THE SULLIVAN BROTHERS (Westwood & Willow)
* * * *
Christmas music is one of the most explicitly commercial and fickle genres of pop, and most attempts by pop artists to stick a toe in the genre end up as nothing more than steaming heaps of reindeer shit. (Look no further than Billy Idol’s Happy Holidays.) On the other hand, it seems like a completely natural move for the Sullivan Brothers, the lovably goofy/eclectic duo behind Westwood & Willow and SullyZ, to make a Christmas album. And the result sounds natural as well. The contents are as varied and eclectic yet fun and exciting as the contents of a Christmas stocking. Among the little gifts: a stark, melancholy “Silent Night,” an echo-guitar arrangement of “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Bay Bells,” a bizarre hip-hop paean to baking cookies and oneself on the same day. Being Jewish, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I have many relatives and friends who do--and I remember the Christmas experience being a lot like listening to XoXmas. Hell, it already feels like the season when I listen to this album.
Give It Up
* * * 1/2
Maniac is, for the most part, two guys--American Shawn Harris, of seminal Bay Area band The Matches, and Australian Jake Grigg of Something With Numbers. Both are big-haired, big-voiced frontmen who would be difficult to describe without using the tired and obsolete phrase “rock stars.” And these four songs show it--“restraint” and “modesty” are out of the dictionary, only huge voices and crashing backbeats. But at its root, the whole affair is basically a barroom sing-along album. The songs are surprisingly minimalist on close investigation, especially “Hey Love” (no connection to the Girl Named T tune), a slightly mind-numbing chant I could imagine the dudes in that weird pub down the block from where I used to live howling. But the most notable thing about this album is how well the live energy of a Maniac show is transferred to record. Even if you have to catch them live to see what they’re all about, you can get a pretty good impression from these tracks.