January 05, 2005

Pas/Cal & Asobi Seksu "Last Christmas"

For the first release on Pas/Cal's new Romantic Air label, Pas/Cal and Asobi Seksu have each contributed a Christmas cover song for this 12". Detroit indie popsters Pas/Cal covered the mega-kitschy "Last Christmas" by Wham, and New York shoegaze pop band Asobi Seksu covered the great Ramones classic, "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)".

I'll address "Last Christmas" first. I have a little history with this song. The first version of the song that I heard was by the female-fronted indiepop band, Sarge. For those who don't know the song, its main lyrical sentiment goes like this: "Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away. This year, I'm giving it to someone else." I'm not a huge fan of Sarge, but I loved that cover. They did a great rendition, driven by slow, heavily distorted guitar stabs and sweet, melodic vocals sung with an amazing amount of passion. It seemed like they took the words seriously.

(Oh yeah, I should mention that when I first heard Sarge's version, I thought it was an original.)

I don't know if you can imagine the disappointment and embarrassment that I felt a little while later when I heard the original version by Wham on the radio. "You mean this song is actually a kitschy piece of '80s dance pop shit?!" Needless to say, I felt very ritually unclean and bereft of indie cred after that.

But really, it wasn't the song itself that was the problem; it was the people who sung it. In the hands of Wham, it sounded like another heartless piece of mass-produced pop tripe, delivered as casually as yet another one of your aunt's Christmas fruitcakes. In the hands of Sarge, it sounded like a sugary sweet, yet surprisingly sincere expression of heartbreak.

So, what does it sound like in the hands of Pas/Cal?

Simply put, it sounds like fun. If you have some sort of Christmas-themed indie DJ dance night, this is the version you're going to want to play. Pas/Cal's version is done in a very upbeat '60s-influenced indiepop style, neither taking the lyrics too seriously, nor singing them lackadaisically. When you hear the cover, it's apparent that they put much effort into making it. It's actually over 6 minutes long, but it's hardly repetitive. Lots of tempo and dynamic changes abound, there are some rocking guitar solos, and they subtly and deftly add and change instruments and riffs as the song progresses. Clearly, Pas/Cal put more effort into arranging this cover than Wham put into writing, arranging, and recording the original.

"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" is another story.
Written and performed by one of the most important, credible bands of all time, it obviously has an agreeable pedigree. The song is a sentimental, yet realist plea begging a significant other for a daylong cessation of relational discord. The Ramones seemed to have been resolved to the idea that conflicts in relationships are sometimes unavoidable... but damn it, it's Christmas, we love each other (or I at least assume so), and Christmas is supposed to be a happy time.

For this cover, Asobi Seksu was wise enough not to mess with perfection, and ladies and gentlemen, if you don't think "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" is is perfection, you simply have horrible music taste. I simply refuse to accept the idea of relativist musical taste in this case. Anyway, Asobi Seksu, knowing that significant modification of this song would be both pretentious and unnecessary, play the cover almost completely straight and true to the original. They play it with the same tempo and song structure.
However, they do manage to make it unique by playing the guitar part with the standard distortion-and reverb-drenched shoegaze guitar, which adds an interesting twist. And the other good twist is that, in case you didn't know, Asobi Seksu has a female lead singer. Fans of female indiepop vocals know that having a woman sing a song originally sung by a man can make that song sound better (or maybe not better, just equally great in its own right). I dare say that I think this version sounds cute, but I don't know if I should say that because shoegaze isn't supposed to be cute. Then again, Asobi Seksu isn't your normal
shoegaze band.

And before ending this review, I should mention the cover art. It's definitely not your normal cover art. As you can see, it features clay models of all the members of Pas/Cal and Asobi Seksu, minature replicas of their instruments, and a gingerbread house. It's just really cute, and it's a great incentive to buy the album.

(Oh, and now that I think of it, since Asobi Seksu allowed clay models of themselves to appear in a snowy Christmas landscape in front of a gingerbread house on the cover of this record, one could probably assume that they're just asking to be referred to as "cute".)

--Eric Wolf

Artist Website: http://www.pascalgoespop.com/
Artist Website: http://www.asobiseksu.com/
Label Website: http://www.romanticair.com/

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