January 04, 2005

Various Artists "Cwistmas Twee"

There's a little blurb from Don Shumai in the liner notes where he mentions hating the word "twee". I just want to make it known that, unlike other people, I actually love the word "twee" and mention my affiliation with it as much as possible. To be honest, there was a time when I thought that "twee" was a moronic-sounding word. But then I changed my mind. What made me change my mind, you might wonder? I realized that when you say "twee" with a high-pitched voice and extend the syllable (like saying "wheeeeee!" when you go down a slide), it sounds really cute.


Now, do you understand why "twee" is such an appropriate moniker for hyper cute pop music?

So, unlike other people, my only objection to the title is that pronouncing it makes you sound like Elmer Fudd. People act funny when you start talking like Elmer Fudd for no apparent reason, so I like to avoid that. Damn you, Mr. Shumai! I reject your ironic mockery of my beloved subgenre!

Anyway, Cwistmas Twee is exactly (or almost exactly for reasons we'll get into later) what the title implies. It's Kindercore Christmas Volume 3. Big, important names from the newest school of twee-pop bring you eleven delicious (actually, ten... for reasons we'll get into later) cups of holiday cheer. Actually, the name Cwistmas Twee is somewhat inaccurate because some of the tracks on here are about winter, and there's also one Hanukkah song. Still, the comparison to the Kindercore Christmas CDs is apt because the songs on the Kindercore CDs weren't all about Christmas, either.

Since this is a special CD, I think it calls for a track-by-track review. Let's go!

1. Colin Clary "Meow Meow"

Colin Clary, aka "The Prolific Smitten", starts off the CD with this
Christmas song dedicated to all the kitties out there. "I wish you love and lots of tuna juice." There's also a little bit of a theme of tolerance for other religions ("And if you don't believe in Christmas, that's okay. I still respect your holiday."), as the time around the winter solstice is a time of celebration for various faiths. It’s a very cute start to the album.

2. The Icicles "Snowman Song"

I was disappointed with this one because the Icicles are one of my favorite bands on this CD, and this song is previously released. I was hoping for a new song by them to directly address Christmas. Anyway, if you're cool, you already have this on MP3. If you're really cool, you bought their new CD, which features this song.

For those who don't have this song, it's an upbeat song with a female vocalist reflecting on the happiness she felt playing in the snow with her significant other. The glockenspiel line on this one is really catchy.

3. Spoilsport "Snowball"

An '80s college rock-influenced (I mean that they sound kind of like the Replacements) song in which the singer implores a significant other to go out into the snow hand in hand with him instead of staying inside. I like this better than anything by the 'Mats because it has great female backing vocals.

4. The Specific Heats "Winter Fashions"

This is a catchy, '60s-style pop song with some great organ. Like the title says, this song glorifies sweaters, earmuffs, and other pieces of winter clothing. This song makes the controversial assertion that "Girls look cuter in winter clothes." I'm not sure if I agree, but it's an interesting statement to make nonetheless.

This song is probably in a Gap or Old Navy commercial in an alternate universe.

5. The Lil' Hospital "Dear Scrooge"

This is a nice low key acoustic/electric hybrid with great use of melodica. The lyrics to this song are in the form of a letter to Scrooge begging him for an early paycheck because the money is needed for rent and Christmas.

6. Shumai "California Christmas"

I don't know why Don Shumai is making fun of tweeness in the liner notes because this is a cute boy-girl pop song. As you might infer from the title, the song is about going to California for Christmas in order to escape the snow.

I just don't know what's with your posturing, Mr. Shumai. This song is quite twee, and I think I'm going to find you and hug you someday just out of spite.

7. The Smittens "Good Migrations"

Another previously-released track, and the sole Hanukkah song on here.
I was hoping that they'd try their hand at a Christmas song. Anyway, if you're cool, you already have this on MP3. If you're super-duper, ultra-indie hipster cool, you already have this on 7". This was supposed to be on the sequel to I Made It Out of Clay, the excellent indie pop Hanukkah compilation that Little Shirley Beans released a few years ago. No, I have no idea if that's still coming out.

Anyway, this song is extra cute. Yes, extra cute. It's about moving to a warmer climate to avoid a snowy, cold Hanukkah, because "When you feel the sun on your skin and a warm breeze through your hair, you'll never want to let the light go out." The female backing vocals during the parts where they list possible sites of relocation (Cape Town, Santiago, Auckland, etc.) are just precious.

8. The Sheets "The Fruit of the Spirit of Christmas"

Acoustic pop backed with electronic drum tracks. This is a very sentimental song about the warmth of Christmas in the midst of the cold, and the singer reminisces about building snowmen with his family before going off to see his grandparents. A very Norman Rockwell-esque non-dysfunctional portrayal of family togetherness at Christmas, and they don't sound like they're being ironic about it at all.

9. The Diskettes "Noel"

The Diskettes were one of the main reasons why I was excited about this
CD. They're probably the best band in Canada at the moment because Sloan just sucks now. They have a minimalist acoustic approach to pop with lots of boy-girl duets. At first, I thought this song was some sort of traditional French-Canadian Christmas carol, but a search for all the lyrics online yielded no results, so I guess this is original. I love this song, but I don't know if I could describe it in a way to do it justice. The verses have lyrics like "You heard it carried by the wind, you heard it rising from the creek," followed by the words
"With love" (but sung like "lo-o-o-o-ve"). The chorus is "Noel, noel" followed by some lyrics in French. This appeal of this song is subtle, and mostly in the delivery, so this is probably one that you have to hear to appreciate. And if you do hear it, I'm sure you definitely will appreciate it.

10. Snoozer "Sub-Zero"

This is a moog-driven song about the torturous cold of winter. These lyrics say it all: "Sub-zero. I'm all alone. My feet are buried in the snow. If I can make it through another winter, I can make it through anything."

11. Thee Moths "Summer Tastes Wrong"

Remember when I said there were only ten, not eleven, delicious cups of holiday cheer on this CD? Here's why.

Is it just me, or is there some alarming trend with theme compilations where some band will submit a boring IDM/noise track that has very little to do with the theme of the compilation, if at all? Well, this is the album's boring IDM track.

I'm surprised that this would suck so much because I've heard a couple of Thee Moths tracks, and they were pretty good pop songs. Listen, Thee
Moths, I know you could do better! I can't believe that you'd just cop out like this. You should have just gone back and actually tried to make a good pop song that fits this compilation's theme. Hell, a straight, a capella rendition of "Jingle Bells" would have been preferable to this. Save the IDM/noise stuff for the unlisted track at the end of your CD.

And a note to all compilation arrangers...I don't know if there's some sort of ironic joke connected with this putting unrelated IDM/noise tracks on theme compilations trend, but it's not funny, and it has to stop. Why can't you have some standards and draw the line somewhere? The songs on your compilation don't have to all be mind-blowing great, but they don't have to be boring and unlistenable either.

Anyway, that's it. I'm sorry the CD had to end on that note, but the other ten tracks are worth it. This album is the successor to the Kindercore Christmas comps, and it's a must-have for any indiepop fan.

--Eric Wolf

Label Website: http://www.totalgaylordrecords.com/

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