on her on-air. The exchange prompted a defensive, expletive-laden response from Sex Pistol Steve Jones, and helped launch the Pistols to UK tabloid infamy.

As one of the few female performers to emerge from the UK punk scene, Siouxsie was already well-acquainted with being an underdog. In interviews, she has recounted growing up in a London suburb with an alcoholic father, who died when she was a young teenager. She has also spoken about how she was sexually assaulted as a child, an experience that would influence the scathing Banshees song "Candyman." In it, she details the long-term effects of abuse, singing: “And all the children, he warns ‘don’t tell’ / Those threats are sold / With their guilt and shame, they think they’re to blame.”

As her star rose, she found herself being compared to women—Madonna, Sheena Easton, and Louise Brooks, for example—with whom she had little in common. Sometimes, like in the 1992 LA Times review, an appraisal of her appearance would take precedence over an assessment of her work, and her female fanbase would become the brunt of snarky comments. But, for female fans, it was never just about fashion and make-up. Siouxsie Sioux showed us that rock music, so frequently perceived as a the realm of boys, was ours too.

Siouxsie's husky, powerful voice sucked listeners into stories about war, dysfunctional families, and mental illness. These weren't typical pop songs; the subject matter was heavy, the imagery was often layered. These were lyrics you had to dissect and analyze, while the music came with sinewy rhythms that compelled you dance. That made the band a perfect obsession—and style inspiration—for the bookish, sensitive types who would become the clubs kids known as goths.

Like The Cure’s Robert Smith, Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy, and other alleged goth icons, Siouxsie and the Banshees rejected that description, and perhaps rightly so. "Goth" didn't exist when the band released The Scream 40 years ago. Their first album preceded debut full-lengths from goth forebears like The Cure and Joy Division, as well as Bauhaus' landmark single, "Bela Lugosi's Dead." They existed before scene-defining clubs like Batcave in London.

If they embraced darkness, Siouxsie and the Banshees had moments of light-heartedness as well. Its cover of The Beatles’ classic “Dear Prudence” was a faithful one, and the band tapped into childhood nostalgia with a rendition of The Jungle Book’s “Trust in Me.” The band often made dance music, releasing club-friendly 12-inch singles in the early 80s, and dabbling with hip hop-friendly beats in the late 80s and early 90s. Alongside radio-friendly pop singles, they’d go long and get weird on album tracks and B-sides, consistently pushing their sound in new directions until they disbanded in 1996. The band’s longevity, and its willingness to experiment with new sounds, would shape a cross-genre, cross-generation legion of musicians. The Smiths, Radiohead, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, LCD Soundsystem, U2, and PJ Harvey are among the bevy of artists to cite them as influences. Tricky has covered them, The Weekend has sampled them, and shoegaze icons Slowdive took its name from a Siouxsie and the Banshees song.

Getting through the Siouxsie and the Banshees catalog can be a daunting task. In recent years, its catalog has been reissued, and compilations have pulled together the formerly obscure cuts. It's still a mountain of music, so the playlists here break it down into the band's essential veins of influence.

So You Want to Get Into: Dance Floor Siouxsie and the Banshees?

Siouxsie and the Banshees may have been uncomfortable with the goth tag, but that doesn't change the fact that their music became a cornerstone of club nights that cater to the kids dressed in black. However, image and lyrical content is only part of the reason why this band continues to draw crowds to the dance floor more than 20 years after they split. Siouxsie and the Banshees crafted a lot of solid dance songs with a stickiness that persists to this day. There's a simple reason for this: the rhythm section. Siouxsie and the Banshees went through a lot of guitarists during their two decades as a band, but the rhythm section remained fairly stable. Bassist Steven Severin co-founded the group with Siouxsie Sioux. Budgie, one of the finest drummers to emerge from the post-punk era, joined the fold for the band's third album, Kaleidoscope, and remained a member for the rest of the group's lifespan. That kind of consistency meant that they never lost the groove while moving from the energetic, galloping "Spellbound" to the downtempo "Face to Face" and the bones of the songs, frequently credited to the whole band, were strong enough to withstand changing trends in club music and culture.

