Christmas – In Excelsior Dayglo

Christmas – In Excelsior Dayglo (BigTime Records) 1986. Christmas was one of those bands that got a lot of press in the more mainstream mags like Spin back in the halcyon days of “college rock” before it begat “alternative”. I remember distinctly liking bands like Christmas, Camper Van Beethoven (whose first two albums were great) and The Volcano Suns because I had read about them in Spin and then found to my amazement that girls didn’t mind these bands at all. Try putting Victim in Pain or the Faith/Void split in the cassette player on a date in 1986 and see how well that turns out. The other option would have been to let her pick the music which would have meant listening to Standing on A Beach for the millionth time. So, bands like Christmas represented a ceasefire for the Gender Driven Nissan Sentra Tape Deck Wars of 1986. And both sides won on the deal. Surely bands like Christmas helped me move on from hardcore and I have to hope that any girl who let a song like Dig We Must provide a soundtrack to her high school nights had to at least question whether listening to Depeche Mode exclusively was really that good of an idea.

But I digress.

Christmas, the band…as opposed to the holiday which is an entirely different thing, were not only critical darlings in the national sense but also local darlings in the Boston sense. Which means that the locals took them VERY SERIOUSLY for a couple of years and then forgot them completely. I believe this happens in Boston more than other towns because so much of the music-going population is transient. Due to the schools and such. This keeps the town very fresh and fun but it also creates an almost collective sense of amnesia as to what was occurring just 4-5 years prior, much less 23 years later. This collective-amnesia also makes a lot of bands very ripe for rediscovery and Christmas would be a good place to start. A good indication of whether you will like them or not can be found in this video for Big Plans, the lead track on their debut album In Excelsior Dayglo.

If you can hear some Dinosaur Jr, Volcano Suns and maybe even Mission of Burma in this, consider it more than just a regional coincidence. What Christmas added to the mix was a very skewered sense of humour and an aesthetic that could only be described as proto-kitsch. I believe locals were disappointed at the time because the album was mellower than their live act. However, I doubt it would have gotten as much play in the aforementioned Sentra if it had been more abrasive. So for me, they sounded just fine.

A few years later Christmas moved to Vegas and released a second LP that I have never heard. Then, the proto-kitsch blossomed into full blown camp and the band re-formed as Combustible Edison who helped ride the 1990s tiki-wave to its inevitable wipe-out. I saw Combustible Edison at some point in Harvard Square and had no clue that this was essentially the same band that I used to rock with the ladies in 86. They were really, really good. I assume we’re in the midst of a much deserved tiki-backlash right now. But I will say that Combustible Edison were, trends be damned, a very fun band to see in concert and they released a few very good albums.

And that would be for another day….

This entry was posted in Boston, indie, zolo. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Christmas – In Excelsior Dayglo

  1. MrFab says:

    What a trip, haven’t heard this album in ages.

    Actually, tiki seems bigger then ever. It’s just not college-radio trendy anymore. At least, it’s still popular here in SoCal. Was on the website for the locally-based lounge internet station LuxuriaMusic recently, and learned that the station’s co-founder The Millionaire (of Christmas and Combustible Edison fame) is back in Boston, studying to be a soundtrack composer.

  2. Niels says:

    Thanks, great record! Had this on a tape millions of years ago, and you’re right, it was one of the few cool things back then that were suitable-to-put-on-mixtapes-for-girls.
    Talking about Faith/Void, I just read one of the songs on Will Oldham’s new record is called Faith/Void! Pretty cool nod at old punkers (I think he was part of the Louisville/ Squirrel Bait scene way back)…

  3. 3x12ax7 says:

    I love this record

  4. daveb says:

    Niels, Will’s a buddy of mine, and you’re right, his punk roots go back to the early 80′s. Every time I toured with him Meat Puppets II, The Process of Weeding Out, and tons of Minutemen were always in heavy rotation in the van whenever he drove, if it wasn’t the Dixie Chicks. Oh and uh…this Christmas shit is pretty awesome too…

  5. maxson says:

    Wow. I used to burn through that vinyl. I was already married, so I didn’t even have that excuse. Their second album I remember as being really good as well…though it’s been many years. The long-winded “Ultraprophets Of Thee Psykick Revolution”…So that’s why there wasn’t a third album.

