Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
A radio host on Iowa Public Radio this morning came back from a commercial break all choked up after these two good-for-little musicians, posturing as a duo especial had performed a sappy and uninspired yuletide carol. The host, who had likely been nursing a mug of Folger's coffee through the entire rendition, excused himself by saying, "Really, some of these songs are extremely emotional." Really? Other than the country song by Bob Carlisle, wherein the little kid goes to a cobbler asking for a stylish pair of shoes for his or her dying mother so that she can look pretty before Jesus if she passes away that night (a song that is incredibly orchestrated for that same weak ass tear-jerking reaction), what classic Christmas tune does anything more than just break out the vanilla sentimentalism (nothing that should stir ya) and make sleigh bells an annoyance of sorts?
Casper & The Cookies lead singer Jason NeSmith isn't going to deliver any variation of the angelic, melancholy home for the holidays number. He is not Mary J. Blige or Barry Manilow. He is a quirky little elf who occasionally writes about characters with mime in their blood. He finds content in the most menial and bizarre distractions and flights of imagination. He twists up all this impetus with a sweet tooth's appreciation for always adding another bag of sugar to the mix. It's sugar with black humor as a stable base. It's crass at times, but it's always rambunctious and outwardly cheery.
NeSmith and band, which also includes his wife Kay Stanton, Jim Hicks and Joe Rowe, returned to the Daytrotter studio this fall in a very giving mood. They recorded five songs - all new and unreleased - and one happened to be a Christmas song so vulgar and so animalistically sexy that there was only one proper home for it - right here. He might not be the only man whose idea of a proud Christmas song that could get passed down over the generations, one kin to the next, would be one suggesting that if Santa happened to slide down the chimney just as the dirty deed was going down underneath the Christmas tree, why doesn't the jolly guy just roll up his sleeves and join in a little three-way action. But there is a great chance that he is. It might even be his understanding of what a Christmas miracle really could be. You'll have to ask him. He takes the tame and G-rated game of mistletoe smooching and gives it some oomph!
There's always a high level of teen spirit that he pumps into his songs, even if the actual content is more sophisticated, and these new songs have enough of that energy to do cartwheels and text message all day - as do the songs from 2006's The Optimist's Club and those from 2004's Oh!, compliments to all of that Mountain Dew and Red Bull they're hopped up on. NeSmith makes pop music like so few, excluding Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo, do anymore and it reminds you - strangely enough - of the scene in "Billy Madison" where bus driver Chris Farley is sitting behind the school bus with Jack chuckling up a storm while snarfing down all of the children's bagged lunches.
Poison Control Center, the state of Iowa's zaniest band this side of Slipknot, will hang from chandeliers to win you over. They will attempt to eat a gallon of ice cream in an hour and keep it all down to make you smile. They will wrestle with a grizzly bear if it means that you'll be entertained. They will fight for your attention until there's not an ounce of fight left in their trembling, sweat-soaked bodies. Most of the time, they leave the grizzlies, the chandeliers and the ice cream in the van and just try their luck with their roustabout orchestrations and flailing love anthems. The band is undeniably in its prime these days, with the release this year of A Collage of Impressions -- predominantly recorded at our very own Future Appletree Studio 1. Here Patrick Fleming and Joe Terry - roadies for the Cookies on this tour - contribute an original Christmas song that mentions reindeer on several occasions. It is irregularly less zany than they're used to, but damn if it ain't still zany.