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From the "Can We Please Get the Millennium Over With Now?" Desk and Happy [Expletive Deleted] Holidays

Wednesday, Dec 22 1999
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From the "Can We Please Get the Millennium Over With Now?" Desk From a press release that recently found its way to Riff Raff: "You knew '1999' would be a hit again in 1999. What you didn't know is that it would be a post-punk country-swing bluegrass version performed by Oklahoma's Red Dirt Rangers."

Happy [Expletive Deleted] Holidays "How in the hell can one man go all over the world riding in a fucking sleigh?" asks a sampled voice on Tino's Christmas Breaks, one of the latest breaks-and-beats collections from local imprint Tino Corp. Throw that quote in with a few choice words about reindeer, and the result is one of the more amusing holiday discs to come around recently. Of course, one's expectations get lowered when we start talking about holiday albums, mainly because finding good ones is pretty much an exercise in futility, given the ephemeral and time-bound products that they are. So for the record, a few of the ones with staying power: A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector, The Beach Boys Christmas Album, A John Fahey Christmas, Elvis Presley's If Every Day Was Christmas, Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas, the Roches' We Three Kings, and Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis."

Other than that, it's mostly bad novelties like Adam Sandler trying to figure out what rhymes with "Hanukkah," quickie commercial product from Celine Dion and Garth Brooks, and old standards given "holiday interpretations," which usually means mixing some sleigh bells high up top. Tino's Christmas Breaks falls into that last trap itself, but Tino's whole reason for living is percussion, so it's just another layer of groove to an already funky excursion produced by label founders Jack Dangers, better known as Meat Beat Manifesto, and Ben Stokes. Pressed on marbled green vinyl for maximum holiday effect, the disc does have lasting value beyond the holidays: The second side is filled with 20 minutes of scratch tracks -- found-sound clicks, buzzes, chirps, and off-color statements perfect for sampling, or just diving into an irony-ridden zeitgeist. "We're looking at it as if it were a time capsule, a 1999 commemorative thing," says producer Mike Powell. Sound clips from previous Tino releases are at tinocorp.com; label contributor Powell promises a fifth volume of breaks, Tino's Dub Breaks, next year, along with releases from Dangers and Stokes, and more collaborations with the folks at Future Primitive Sound like the DJ summit hosted at Japantown Bowl earlier this month.

If the holiday cheer that Tino proffers is a relatively sophisticated one, consider, on the opposite end, San Francisco rockabilly quartet the Smokejumpers' "I Woke Up Christmas Morning With a Woody." Like "I Love You (But You're a Lyin' Sack of Shit)," which appeared on the band's exuberant, smart, and loose debut Flat Tear It Up, "Woody" is nothing if not irreverent. "My happiness is busting at the seams," proclaims lead singer King Teen, and he sings it like he means it. As a more traditional tonic, though, the band offers two other songs on its Livin' La Xmas Loca EP: the lovey-dovey "Christmas Every Day," and a savvy reworking of Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca," where the music finally swings just as hard as Ricky's sassy hips do. The Smokejumpers' home page at smokejumper.com links to MP3 files of the songs.

Since the Slow Poisoners seem to come out of the culture of fascination with absinthe, rarebit, and other mildly Victorian, mildly mind-bending pursuits, it goes without saying that any holiday song they offer is going to be a bit ... off. On Halloween, the band offered a track called "Disintegrating Sister," a spooky and Baroque little tale that began: "They found a stranger in the woods/ And your name was in his book/ And it didn't look too good." For "A Poisoner's Christmas," they offer two minutes of string-driven psychedelia that resides somewhere between the 13th Floor Elevators and early David Bowie. Which is to say, entrancingly weird, and that's without considering the lyrics. To wit:

Here's a slaying song to sing this year

Great spiders, lunar caustic, Christmas

cheer

That damn ring-ringing of the bells

Has left me feeling quite unwell

As snow is falling so are we

No mistletoe, but hemlock hangs above me

Poor gross goose on dinner table laid

Something strange about the egg nog that

I made

Have another helping from the punch bowl

All that's in my stocking is a lump of soul

With every shopping day that passes

Spoonfuls of powders in your glasses

Not exactly "O Tannenbaum," but it'll do. An MP3 version is downloadable from slowpoisoners.com.

Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to Mark.Athitakis@sfweekly.com or mail them to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

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Mark Athitakis

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