The Uberpop

The only Christmas Record worth buying…in my humble opinion.

Posted in Album Reviews by theuberpop on December 2, 2009

A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965, Fantasy)

Courtesy of Charles Schulz/Peanuts/CBS/Fantasy Records

The year was 1965, and although I wouldn’t be born for another 21 years, I was still heavily affected by arguably the greatest Christmas special and resulting soundtrack ever conceived by man.  You know what I’m talking about, it’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Not only is the the TV special the epitome of American Christmas Classic (the sucker still airs to this day and most kids still know about it or have seen it more than once), but the soundtrack (which will be the focal point of this review) created a holiday aesthetic that is absolutely timeless.

The legendary group behind the soundtrack, The Vince Guaraldi Trio, captured holiday classics like “O Tannenbaum” and “What Child is This” in arrangements that feel incredibly natural, it almost feels as if they couldn’t see playing the songs any other way (which causes these particular versions to feel definitive in a way, without being imposing.)  The recording exudes such excellence and attention to detail that it leads me to believe that the trio likely enjoyed the project and took great pride in each performance.  The performances themselves are incredible, all three musicians play very tastefully and fall gracefully into their respective roles in the ensemble.  Guaraldi, the west-coast based pianist and composer, did an excellent job of creating a clear cohesiveness between his arrangements of Christmas classics and the original pieces he composed for the cartoon, including “Skating” (which is my current ringtone), “Christmas is Coming” and the ever-popular “Linus and Lucy”.

To me, this album’s greatest achievement is that not one note seems forced, fabricated or cheesy.  The risky addition of a children’s choir on “My Little Drum” and “Christmas Time is Here” adds to the overall aesthetic without overdoing it.  Yeah, it’s kitschy, but it’s not over-edited (or under-edited…thank God) or overwhelming.  It just sounds like some kids (who have pretty good pitch overall) gathered around a piano singing their favorite Christmas songs, and it fits perfectly with the cartoon…which was the point, after all.  Overall, the presence of the kids adds a youthful, playful “vibe” to the record, it keeps it relate-able amidst the musical prowess of the trio (which at times seems a touch restrained for the ease of the listener, but that’s likely more appropriate for this setting.)  In my mind their voices are imperative to the success of the arrangement of “My Little Drum”, Guaraldi’s placement of the kids choir as part of the rhythmic backbone of the song is part of what makes that particular arrangement work.  Even the “Christmas pageant-ish” version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, the most pitchy (but not too pitchy) and troublesome track for the listener, earns its place on the album on the merit of its realism, the bare bones instrumentation of the kids singing the chorus accompanied solely by organ feels very much like something you’d encounter at your local Christmas Pageant (let’s be real, even I think that’s cute and I’m a 23 year old male).

I realize that this probably isn’t the most objective review ever, so we’ll say that I’m either exercising an increasingly trendy knack for nostalgia in an attempt to generate traffic or merely expressing my gratitude to a record that has been a huge part of my upbringing and has remained part of the national holiday consciousness for 44 years now, you be the judge (spoiler alert: it’s probably a bit of both.)  No, it’s not a perfect record, as if that’s even possible, but it is a great Christmas record (and you could count great Christmas records on one hand) that deserves to be part of everyone’s holiday tradition.  If timeless isn’t the right word, it’s not far off.

If you don’t own it already, do yourself and your family a favor and buy it on Amazon

-Justin (December 1, 2009)

Courtesy Charles Schulz/Peanuts/CBS


REVIEW: Tegan and Sara, “Sainthood” (2009, Vapor/Sire)

Posted in Album Reviews by theuberpop on October 27, 2009

Tegan and Sara Quinn may have crafted one of the best pop records of 2009.  Their latest offering, Sainthood, I perceive to be more consistent than Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and less tedious than Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest (both of which are great records in their own right.)  The opener, “Arrow” and the mid-tempo shuffle “Night Watch” echo tones reminiscent of Tegan and Sara’s 2007’s critical darling The Con (particularly that album’s title track and the pulsating “Are You Ten Years Ago”), juxtaposing abrasive synth sounds with urgently strummed acoustic guitars, only this time around the twins have amped up the drama and the syncopation, thanks in no small part to the incredible band behind them, including Death Cab for Cutie drummer Jason McGerr (who also played on The Con), Producer/Multi-Instrumentalist Chris Walla (also of DCFC and producer of The Con), guitarist/keyboardist Ted Gowan and violinist Petra Haden.  Lyrically, the songs demonstrate a maturity that will likely be lost on the teenage Taylor Swift crowd but will undoubtedly resonate deeply with twenty-somethings without wallowing or whining (eg. “Night Watch”: “I’ve got grounds for divorce.  It’s in my blood this divorce.  I separate everybody.  I need distance from your body.”)  Sonically, all I can say is that Chris Walla once again reminds us that he is one of the best in the business in terms of getting sounds and tones that achieve a perfect union with the spirit of the songs themselves.  He and co-Producer Howard Redekopp (who produced Tegan and Sara’s 2004’s hook-filled So Jealous) craft a sonic backdrop that never feels forced or too busy, sometimes there’s a lot going on, but never to the point that it distracts from the songs themselves.  In many ways Sainthood feels very much like a marriage of the unrelenting pop frenzy that was So Jealous and the maturity and darkness of The Con, particularly on tracks like the rhythmically fragmented “Paperback Head” and lyrical mouthful that is “The Ocean”.  Also present are a few driving rockers with punk-ish undertones (eg. the first single “Hell” and “Northshore”).  Although, I will say that a few tracks on the album almost feel a little too Death Cab-ish, walking a fine line between imitation and homage (an obvious risk of having half of that band play on your record and the band’s guitarist/producer co-produce your record…but I suppose that probably rules out both imitation and homage), particularly the previously mentioned “Paperback Head” and “Sentimental Song”.  At a few points the songs sound vaguely run together, but I think that may be because the album never really slows down (there’s not a “slow jam” on the disc, which you don’t particularly miss) and a few of them seem to share key signatures…but that’s not a crime by any means.  However, these small criticisms are very easy too overlook thanks to incredible pop numbers like “Don’t Rush” and “Alligator”.  Overall Sainthood is a very solid indie-pop record, not a perfect record, but it is incredibly consistent in delivering well-crafted songs with little or no filler.

Verdict: Do yourself a favor and buy it, your ears will thank you.

Tegan and Sara Official Site