Alex the Astronaut “Christmas In July” (2020)

Nettwerk/Minkowski Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play | Spotify

I was driving the other day listening to WNRN (one of our local nonprofit radio stations), and this track came on that I really liked. Honestly, I can’t tell you what song it was now… but I recall the DJ coming on saying “That was Alex the Astronaut giving us some really big Courtney Barnett vibes.” I wholly agreed, and found myself making a mental note of the singer so that I might later see if there was a vaguely Christmas song I could mine for my mix (and my blog). WHAT DO YOU KNOW? Not only is there a song, but it is a single as well. I don’t get the same Barnett vibes from “Christmas in July,” and I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate her folktronic sensibilities to be lumped in with Courtney’s wordy indie guitar rock simply because they are both Australian. Initially, I expected the song to be more about celebrating Christmas in July, as many folks in the southern hemisphere wish to have a pop-culture-approved Christmas celebration during their winter. However, this is quite specifically a love song, and the reference to “Christmas in July” is very much in the “traditional” vein. Alex uses Christmas imagery to express how exuberant and lucky she feels to be with her love – as if she is getting a wonderful and unexpected gift outside of the holiday of Christmas. Alex’s voice brilliantly expresses emotion, fragile and powerful in equal parts. The simple piano lines build anticipation, leading us to drums that burst open the song like a brilliant flower. There is an energy, a physical and emotional motion to this song that I greatly appreciate. And yes, this is not specifically a Christmas song, but I have bent the rules for less. So… enjoy this bit of Christmas in September.

Bottom Line: It is a beautiful, emotional song that gets better with multiple listens, so hit that replay button a few times.

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UPCOMING: Mark Lanegan – Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020 (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Rough Trade Exclusive LP

Well well well… this popped up on my radar, either by fate or coincidence…. Mark Lanegan is re-releasing his tour-only Christmas EP, Dark Mark Does Christmas 2012, as a full-length Christmas album – the appropriately titled Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020. Lord knows that 2020 is a year for a dark Christmas record…

From Rough Trade (who have an exclusive version, perhaps THE exclusive version?)

2020 has been a dark year and so to end the year Mark Lanegan returns as Dark Mark and releases a full Christmas album. Five tracks were released as a tour only 12″ in 2012 which is now rare and impossible to find. He has recorded five more tracks recently and turned it into a full length album. Lanegan successfully takes some traditional Christmas songs, some Christmas covers plus some originals and twists them into a dark, melancholic affair. Standouts include Burn The Flames, originally recorded by Roky Erickson and Lanegan makes this sinister song, even more sinister. The Everley Brothers Christmas Eve Can Kill You is stripped back and haunting whilst the Lanegan original A Christmas Song is delicate and heartbreaking. 2020 is going be a dark Christmas.

Rough Trade

LISTEN (to the 2012) version

Michael M “Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)” (2020)

Michael M - Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)

Last Night from Glasgow
Buy:
Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Michael M. has written a “quick song about Santa Claus having an existential crisis,” and fuck if it isn’t one of my favorite little ditties of the year. Just bask in these lyrics and smile.

It’s Christmas time and a cold wind appears
The snow isn’t falling down
Because the Earth is misbehaving
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Resurrected annually to highlight wealth inequality
Humans are not worth saving

Merry Christmas, please let me die

The song sounds like it should have been one of those coveted b-sides from Blue Album/Pinkerton-era Weezer, which I consider a high, high compliment. (Side note – It is so unfortunate that you have to designate which Weezer records as to not insult the band you like, because looooorrrrrdddd, they break my heart to this day.) You can’t listen to this thing and not smile – it is infectious (too soon?). Short, sharp perfection.

Bottom Line: The vibe, the lyrics, every damn thing about this song reminds me of why I started this silly blog – to bring weirdo Christmas songs like this to my weirdo friends. Enjoy.

