Substance W - A Boiling Vat of Adhesive Xmas

This arrived at P.O. Box a week before our last yuleblog entry. When I retrieved this, the glow from the shiny metallic green bubble mailer greeted me. I stopped in the lobby of the post office to check my other mail and began to get people staring at me.

As I walked out of the post office, most of the eyes were transfixed on the bubble mailer. It was like watching the audience at a tennis match - every movement in sync, all eyes glued on the action.

The topper of it all was embossed on the shimmering green mailer. Next to the mailing address was an impressive wax seal with the band logo of Substance W!

Inside was the album you're looking at, a poster for the album, and a cover letter from one of its creators - Todd van Bronkhorst:

"I'm a 38 yr-old cubicle drone who's a musician in his spare time, who deprived himself of sleep for two years in order to produce a CD and take care of a new baby simultaneously. Got my friends to sing on it for me so I wouldn't have to. My goal was to make the most ridiculous and unexpected interpretations of these songs, and I think I succeeded."

Self-released on his Worst Kitchen Records label (I'm assured the website is coming), this album is available right now at either in CD or download form. By previewing one of the samples at Amazon, we could be in for quite a ride...


1.) O Xmas Tree (Hooked On Xmas Mix)
What the..? It's 45 seconds long, electronica, add some Hanna-Barbera sound effects, ghastly tongue-in-cheek singing! Wow...

2.) Little Drummer Boy Hears Drums
One of the singers does his best Elmo impersonation. Is that Pee-Wee Herman Christmas special music back there? Wayyy cool jazzy break! It's all over the place...

3.) Switched On Bethlehem
Moooooooooooooog! Fake moog? Performed by Farty Gold's Casiophonic Orskaduh (?). Regardless, it's a great sounding track!

4.) O Xmas Tree (Midnight Martini Mix)
This one's 36 seconds long... a swanky lounge reprise to track 1.

5.) Good King Wenceslas
Starts off techno... then goes baroque... slides into country banjo... repeat and mix up those styles until the end. I'm getting a contact high just listening to what they were smoking!

6.) Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
A hip jazzy bongo beat makes way for Little Brenna Watson on the vocals. A super cool home recording, ya dig?

7.) O Xmas Tree (Dead Kringles Mix)
Dead Kennedys... dead kringles... coincidence? 35 second long.

8.) Gloria In Excelsis Deo
Roger Moore / James Bond background music sung by someone with a bad Indian accent? I'm gettin' dizzy...

9.) Jingle Jingle Jingle
Holy hannah... a country beat with Leonard Cohen-style vocals. I'm a 1/3 of the way into this album and drunk from all these sounds-n-styles.

10.) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
One singer keeps up with a madman armed with a runaway Casio keyboard.

11.) O Xmas Tree (Slap My Bass Mix)
Funky, funky, FUNKY reprise... 40 seconds long. That bass sounds awfully "Seinfeld"-ish.

12.) We Three Kings
Ambient instrumental track from The Audreyland Studio Orchestra which slides into klezmer style music, then hard rock - I'm not making this up!

13.) O Xmas Tree (A Purpler Shade of Plum Mix)
Electric harpsichord reprise... 36 seconds long. Where can this go now? Dare I ask?

14.) A Stranger Manger
Clearly inspired by Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas" (of which I'm not a fan of at all). Next...

15.) Greensleeves
Oompah band beat with whistling that would make Muzzy Marcelino or Fred Lowery sit up and take notice.

16.) A Visit From St. Nicholas
A retelling of "The Night Before Christmas" with great background music and Hanna-Barbera sound FX! I wouldn't be surprised if this song ends up on Cartoon Network with appropriate animation at Christmas time in the future!

17.) O Xmas Tree (Yussel Rabinovitch Mix)
GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Sung in the style of and named for the character Neil Diamond plays in his 1980 remake of "The Jazz Singer", this is hysterically funny! I had to stop and take a breather. LMAO!

18.) Silver And Gold
Murry Wilson lives! After a three minute rambling rant (lots of yuks), we get a nice rendition... or do we?

