Genres and labels have become a necessary yet arbitrary force in the music industry. A band is analyzed by their sound and then grouped with similar acts in order to forever place them in a cube of adjectives to help describe just what they sound like. It can be both good and bad, with the good being certain people who browse through these labels might find that specific artist, but bad if a band just wants to make music and all of a sudden they are labeled as something they didn’t even know they were or want to be associated with. That being said, an authority figure has to police the authenticity of certain genres, right? Welcome to Genre Benders, a fun and inventive column that uses wit and research to tackle just what it is that makes a genre well, a genre.
I fucking love the holidays. Nothing forces me to be more turned on than watching my friends open gifts that I myself thought would be great for them. Usually they are impulse buys from whatever object happened to catch my eye at the moment but they often have an odd connection to an inside joke or some shitty story I made up from that time at the bar. Regardless of how much I love the holidays, they are a stressful time for many as end of the year goals need to be met at work and the stress of walking through any mall makes people want to suffocate and shop online. They find the perfect gift but all of a sudden the package arrives late and the gift is ruined.
But I am not here to talk about those misfortunes, I am here to discuss music and genres. One thing many people are nauseated by is Christmas (or holiday) music. Anyone that has worked in the service industry or pretty much any job ever fears the calendar season where the radio becomes an orgy of the same song sung by someone else whether they are currently the biggest thing or not. The songs are full of joy or religious stories or taking a look back on the year and they can become desensitizing with enough listens. They are supposed to invoke a kind of spirit that seems to be dying more and more each year as another 365 days of stress has eaten away the happiness of lives and the season itself. For those growing up in certain areas, this time of the year also brings snow. Yes, the white powder that isn’t cocaine quickly becomes thick and abusive to the poor individuals who have to shovel it or walk through it or piss your name into it. Pack all these things into a square sized gift and people begin to have a natural hatred towards the holiday music that only wants to hold you with utter sincerity (All I Want For Christmas Is Youuuuuu).
And it makes sense, I work long hours in a restaurant and the music can become slow moving and make me lethargic, wanting to fall asleep on the spot. There were some days I had to decide between listening to Cris Collinsworth or the same song that has already been sung by Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Frank Sinatra. I would choose the music by the way, I despise Collinsworth’s voice.
Dig deep enough into the holiday music and there are some songs or even albums that do not make you want to vomit all the excess peppermint schnapps you drank last night. No Sleep Records is one record label that has been very adamant on releasing wonderful compilations during the holidays, taking the hottest underground stars and allowing their beautiful creative energy to capture the perfect snapshot of the real holidays; not the televised happiness of It’s A Wonderful Life over and over on some staticky channel. Yes, sometimes a group will cover the same 50+ year old song but it’s the fact it has more of a raw and direct emotional appeal coming from a band barely making enough money to live out their dream rather than in a rich mansion vocal booth knowing no matter how shitty it comes out people will buy it.
Look, the best gifts to receive during the holiday season are the ones that have the most original meaning while also possessing a unique identity. The same can be said about music. Foreign Tongues did a hauntingly ominous yet beautifully sulky version of “Blue Christmas” and I attach more of a direct passion singing that deep ranged voice than some shit I have heard on the radio since I was able to shove the phallic representation of joy down my throat. Instead of running down presents from a list, the object of my own gifts have more of a use and thoughtful approach to them. Yes I would still love to receive the 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of In Utero in every form available but I would love a pair of socks or a piece of paper with all of my best friends lipstick on it just the same.
Do I think all bands should walk down the holiday music road? No. Musicians will write the music they feel most comfortable with and people should listen to what they feel will help them deal with all the added holiday stress. Tonight I have been listening to Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle over and over. Her final song on that LP describes the feeling of having more whiskey than blood in her veins and that is exactly where I am at. But, in writing about one of the more pure and favored seasons by myself I have accidentally stumbled onto Chris Farren’s Like a Gift From God or Whatever. This particular record is full of original Christmas songs that beat your emotions to a pulp with anxious questions about trying to prepare oneself for the barrage of terrifying feelings one will feel. Longing and loneliness take hold through the constant sleigh bells underlying the real subtle and quiet musical compositions.
I’m not entirely sure of the exact point of this Genre Bender besides ranting about how people that complain about the Holidays must not be indulging in them correctly, like how people tumbling through the same stale radio music are not trying hard enough to find the music us passionate fans fight for. I’m drunk off eggnog and whiskey and I just want everyone to have a happy end of 2015.
P.S. Mariah Carey totally made the best Christmas Song ever and I will play it at every bar possible. Also, listen to Julien Baker.