The worst Christmas music of 2013

by Josiah Hughes

December 13, 2013






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Featuring all your favourite emo bands and also 9/11 conspiracies.

Each Friday on Garbage Day, we rummage through pop culture’s trash cans and pick the week’s grossest item to keep forever. This week, we get in the Christmas garbage disposal spirit.

Christmas is, without question, one of the most magical times of year. Especially if you’ve got a serious obsession with all things goofy, cheesy, and downright awful. There’s already plenty of garbage to dig up each week for Garbage Day, but once you add Christmas themes to the mix — a misguided combination of slacktivism, consumerism, and vague “togetherness” — you end up with some wonderful tinsel-adorned trash. This year’s seen plenty of mainstream Christmas attention, with new festive albums arriving courtesy of everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Mary J Blige to Duck Dynasty to Bad Religion. But it doesn’t stop there — I’ve laboured away to wrap up some horrifying lumps of coal for your earholes.

On paper, Christmas and the Killers were made for each other. The Las Vegas rockers practically trade in schmaltz, and they’ve made it work wonders for them on goofy mega-hits that evoke eye-rolling imagery with enough pop power that you get lost in them. No one feels bad for tearing up over a song like “Be Still” or daydreaming about catching a Friday Night Lights-style ring-winning Hail Mary pass and getting the girl to a song like “When You Were Young.” The Killers are corny as shit, but they’re so good at it.

Or, at least, they’re good at it when it’s for-profit. Once a year, the band put together a new single for charity and, well, this year’s offering sounds like a single that was put together for charity.

The “Christmas in L.A.” video sees Owen Wilson playing what seems to be himself, but as a struggling actor (actually, after The Internship, that’s pretty accurate). He’s trying to survive, wait for it, Christmas in L.A. Now that’s the sort of golden opportunity for cheeseball schmaltz, but the Killers totally and fully blow it thanks to an uninspired, phoned-in soft rock song that focuses on wanky acoustic guitar noodles where they should’ve been working on some sweeping, heart-exploding choruses.

The video, too, is just straight-up stupid. Wilson talks it up with Harry Dean Stanton, whose grumpy and nihilistic world view is often a delight, but here comes up as wasted potential. Halfway through, and for no reason worth considering, the video switches into a cartoon. Unlike their “Miss Atomic Bomb” clip, however, the Killers must’ve used their “charity budget,” because this one looks like it was animated in MS Paint somehow. For totally phoning it in, the Killers have made this year’s garbage list.

It’s not just famous pop stars getting into the Christmas spirit, however. Washed-up ones are also having a go at it. Take, for example, the Runaways’ Lita Ford and Cherie Currie, who’ve tarnished their legacy a little more with a disgusting, stomping mom-rock jam called “Rock This Christmas Down.”

Complete with the rockin’ rock ’n’ roll guitars, that rock out on more than one occasion with some rockin’ licks, the song also features some aggressive rocker chick rock vocals and plenty mention of the word “rock” as they promise to “rock this Christmas down.” All this rocking has me feeling a little seasick.

Thanks to the wonderful press release aggregators at Blabbermouth, I learned about a guy named Mike Tramp, who used to front the bands White Lion and Freak of Nature. He has a new Christmas single called “The Way It Was Before.”

Sounds pretty standard, with acoustic guitars, suave velvety vocals and that classic piano-and-bell combo that every Christmas song has, right? Well, yeah. But “The Way It Was Before” refers to the way it was before 9/11. “September 11th changed everything. Suddenly we all had to give up part of our freedom and learn to live with the chaos and the restrictions that came with it,” Tramp said in a press release. Damn, he must’ve been right on the frontlines if it inspired him to write a Christmas song about it 12 years later. “I experienced the tragedy from my home in Tasmania at the time and remember the emptiness and feeling of helplessness that I got.”

You can really hear it in his wonderfully festive Christmas lyrics as he sings, “Everywhere around us people are afraid. Doors are locked and guarded, hearts are filled with hate.” Oh also, in a follow-up interview with Blabbermouth, Tramp reveals that he doesn’t believe the two planes are what brought the two towers down, and recommends everyone watch the Loose Change documentary. Watching documentaries about how 9/11 was an inside job can be your inside job as you take some time off of work and munch on leftovers this holiday season.

Blabbermouth also introduced me to a new compilation called Death Metal Christmas, which offers exactly that. Hate Eternal’s “Unrest for Melancholy Men” is the perfect sort of goofy heavy metal Christmas cover, with a vague Christmas carol melody beneath a mess of blast beats, guitar shreds, and guttural growls. Best of all, they’ve changed the lyrics to mean just the opposite, to the effect that there will be “tidings of discomfort and no joy.” I’m certainly feeling uncomfortable.

Of course, no one does absurd, near-unlistenable music quite like the Fearless Records camp. In fact, we celebrate Garbage Day Christmas every November thanks to Fearless Records’ Punk Goes… comps anyway, but this year is extra special with the Punk Goes Christmas comp. While there aren’t quite the same levels of pure evil over stimulation as, say, last year’s merciless “Mercy” cover, there’s plenty of trash heaped on this one.

