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Christmas Decorations - Model 91

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Artist: Christmas Decorations

Album: Model 91

Label: Kranky

Review date: Nov. 27, 2002

Holiday Recordings

Christmas Decorations is a duo from Brooklyn that makes recordings. Not records, but recordings. More on this later.

They debut with Model 91, an album composed of instrumentals and vocal songs, structurally similar to any of the albums from David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy. Christmas Decorations don’t cite anything off Low or Heroes as an influence, but they do make mention of Ike Yard and Desmond Simmons. Namechecking Simmons is just a cryptic way of saying “We like Wire, a lot,” but Ike Yard made dark, hard, yet sterile early disco/post-punk in the manner of Suicide et al. (and on Factory, no less) and somehow has yet to be cannibalized by Larry Tee – but don’t hold your breath.

Christmas Decorations also cite Carsten Nicolai and Wolfgang Voigt as well as The Shadow Ring’s abrasive minimalism as influential to their (to quote the accompanying Kranky press release) “ambient punk” sound. This idea of ambient punk is at once bizarre and compelling. Two-minute abrasive textures? Nothing but drone? Isn’t that what Glenn Branca was all about? It inspires a lot of interesting ideas, but alas, Model 91 doesn’t go anywhere near them.

Granted, they do manage a lot of nice sounds, but none of it catches fire. The guitar is reverbed, but clean and has a lonely independence. It’s a good sign and a great sound, but I don’t love it all the time. More interestingly, the other half of the recorded sound is basically electronics, either through good old-fashioned noise or cheap sequencers. Bass and drums occasionally make it into the mix, but these are the central elements. Maybe “cheap sequencer” just doesn’t mean what it used to, but the synth elements on this album sound good. Not luxury, but unique, avoiding that played-out lo-fi Casio thing by miles. (This may have something to do with the fact that Steve Silverstein knows his way around a studio, writing for Tape Op and doing some vague “free lance recording.” Among other things, Nick Forte most recently toured and recorded with Beautiful Skin, but his “recording” contribution is opaque.)

So while the first half of the album is all instrumentals, the second half features fairly conventional song structures with flat, speak-sing vocals courtesy of Rob “the man who recorded the first Labradford album” Christiansen. The lyrics alternate between the poorly medicated and the babyish: “I often make the same mistakes / I offered you an orange suit.” At first, I was afraid that whatever the lyrics were, these songs wouldn’t hold the weight of the instrumentals before them, and now I’m starting to wish they were scrapped altogether, especially when they attempt a chorus of voices. Fortunately, they tie it off with another instrumental, a toss-up with the opener for my favorite track. While Model 91 makes for a competent, capable debut, pretense is not on their side. This recording lacks the commitment and conviction (deserved or not) of someone discovering a new sound.

By Elliott Brennan

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