Siouxsie Sioux has acknowledged that soul was a formative influence on her. She also was a club-goer. In a 1999 interview for The Independent, she and British singer Marc Almond talk about how they met at a London sex shop and began hanging out with each other at clubs. Almond notes that the two loved to dance to "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," the disco hit by Sylvester. This was a band in tune with the sounds developing around them. You can hear that as years pass and the sound of Siouxsie and the Banshees evolves. "Kiss Them For Me" samples hip-hop artist Schoolly D and "Face to Face," from the Batman Returns soundtrack, has a languid stride that links together the late '80s R&B of Soul II Soul and 90s trip-hop, a la Portishead.

Siouxsie and the Banshees' influence on the dance floor extends beyond a single scene. "Happy House," from the 1980 album Kaleidoscope, has been remixed a number of times to varying degrees of success. LCD Soundsystem covered "Slowdive" and Junkie XL covered "Cities in Dust" with singer Lauren Rocket. Santigold borrowed from "Red Light" for her song "My Superman."

Playlist: "Christine" / "Happy House" / "Red Light" / "Spellbound (12" mix)" / "Arabian Knights (12" mix)" / "Monitor" / "Fireworks" / "Slowdive" / "Dazzle (Glamour Mix)" / "Cities in Dust" / "Killing Jar" / "Peek-a-Boo" / "Kiss Them For Me" / "Face to Face"

So You Want to Get Into: Cinematic Siouxsie and the Banshees?

In a 2005 story for The Guardian, Steven Severin is quoted on how Siouxsie and the Banshees' influences differed from others in the punk scene: "While most of the protagonists of punk looked to American garage bands—Flaming Groovies, MC5, the Stooges, the Dolls—or to the New York scene of Patti Smith, Television, Heartbreakers and the Ramones as a benchmark, we, perversely, saw ourselves as taking on the baton of glamorous art rock—Bowie and Roxy Music—while incorporating a love for Can, Kraftwerk and Neu."

In that same article, Siouxsie Sioux acknowledges the role that film played on the band's music, saying, "I suppose I was interested in creating a vision; in the same way I was very drawn to tension within cinema. Hitchcock was my other early obsession—Psycho, and its score. So there was the sense of trying to create an atmosphere: how a sound resonates and makes an effect."

It's in that mix of glam rock, Krautrock, and cinematic thrillers that the band demands undivided attention. Siouxsie and the Banshees could kick listeners in the ass with their short, hyper cuts like "Love in a Void" and "Carcass." But, they were also masters of building a mood that could envelop listeners and sustain them, sometimes for minutes on end, as dramatic tales unfolded within the songs. This is something that was part of the band from the get-go. The Scream closes with "Switch," clocking in at nearly seven minutes and alternating between rhythmic punk and atmospheric moments that foreshadow the rise of shoegaze a decade later. On Join Hands, their sophomore effort, "Icon" plays out like a movie with Siouxsie's voice rising to a climactic moment when drums crash and she begins to wail. These dramatic pieces remained part of the band's work throughout their existence. Indeed, the title track of their sorely underrated final album, The Rapture, plays out like an 11-and-a-half-minute miniseries complete with cliffhanger moments that leave you wondering where the band will go next.

Playlist: "Switch" / "Icon" / "Israel" / "Red Over White" / "Night Shift" / "Voodoo Dolly" / "Tattoo" / "92 Degrees" / "The Last Beat of My Heart" / "The Rapture"

So You Want to Get Into: Cover Master Siouxsie and the Banshees?

Siouxsie and the Banshees were very open about their influences, even releasing a covers album, Through the Looking Glass, in 1987. Those sources of inspiration, though, were varied and extended beyond music and into film, art and literature. If you were lucky enough to stumble upon Siouxsie and the Banshees at an impressionable age, the band could become your window into a world beyond the mainstream. Through them, you might find out about the Velvet Underground, Man Ray or Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Siouxsie and the Banshees pieced together bits of counter-culture history, made music that was accessible enough to draw in young teens and then passed knowledge down to their fans.

Throughout their career together, the band took an approach to covers that was almost like that of a crate-digging DJ. They got in some of the hits, taking on songs by the likes of The Beatles, T. Rex and the Velvet Underground in reverential ways. Yet, they also pulled out some unexpected choices. "Supernatural Thing," which appeared on the "Arabian Knights" single, was originally performed by soul singer Ben E. King. Their Kraftwerk pick, "Hall of Mirrors," is a lesser known track from the German band's landmark album, Trans-Europe Express.

