This is not a review. No really, references to Magritte aside, this article is not a review, because this article can’t be a review. Jingle Spells 5 is in my opinion one of the best wizard rock charity comps of all time, coming close to the near-perfection of Siriusly Smiling and Jingle Spells 2, and it contains by far the best ratio of amazing songs to unkown artists in the entire damn genre. Any wizard rock fan would be proud to own a copy of this album that would proudly wear the moniker “classic”, if not for the fact that it was, in many ways, a capstone to the entire genre itself, and a highly fitting one at that.
However, I cannot classify my opinions of this remarkable album as a review, because I was heavily involved in its creation, and while I truly believe that this is an excellent disc, and those words I daresay carry more weight than usual, because every song on this album was one that I personally gave the okay to, I still understand the apparent favoritism that would be involved. Unfortunately, Jingle Spells 5 never seemed to get the love it truly deserved, and it is my intention to rectify that. So, please allow me this departure from my usual method of reviews, in which I pull back the curtain and give you a look into not just the songs themselves, but the thought process that went into selecting them. If you are lucky enough to have a copy of JS5, then I recommend you listen to it as you read along. If you don’t have JS5, however, we’ll get into that at the end of this article.
“Accio Christmas” is one of my favorite songs on the album (be warned – you’re probably going to see that phrase a lot in the coming couple thousand words), and it immediately sets the tone for the entire album. The first few seconds are a rather banal iteration of “Jingle Bells”, setting the listener into a sense of expectation that then pulls the rug right out from under them, as the song suddenly turns into melody-less dubstep. Yes, at the time of this writing, it is 2013, nearly 2014, and dubstep is no longer anything particularly new or different, but not only was it still fairly fresh in the public at large’s mind in 2011, it was by my count the first ever wizard rock dubstep song, and I believe still the only. Please note that I’m not counting Hedwig’s Theme remixes made by random people far removed from the wizard rock community in this estimation. Containing few words that aren’t “LUMOS” or “CHRISTMAS” and an energetic vocal performance by wrock newcomer EJ of Accio Lumos, this song sets up the fact that this album is going to be weird. Both Paul DeGeorge (who was my main collaborator on this project, with Frak providing the art, Dan Brennan of Uncle Monsterface doing the mixing, and Melissa Anelli doing the Melissa Anelli thing) and I instantly fell in love with it, and one of the few things we immediately agreed upon when it came to track sequencing was that this song should be the album opener.
JFF then gives us another solid Christmas track with “Hagrid Drank All My Eggnog”. It’s not quite the delightfully bizarre track that JS4′s “Help Me Hagrid” was – a song so strange the only way I was able to review it was through facial expressions stolen from manga – but it gets about as weird as a JFF track can get while still being an acoustic affair, and with, well, the usual tolerance of weird one must have when listening to a track with the Sugar Quills on it. There’s little more I need to say on the subject besides the fact that this song contains the line “Hagrid / make me / nachos / and bring me eggnog”. Paul and I decided to make this song second, so that we had a bigger-name band high-up in the tracklisting. Plus, it would help completely destroy the hope in anyone’s mind that this was going to be a normal wizard rock holiday charity compilation album.
“Snape’s Holiday Blues” is a fun and catchy track about Snape’s… Snapeness, and is the first track on the album that is really “solid”. Now, I love the previous two songs, but this one is a liiiiiiiitle closer to the normal side, even despite the gimmicky but fun main voice. The great thing about this song’s placement, and I believe that this was Paul’s idea, but it was two years ago and it’s all a bit hazy, is that it makes the album start to edge more into normal territory. The lyrics themselves are fairly standard territory – Snape is Wizard Scrooge, basically – and the music has a really great, full sound that was then helped along by Dan’s masterful mixing.
