Thursday, July 28, 2011

Theta Naught - Naught Christmas Album Review

As I very quickly mention at the start of this review, I'm not a huge fan of Christmas music. I like the occasional punk cover of an xmas tune here and there, but traditional Christmas music does nothing for me and I do my best to simply tune it out when the holiday season rolls in. I may be a little rough on the holiday as I talk about it here, but I think I mostly wanted to illustrate how Christmas-time has lost a lot of its luster in my eyes. Still, I must say that the post-rock versions of these Christmas classics made them somewhat palatable to me, which is a nice feat. I can't say I actively listened to this album around Christmas time, but I could tolerate it more than other traditional music. Anyhow, I know it's not Christmas now, but this is the next review in my list of un-blogged reviews! This comes to us from December 22, 2009.

Traditional Christmas music, in my mind, can go away forever and I wouldn’t miss it at all. We’ve all heard the same tired songs every year, usually while in the mall trying to find crap to buy for relatives you don’t even like. Or they’re blasted ad nausea over the radio waves in the hopes it’ll get people “into the holiday spirit”. For most people, though, “holiday spirit” consists of spending too much money on useless crap that’ll get returned a week after you give it, drinking just to keep from killing your family, and stressing out over the myriad of events that you have to participate in so that you don’t look like a scrooge. Do I hate Christmas? Probably more now than I used to, but generally I still like the holiday season. The music, though, has got to go. The only things that keep me even remotely interested in holiday music are the inevitable Christmas song covers that bands put out. This year, unfortunately, has been somewhat disappointing. The Bowling For Soup album outright sucked, the MXPX album was passable but had too much old material, and August Burns Red’s rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was only one song (come on guys, you could make an entire album of Christmas music that would blast grandma right out of her rocker). Then out of nowhere, Differential Records sent me a copy of Naught Christmas by Theta Naught, and this couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Naught Christmas is an album filled with those Christmas classics I so much love to hate, but put through a post-rock filter that not only strips down these overplayed favorites into, at times, minimalist interpretations, but takes the key movements of each song and builds on them to create sprawling epics, most notably their 10+ minute long version of “Little Drummer Boy” and the 9 minute “God Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen”. I know what you’re thinking, but Theta Naught didn’t take these songs and simply add peaks, valleys, crescendos, and unnecessary wankery to each song. That would be too easy.

What Theta Naught has achieved is a synthesis of the traditional components of each song and the post-rock mentality. Let me explain. No doubt your grandparents or parents have a Christmas CD or two where it’s all instrumental or acoustic versions of classics. It’s easy to break down a Christmas song into its most basic melody, play it on an acoustic guitar, and cash in. It’s also easy to take the basic melody of a Christmas song and use it as a starting point for a brand new sprawling composition, which is what you would think a post-rock band may tend to do. However, Theta Naught successfully marries both of these approaches. The basic melodies are still here, are very key to the entire composition, and are also the basis for the band’s unique creative output.

“Little Drummer Boy” is really the best example of how they do this. Utilizing drums to set the pace, the melody of the song is carried, at different points, by the bass guitar, banjo, harp, and cello. When these instruments are not taking to the forefront with the melody, the band are using them to explore how best to complement and underscore such a well known movements. At times this experimentation is quite amazing, but in some rare moments it doesn’t feel quite right. These off moments are very few and far between and usually only occur when the core melody is subdued behind the band's new additions to the songs. In any case, Theta Naught is both honoring and subtly reworking these classic songs for not only post-rock audiences, but general Christmas music loving audiences as well.

Christmas can be a tough time of year for some people. It can be stressful, demanding, time-consuming, and exhausting, but Theta Naught look to help calm the nerves and ease your spirits with their special post-rock interpretations of these classic songs. I can easily say that, at this moment, I can’t think of another Christmas album this year that I’d rather get as a gift, so pick up Naught Christmas for you, your family, a friend, or someone you care about.

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