Playlist: "20th Century Boy" / "Helter Skelter" / "Supernatural Thing" / "Dear Prudence" / "Hall of Mirrors" / "Trust in Me" / "The Passenger" / "All Tomorrow's Parties"

Liz Ohanesian is a journalist and DJ based in LA. Follow her on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[In Praise of Sufjan Stevens! A Christmas Enthusiast! (or, Holy, Holy, etc.)]]>, 07 Dec 2018 17:45:13 +0000Sufjan Stevens had always been reticent to open up about religion too much in interviews, but a shocking victory for evangelical nationalism in the US drove him to write a short, sharp, and open note on his website in early 2017. The piece became an op-ed at the Washington Post called "Stop repeating the heresy of declaring the United States a 'Christian nation,'" but it's best in its first form, without paragraph breaks, as a block of text that reads like a stream of forthright incantations: "God is love, period. God is universal, nameless, faceless, and with no allegiance to anything other than love."

He was making a political statement, but Stevens was also revealing something about his process. Biblical allusions and after-church oddities are strewn across his catalog. Most of his songs—from the folksy and delicate to the obtuse and experimental—are hymns in one way or another, either lifted from scripture or written in response to it. On "The Greatest Gift," the centerpiece to a collection of loosies and remixes he released last year, he sang: "The law above all laws / Is to love your friends and lovers / To lay down your life for your brothers / As you abide in peace / So will your delight increase."

Still, he's a Christian and an artist—not an artist making "Christian music" in the conventional sense. As he told the music blog Delusions of Adequacy in 2006, "faith and art are a dangerous match[...] they can quickly lead to devotional artifice or didactic crap." Factory-farmed religious music is propaganda—designed to convert the unbelievers or at least reassure the chronically faithful. It's music with an end-goal, and Stevens has never been interested in producing something so simple.

That might be why Stevens committed himself to recording Christmas music once every year for an entire decade, inspecting and occasionally subverting a genre that's typically among the world's most devotional and didactic. On those 10 EPs, he released everything from church standards like "O Come O Come Emmanuel" to buzzy, absurdist originals like "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" They've since been collected on two sprawling, multi-disc records: 2006's 42-track Songs for Christmas and 2012's 58-track Silver & Gold. Listening to them all in one go, you'll hear Stevens progress as an artist, widening his scope as he adds new layers and textures to his early acoustic songs.

But what really strikes me about these records is the way in which Stevens jumps from song to song without thinking twice about the whiplash. A banjo-and-falsetto version of "Away in a Manger" floats into a buoyant indie rock song called "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!" A couple of years later, he reels off a faithful piano rendition of "Jingle Bells" before a jittery, pretty original called "Christmas In July." The sound changes as swiftly as the subject—spiritual songs give way to to the secular, then jump straight back again.

Some of this is down to compulsion. His mythic 50 States Project—an attempt to write an album about every state in the Union—was never really going to work out, but Stevens did seem to believe in it for a while. For a long time, the same obsession, the same drive to complete things, was there with his Christmas efforts. There are only so many God-fearing carols to get through. With Stevens recording a clutch of Christmas music every year for a decade, digression and repetition were inevitable.

But it also spoke to a holistic approach to the holidays and its soundtrack. In an interview with Uncut Magazine in 2012, Stevens said that the festive EPs went beyond the religious for a reason:

At its core, Christmas has a mysterious punchline: the incarnation of God as a Christ-child. This is weird. Consider the details: angel visitations, teenage pregnancy, shotgun wedding, the massacre of the innocents, the wise men following an astrological phenomenon, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster. Mix all that with contemporary pop adaptations: Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, the Grinch, etc., and you have a veritable chop salad of sacrilege. Not to mention the elements of capitalism and consumerism the Western world has imposed on it. We have made Christmas our bitch, for better and for worse. These EPs are desperate to find meaning in all of that, I suppose, both sacred and profane.

At his best, this is what Stevens has always done, bleeding the sacred into the profane, making the mundane spiritual, articulating tiny details before laying out an earth-shattering catastrophe. At points on those Christmas records, he did so beautifully. My favorite of those songs is "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!," originally written for 2003's Ding! Dong! Songs for Christmas - Vol. III. It starts out as a nostalgic idyll:

Going outside
Shoveling snow in the driveway, driveway
Taking our shoes
Riding a sled down the hillside, hillside

But in the second verse, in the same careful and quiet tone, Stevens sings about familial terror:

Our father yells
Throwing gifts in the wood stove, wood stove
My sister runs away
Taking her books to the schoolyard, schoolyard

The protagonist slips into some incantations of his own to stave off the fear and misery. "In time the snow will rise, In time the Lord will rise," but that doesn't seem to work. Then, "Silent night, Holy night, Silent night," but that doesn't resolve anything either. So Stevens ends the song nowhere. "Nothing feels right," he sings. Then the song burns up and floats away.

