When rock band Project 86 released their first ever Christmas song - a cover of Brenda Lee's "This Time Of Year" - something unexpected and almost unreal came to fruition. Project isn't the kind of band you'd expect a holiday offering from and without hearing their rendition of Lee's "This Time Of Year" first, it would seem even more unexpected for the band to choose the cheery country-flavored ballad to get their signature touch. But after the band received positive feedback for the single, Project 86 decided to pursue completion of an extended EP built around the single, adding four more songs to round out a five-song EP, titled after the original Lee cover.
Project 86 has since attempted to debrand the EP as a "Christmas" venture, insisting it could be listened to all year round. However, this is only partly true. From unique cover art that features Santa Claus to its ornamental disc design and each track bearing some kind of theme around Christmas time, the This Time Of Year EP is unmistakably a holiday effort. However, it's in the EP's style and execution where a couple of the tracks could indeed endure past December 25th. For example, the EP's darkest and most arguably out of place song, "Wrought On This Holiday's Eve," is more about a father's infidelity than about the Christmas spirit. Schwab's usual cryptic and poetic lyrics dance around the scenario of a child noticing his father's absence on Christmas Eve as he spends it with another woman, but is caught in the process somehow. Musically, "Wrought..." is classic, dark Project 86 -- almost reminiscent of the territory "Sioux Lane Spirits" explores on Songs To Burn Your Bridges By. Perhaps it's included here to insist this isn't exclusively a Christmas EP, but clearly it's anything but festive.
The remaining four tracks on This Time Of Year EP are primarily dark and ominous. This isn't your parents' Christmas music, and Project never pretends it is. They know who they are and who their audience is. In fact, This Time Of Year EP almost feels like a backwards Christmas project. The funhouse, circusy vibe of the album highlight "Misfit Toys" is more Tim Burton than Irving Berlin. But as this track and "Shiny Skin" tackle more of the over-commercialism and mixed emotions of the holiday, it's "Misfit Toys" that seems to have the most unique lyrical theme on the record. In it, Schwab likens mankind to that of misfit toys - broken and in need of repair and direction. As the drums pound and you feel like you've entered The Nightmare Before Christmas, he muses, "My pieces never seem to fit / Blood that's closest to me are more like vacant faces / Dolls with dead batteries / We're all broken like misfit toys / We rest in pieces begging for you to make us one." It's a rather gloomy thought for Christmas, but the band puts an especially nice touch on the track as they work in an instrumental intro of "What Child Is This" that doesn't sound too far off from a creepy Jack-in-the-Box. Then, to close the EP, Project revisits "What Child Is This" as "What Child," presenting an entirely instrumental version of the song. While I'm curious to see how Schwab could have handled the vocals, the traditional carol is rendered very tastefully to take the EP out with the right mood.
In the end, This Time Of Year EP is a real treat for diehard Project 86 fans, or even for hard rock listeners who aren't in the mood for happy, warm fuzzy Christmas carols or pop music. This Time Of Year EP is an overtly dark journey into the unpleasantries of the Christmas holiday, with little glimmers of hope scattered about. While it may not be one that you'll listen to every year for the next twenty years, it's a unique effort and one that took guts on the band's part to produce, and I'm definitely glad they did.- Review date: 11/26/08, written by John DiBiase
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