Holiday Music sounds like the sign hanging over the CD aisle in a Hallmark store. In fact, it’s the name of a band that has nothing to do with seasonal cheer. Their new album Brainwaves Are Real? is a compilation of weird, slightly warped futuristic jangle pop that also manages to be—how do they do this?—a crowd pleaser. I’d recommend it to anyone with the faintest appreciation for pop music. Maybe I’ll hand it out as Christmas presents and hope people don’t think I’m messing with them.
Holiday Music is a Boston-based band, and Brainwaves Are Real? was released by the Allston-based record label and zine publisher Disposable America.
Brainwaves is propelled by its rhythm guitar. “Teaspoon of Honey” begins with a heavy strummed barre chord pattern that repeats throughout the song, eventually accented by sparkly little surf rock lead notes and sporadic laser-gun effects that are nothing short of intergalactic. Holiday Music switches seamlessly between electric and acoustic, aggressive and sweet. On “Ripper,” swelling, crunchy bursts of guitar noise slice loudly through yelling and chaotic drums. That harsh turns mellow in the next track, “NEED,” a quietly rambling little acoustic tune with almost folky slide guitar and soft cymbal brushing. It even incorporates heart-melting cellos. Such frequent fluctuations in mood often give albums a clusterfuck vibe: like they’re just a bunch of stuff with no real identity. But Holiday Music returns often enough to the same effects—the tremolo guitar, the false endings, the quiet sections—so that it feels like an organic whole. The vocals are often compressed, but the band wisely removes the compressor on some of the rawer acoustic songs.
Many songs on Brainwaves are catchy and often moving. But they’re also weird enough to be worth a grin and a head scratch. Consider the song “NO” (another all-caps title that presumably suggests something more profound than a keyboard glitch). “NO” is a soft, melancholy song that mixes gentle thumbed notes with bright popping high notes. But first there’s about ten seconds of curious water sounds (a rolling river? A draining bathtub?). “18514 Page Ave” features fractured, practically inaudible vocal sweeps that sound like what your parents must have heard when they played records backwards listening for messages from Satan. The final track, “Our Gimmick,” is my favorite. It makes me think of a musically gifted cult losing themselves in a melodious chant before being abducted by aliens.
Holiday Music reminds me of no one, but I can imagine them being liked by everyone. They are strange but not alienating, catchy but not banal. I’d love to see them live. Dance a little. Sway a little. Weird out.