Alex Robert Ross is a Christmas unicorn on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[Robert Christgau on The Goon Sax's Humble Reflections]]>, 07 Dec 2018 17:32:21 +0000 The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, is now available from Duke University Press. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.


Mad Crush: Mad Crush (Upon This Rock) Because the guitar-bass-drums-violin as well as the vocals aren't so much subtle as mild, these seven love songs never work up the right pitch of emotional intelligence. But you still believe in your heart that John Elderkin and Joanna Sattin are a couple, because only a couple would notice these things? In the jocose "My Pre-Existing Conditions" Elderkin admits to two left feet, getting stuck in the past, needing to talk before bed, and there's more. In the pained "Where Does It Hurt" Sattin is so sick with ennui she asks only that he still be there in the morning. And he will be, because elsewhere they stay in bed, miss each other when they don't, and overnight a Christmas turkey on Amazon Prime so it'll be there for the Fourth of July. B PLUS

Flasher: Constant Image (Domino) Twentysomethings foresee, rue, and encapsulate in tightly wound pop-rock a constrained, moderately diverting life of futile, moderately comfortable survival ("Go," "XYZ") ***

Weakened Friends: Common Blah (Don Giovanni) Brave young woman gains ground in her wavery-quavery battle with insecurity, which this album proves she has the stuff to win ("Younger," "Early") **

Follow Robert Chrsitgau on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[Noisey Power Rankings: December 3 - 7]]>, 07 Dec 2018 16:32:54 +0000Folks, we are in the home stretch of this Hell Year. Surely, all of the world’s problems will be resolved come January 1 and we can start anew. In the meantime, all you have to do is avoid saying anything problematic at your office holiday party, pretend you’re stoked on whatever your auntie gives you for Christmas, and not puke on the person you’re trying to kiss on New Years. Anyway, here’s our Power Rankings, where we determine who had a good week and who had a really shit week. We must've been in the holiday spirit because almost everyone goes up this week!


Meek Mill

Three years ago, Drake delivered a club banger and diss record, "Back to Back," aimed at Meek Mill. It's been a long year of Drake "hiding a child," and Meek fighting for his freedom during a five-month prison stint. Now, the Philly rapper is rapping over the song that could've ended his career and he fucking killed it. We’re glad to see him have this moment. Welcome back, Meek. Also, “Get you wet, running around like you was Rambo” is just a great line.

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<![CDATA[Holy Hell, This Year's Grammy Nominations Are Almost Interesting]]>, 07 Dec 2018 14:04:43 +0000Music's biggest night is still two months away, but the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards are here and, shocking though it may seem, they're almost interesting this year. A half-decent Album of the Year category includes Noisey favorites like Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy, Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer, Kacey Musgraves's Golden Hour, and Brandi Carlile's By The Way, I Forgive You, while songs from Kendrick Lamar and SZA, Drake, and Childish Gambino are all in the running for Record of the Year. There's even space for Led Zeppelin in the Best New Artist category!

None of this matters, of course, because the Grammys will somehow conspire to give all of the awards to Post Malone, but let's enjoy this almost intriguing list while we can.

Album of the Year

H.E.R.: H.E.R.
Brandi Carlile: By the Way, I Forgive You
Drake: Scorpion
Various Artists: Black Panther: The Album
Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
Post Malone: Beerbongs & Bentleys
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer

Record of the Year

Cardi B: "I Like It"
Brandi Carlile: "The Joke"
Childish Gambino: "This Is America"
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper: "Shallow"
Drake: "God's Plan"
Kendrick Lamar & SZA: "All the Stars"
Post Malone & 21 Savage: "Rockstar"
Zedd & Maren Morris: "The Middle"

Song of the Year

Kendrick Lamar & SZA: "All the Stars"
Ella Mai: "Boo'd Up"
Drake: "God's Plan"
Shawn Mendes: "In My Blood"
Brandy Carlile: "The Joke"
Zedd & Maren Morris: "The Middle"
Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper: "Shallow"
Childish Gambino: "This Is America"

Best New Artist

Chloe x Halle
Luke Combs
Greta Van Fleet
Dua Lipa
Margo Price
Bebe Rexha
Jorja Smith