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wejzak – Four Christmas Songs (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

These curious December 24th releases… I don’t get em. All the Christmas blogs are nearly tucked in for the holiday, snug in our beds awaiting a brief day or so rest before tackling the New Years’ songs. So when a band or singer I really like sneaks one under the door, it drives me a little mad. I want to yell about the music I like, and there isn’t time to yell! So here I am hollering, deep into 2020 and nearly upon this treacherous holiday season (it’ll be here tomorrow, and that’ll oddly feel like a fucking year and half), and I’m only now getting a chance to tell you about this stellar followup to wejzak’s 2016 Christmas EP. Will Ejzak (wejzak) has created a fantastic new collection of Christmas songs (appropriately titled Four Christmas Songs), which crackle with life, beauty and the occasional “don’t give a fuck.” Everything is there that I loved on Merry Christmas!, the sparse instrumentation and the layered vocals, but there is a (dare I say) a sexiness to “Wrap Your Presents” that I wasn’t quite anticipating. There are funny moments, sweet lines, and moving imagery throughout this brief, but beautiful, EP, and I’ll leave it to you to seek out your own favorite moments.

Bottom Line: An extremely solid Christmas EP, and worthy successor to wejzak’s brilliant 2016 Christmas EP.

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Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017/2020)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2020 Addition: This COVID/anxiety-riddled/dumpster fire of a year has brought few bright moments. Today is an exception (for the moment), as one of my favorite Christmas records of the past few years is reintroduced to the world on beautiful, red-marbled vinyl. Zach Malm‘s The Darkest time of Year has been released in a limited pressing of 100 copies, and I strongly suggest that one of those copies should be yours. Heck, there is even a bonus song that wasn’t on the original release! This is your chance to have a fantastic private-press Christmas record that future generations of weirdo Christmas music fans will be alllllll about. Let us take a moment to look back upon my 2018 review of this beautiful record that completely floored me.

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December can overwhelm a tired Christmas-music blogger. Often, the casualties of a lack of time and a wealth of music, are the large compilation and the full album. Singles are so much quicker to consume and write about. Seattle’s Zach Malm was a casualty of last year, as he put out a very interesting experimental, electronic pop record that I did not get to, and most certainly deserves our 2018 ears. There are some damn interesting songs on here, many of which are awash in a Novation Bass Station II synth. Zach’s cover of “Walking in the Air” has a fantastic buzzing bassline powered by that synth, as well as these great fluttering melodies interspersed throughout; It is truly beautiful. Zach’s wonderful original “Magical Night,” is much less electro, bringing in guitars while crafting a beautifully sweet song about a child’s anticipation of Christmas. It is simple, poignant and wholly mix-worthy. Zach’s other originals, “Christmastime is Always,” “The Darkest Time of the Year,” and “Half the Fruit” all reflect the album’s title in a way the sweet “Magical Night” did not. They are dark, but with these brilliant moments of light, such as this line in “Half the Fruit:”

If nothing else, we still have Christmas
If nothing else, we still have Jesus
And even though the meaning changes
If nothing else, we still have Christmas

Zach has created a true album – the “Kid Conversation” tracks are great on their own, but not really “songs” – but they work beautifully, stitching together this wonderful collection of largely original, both in content and approach, Christmas tunes. Zach has nailed it with this one, and you should check it out (as well as forgive me for not getting to this fantastic record last year).

Bottom Line: Zach Malm has created a wonderfully cohesive record – a true Christmas album – beautiful to listen to in its entirety.

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Night Flowers “Snowfall” (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

London’s Night Flowers are known for dropping excellent Christmas singles every year or so, and last year was no different. Hey, I should have written about it! But that is the problem with running a Christmas music blog – everything comes out all at once. “Snowfall,” Night Flowers’ first original Christmas song since 2016, is an absolute joy of a song. Their jangly guitars light the spark, as the bass and drums feed the flames surrounding these beautiful harmonies, creating a warm feeling of nostalgia that is only heightened by the holiday season. This song is a pure winner, and a total layup had I had the sense to write about it last year.

Bottom Line: Night Flowers return with perhaps their greatest holiday track yet. There truly is something in the indiepop water over there in London… you gotta export that shit.

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The Fisherman and his Soul “Christmas Tree Bright As A Lighthouse” (2019)

The Fisherman and his Soul - A Christmas Tree Bright as a Lighthouse

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I love pretty things. I hate pretty things. I find no contradiction in this. I can be both blown away by an amazing voice, and find another one boring as fuck. There is no rhyme or reason to what captures my ear, and Münster, Germany’s The Fisherman and his Soul are proof-positive of that. I am delighted by this song. I find his voice both unimpressive and perfect. “Christmas Tree Bright as a Lighthouse” is glorious indiepop, paired with dense lyrics that require the steady hands of a surgeon to dissect; A fascinating nut of a song that entices you to take a crack at it. But truly, I also love the visual of that title. I can picture that tree… and it makes me smile.

