Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight cover

Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight? (2010)

Cloudberry Records
Buy: Good Luck!

Not technically a Christmas release, the 3″ CDR Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight falls in the winter/snow category that I open up my mix to. The vibe is much more varied than the previous Cloudberry release, adding a bit more of an indie rock tone at times. The first track, “Catch Your Cold,” is the best example of this. Evans the Death have created a rocking song with a great feel, and some very silly lyrics – “I’m afraid of getting a job / I’m afraid of Snoopy Doggy Dog…,” but it works.

Seapony‘s “Dreaming” is a lovely piece of 80’s inspired chillwave that will find favor with kids who listen to Wild Nothing. It later appeared on their 2011 record, Go With Me, and is certainly good enough to be mix-worthy BUT – is not winter-related enough for me (or at all!).

The Sweater Girls follow with “Sweater Weather,” which has a much more indie-pop feel than its predecessors. It could use a bit more a hook, with the lead singer’s spoken vocals over a buzzy guitar that is going in circles that would benefit from some variation of tone. Still, not a bad song – it gets bonus points for being the second song whose subject matter qualifies for Christmas mixes.

Floridian indie-poppers Cassolette weigh in with “Not Just Anyone,” the longest song on the record… a little over 3 minutes (a definite plus for this record if I may say so), but it is not a winter song! The only nod to the season is the lyric “You turn my winter into spring.” Too bad – it is a wonderful piece of indie-pop!

Finally, the Christmas-y named The Garlands finish out the album with a song that could be off a Sarah record of old, “Throw Away This Day.” My personal taste leads me to say this is the least strong song on the record, though if you love the indie pop sound of the 1980 & 90s, you’ll absolutely love it. Though, this is not a winter song either! (They did release a rather good Christmas tune two years prior that you should check out.)

Bottom Line: Not enough winter-themed songs hurts its rating, but some strong stuff. 3.3/5

LISTEN



Last Train to Christmas cover

Last Train to Christmas (2008)

Cloudberry Records
Buy: Good Luck!

This little 3″ CDR packs a big indie-pop punch. Four tracks of solid songs that would please any fan of the genre, and perhaps even those who don’t normally warm towards the twee. Featuring four originals that don’t fall into any heavy religion at all… pretty much what I wish every Christmas CD I picked up was like.

The Swedish band Twig starts it off with “Antoinette’s Christmas Wedding,” which will give you all the crooning, brass, and calypso that you never knew you wanted in a Christmas song. A small story of a song, it sets the wedding (and surrounding) scene quite well. I am quite partial to Christmas originals, and this one is a very interesting one… It has yet to make a Christmas mix for me yet, it just hasn’t fit yet. It may never fit… but that doesn’t make it a lesser song.

The first of two NYC bands, Strega follows with “When the Stars are Shining Bright at Christmas Time,” and their very familiar, sleigh bell-heavy, female fronted approach does not stand out quite as much as the dulcet tones of Twig. However, they have written a tight little song that is immensely listenable.

The Soft City lead off “Side B” with “Snow Keeps Falling,” with a much more 60’s inspired treatment that I could imagine being off an early Essex Green record for some reason. Great motion to this song…

The final song is by the Danes Champagne Riot, who can be found singing Christmas tunes (Xmas Safari) on the most recent Matinee Records holiday offering. “December Slopes” is a fine first effort with a great groove; they reach a level that not many bands hit after many Christmas attempts.

Bottom Line: Every song is truly good, though no song is mind-blowing incredible. 4.8/5

LISTEN:

Avalanche Records’ Alternative Christmas (2009)

Avalanche Records (Edinburgh)
Buy: Good luck!

One of the biggest challenges with reviewing Christmas records, is that so many are released to benefit charities. I certainly don’t want to crap all over a record that benefits sick kids, and thankfully, I don’t have to.

Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland released a very DIY Christmas record back in 2009. Simply titled Alternative Christmas, this compilation features mainly Scottish artists each submitting an original song, with only a few exceptions. So, for those out there who love originals (like me), this is a good start.

I originally purchased this to have an audio master for There Will Be Fireworks‘ “In Excelsis Deo,” which is a dramatic, and fantastic song; a perfect ending to my 2010 Christmas Mix. This used to be the only place you could buy this track, and of course it has since been released elsewhere. Fellow dramatic Scots Frightened Rabbit also lend their (by now) classic track, “Its Christmas So We’ll Stop.” I think this may be the only official CD release of the track, beyond a promo that they sent to radio stations back in 2008.

A large chunk of this record is terribly sad. The Savings and Loan contribute a serviceable cover of the Palace Brothers’ lament “Christmastime in the Mountains,” but it does not improve upon the original – which is a must if you are going to perform it in a similar style. Withered Hand gives us an emotional “Its a Wonderful Lie,” and while it certainly has its moments, it is just too dreary for me. Really, this one could be you favorite tune on the record if you really love a Christmas dirge. Another rather brutal, but well-done song is the Phil Ochs tune, “No Christmas in Kentucky”, retitled “Christmas in Kirkcaldy,” and performed by Meursault. Scots singing about the Southeast United States… and the poverty that is Appalachia. I have heard it all.