Best Rap Album
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
Mac Miller: Swimming
Nipsey Hussle: Victory Lap
Pusha-T: Daytona
Travis Scott: Astroworld

Best Rap Song
Drake: "God’s Plan"
Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future, & James Blake: "King’s Dead"
Eminem: "Lucky You"
Travis Scott, Drake, Big Hawk, & Swae Lee: "Sicko Mode"
Jay Rock ft. Kendrick Lamar: "Win"

Best Rap Performance
Cardi B: "Be Careful"
Drake: "Nice for What"
Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future, & James Blake: "King’s Dead"
Anderson .Paak: "Bubblin"
Travis Scott, Drake, Big Hawk, & Swae Lee: "Sicko Mode"

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration
Christina Aguilera ft. Goldlink: "Like I Do"
6LACK ft. J. Cole: "Pretty Little Fears"
Childish Gambino: "This Is America"
Kendrick Lamar & SZA: "All the Stars"
Post Malone ft. 21 Savage: "Rockstar"


Best Pop Solo Performance
Beck: "Colors"
Camila Cabello: "Havana (Live)"
Ariana Grande: "God Is a Woman"
Lady Gaga: "Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin'?)"
Post Malone: "Better Now"

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance
Christina Aguilera ft. Demi Lovato: "Fall In Line"
Backstreet Boys: "Don’t Go Breaking My Heart"
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper: "Shallow"
Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B: "Girls Like You"
Justin Timberlake ft. Chris Stapleton: "Say Something"
Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey: "The Middle"

Best Pop Vocal Album
Camila Cabello: Camila
Kelly Clarkson: Meaning of Life
Ariana Grande: Sweetener
Shawn Mendes: Shawn Mendes
Pink: Beautiful Trauma
Taylor Swift: Reputation


Best Rock Performance
Arctic Monkeys: "Four Out of Five"
Chris Cornell: "When Bad Does Good"
THE FEVER 333: "Made An America"
Greta Van Fleet: "Highway Tune"
Halestorm: "Uncomfortable"

Best Metal Performance
Between the Buried and Me: "Condemned to the Gallows"
Deafheaven: "Honeycomb"
High on Fire: "Electric Messiah"
Trivium: "Betrayer"
Underoath: "On My Teeth"

Best Rock Song
Greta Van Fleet: "Black Smoke Rising"
Twenty One Pilots: "Jumpsuit"
Bring Me the Horizon: "MANTRA"
St. Vincent: "Masseduction"
Ghost: "Rats"

Best Rock Album
Alice in Chains: Rainier Fog
Fall Out Boy: M A N I A
Ghost: Prequelle
Greta Van Fleet: From the Fires
Weezer: Pacific Daydream

Best Alternative Music Album
Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Beck: Colors
Björk: Utopia
David Byrne: American Utopia
St. Vincent: Masseduction

We'll update this list as more nominations come through.

Follow Alex Robert Ross on Twitter.

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<![CDATA[We Are Drowning in a Devolved World: An Open Letter from Devo]]>, 06 Dec 2018 22:35:59 +0000In 2018, 15 years after becoming eligible, Devo was nominated for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The honorees will be announced a week from today. I was immediately struck by the timing of our sudden recognition: When Devo formed more than 40 years ago, we never dreamed that two decades into the 21st century, everything we had theorized would not only be proven, but also become worse than we had imagined. For me, Devo has been a long journey littered with broken dreams, but the nomination compelled me to put things in perspective. I know that many are called but few are chosen.

Forty-eight years ago, on May 4, 1970, as a member of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), I was front and center being fired on by my fellow Americans in the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, as we peacefully protested President Nixon’s expansion of the cancerously unpopular Vietnam War into Cambodia without an act of Congress. I was lucky and dodged the bullet, both literally and figuratively, but four students were killed, and nine more were seriously wounded by the armed, mostly teenaged, National Guard troops. Two of the four students killed, Alison Krause and Jeffery Miller, were close acquaintances of mine. Less than a year earlier, as an Admissions/Curriculum counselor to incoming students, I had admitted them to the Honors College program.

May 4 changed my life, and I truly believe Devo would not exist without that horror. It made me realize that all the Quasar color TVs, Swanson TV dinners, Corvettes, and sofa beds in the world didn't mean we were actually making progress. It meant the future could be not only as barbaric as the past, but that it most likely would be. The dystopian novels 1984, Animal Farm, and Brave New World suddenly seemed less like cautionary tales about the encroaching fusion of technological advances with the centralized, authoritarian power of the state, and more like subversive road maps to condition the intelligentsia for what was to come.