    Interesting that that era saw a lot of great bands, smart bands, not even nodding at h/c, just rocking out a new american music. Heading towards that college radio thang. Getting good press, but never quite “breaking out”. I need to flip through the old vinyl and see what I rediscover. Hey, Boston, let us remember the late great “Big Dipper”–Bill Goffrier’s post-Embarrassment band. “Eleventh Dream Day” up in Chi-town, looking good to do what “Smashing Pumpkins” instead later did.

    Yup, Will O. grew up in that scene.

  6. Joe says:

    Hey Doug — Remember Dumptruck? Also on BigTime?

  7. Johnny says:

    Yup. Boston was loaded with bands that were gonna be “huge,” but didn’t quite take the next leap. Which is great, because it’s cool to dig these gems out of the stacks and still feel like a cool, regional thing. The Dogmatics, Dumptruck, the Zulus (post-Human Sexual Response), the Bags…the list is pretty long in addition to all the reat Boston hardcore. Lots of variety, plenty of good clubs. Checking out the Blackjacks at Bunratty’s, then hauling up Comm Ave to the Rat to see the Classic Ruins or Dogmatics, hopping a cab to North Station and Chet’s Last Call, getting thrown out of Father’s. Drinking in Left Nut’s rehearsal space until the sun came up. Lot’s of great vinyl from that period. I’m staring at a bunch of it right now. hahahaha Great post.

  8. Wally Bangs says:

    I had Christmas’s first album too..bought it after a huge write up in Spin. Thought it was okay…saw them open up for Husker Du on Du’s Warehouse tour. The really interesting thing for me is that the singer/guitarist dude appeared on Jeopardy during the Ken Jennings marathon run of beat downs. He did pretty well, but obviously…he lost.

  9. Joe says:

    Wally – we must have read the same writeup. Johnny – I got some more of those Boston vinyl goodies on the queue.

  10. Scott says:

    There was a time in the early to mid-90′s in San Francisco where you couldn’t escape tiki if you tried. It kind of piggybacked onto the post-Pulp Fiction surf revivial scene in SF (The Mermen, Phantom Surfers, The Ultras, etc, etc…)

    Like a lot of other things, there’s some good tiki/lounge (like vintage Esquivel, Martin Denny, Les Baxter), and there’s bad, trite shit like Combustible Edison.

    re: Boston music in general… Traditionally, my 2 favorites would have to be the Pixies and Del Fuegos, although I can’t take a lot of Pixies these days.

  11. Joe says:

    Obviously Esquivel (which was considered Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, if I remember) is great. Martin Denny records are great as atmosphere. They start to get old when you listen to them though. My favorite thing about them were the covers. Les baxter is the best. His work with Bas Sheva and Yma Sumac is amazing. Yma Sumac is probably the all-time greatest thing I ever got out of tiki.

    First i heard of tiki was in the Incredibly Strange Music books and via Throbbing Gristle. I definitely saw it as a California thing and I also saw it as a part of the punk crowd getting older. The music was less intrusive than punk rock. People could play it in the background for atmosphere, while talking.

    Combustible Edison were actually very good. They weren’t trite at all. They copped the aesthetic in the same way that say The Fuzztones copped the garage rock aesthetic. Their music was very nuanced and well thought out and visually they did a lot of cool shit. They were very similar to the Squirrel Nut Zippers, a band that got lumped into another 90′s trend (swing) and suffered for it.

    The problem wasn’t either of these bands. The problem was the aesthetics themselves. When I think of swing and tiki now, I can’t help but think of a bunch of fratboys saying “you’re so money” while drinking martinis. I was in film school at the time and the bowling shirts and raybans just got to be too much. Now you can buy tiki torches at Home Depot. The whole thing got so over played and over done that is hard to objectively assess either The Squirrel Nut Zippers or Combustible Edison now.

    As far as Boston bands are concerned, I never really much liked the Pixies. Could never get into them. And the Del Fuegos were AWFUL.

  12. Scott says:

    I can see you not liking the Pixies. But the Del Fuegos awful!?! Really!?! That surprises me. Ok, except for the odd horn arrangement, which I think everyone tried to pull off in the 80s at least once.

  13. Joe says:

    whats weird is that I should love the Pixies. I mean, I love post-punk and such. I even like the Breeders. But I just could never get into them.