19.) It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
Our Leonard Cohen singer is back. Sung straight with plenty of feeling that you don't mind the tempo or musical changes.

20.) O Xmas Tree (Goldfish in the Heels Mix)
Hip-hop / R&B reprise. 36 seconds long. Word to your other...

21.) Christmastime Is Here
The first 2:30 is a mix of rock and electronica. The night shift comes in and jazzes it up to Vince Guaraldi levels - appropriate for one of his songs.

22.) We're A Couple Of Misfits
What if Rudolph and Hermie the Elf went punk? It would sound like this...

23.) Silent Night
Violin duo to start surrounded by a pond of croaking frogs. It wanders around experimentally then goes back to the violins. Haunting version.

24.) O Xmas Tree (Monkey Like Banana Mix)
Exotica / reggae-ish reprise... 55 seconds long.

25.) O Come All Ye Faithful
Someone pulled out a scratchy copy of Neil Diamond's first Christmas album... laffin uncontrollably here.

26.) Jingle Bells
A group gathering with more musical styles crammed into 3:13 that's allowed by law. My sides ache...

27.) O Xmas Tree (Auf Deutsch Mix)
OMG... who let Hasselhoff on this album? I demand my money back... wait, I got this free and it's 48 seconds long. Never mind.

28.) Auld Lang Syne (Bonus track)
Secretly recorded at the album wrap party I'd wager. I feel like it's New Year's Eve, I've downed three bottles of champagne, and never brought to miiind... should old acquaintance...

In the nearly three years of writing at this blog, I have been guilty many times for being over exuberant in my praise of Christmas music. I would guess that about 95% of the reviews on this blog have been effusively positive, sometimes bordering on fanatical.

However, in the nearly three years of writing at this blog, I must tell you that I haven't heard anything remotely like this album. The only album that comes close in its unpredictability of style, tempo, flair, and exciting new takes on Christmas music would be "Ira Ironstrings - Plays Santa Claus (Christmas Music For Those Who Have Heard Everything)".

I'm guessing the average listener of Christmas music won't be as stimulated as Christmas music enthusiasts will be at the depth of this album. For many of us, we've heard "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolph" played ad nauseum in one style of music (rock, jazz, hip-hop, etc.). On occasion, we heard Christmas songs with two or three different styles within the same song.

This album changes styles on a whim - veering in many directions with the view outside the window a blur. Dark one moment, disgustingly cheerful the next, downright silly soon after, perhaps back to the beginning, or maybe not.

Like the weather in Chicago, if you don't like what you hear on this album, wait a moment. There are no rules, no format, no parameters - everything is written on an Etch-A-Sketch with the only requirement being a fun wild ride. This is the musical equivalent of a roller coaster ride and the effects of an hour ride are just wearing off.

This is one long, strange trip of a Christmas album... and man, it was FUN!

Thank you Todd for sending this. Congratulations on getting all those tunes and ideas from your dream stage to reality with this project. I will be hearing tracks from this album on dozens of homemade Christmas comps for the next 10 years.



Anonymous said…

Make sure that you check your p.o. box early next week!!!!!!!

There is something very exciting and important coming to you.

It is a brand new Christmas CD that will thrill you!!
Anonymous said…
Wow! I'm speechless. Just when you think it's all been said and done already....

I truly don't see myself using this on my Christmas comps (though I suppose it's bound to happen), but you know I'll have to own it.
CaptainOT said…
Anon - I'll be watching...

Stubby - There's at least 10 to 12 tracks that I think are worthy for inclusion on my annual Christmas comps - that faux Neil Diamond track is an early favorite.

jazzbassNick said…
Hey Capt -

Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to listen to the whole thing and thank you so much for the wonderful review!

Thanks again,
CaptainOT said…
Nick - You're welcome and congrats on the killer album!

WatcherJohn said…
What a review! I purchased the album from Amazon immediately after reading it. In a couple of days I will share my first listen with the office.
CaptainOT said…
WatcherJohn - Bet you're gonna have one swingin' office with all that crazy good music on the boombox!


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