As I started working with my Kent State poet friend, Bob Lewis, a philosophy emerged, fueled by the revelations that linear progress in a consumer society was a lie. Things were not getting better. There were no flying cars and domed cities, as promised in Popular Science; rather, there was a dumbing down of the population engineered by right-wing politicians, televangelists, and Madison Avenue. I called what we saw “De-evolution,” based upon the tendency toward entropy across all human endeavors. Borrowing the tactics of the Mad Men-era of our childhood, we shortened the name of the idea to the marketing-friendly “Devo.” We were not left-wing politicos. We were more informed by Jungian principles of duality in human nature, and we realized human flaws spread out across the political spectrum. Hence: “We’re All Devo,” an idea from which we did not exempt ourselves.

Then, and in the decades to follow, we witnessed an America where the capacity for critical thought and reasoning were eroding fast. People mindlessly repeating slogans from political propaganda and ad campaigns: “America, Love It or leave It”; “Don’t Ask Why, Drink Bud Dry”; “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby”; even risk-free, feel-good slogans like “Give Peace a Chance.” Here was an emerging Corporate Feudal State. You were either inside the draw bridge at night, or outside with the gnashing of teeth.

Rebellion appeared hopelessly obsolete. If the message wasn’t sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, there could be hell to pay. More and more, it seemed like the only real threat to consumer society at our disposal was meaning: turning sloganeering on its head for sarcastic or subversive means, and making people notice that they were being moved and manipulated by marketing, not by well-meaning friends disguised as mom-and-pop. And so creative subversion seemed the only viable course of action. We mixed our outrage with equal parts satire and dark humor. What else could a poor boy do?

Prior to the resignation of the nefarious Richard M. Nixon, I partnered with a new collaborator, Mark Mothersbaugh, and with his musical prowess we found the sonic alchemy for the Devo aesthetic. We formed a band of brothers around the philosophy of Devolution, only to be proven all too right.

Presently, the fabric that holds a society together has shredded in the wind. Everyone has their own facts, their own private Idaho stored in their expensive cellular phones. The earbuds are in, the feedback loops are locked, and the Frappuccino’s are flowing freely. Social media provides the highway straight back to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The restless natives react to digital shadows on the wall, reduced to fear, hate, and superstition. There are climate change deniers, and there are even more who think that the climate is being maliciously manipulated by corporate conglomerates owned by the Central Bank to achieve global control of resources and wealth. If only that James Bond-style fantasy were true, I would be much more excited about the future, which I fear is more of a slow-death conspiracy of dunces like in Mike Judge’s movie, Idiocracy, the movie Devo should have made.

We are drowning in a devolved, WWF Smackdown-style world, with warring, huckster TV pundits from “The Left” and “The Right” distracting the clueless TV viewership while our vile, venal Mobster-in-Chief (who makes Idiocracy’s Macho Camacho look fit for office) and his corrupt minions rob the nation’s coffers in a shamelessly cruel, Grab-'Em-By-The-Pussy Kleptocracy. They reflect the prevailing mentality of the electorate. It’s as if Christopher Nolan wrote the script for America, where Trump is the Joker handing out Cabinet positions to The Suicide Squad: Hey, Betsy! You hate public education? How’d you like to run the Department of Education? Scott, you don’t give a shit about poisoning the environment for your kids and grandkids, right? Here’s your new office, Pal. Don’t forget that soundproof phone booth!

The rise of authoritarian leadership around the globe, fed by ill-informed populism, is well-documented at this point. And with it, we see the ugly specter of increased racism and anti-Semitism. It’s open season on those who gladly vote against their own self-interests. The exponential increase in suffering for more and more of the population is heartbreaking to see. “Freedom of choice is what you got / Freedom from choice is what you want,” those Devo clowns said in 1980.

So, let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late. Perhaps the reason Devo was even nominated after 15 years of eligibility is because Western society seems locked in a death wish. Devo doesn’t skew so outside the box anymore. Maybe people are a bit nostalgic for our DIY originality and substance. We were the canaries in the coalmine warning our fans and foes of things to come in the guise of the Court Jester, examples of conformity in extremis in order to warn against conformity. We were certainly not the one-hit wonders the dismissive rock press likes to say we were. We have always been the Rodney Dangerfields of Rock ‘N’ Roll. We were polarizing because we did not “play ball” with the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll messaging dictum.

