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….