On the 4th Day of Christmas… “Christmas in the Stars” (album review)

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Usually the only Christmas-related star sits atop the tinsel adorned tree. However 1980’s Christmas in the Stars saw an unlikely holiday album. There have been more Star Wars crossovers than George Lucas can keep track of, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a Star Wars Christmas album entered the world of entertainment. Some would dub it a jump to hyperspeed, others jumping the shark. However, set your blaster to stun and don’t hastily dismantle this out of this world record. Despite the zany concept, it’s a stellar seasonal treat sure to get even Vader caroling.

Christmas in the Stars follows a loose narrative about droids creating toys, and the primary narrators are beloved robots C-3PO and R2-D2. Anthony Daniels reappears as the voice of our gilded friend. The opening, and titular, track “Christmas in the Stars” sets the tone for the album and introduces the plot. C-3PO rattles off a list of Christmas presents he’s purchased. The sing-songy end rhyme lyrics prance along to a Christmas tune that begins similarly to “Sleigh Ride.” Lyrically it captures the over-official nature of a protocol droid.  Continuing this theme, “Bells, Bells, Bells,” finds C-3PO explaining what bells are to R2-D2. Quite naturally, there are references to Einstein and H.G. Wells. Daniels maintains C-3PO’s characteristic, slightly awkward speech pattern. He doesn’t sing so much as speak the words to the song, presumably to stay in character.

“The Odds Against Christmas” finds yet another comical track where C-3PO ponders the odds against Christmas existing. Hilariously, after a quick intro by the droid, a David Cassidy-esque singer breaks into melody. Supported by a 70’s style holiday instrumental, the track evokes a singer-songwriter feel. “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” is arguably where the album blasts off, though the entire project is mind-blowingly awesome. As the title explains, the track explores possible Christmas presents for a Wookiee who has a comb. Apparently, though their hair traditionally appears rather matted and tangled, they appreciate hair care products. Maybe this is analogous to the man who has everything.

While C-3PO and sidekick R2 are clearly not the droids you are looking for, Jon Bon Jovi very well may be. After all, he wishes R2-D2 a very Merry Christmas. That’s right, “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” features a then-unheard of Bon Jovi. Legend has it that his cousin owned the recording studio, and Bon Jovi was sweeping the floors. You’ll be diving for the rewind button. He’s unrecognizable as lead singer. Obi Wan may be able to clear up the transmission, however.

As you can probably guess “Sleigh Ride” is set to the tune of “Sleigh Ride,” however with Star Wars themed lyrics. C-3PO attempts to teach R2 to sing, a difficult feat. C-3PO’s “A Christmas Sighting (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas)” delivers a Star Wars adaptation of the Night Before Christmas. Seriously, this must be converted into a movie. Not only is the concept creative, but the banter between R2 and C-3PO would crack up a Sith lord.

Truthfully, the only fault I can find in Christmas in the Stars is the brevity of the album. A mere 9 tracks, you’ll no doubt yearn for more. Additionally, physical and legal copies are difficult to procure. The few copies bouncing around the internet are fairly expensive, particularly for a blogger/freelance movie reviewer with an English B.A. They do exist however, as well as less legal versions, though I’m not condoning such behavior. Considering the prevalence of Star Wars, and relevance to all generations, this is the quintessential album for the season. And no, it’s not a trap. May the Force be with you…

Jedi Mind Tricks: The Psycho-social, Chemical, Biological, and Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness

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I discovered this album with the help of an iTunes gift card and some random clicking. As you may guess, “The Psycho-social, Chemical, Biological, and Electro-Magnetic Manipulation of Human Consciousness” is not your average album. Honestly, it is pretty unique and I struggle to come up with a similar album. The closest comparison I can draw is GZA’s classic “Liquid Swords.” Jedi Mind Tricks’ “The Psycho-social” consists of mainly unconventional beats supplemented with often obscure samples. Production comes at the hands of the multi-talented Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind. His beats are rather minimalist. Most are repetitive, but enjoyably so. His songs are crafted with warbling strings, looped piano melodies, and eerie samples from a variety of sources. Just a few examples include dialogue from movies and TV shows such as “The X-files” and “Lord of Illusions,” as well as songs by the likes of Kool Keith, The Pharcyde and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Lyrically Vinnie Paz spits over the beats with rambling, paranoid lyrics which pair perfectly with the dark, brooding melodies Stoupe crafts. At the time, Vinnie called himself Ikon the Verbal Hologram. Most of his content deals with aliens, religion, and society. Some of the references are a bit complex, but if you can’t decipher them right away it doesn’t matter. You’ll understand the gist of the album. For help, check out Rapgenius.

The album opens with a short intro and then cuts to “The Winds of War” in which Stoupe combines samples from the film “Se7en” and a quivering violin piece. Vinnie makes the extraterrestrial, fringe elements of the record clear with lines like “Attacking like the seven warships of Nibiru.” Unless you’re familiar with Sumerian texts, you probably haven’t heard of Nibiru. But you can use context clues to figure out what is going on. “Chinese Water Torture” follows up with a mind-blowing beat combining steady drums with dripping sounds. Luckily the song is not intended to torture. On the contrary is sounds fantastic and is one of my favorite songs off the album. True to the name, Vinnie drops some Star Wars references saying “Ikon dwell in the forest like Ewoks.” You gotta smile.

Over half of the 18 tracks feature guest spots. Some of them you may recognize such as underground heavyweight Apathy (listed as “Apathy the Alien Tounge”), future Jedi Mind Tricks member Jus Allah, and even an appearance by Black Thought of The Roots. Others you might not know, but rest assured they contribute nicely to each song throwing verses out for a seamless spit-fest. Despite fabulous guests, one of my favorite tracks is “I Who Have Nothing,” which features Ikon the Verbal Hologram by himself. Here Vinnie proves his skill and versatility on the mic with a very introspective, haunting song. He drops lines like “I who have nothing but the lack of variation/And I who have nothing but change and suffocation.” Make sure you’re in the right mood for this one. It is very poetic but rather eerie.

There really isn’t a bad song on the album. Considering how atmospheric it is I must recommend buying the whole thing. It is available on iTunes and Amazon as well as for free streaming on Grooveshark. May the force be with you…