But today Devo is merely the house band on the Titanic. With three generations of fans, 10 studio albums, five live albums, scores of singles, scores of music videos (a format which we pioneered), and eight world tours committed to history since our 1978 debut record, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, we’ve all too chillingly stood the test of time. 2020 will be the 40th anniversary of our Freedom of Choice record. Don’t be surprised to see us on tour then in our iconic, red Energy Domes, careening toward the latest Presidential election/selection. Speaking truth to power is a never-ending battle. In the best-case scenario, we avoid sinking into the abyss and, as a society, scratch ourselves back to square one.

Is there any question that De-evolution is real?

Devo founder Gerald Casale is a director, and songwriter based in Los Angeles. Vote for Devo in the Rock Hall's Fan Vote here.

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<![CDATA[This Early 2000s Throwback Is a Euphoric Lesson in Repetition]]>, 06 Dec 2018 17:00:00 +0000Somewhere, beyond the pearly gates, there is a club that plays the same song at closing, night after night. Or at least that’s what I imagine it to be like at heaven’s premier nightclub, based on “So Much Love To Give” by the French house duo Together (listen above)—a side-project consisting of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and DJ Falcon. Really though, I should be imagining some kind of trashy yet cool event from the year 2002, when this song was released, over a decade before Fedde Le Grand reinterpreted it for the stag and hen-dos on holiday in cheap, reachable European cities.

Still, the image of heaven—or a similarly flawless place—continues to be the thing I think about when I hear this song. That’s often the case with dance music, with me anyway, especially when that dance music veers into poppy, euphoric territory. Whether it’s the celestial piano on The Paradise’s “In Love With You” or the sweeping, gold-dappled melody Donna Summer pulls through “I Feel Love,” the best dance tunes have an otherworldly quality about them, as if, through full immersion, they’re capable of bringing about pure ascension to somewhere beyond this realm.

Thomas Bangalter is a master of this kind of transcendence, especially in his work with Daft Punk, which—since the duo are “robots”—often feels like you’ve been projected into another galaxy. “Digital Love” is an electro-tinged romance set in space; “Around The World” is what super-fit cyborgs would probably listen to when working out, if they were benevolent and not about to exterminate humanity; “Instant Crush” sounds like futuristic tech if it learned to weep, got drunk, then started dancing on its own in a distant corner of a forgotten planet (in actuality it’s Julian Casablancas).

“So Much Love To Give” is different, and also similar. Like the best Daft Punk songs it is based around a disco sample—in this case “Love's Such A Wonderful Thing” by The Real Thing. Like “One More Time” (which chopped and sampled Eddie John’s “More Spell On You”) the sample is repeated throughout the song, too. But where “One More Time” is varied, switching away from the sample and adding more vocals, the sampled vocal in “So Much Love To Give” is repeated for practically the whole ten minutes. It is the song’s bedrock: a never-changing, constant, euphoric nebula.

This combination of hypnotic, repeated hook—the words “So Much Love To Give” whirring round and round and round, layered and echoing, as if reverberating around a valley—with warm, original production, is intoxicating. The repetition creates a trance-like feeling, where the sounds become a kaleidoscope; where intimate and tiny details shift, but on a grand scale. It’s powerful stuff.

To a degree, and in similar ways, all music is based on repetition—whether that’s a chord sequence, a chorus playing several times throughout a song or a riff. In her book On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, writer Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis points out how, when something is repeated over and over, our brain’s reaction to it changes. We begin to notice more detail, the feeling intensifies. We can become disgusted, or excited. It’s something that happens loads in dance music. Whether you’re listening to minimal techno, Peggy Gou’s “It Makes You Forget (Itgehane),” or the most ambient Aphex Twin stuff, there’s usually one consistent, looping piece of instrumentation underneath, creating the vibe of the song: the foundation on which everything sits.

On “So Much Love To Give”, that constant is the vocal, giving the song a strange, almost singular quality. I guess on the one hand it is cheesy and not too far away from, say, Sigala’s “Sweet Lovin’/” On the other, it’s very pure. Hearing the phrase “I’ve got so much love to give” pumping through your head for almost ten minutes is kind of the closest you can get to ecstasy without being on ecstasy. Or maybe you hear something different—after many listens, some people say it resembles the phrase “I’ve got so much raw chicken.” Whatever the case, it’ll take you into it’s trance. And when it does, as DJ Sammy says on that one perfect song, you’re in heaven.

