Another holiday season comes to a close. For many it’s a stressful time, packed with family obligations and an inescapable evaluation of how well you’ve done the past year. It could be better. It could be, say, a celebration of life and sharing. Some people work to make that happen…
The Residents have been putting a song on their new website every day for the past thirteen days (well, except for Saturday, when there was an additional bonus track). Collectively the fourteen songs are called The Twelve Days Of Brumalia, which expectedly makes numerous references to the Christmas carol, but more importantly showcase a bit of the group’s internal creative process.
Many of the song titles are playful variations on the original lyrics, such as “Partridge Pairing” and “Lying Goose.” My favorite is “Wiggling Wahines” in place of “nine ladies dancing” (I did have to look up “wahines” and that’s probably why I like this one best – that, and the hula-dancing Homer Simpson which accompanies it). The images (one for every song) often provide a visual pun – a calling Tweety Bird, a pipe organ paired with a Piper airplane, etc. Even before getting to the music, a great sense of fun permeates this project. And why not? It’s a gift for fans, a way to say thank you for being there.
The pictures incorporate two other themes: religious images and water. The first is obvious: the winter solstice is a holiday for many religions, and The Residents draw attention to this fact, blending the ideologies together. Not in a dismissive way or out of ignorance, but with a sense of inclusion. The Internet, more than anything else, provides the means through which we can have a true global community. And Brumalia is a block party for all who wish to visit.
As for the water… at first I thought the images were sinking. Or that the water was rising to engulf them. But now I think they are rising from the water. Water: the basis of life. From the depths comes a new creature. And the new creature The Residents have brought? None other than themselves. They are changing again.
It is traditional for The Residents to announce their new perspective with a holiday release that is given away for free. Brumalia is Santa Dog for the twenty-first century. It reflects a change in how they approach music. Granted, there is a fair amount of material from Demons Dance Alone included, but that only solidifies what appears to be a new direction for the group: music as elements to be manipulated, not unlike a DJ’s remix of a song. Which, when said that way, sounds like what they’ve always done. But the method has changed. Same intent, different tools.
The source material also differs from the remix. Some Brumalia tracks do come from older recordings, but most are entirely new, indicating that The Residents don’t see the need to let a piece of music age before feeding it into their music machine. All notes, all sounds – equal in their eyes. This is the New Residents.
It’s still early, and they are feeling their way around their new surroundings. Brumalia is a collection of experiments. Successful experiments, mind you – they wouldn’t hand out their failures as holiday gifts. But I think it’s safe to say that this project is more varied, more eclectic – more schizophrenic, even – than what we’ll see from them next. The Residents operate by jumping into interesting looking boxes and pushing against the walls to see which give and which have just the right amount of resistance. Some pieces from Brumalia came easily for them, and some were too difficult or ultimately unsatisfying. But somewhere in the middle they find the ideas and techniques that itch. It might be a thematic concept, it might be a particular musical style, it might be a technique for producing these sounds. Whatever it is, they’ve found it, and found it worth exploring. Next step: scratch that itch.