This is all revealed to be naught more than a clever trap when we run headlong into Love Wrocks’ “Wizard Chess at Christmas”, which is quite possibly the weirdest song on the album, and this is a disc that has a song from Voldemort’s POV about his wish to hug Draco, a less-than-a-minute track from wizard metal band Mulciber Zerstorer, and even a song from the High King of Weird in Wizard Rock, the Giant Squidstravaganza himself. While it is not the first song about wizard chess, and its connection to Christmas, it is the only song I know of to get so weirdly, even discomfortingly intense about the minutiae of its subject matter. Between an exhaustive exploration of the mechanics of wizard chess, sporadic backup vocals that never fail to make me laugh, and a mournfoul solo trumpet/trombone/whatever that seems like it wandered in by accident while trying to find its way to the backing of a Dickensian play, this song isn’t just weird, it is Weird. It is Weirdness incarnate, not the least because the subject matter and story it tells isn’t anything particularly strange in and of itself – it is just presented so strangely and with such a sheer sense of fun and holiday giddiness that you can’t help but dive in yourself.
“When 13 Dine” is probably my favorite song on the whole album, continuing the tradition that JS4 started of having a band that I’d never heard of completely blowing me away with a softly-sung, unassuming acoustic song (the previous one being Seen and Unforeseen’s “Voldemort’s Secret Santa”). It focuses on the one Christmas in the books that I had all but forgotten, even though it comes from one of my favorites in the series – Prisoner of Azkaban. That year’s Christmas is easily the most unassuming – it doesn’t have the wonder of first year’s, the intrigue and myster of the second, the grandeur, elegance, and drama of the fourth, the tragedy and terror of the fifth, Harry’s soon-to-be-fragile sense of family in the sixth (not to mention what happened to the movie adaptation of that Christmas), or the emotional wrecking ball that is Christmas at Godric’s Hollow. It’s just a few kids having Christmas with their teachers, eating food and wearing stupid hats. But The Pumpkin Pasties really dive into this small moment and emerge with a moving, heartbreakingly-atmospheric song that I must stubbornly classify as not only one of my favorite Christmas song, but a fantastic Halloween song too. Sure, it’s not really about Halloween at all, but as the song says – “What’s a Christmas dinner without a bit of impending doom?” Also, as a fun aside – at the time of this writing, it is Friday the 13th of December, and I can’t think of a single song in the universe that would be more perfect for this date. I truly believe that this album is worth a purchase based on the merits of this song alone.
Jingle Spells 5 can be divided into two halves – the first half brings the weird a little more, while the second half focuses a bit more on emotional resonance, though we did mix things up a bit so that this was more of a smooth transition than two distinct albums uncomfortably dwelling on the same disc. “When 13 Dine” is the first really emotional impacting song (despite how heartfelt Justin’s pleas for nachos may be), and it’s balanced out with Undesirable #1′s “Happy Birthday Tom”, which fills our “Jingle Spells Song About A Winter Holiday That Isn’t Christmas” quota for this year. Better than his effort on JS4, and one the better song of his career, “Happy Birthday Tom” is an unabashedly fun party track about getting smashed and hooking up on New Year’s, and with a confident flow and a danceable beat, it makes for a solid hit.
The brilliantly named The Crookshanks Redemption give us a fun yet heartfelt track with “Full Moon Christmas”. It’s got sleigh bells, able vocals, Remus feels, and some good lines like “Alone we have demons / together there’s none”. It’s well-instrumented and contains the auditory tropes you expect in a Christmas song. We then roll into what is arguably the “best” song on the album, using as objective means of measurement as one can when it comes to music, with wrock-scene newcomer Shon Rand’s majestic “Godric’s Hollow”. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I mentioned that the Christmas scene in Deathly Hallows was an emotional Miley Cyrus song? This is the auditory version of that wrecking ball (note to future generations: “Wrecking Ball” is the name of the song that allowed Miley Cyrus to gain a few extra months in the spotlight as she tried desperately to maintain relevancy).
A pair of songs with gut-wrenching lyrics and great instrumentation (seriously, go back and check out that solo in “Godric’s Hollow” again – damn good stuff) are then followed up with a pair of songs that only seemed natural, starting with – who else? – The Giant Squidstravaganza. Paul and I are both huge fans of GSS, and when I was first tapped to be a part of this project, my very first request was that we see if we could get him on the album. In retrospect, I think this technically makes him the only band requested to be a part of the album (in general, it was a free-for-all of submissions), and he was definitely the only person who I had mentally jotted down as someone I would rubber stamp for approval no matter what he submitted.