You can find Ryan on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.

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<![CDATA[Big Freedia Proves That "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" Can, In Fact, Bang]]>, 06 Dec 2018 16:27:38 +0000Some Christmas songs are so catchy, so jolly, and so deeply embedded in pop culture that they inspire revulsion. An otherwise good-hearted person might hear "Jingle Bells," "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," or even "Sleigh Ride" and recoil in disgust, sickened by the sweetness. I sympathize with these holiday cynics. I didn't start writing The Noisey Advent Calendar because I wanted to hear Andy Williams singing "Let It Snow" over and over again for four hours on a grey weekday morning. I want to avoid schmaltz where possible.

Some schmaltz demands closer inspection though, and that's why we need to talk about this tweet from Paul F. Tompkins, a beloved and brilliant comedian with one terrible take:

Now, I cannot in all good conscience defend "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" as a work of art. It's a story about a reindeer whose glowing nose turned him into a social pariah. The pathos is all dealt with pretty quickly—the other shit-eating reindeers under Santa's employ wouldn't talk to Rudolph because he was different. But our hero's nose was so bright that it lit up the night sky one foggy night and forced his bullies to immediately declare him an all-time great reindeer—an animal who would, for some reason, "go down in history." That story is told over a kindergarten melody, the type of smiley-happy tune that belongs on a child's $5 keyboard toy. It is, as Tompkins points out, for children. Small children. Small idiot children.

Written by Johnny Marks in 1939 and made famous by Gene Autry a decade later, "Rudolph…" has spawned hundreds of covers, and I seriously recommend that you don't spend any time today trawling through YouTube for a good one. There are maybe a half-dozen decent, straightforward efforts out there, but none of them are going to prove Tompkins wrong. If you hate the song from the get-go, neither Dean Martin nor Kacey Musgraves will turn you. The best of the recognizable modern covers obviously belongs to DMX, who reeled off a flawless a cappella version of "Rudolph…" on Power 105.1 in 2012, then released a studio version of the song for his Spotify Singles mini-EP last year. But even in his gruff and grizzled way, DMX stays faithful to the original.

I might as well admit here that Christmas music has already started to burrow into my brain and warp my logic. I'm only six days into this project, but the hours I've spent listening to holiday music every morning have had a profound and not altogether attractive impact on me. Friends, acquaintances, and lonely people on nearby barstools are starting to look at me funny while I wholeheartedly defend stray Christmas songs of yesteryear. I spent 20 whole minutes last night explaining the plot of Holiday in Handcuffs, an ABC Family movie starring Melissa Joan Hart, to someone I barely knew. This morning I found myself singing a festive Frank Sinatra medley in the shower. I'm not the same person I was on November 30; I have no idea what sort of monster I'll be by December 26. All I know is that it's December 6, and I'm now intent on defending "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Thank God for Big Freedia, then.

"Rudy, The Big Booty Reindeer" is not for children. The first song on the Queen of Bounce's 2016 holiday EP A Very Big Freedia Christmazz recasts Rudolph as a reindeer who, in the words of Miss Tee in the first verse, "had a very large behind." He's bullied by the other reindeer, but he finds redemption one Christmas Eve when Santa comes to relieve him of his duties and ask for some instruction: "Rudy, all you do is work / Won't you show me how to twerk?"

Freedia takes charge of the song after less than a minute, howling her lines with the righteous indignation of a theatrical lawyer defending an innocent client: "Rudy only wanted a good time / Rudy only wanted to dance / He'd sneak of and listen to Freedia / Whenever he got a chance." And then it drops. Every song is an excuse for Big Freedia to explode into a bounce beat. She builds the story out a little more—"Santa tried to shake his hips / While Rudy did a standing split / Then the elves dropped a nasty beat…"—but the bass has taken over by then. Freedia makes everything fun, fiery, and deliciously weird—try telling her that she can't turn "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" into a twerk-heavy bounce classic.

There's a moral in here somewhere. Maybe it's that we shouldn't judge a song by its most tawdry interpretations, just as we shouldn't shame a large-assed reindeer just because he's different. Maybe the moral is that Christmas is for club-goers in New Orleans just as much as it's for picture-perfect families in colder climes. Either way, there's one undeniable truth—give a song to Big Freedia, and you'll never get let down.

Alex Robert Ross isn't like the other reindeer on Twitter.

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