Friday, December 29, 2023

The 2023 Inventory Full Advent Calendar In Review

I said I was going to review the 2023 Inventory Full Advent Calendar and by golly I meant it! 

I thoroughly enjoyed researching it, picking the possibles and making the final choices, generating the images and posting the finished pages. What I didn't like was not being able to give a running commentary on all of that while I was doing it, so this is where I get all that pent-up frustration out of my system.

If anyone remembers, my original plan was to have the AIs do most of the heavy lifting. I thought I'd get them to find a bunch of less well-known Christmas songs and then all I'd have to do would be listen to them and pick the best ones. Unfortunately, that really didn't work out.  

In the end, I think I used just two of the suggestions: Christmas in Nevada by The Willard Grant Conspiracy and Christmas Is My Time Of Year by The Monkees. The AIs were also indirectly responsible for several other entries, most notably Merry Christmas From The Family by Jill Sobule and Sympathy For The Grinch by 100 Gecs. In both cases, one of the AIs gave me a Christmas song by those artists that didn't exist, which led to me finding one that did.

The AIs also gave me another half-dozen or so useable suggestions I just chose to ignore. Some of them, like Snowqueen of Texas, just weren't Christmassy enough. Others, like the excellent The Christmas Song by The Raveonettes, felt too obvious.

Snowqueen Of Texas - The Mamas and The Papas

With the AIs largely proving useless, I came by most of the tunes through old-fashioned YouTube surfing. I spent quite a few hours link-hopping, listening to a lot of really not very good seasonal material to come up with a long-list of over fifty. 

By the beginning of December I had the first week's posts already done but after that I surprised myself by changing my mind on almost everything else. I didn't use half the ones I had earmarked and I kept finding new ones right until the last few days. One lesson I learned is that, while it's fun to prep,  it's a lot more fun to do this sort of thing on the fly. I hope I remember that next year.

The images followed a similar pattern. I ran a lot of them up front and stashed them but most of those went unused. A couple of comments from regular readers, saying how much they disliked the AI art, made me re-assess it a little. As I've said, I do actively enjoy the distortion and weirdness but even I'm beginning to think you can have enough six-fingered hands and dogs with five legs.

As a result, I started to be a bit more picky about which images I used as the month wore on. I tried to avoid using the weirder ones (Believe me, I have some that will give you nightmares.) and to keep the images more closely aligned with the songs. 

Then, on Day Twenty-Two, something happened. I found a way to use DALL-E 3 for free via Microsoft Image Creator. The final three images were generated there and I think they look and feel radically different. I suspect it will be my go-to for AI illustrations for a while and I hope it will alleviate some of the issues familiar from the less-polished pictures I've been using up to now.

By far the hardest part was stopping myself writing a paragraph or five on every song as I posted it. I found it incredibly frustrating not to be able to show my workings. Next year I might have to add some sort of captions to cover that.

Fortunately, Redbeard, who gets an Inventory Full Christmas No-Prize for commenting on every single post, gave me the opportunity to release some of my dammed-up tension in the comment thread. I thought I was going to say a few things about some of the songs in this review but looking back, I think I got most of what I wanted to say out in those comments.

It's just as well Red took it upon himself to comment on every entry because if not for that, the entire event would have passed in near-silence. Atheren popped in to say she was using the Grinch picture and I think maybe there was one other comment but really I have no idea whether anyone was listening to the songs or even looking at the pictures. Luckily, I was doing it almost entirely for my own amusement, so it didn't matter either way. 

Lack of response certainly isn't going to stop me doing another Advent Calendar next year, far from it. In fact, I enjoyed doing it so much, I've been trying to come up with an excuse to do something similar as soon as possible. I really don't want to wait another twelve months to have that kind of fun. 

I'm even toying with the idea of starting a second blog, one rather like Wilhelm's Eve Online Pictures, where I'd just post a song and a picture every day. I doubt I'd be able to stop myself from adding a few lines of text, though and next thing you know I'd be writing a full post so maybe it's not such a great idea...

One unexpected side-effect was that I listened to most of the songs several times and a few of them really quite a lot more than that. I spent an hour and a half wrapping presents while listening to Day Thirteen on a loop. 

Among my favorites - or at least my most-played - were Jill Sobule (Which is a cover, by the way.), Margo Guryan, the Charlie Bliss cover and very surprisingly to me at least, The Willard Grant Conspiracy. I must have listened to that last one a dozen times, easily.

My favorite entry over all, though, was Christmas Eve. Mabes' Alone On Christmas Eve was probably my favorite Christmas song of the year, for the video as much as for the song itself. The way you hear the sound of the plates and glasses smashing on the floor as she tosses them out of shot is absolute genius. I thought the two videos went very well together, which makes it a real shame that whoever posted the second one made their YouTube account private a few days later. I had to replace it with another video that isn't quite such a good pairing. At least the AI image is still perfect. 

I listened to a bunch of other songs by Mabes after that and they were all great, although she doesn't seem to have done all that many, especially considering she put the first one up on YouTube four years ago. She hasn't added anything to her channel for over a year so maybe she's stopped making music. I hope not. 

I'm going to end this post with one of hers I really like. It's got nothing to do with Christmas, which is probably just as well. 

I think we're done with all that for a while.

Sugarush - Mabes


  1. I'll admit straight away that your Advent posts were the highlight of my December. Between work and the stress of figuring out how to handle family get-togethers as the kids have grown and moved away --not to mention deaths in the extended family that required juggling of said get-togethers-- your musical posts were a welcome respite.

    And dammit, I want you to continue posting about music, because I value your viewpoint a lot. You like different genres and bands than I do, and because of it I'm exposed to a broader range than if I'd have stayed in my own little cocoon. So that you got a chance to comment on my own comments was pure joy on my part.

    How the hell have I never heard Snowqueen of Texas before? My parents had a Greatest Hits of The Mamas and The Papas on ABC Records (that's ABC the American television station, mind you) that I used to listen to a ton. This song has a lot of their traditional vocal arrangements, but toned down a notch or two; it kind of reminds me of a singer-songwriter style from the 90s more than The Mamas and The Papas.

    1. And one thing about Mabes is that I wonder if her songs were originally written for single acoustic guitar and then transcribed for their current format. I'm not sure why I thought that, but I just got the impression having listened to the songs of hers you've posted that she wrote for a singular instrument first and then worked out from that.

      As an example, listening to Halsey sing a song solo --like what she did on Saturday Night Live-- I can see her working in a similar fashion, whereas some bands' creative process is far more collaborative in nature.

    2. You're very welcome. I'm glad someone enjoyed the whole thing as much as I did! There will be plenty more music posts coming. The only question in my mind still is whether I eventually split them off into a blog of their own or keep them here. I go backwards and forwards on that all the time but inertia will probably win out and the status quo will remain.

      Snowqueen of Texas was new to me too and I thought I knew the M&Ps repertoire averagely well. I just looked it up and there's a good reason for that: it comes from their fifth and final album, which was a contractual obligation affair they put together after they split up to stop them owing the record company money. It's apparantly one of only a couple of good tracks on that album but even so it's good enough that I'm surprised it isn't better known.


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