John Roderick and Jonathan Coulton: One Christmas at a Time

Music Reviews John Roderick
John Roderick and Jonathan Coulton: One Christmas at a Time

This is the Christmas Vacation of indie-rock holiday albums. Nothing moves the spirit more than hearing two of the brightest minds in contemporary music—former University of Washington professor John Roderick and Yale grad Jonathan Coulton—devote their collective smarts to a new canon of songs about drunken Jimmy Stewart, the Atari 2600 and “feety pajamas.”

Written in less than a week and recorded in just a few days, the spontaneous, no-Jello-molds-barred One Christmas at a Time paints a far more accurate picture of the holidays than Bing Crosby’s stuffy croon ever did. While Long Winters frontman Roderick and solo artist Coulton had banned the words “merry” and “cheer” from the start of their collaboration (clearly channeling Lars Von Trier & Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions), you’ll still recognize plenty here without having to shake the box. There’s the obnoxious dirtbag uncle who ruins everything; spoiled kids, shitty gifts and worse parents; overzealous new boyfriends and girlfriends; bourgie materialism and the holier-than-thou hipsters who rage against it; turkey tetrazzini at the prison mess hall—even the admittedly requisite token Chanukah song. The latter, “Wikipedia Chanukah,” is a spoken-word tour de farce during which our politically correct troubadours recite the Wikipedia entry on Chanukah verbatim over bad electronic dance music. The result is nothing short of brilliant if, like me, you subscribe to the idea that something can be so intentionally stupid that it becomes brilliant.

Of a piece (of pumpkin pie), One Christmas at a Time’s sound is absurdly eclectic—quadrangulating somewhere between the heady, indie cool of The Long Winters, nondescript synth pop, ‘80s wank rock and the ghost of classic-country Christmases past, wintery blankets of vocal harmonies woven snugly throughout. There are even a few lounge-y standards in the making, though I suppose only time will tell if “Christmas in July” and “Christmastime is Wunnerful” have the staying power of a “Silver Bells” or “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Regardless, the naughty and nice One Christmas at a Time is delightful and dysfunction-filled—campy holiday-schtick of the highest order. “Christmas is interesting / Like a stick in your eye,” Roderick and Coulton warble. This album has a similarly captivating sting.

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