Actually, I think my true first request was that the album art not contain any otters on fire, which Paul countered with his own request that the album art be nothing but flaming otters, which I’m sure is a euphemism for something, but I digress (for the first time ever!).
“JINGLE SPELLS” is yet another guaranteed squidtastic classic, and contains everything you could wish from the Giant Squidstravaganza – clever lyrics, surprising amounts of pathos, and an undeniable surreal sense of whimsy that is nothing if not infectious. It’d be hard to cite my favorite lines without citing the whole damn thing, but if I had to choose, it’d be a tie between the stunningly clever yet deceitfully simple “Jingle Spells, Jingle Spells / It’s Christmas time on the CD” and the I-can’t-tell-if-these-are-tears-of-laughter-or-you-know-actual-tears “It is cool though, I don’t mind it / I haven’t had a family in years! / And my girlfriend moved to the ocean”. This rolls directly into Jarrod of Gred and Forge bringing us another off-beat parody, this time under the name Awkward Voldemort. “My Christmas Wisssssh Lisssst” is yet another song about the most baffling moment in Movie 8, if not the entire cinematic series – the infamous hug. You know the one I’m talking about. Really, I don’t need to say more – it’s Jarrod, one of the masters of wizard rock comedy, using one of the biggest goldmines in fandom history, and he knocks it out of the park. Of particular note is his spot-on imitation of Voldemort’s Movie Laugh.
Halfway through the album, we start firmly transitioning into songs with more of an emphasis on emotional weight. Lav²’s “Unsent” takes the simple premise of Ron writing a letter to Santa about Hermione, and turns out a song that not only tries to jab you repeatedly in the gut, or wherever humans store their Feels, but has some really quality writing that is guaranteed to stick with you. There are two main strengths to this song: firstly, Lav² has a great sense of using specifics and details that is reminiscent of masters like Fishboy and Fort Minor – “I’ve made up my bed and now it’s time to lie in it alone / With nothing but radio whispers and leftover dinners to even begin to atone”. Secondly, and brilliantly, the song is not really about Ron wanting Hermione for Christmas. Sure, he does, he wants that desperately, but it is not what he wants first. What does he want most of all? He wants Hermione… to be warm and safe. Between gut-punches like that, able vocals singing a memorable melody, and great Whompy-esque lyrical twists like “Can you spare some loose magic for a hopeless romantic?”, “Unsent” is a powerful song that works perfectly as the center and linchpin of the album.
We then lighten things out with Seen and Unforeseen’s “Hermione’s Christmas Mistake”. Evie first caught my eye with her standout track “Voldemort’s Secret Santa” on JS4, and I was excited to see what she would produce for this year’s comp. In contrast to last year’s darkly humorous track, this song is more of a lighthearted romp, while still containing S&U’s trademark artistry – see especially the beautiful accapella that opens the piece. Acoustic ramblings about the true identity of Santa Claus then make way for Harry and the Potters and their particular brand of high-energy musical chaos with “Livin’ in a Mirror”. I was a tad disappointed at the DeGeorge’s use of this song as their submission, because it is the only song on the album, and I believe the only song in Jingle Spells history that isn’t an exclusive, having first appeared on Harry and the Potters Present A Wizardly Christmas of Wizardry with Harry and the Potters. Still, it’s a singularly HatP song, and it fits perfectly on this album, with its frenetic pace, ad-libs like “My life sucks!”, Joe’s voice starting out fairly normal and then devolving into full on Owlcast, and the amazing fake-out where the song fades out… and then fades right back in and picks up. It’s not the best song about the Mirror of Erised (that would be The Butterbeer Experience’s jaw-droppingly beautiful “Christmas Mirror” on Jingle Spells 2), nor is it even the second best (Stephanie and the Quaffles’ “The Mirror of Erised”, from non-Christmas charity comp Love Letters from Hogwarts), but it certainly is the weirdest.