Bottom Line: I honestly don’t know who I would recommend this track to, but I’m pretty positive that some of you will feel the same way.

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Faye and the Scrooges “Christmas is Lit” (2019)

Faye and the Scrooges

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Faye and the Scrooges are one of those hidden gems that only our little community of weirdo Christmas music will ever know about. Why? Well, the band exists only in the context of these delicious, one-off Christmas singles, hopefully to be finished before the big day.  2019’s offering is classic Faye and the Scrooges, blending poppy melodies and profane language with equal parts of the bitterness and sugary sweetness found in the holiday season. I only wish I could have given them the last-minute PR bump “Christmas Is Lit” deserved… but alas, 2019 ended as a portent of things to come… with me quite sick and exhausted. Perhaps this little gem will help you claw your way out of the funk of 2020, as it has certainly helped me.

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges don’t come out to play every year, but when they do, you know the song will certainly make it onto your playlist.

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The Romantidote “(Have Yourself) A Very Maudlin Christmas​!​!” (2019)

The Romantidote " community (Have Yourself) A Very Maudlin Christmas​!​!"

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Well, hi. It has been a while.

Someone has managed the previously unimaginable… gotten me off my ass to write about Christmas music. Berlin’s The Romantidote drew me in with that clever-as-fuck name, then kept me listening with those clever-as-fuck lyrics. He hears the same old trite music, observes the fascist bloviating of his uncle and the drunkenness of his dad, and yet still finds that moment of hope and cheer.

“Change the channel over to a choir of children
Their voices singing faces smiling ear to ear
No that’s a snowflake melting just below my eye dear
It’s not a yearly drop of sentimental seasonal good cheer

See your drunken family round the dinner table
Look out through the window as the snowfall starts
There are so many other days to be a humbug
So maybe just for this one you could show the world a bit of heart”

The music is big, full of color and momentum. It is not like I don’t like the treatment, but I would love to hear a stripped-down version as well. After hearing his voice on some other tracks (check out his Soundcloud!), I feel like the sugary-sweet instrumentation can make his voice sound almost too sweet at times. I dunno… just a thought. This song could go from really good to fucking great with a tweak or two.

An added bonus to this track – all proceeds go to Tiny Changes, the mental health charity started in the memory of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson, who I miss terribly.

Bottom Line: Isn’t it amazing that we live in a time where we are acknowledging the creep of fascism in Christmas songs? Crazy times. The Romantidote has crafted a really good track for your mix, which will lighten the sonic mood, as well as make a jab at any of your relatives who might have strayed from the path of our shared humanity.

LISTEN

Christmas Aguilera “Icicle Trickle” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I would normally either get their email, flip out, and post the new Christmas Aguilera song within the span of 20 minutes. This year, it came a bit late, when my time is in high demand to go get this out of the attic, to go to the store, to finish up that laundry before everyone gets here. So, while my post comes late, perhaps you’ve found “Icicle Trickle” before I’ve told you about it, and thus you have an extra day to enjoy it during the proper seasonal setting. This seventh release by one of the great Christmas bands working is also their most funky. While the very beginning has the boys channeling Queen, they quickly transition to cheeky Grapes & Friends’ boogie-down territory. The lyrics are a trip:

Be my tinsel
And wrap yourself around my tree
Make me grin so
Let’s keep it going for a week
I love you too much
Your foot’s on my clutch
Though Christmas is beyond my skillset
Stuck in this sweater
It’s scratchy as heck
Jump in that’s better
Gonna stay forever in this pickle
Until the Icicle Trickles

The overt sexual innuendo is nothing new to Christmas Aguilera, as that is part of what made me love them with their first self-titled EP, with the fantastic “I Wanna Give You a Present” setting a great, playful tone. However, then they manage to sneak this beautiful line in amongst the silliness, “Yeah Christmas holidays / Make them every day / And stretch this elastic band of love.” What a line! The production on this latest is a rich as ever, making you wonder how they heck they pull it together at the last minute like this – they only had a CA song meeting a few weeks ago! Be sure to check out their regular gig, Guilt Coins, who also recorded a remarkable cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” this year.

Bottom Line: Bands like Christmas Aguilera are why I write this blog. A true pleasure every year that they bless us with a song.

LISTEN