CD Review of Kasio Kristmas by Kasio Kristmas
Recommended if you like
mum, 8 Bit, Burl Ives
Kasio Kristmas:
Kasio Kristmas

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD


efore we start, here is a ground rule: Only James Brown's Funky Christmas gets more than two and a half stars for a holiday album in my world. That's the rule. By that standard, Kasio Kristmas is a damned fine album, as far as Christmas records go. If this place allowed quarter stars, I might consider giving it two and three-quarters. Another thing you must know, in the interest of full disclosure that might possibly bend my opinion of this record away from the average music fan's: As a 1980s teenager and keyboard geek, I had a Casio CZ-1000 (allegedly) "pro" keyboard, and at the high school marching band's homecoming halftime show I made it blast some bitchin’ explosion noises for "Also Sprach Zarathustra" as the whole band marched out of a cloud of dry ice on the sidelines of the field. In full uniform, like with an ascot and everything. I totally am not making this up. Got a soft spot for this kind of thing.

Flash forward to 2008. A new genre of closeted keyboard geeks are coming out, after years of oppression, finally making "8-bit" music in public. Eight-bit music is like normal music, except it's limited to basically the musical palette of the Mario Bros. Nintendo games, or, say, "Ms. Pac-Man" for the Atari 2600. The Kasio Kristmas guys, EMF and Boto, count vintage Casios as "one of their main influences," and perhaps allow themselves to toss a little more sonic variation and technology into the mix than the 8-bit strict constructionists would allow, but to my ears it’s scant little. Either way, the upshot of the 8-bit genre is that, today, real musicians are making little symphonies much more complex than video-game tracks, which essentially were vamps whipped together as engineers rushed a game to commercial release. It takes a certain sort of geek to appreciate this stuff – because it can get blippity-blippity annoying.

Yet, it's music to this Casio geek's ears: To be a decent 8-bit artist, you gotta be a little bit Bill Gates and a lot John Williams, basically arranging the percussion, bass, melody, rhythm and everything else. And directing the whole mess. Many of today's most popular 8-bit artists do all of the above well, but drop in funny little references to both video game songs and rock history. The rock quotes on this record are phenomenal: "Deck the Halls" quotes Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" at the end, making it a little menacing for a cheery holiday ditty. Then there's the spot-on Minneapolis funk arrangement of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," ripped straight from the 1999 playbook, except marooned in a Galaga machine that's perhaps decked with boughs of holly. It's not all satire; the Kasios throw down a nice jungle mix of "Twelve Days of Christmas," with some great game FX on the breaks that would make it perfectly at home for the Jetsons family holiday. Even the cheezy Hawaiian chestnut "Mele Kalikimaka" works here in this cheezy electronic-music context. On that track, Isaiah "Ikey" Owens from Sublime and the Mars Volta guests – which shows that, in the end, the Casio geeks aren't so geeky after all and Christmas music doesn't have to be Tom Jones or Billy Ray Cyrus roasting the same old chestnuts with the same crappy arrangements.

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