  14. Jon B. says:

    Chrismas actually released THREE albums. After this one, IRS put out “Ultraprophets Of Thee Psykick Revolution” (as someone mentioned above). But then, Matador posthumously put out “Vortex” in 1993. All three are great.

  15. maxson says:

    Joe, man, Dumptruck aint in the vault. It’s funny, press might’ve alerted me to it, but I probably decided to buy that first Christmas album because the cover appealed to the Boy Stamp Collector in me, and the fact that Your Food came really really close to having been instead named Santa Claus. Imagine that! “Poke It With A Stick” titled instead “Stuffing Your Chimney Tonight”…!

  16. George says:

    thank you, thank you! one of my favorite bands of all time. saw them many times (rat, channel lunch shows – those were odd).

    fantastic.

    George

  17. jeff weigand says:

    Joe…thanks for this link as I had been looking for this record for years…Xmas were a great band…by the way, the song “The Hottest Sun” is about Pete Prescott…little known fact I think…I remember a line “the boys are sitting in the back”…while Pete stews up in the front of the van ect…will have to listen to it again tho here ater its downloaded…but Thanks! Jeff

  18. jeff weigand says:

    I hope someone comes across Ultraprophet and puts a link up…

  19. Joe says:

    I had no idea that was about the Suns. Thats awesome.

    No problem btw Jeff…I should be thanking you!

  20. meef says:

    Ask (for *Ultraprophets*) and ye shall et cetera:

    hxxp://www.mediafire.com/download.php?lommomiiz1z

    Would anyone be willing to share *Vortex*?

  21. jeff weigand says:

    Thanks for putting that up…the ultra link…maybe it is me but I cant get it to go…would love if someone would email me and send me the damn songs…jefferyweigand@hotmail…or a link that might work? either way…important band…first xmas record was best thing out of boston from all those years…

  22. Kim says:

    I have LOVED this band since junior high (I’m 31 now) and still love all three of their albums. I’m in the southeast, and have never met another person into them, unless I turned them onto them. I stumbled across them late one night when Night Flight played a clip of the “Big Plans” video.

    Ultraprophets was the 1st of theirs I had, Vortex the 2nd and Excelsior Dayglo the last (because, alas, in the pre-Internet days of the ’90s I couldn’t mail order the CD, I had to dig for the LP in vinyl shops).

    If I can figure out how to create a torrent I’d love to share these. :)

  23. Joe says:

    ” have never met another person into them, unless I turned them onto them”.

    I love that. Its the reason I do this blog.

  24. joe says:

    I discovered Christmas while watching MTV during one of those ‘alternative rock’ shows (120 Minutes?) back in ’86 or ’87. The video was ‘Big Plans’ and I loved it. I found a cassette of ‘In Excelsior Day Glo’ soon after. I think Christmas published their mailing address on the cassette so I corresponded with them by writing postcards. They wrote back too! Later, after ‘Ultraprophets’, I wanted to start my own little 7″ record label (like everbody, right?) and I was curious if Christmas had any B-Sides, Demos, anything they might want to give me to put out. I had a phone conversation with Michael Cudahy and he actually agreed to give me something to release. I was stunned and thrilled. Later, Michael changed his mind for whatever reason and the deal never happened. This was probably close to 17 years ago and I still regret that I couldn’t make it happen. Still, one of my favorite bands of all time, all three albums and the couple of songs on singles and compilations are dynamite pop gems. Michael, are you out there? You got any old B-Sides. Demos or Outtakes for me to put out?!!

  25. i found Christmas via that YouTube video above — was stunned and intrigued that they turned into Combustible Edison. totally rad band!

  26. Mehitabell says:

    Wow, I thought I had dreamt this album up, until I pined for it on Facebook and a dear old friend of mine sent me a cassette tape of it (fortunately I still have a tape deck in my car!) I introduced my 13-year-old son to this band and he loves them – has hijacked my tape on a number of occasions (yep, he inherited my old boom box, with tape deck. Or, he found it while cleaning the garage…). So glad that I’m not the only one who loved and appreciated this band. Thanks for giving me a bit of a reality check! Peace!

  27. Marcus says:

    Any chance of a re-up on this? I connected my turntable over the holiday to gave it a spin, but it skipped a lot. :(

Leave a Reply