Pickles4muggles (don’t ask me, I think Paul said it was a Mugglecast reference or something) brings us the last truly energetic song (well, kind of – you’ll see) with “Christmas Holiday Partyin’”. It’s a fairly basic faux-dance track that is somehow both dancey and laid-back at the same, and is revealed to be the plea of a random Hogwarts student who is sick and tired of being the only one at Hogwarts during Christmas (though let’s be honest – WHO WOULDN’T WANT A CASTLE TO THEMSELVES ON CHRISTMAS?!?!). I don’t think this was in my first draft of picks for the album, but it fits well after the pure chaos of “Livin’ in a Mirror”, and serves to gradually bring the energy of the album down to non-jarringly roll into Wrocks My Socks’ “I’ve Got Presents!” Wrocks My Socks is yet another band I hadn’t heard of before JS5, and while I can’t say their track blew me away like “When 13 Dine”, “Christmas Mirror”, or “Voldemort’s Secret Santa”, the chorus of “I’ve Got Presents!” is probably the one on this album that gets stuck in my head the most. It’s simple and sweet, just like the sentiment and story it conveys, of 11-year-old Harry’s pure joy and surprise at waking up to something he never had before – Christmas Presents. While definitely not a song that could be classified as “energetic”, this is still one of the more upbeat of the downbeat songs, and the lilting and catchy melody puts a smile on my face every time.
The Veelas first came to my attention (yet again) on Jingle Spells 4, with a track that I enjoyed, but was one that contained no reference to Christmas. Apparently in a move to rectify this, their track this year is probably the Christmassiest one on the album, containing direct references to not only the holiday, but the religious reasons for its existence (well, the traditionally accepted ones that is, not because the early church wasn’t gaining ground against Saturnalia and all that free sex and booze and they needed to come up with some sort of party). The song is about Molly during Deathly Hallows, a subject already ripe for the emotional plucking that becomes even moreso when you realize the song is being sung by a mother and her children. The song draws parallels between Harry and Jesus – a particularly favored chestnut of mine I once even wrote a 30-page paper about it) – as well as a slightly implied parallel between the trio and the three magi, and is a sweet and charming song that lets the listener know full well that they are truly entrenched in the emotional portion of the album. Welcome to ‘Nam.
Also, this is one of the tracks that I fought for its inclusion, and it does certainly deserve it. In fact, there were originally going to only be 16 tracks for this album, making it the shortest Jingle Spells since the original’s 14, but Paul and I just couldn’t say no to some of these songs, and we found that with the right order they all worked so well together, that we ended up putting together the longest Jingle Spells album ever at 20 tracks and over 64 minutes in length. I also feel that despite that fact, it doesn’t feel like a long album, and actually feels much better-paced and shorter than Jingle Spells 3‘s unfortunately uninspired slog.
Speaking of uninspired, Tonks and the Auror’s “This Christmas”! Okay, so maybe that’s a little unfair, and mostly I was just having trouble successfully transitioning out of the previous paragraph’s tangent. It’s a Tonks and the Auror’s song, so it’s guaranteed to have great-sounding instrumentation and Steph’s usual vocal enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this track doesn’t hold a candle (in the window? BA DUM PISH!) to any of her previous efforts, especially the rather amazing “Auror Xmas”. In fact, I had actually left out this song from my original tracklisting, but Paul was able to bring me around, and I’m glad he did. Not only does Tonks bring some much-needed star power to the track-listing, you cannot deny how good she always sounds, a big plus on an album with as many disparate sounds as this one. I must reiterate that this song is in no ways bad – it’s just not as good as I expect from Steph’s Christmas efforts, and the most interesting thing I can say about the entire song is that the title is an unintentional reference to The Curse Breaker’s under-appreciated Christmas classic, “Dobby’s Christmas Wish”.
Stephanie and the Quaffles is a band that I’ve been keeping an eye on since she knocked me back with her incredibly catchy aforementioned “Mirror of Erised”, which dropped out of nowhere and unfairly got pretty much no attention, so when I heard she was writing something for JS5, I got understandably excited, and she did not disappoint. “Home for the Holidays” is a more straightforward piano ballad, but it makes up for any lack of melodic flair with a catchy and well underscored chorus and lyrics that, while not punching you directly in the feels like “Godric’s Hollow” or “Unsent”, convey such a delightful air of holiday togetherness that it sounds like the aural equivalent of a mug of hot cocoa. A perfect song to snuggle up with a loved one and a pair of earmuffs to, and one that transitions well into our capstone song.