The record opens with a New Found Glory song that, sadly, is neither awesome nor terrible, just a bunch of middle-aged pop-punk dudes singing a love song atop some over-the-top acoustic pop. All Time Low sound more NFG than NFG, a mid-tempo pop-punk shuffle complete with Christmas bells and cringe-worthy, “soulful” emo vocals, not unlike a Christmassy Old Navy commercial.

Real Friends offer up some acoustically wienery emo, the sort complete with a rugged video where a bearded ’n’ flanneled middle-class white male pretends to be rustic with an axe and some Instagram-quality shots of a pack of Lucky Strikes. Man Overboard return to the pop-punk format with a fairly straightforward rocker about Santa Claus. In fact, if it weren’t for the terrible vocals, this might be one of the best in the batch. The Summer Set offer up a low-budget lyric video with their shitty electro piano pop, some goofy nerds making sex eyes at the camera while they sing another TV-ready Christmas song, though this one’s more Target than Old Navy. Crown the Empire have the sort of band name that suggest some of that sweet, sweet dubstep crabcore, and the over-designed quality of their video had me getting excited. Unfortunately, it’s just more crystal clear, limp-dick piano pop perfect for a lite rock radio station.

Can Yellowcard save the comp with their goofy, melodramatic violin antics? Their offering, “Christmas Lights,” opens with some wanky guitars while that blonde guy sings softly about his feelings or whatever. By the chorus, we get a shuffling drum beat and a slow build. Damn, Yellowcard, are you gonna deliver with a giant climax? Sort of. The song stays in its waltzy tempo, and climaxes with some sort of vaguely Celtic lead (it’s hard to tell if it’s a guitar or that one dude’s violin). Plus there’s a penny whistle or something in the background. Yellowcard’s Irish Christmas is neither bad nor good enough to warrant another listen.

Issues is another one of those bands where they’re all too good at their instruments, over-confident about what they’re doing, and insistent on showing just how much they can do with their disgusting vocals. After busy piano flares on the intro, the song busts into some sort of weird combination of chugging metalcore guitars, dubstep synths, and unspeakably goofy falsetto. Thankfully, by the chorus there’s also a guy doing hardcore vocals. Then he shreds his throat through the second verse while the band does all sorts of ridiculous start-and-stop metalcore emo garbage. When you think of Fearless Records’ Christmas compilation, the horrible mix of goofy pop and growling is all personified in this song. Thank you, Issues, for recording “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” and saving Christmas.

Jason Lancaster, one of those dudes who’s made the emo rounds in bands like Mayday Parade and Go Radio and Breaker Breaker 10-4 Party Anthem (okay I made up one of those), sits at a grand piano and belts out his true real emotion about being in love at Christmastime or whatever. Shut up Jason Lancaster.
The Ready Set’s “I Don’t Wanna Spend Another Christmas Without You” opens with the sort of Fearless Records comp signifiers that actually do fill me with fear, from over-processed everything to nasally vocals and aggressively twee elements (glockenspiels, synths, bells). They don’t go far enough as to add some out-of-place screaming turd, but they do carry the sweetness all the way through, resulting in a near oppressive level of sugary sweetness. They should play this on Christmas morn in Gitmo.

If you want to end up getting in with these emo elves, it’s not a bad idea to add the word “set” to your name. Following The Ready Set, we get a band called Set It Off, with their song “This Christmas (I’ll Burn It To The Ground).” Promising title, but does it pay off?

The song opens up with a traditional old-timey rendition of “Deck the Halls,” complete with very fake crackly vinyl sounds. While it doesn’t transition into the main song with the record scratching sound I’d been praying for, we do get a gaggle of gremlins screaming “shut up” in the background. Then, the frontman breaks out his overdramatic voice to sing “Oh my God it’s here” atop some cabaret nonsense. Eventually, the song kicks into a powerful, classically inspired musical theatre chorus complete with synths and sing-alongs. Do these emo bands know that they sound EXACTLY like the Backstreet Boys? This is one of the worst songs on the comp, by which I mean you need to listen to it.

Sadly, the comp doesn’t close out with another brain-busting crabcore Christmas carol. Instead, William Beckett of The Academy Is… sings a downright disgusting rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” complete with glitchy, electronic-inspired drums and busy strings.

I’d compare it to the impossibly wussy sounds of Owl City, but that little duder deserves his own mention, as he’s prepared a song of his own. The post-“Fireflies” pop-scape has not been kind to Diet Ben Gibbard, so he’s retreated from the mainstream back to the place where he can make the most dough — the Christian rock ghetto. And few things scream “Sunday School payday” like popular religious vegetables the VeggieTales.

Lil Owlie teamed up with the Veggie Tales, alongside rappin’ DC Talk mainman TobyMac, to create a devilishly bad, but heavenly good collaboration called “Light of Christmas.” The song offers up some plucked strings, sleigh bells and a bouncy beat (think The Notwist making waiting room music) while OC does his best Death Cab For Cutie. Then TobyMac pops in with his yelled rapping about considering others this season. It’s a ridiculous, vanilla-scented pop rap song with a do-gooder message. In other words, it’s basically just a Macklemore song. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tags: Music, News, All Time Low, Ben Gibbard, DC Talk, fearless records, garbage day, jason lancaster, Man Overboard, New Found Glory, Owl City, Yellowcard






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