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David Bazan is no stranger to Christmas music, and even when he isn’t writing specifically-Christmas songs… he still sometimes writes an almost-Christmas song. “Yellow Bike” is the latest single from David’s recently resurrected Pedro the Lion project, and it is perfectly situated in the Venn diagram that is my life: Christmas songs and cycling. It begins…
“On a desert Christmas morning, 1981
One month shy of six years old
In the valley of the sun
My first two-wheel bicycle stood by the tree
My heart thumping in my chest
Though I’d tried, I couldn’t ride one yet”
The song is a beautiful tale of nostalgia, longing, and communion, facilitated by the memory of that first bike David got for Christmas. Just. Loved. It.
Bottom Line: Chapeau David, it’s a stunner. Lots of vinyl options out there for folks who want to pick up the entire album, which I would also recommend.
Labrador Records/Matinée Recordings
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I am no stranger to stretching the definition of a Christmas song; I fully embrace a good winter song, the imagery of falling snow, the chill in the air, etc. However… this might be the most Van Damme I will get on this blog. Red Sleeping Beauty are the kind of Swedish synth-pop that I can get behind, as all their previous Christmas tunes have found a way onto these digital pages. (If you share members with my beloved Acid House Kings, you will get noticed by me.) So, I was excited to receive a DM from RSB a few weeks ago hipped me to a new single! “The Swedish Winter” certainly tackles the long, cold nights that those in the upper-regions of the northern hemisphere suffer through – but the celebration that bursts from the song is all about summer. This is definitively NOT a Christmas song. Yet somehow… I began to think that this song might be a good finale to a Christmas/winter mix. Christmas (and your mix) is over… so what else do you have to look forward to? Summer. “You lose your faith / and you lose your mind / the Swedish winter / The darkest times / and the darkest thoughts / the Swedish winter/ Then suddenly, a ray of light / to save your soul / Get ready cause here comes the summer / and everything feels right.”
Bottom Line: This is synth pop at its synthiest and popiest, and will most certainly satisfy fans of the genre.
On this somewhat stressful morning of Mueller-report-anticipation, I thought I’d take a second and write about some fun Christmas tunes. I think I got going (well, for a bit) around this time last year as well… a good pre-Easter Christmas-song surge. Yellow Springs, Ohio’s Gaptooth Grin put out a fantastic 2-song single last December, and it is about time you heard them. The A-side, “Far Away,” is a breezy stroll of a song which reminds me of a particularly beloved (by me) band, Little Joy. I really enjoyed that first line, as it sets the scene perfectly: “It must be Christmas / cause I see stardust / on my television / outside you’d think it’s July / but I know it’s snowing somewhere / far, far away.” The B-side, “Bye Bye Santa,” dips its toes into powerpop, with some sugary-sweet “ba-bas” bopping around in the background, which beautifully plays along with the hilarious and political lyrics. Here is a taste: “Daddy’s been telling you that Santa’s coming some snowy night, / but those kids at school been telling you since you were five / that some fat man flying reindeer with presents on his sleigh, crosses into US airspace, / it might be judgment day. / Yes its goodbye Santa, / bye-bye Santa. / So long Santa Claus. / You’ve seen all those pretty presents beneath the tree, / but how do you make it past your daddy’s AR-15? / Those jackboots on the corner with their red hats and their ties, / they all put up picket fences and locked themselves inside / singing goodbye Santa …. ” I love a good political Christmas song, and this track has scratched that itch perfectly. I know that some folks don’t appreciate bringing politics into Christmas… but frankly, I’ve been doing this for a while and have come to understand that the vast majority of this weird tiny minority of alternative Christmas music obsessives… well… we often find ourselves paddling in the same boat. So… paddle on, and enjoy.
BONUS: “Far Away” actually appeared on a solid little compilation EP, The Gaptooth Wonderful’s Christmas Birthday (which I may review as well at a later date), back in 2015 and you can pick up for FREE.
Bottom Line: Two killer Christmas tracks to brighten up an uncertain future. These tracks are bound to make a Christmas mix or two next year…
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Sometimes I do feel like I’m writing about the same bands, year after year. Well, that is a great problem to have, as so many of the bands I dig keep on putting out great Christmas music! I haven’t hit Mike Nevin’s The Aux releases every single year, but I am on a pretty good, every-two-year schedule. The latest EP, Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems, is Mike’s most personal release. After years of hilarious, dark and often bitter Christmas songs, he has found himself in a spot of sincerity. Mike presents these songs as such:
“this year was both the least creative and most solitary year of my life so far. so this is what has come out of it. i hope you enjoy these genuine christmas songs that i mean from the bottom of my heart. sorry that they’re not as funny as they used to be!”
He is indeed right – these songs are not as funny as they used to be. But that humor has been replaced by a true candor, best felt in his autotuned confessional, “A Real Santa,” where Mike owns up for being a bad friend at times. The ending is genuinely touching:
“cuz santa just wants to feel like he exists
and i know that i could be more like him if i gave a shit
if i’ve treated you like santa
i promise i’ll start acting less like the grinch
and fulfill your christmas wish
i will be a real santa that exists”
Mike goes pretty deep on these songs, and while the subject matter highlights his perceived faults and battles with loneliness and depression, it is refreshing to hear someone so connected to his feelings. These are deeply personal Christmas songs, thrown into a sea of seasonal cheer. You hear these things and the sugary-sweet artifice of the season begins to make your teeth hurt. Sometimes a little pain feels good.