“Good Haul This Year” by Humphrey Belcher and the Chocolate Cauldrons is a song that almost didn’t make the cut. Remember, this song was originally going to be about 16 songs long, and there’s still songs I wish we’d been able to squeeze on there. I personally went back and forth on including this one, and ultimately cut it from my first tracklist. A big reason for that had to do with some sound issues in the original submission, issues that Dan masterfully tempered, and I’m really glad that Paul got me to see the light on this one. It strikes a wonderful happy medium between the light-hearted not-taking-things-too-seriously tone of “Wizard Chess at Christmas”, and the more feelsy songs like “I’ve Got Presents!” and “Home for the Holidays”, giving it a warm, welcoming tone, and it just feels like a mug of Christmas Cheer, whatever that is (I hope mine’s got booze in it). It strikes a lot of the same lyrical chords as “I’ve Got Presents”, but is slightly less focused on the first year in particular, and is more a celebration of Christmas at Hogwarts throughout the series. It also contains a catchy chorus and the very fun to belt along to line “OH MERLIN’S BEARD, AND HIS UNDERPANTS!”
After precisely 69 seconds of silence (I specifically asked for this number, because I am extremely immature, and for whatever reason Dan listened to me), you’re then hit with the “bonus track”, Mulciber Zerstorer’s “Imperio Father Christmas”. I’ve covered MZ before, and in their usual tradition, the song is short, illegible, abrasive, and fun as all hell. It also includes death metal screams of “PUPPIES”, and if that you don’t think that shit is hype as hell then don’t even talk to me.
And now we get to the sad part. This is usually where I would tell you whether or not this album is worth your money, but I can’t do that this time. Don’t get me wrong – this album is certainly worth a purchase, but unfortunately it is pretty much impossible to acquire this album through legitimate means. In fact, I never got a physical or even the final finished digital masters (I got most of them, but things got crazy when we were down to the wire), and in order to write this article I had to pirate my own damn comp! But I’m not here to complain on behalf of myself – I do that daily through my twitter feed anyway – it’s to complain on behalf of you, dear reader. Because it’s one thing when I and even some of the bands involved don’t receive physical copies – I get it, shit happens – but the fact that Jingle Spells 5, the last hurrah for a lot of important wizard rock institutions, is no longer available for purchase, is fuckin unconscionable.
This album is the final in a distinguished line of wizard rock charity comps, the end of an era of holiday wrock, and the last in a series of albums that people could count on and look forward to for five years, adding strength and consistency to the fandom, especially in the waning years. It is a profound explosion and exploration of the weird and the whacky, but the soulful, catchy, and moving as well, beautifully contrasting the fact that it marks the end of wizard rock institutions with an absolute cavalcade of talented – or in some cases at the very least unique – new artists. It was the last album produced by the Leaky Cauldron, and was one of the last big things made by TLC before the switch of focus over to LeakyNews, and the widening of LeakyCon’s focus. Jingle Spells 5 was also one of the last big-name charity comps released, and was the last one until 2013′s Wizards and Muggles Rock For Social Justice: Volume 3. Treasures from wizard rock’s past, songs and albums that marked beginnings like A Magical Christmas of Magic, should be saved and cherished, but so should releases that marked ends.
Jingle Spells 5, even if it was not an album you liked, is still an important album in the timeline of wizard rock, and it is an absolute shame that it is the only Jingle Spells album to not be available online, either physically or digitally. I am currently trying to make some headway on this issue, and I ask that people please not spam Melissa with requests and such, because that would honestly be kind of rude. BUT! If you too wish that JS5 was available online, then please post a comment below, and share this article on your twitters and your tumblrs and your youtubesdotcoms.
Also, I do have some more stuff coming in the pipeline, and I hope that the next article isn’t after as long of a gap as this one. However, I think now is as good as time as any to announce that the next block of content, whenever that happens, will probably be my last. There are still some things I want to say and review and discuss, but those things now comprise a finite number. It’s been a fun ride, and I hope to make the end of it memorable.
And with that, I wish you all a warm holiday season, and that 2014 has better memes than this year’s.