Bottom Line: This year’s brutal honesty (and hope) is quite refreshing, while still remaining true to The Aux’s trademark bitter charm.
Well, I probably should have posted something earlier, but the holidays are always extremely busy. With getting ready for Christmas, preparing for company, and traveling, it can be hard to find time for the one thing that I try to do all year… write about cool Christmas tunes. I found a bunch more too. Whether I get them on here ASAP is best left to the soothsayers, mystics, the oracles and the like… because I have no idea. I’m presently away from home, using my phone as a hotspot and just letting you know I haven’t forgotten you all. Merry Thursday December 27th everyone. Hope it was a magical for you as it was for me. Come back soon – I’m here all year. And call your mother.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
David W. Dearnley has managed to take a provocative title, which many a song relies on exclusively, and surprises the hell out of me. The song does not just being and end with that title – it is the little details that make this song so damn special. However, this song would not be possible with David’s voice, which has a quality that can’t be denied. It is one of those voices that sounds lived in, one with a patina that grows more beautiful under bar lights. Stubby wrote about this record earlier in December, and he rightly loved this track as well. He loved the twist as much as I… that the protagonist is recapturing childhood memories at the strip club, the one “where the Stuckey’s used to be.” You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to get it, and even when you know the reveal is coming, it is still so very worth it. “Christmas in a Strip Club” is a dirty, sad, thoughtful, beautiful song that is worth your money… so bring a stack of singles.
Bottom Line: This song reminds me of a Raymond Carver short story – dark, personal, and fascinating. Highly recommended.
Dream Whale Creative
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Nashville’s Bien have been recording Christmas tunes since back in 2016, but until now, they have all been standards. “Bells, Bells, Bells” however, is particularly excellent in both song choice and performance. This is an original, and that is ALWAYS going to pique my interest more than a dusty old standard. Largely driven by beautiful vocal harmonies, as it progresses the instrumentation builds, and “Bells, Bells, Bells” truly blooms. This song is so pretty that your heart might get 2 sizes too big. I’m going to have to follow Bien on Instagram (@wearebien) to keep an eye out for next year’s track, as they are dangerously close to a tradition. 🙂
Bottom Line: Yet another beautiful, happy Christmas song that I somehow loved. I’m going to have to rebrand from being that miserable old Christmas blogger who posts all these songs about how terrible Christmas is. Well… off to print new business cards.
I do not know to what I owe the honor. Brutalligators gave me a yell earlier in the week and let me hear their spectacular new Christmas track. Recorded last week in Norway with Sjur Lyseid from Sunturns, “Christmas in July” is a lamentation on the differences between Christmas in the UK compared to Christmas in Australia. The writer of this beautiful song is an Aussie ex-pat, Luke Murphy-Wearmouth, and wow, this song is vivid. The smell of fake snow and sunscreen. Drinking mulled wine in July, as the sun sets at 3:30. This is a pitch to his love, culminating in a simple refrain, “Just move / back home / with me.” This song feels authentic, from the lyrics, to the vocals, down to the beautiful melody that supports the song. So. Damn. Good.
Bottom line: Brutalligators got on my radar after Sunturns began promoting a show they were going to play with them, and then I immediately saw they had a version of Frightened Rabbit’s “My Backwards Walk” on their Bandcamp. This band was out of the gate, 2-for-2 with me. I absolutely adored Frightened Rabbit, and the Sunturns are one of the greatest Christmas bands ever. These guys have great taste, and it shows in their music – this song is phenomenal.
I have been waiting for this moment. It is officially Christmas, as my favorite Christmas band is back. Christmas Aguilera return with their funkiest jam yet. Featuring members of the fantastic Hero & Leander, this band has CHRISTMAS MUSIC PERFECTED. They have been writing these amazing, oddly touching songs in the years since their somewhat naughty and brilliant self-titled debut, and “Christmas on Mars” definitely breaks the mold. You can dance to this thing! Fluttering synths, flickering guitar lines, and a bobbing bass – I can’t stop moving in my seat! The music is what grabs you, but these lyrics are so damn fun and just as clever as always:
“Leaving home for Christmas
Packed my old guitar
The cat’s in her space suit
We’ve stocked up on dry fruit
The ice caps have melted
And everybody’s gone
There was no place like home
But buckle up our time has come”
In a year of gorgeous, touching, slow songs, I’m on board with funky Christmas Aguilera, and am looking to forward to our future in space. Especially if they have packed enough of those Trader Joe’s dried mango slices…
Bottom Line: I can’t say enough good things about Christmas Aguilera. I contact them every year in the hopes that the tradition continues… and thankfully it has. As with all their releases, this song benefits Shelter, who believes everyone should have a home. Sounds like a good deal. You should probably buy ALL their songs right now, if you haven’t already.
“Christmas Eve / When everything is magical and desperate.” That might be my favorite line of the year. Wollongong, Australia’s Kay Proudlove has written a cracker of a song in “Giftcard.” This one really comes down to the lyrics for me. Not only is that brilliant line featured prominently in this song, but I am loving the sentiment in this verse as well:
We do the same thing every year
And I won’t be caught out this time, I’ll be more prepared
I’ll make something they’ll actually want, they’ll actually use
But I know it’s just a ruse
Cause everybody’s getting giftcards again
Surprise, it’s a giftcard
Just what you wanted
We have all been caught out before, and Kay just has the guts to sing about it.
Bottom Line: A brilliant approach, with equally excellent execution. Kay’s got some serious songwriting chops.