Two final tracks that are certainly worth a listen are Emily Scott‘s “Holy,” and X-Lion Tamer‘s stab at Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy.” Both are done well, and “Holy” is an extremely pretty, sparse folk song with excellent vocal layers.

Bottom Line: Can be quite sad, but has a higher percentage of good songs than most comps out there. 3.8/5

LISTEN:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMlpRJf1iSE]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jw9MMvdol9Q]

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12 Days of Christmas cover

12 Days of Christmas (2009)

Bubblewrap Collective
Buy: CD | Bandcamp

The concept is intriguing. 12 bands were selected and given 31 days to write and record a song, each based on a particular day in the “12 Days of Christmas.” It was intriguing enough to compel me to preorder it many moons ago. As with nearly every single Christmas compilation, there is a WIDE variety of quality on this record. The tracks that rise above the rest are all female-fronted indie bands – one might think that I have a type. The first notable track is “Five Golden Rings from the Hi Five Kings” by The Rocky Nest. They have a great musical aesthetic – everything works well together. The second track I would like to highlight is “Silver Swans in NYC” by Allo, Darlin’ (Look them up – they put out a fantastic record this year). This was the one I was anticipating… and perhaps it was that anticipation that raised the expectations a bit too high. Its a lovely little song… but for some reason I wish it was a more fleshed-out production. There are a few other tracks on there that are ok, but largely, I was not a huge fan.

Bottom Line: So much potential, but not enough quality payoff. 2/5

LISTEN:


Kiss for Christmas EP cover

The Starside Eight – Kiss for Christmas EP (2002)

Electric Frog Recordings
Buy: iTunes

The Starside Eight existed for what looks to be one full length (which I haven’t heard, but will certainly hunt down), and a rather excellent Christmas EP. There are a number of other songs out there called “Kiss for Christmas,” but this is not a cover, and Starside Eight’s song is better than the rest. While released back in 2002, it sounds as thought it could have come out today. Their production falls smack in hard-scrabble indie rock vein, and the sad tale they spin is done with cleverness and a great ear for a hook. The percussions is of particular note – it really keeps this track going. This song alone would make this VERY affordable release worthwhile, and I’m happy to say that the rest of the record is quite commendable too. “Yuki Ya Kon Kon” is a Japanese snow song, and while its not something terribly up my alley, it is done well. “November Fights December Blues” is the second of two Starside Eight originals, and while it shares its predecessor’s melancholy, it does not do so with the driving beat that “Kiss for Christmas.” Later in the song, the guitar work gives it the kick that you wish it had earlier on in the song, but too late in my opinion. Its very good, but not quite up to mixworthy status. The final track is a cover of Lou Reed’s “Jesus,” and while they don’t reinvent the song, they do it very, very well.

Bottom Line: The whole thing is quite listenable, with one particularly strong original song. 4.5/5

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-murfckpeho]
Fantasia de Navidad cover

Fantasia De Navidad (2002)

Siesta
Buy: Discogs (CD) | Amazon.uk (CD)

If you want an entire record of very, very, very pretty indie pop, then Fantasia de Navidad is for you. I find very little fault with the efforts of these Siesta recording artists – they have pleasant music, and interesting lyrics. There is also a calypso? thread that runs through the record, popping up into the forefront at times. There It is perhaps a little too pure indie pop for what I am looking for on my own personal mix (or to subject to party guests). I am just not that skinny and beautiful, while somehow melancholy and well dressed, to pull it off.

Of particular note, Admiral Achilles’ “East of the Country” (at certain times) sounds like it could very well be Elvis Costello in disguise, perhaps going indie pop in between his Burt Bacharach and country music phases. Their second track on the album, “Christmas,” sounds like Mark Kozelek… specifically with his vocal phrasing, as well as the general tone. I can’t pin that band down…

This one is tough to come by… to read more about it, check out Siesta’s discography.

(A quick afterthought – this CD comes in a regular version, as well as an ultra-limited, wooden CD case version with the cover impressed upon it. Crazy.)

Bottom Line: Do you LOVE indie pop? If you do, add 2 points on to my score. 2.8/5

Merry Christmas from Bella Union cover

Merry Christmas from Bella Union (2006)

Bella Union
Buy: Good Luck!

Back in 2006, I blogged about this great little 3″ CD I was picking up… and boy was I excited. I had a right to be. This tiny, 3″ CD packs quite a punch. Three tracks, all worthwile, highlighted by the absolutely splendid tune by My Latest Novel, “Outside it’s Christmas.” My Christmas mix had a bit of a Scottish flair that year – I believe it had Frightened Rabbit on it as well. Robert Gomez & Eric Pulido (both of Midlake) were at the height of their powers, and present an extremely enjoyable version of “Feliz Navidad,” one of two versions of the songs that I particularly enjoy. Devics haunting rendition of “Silent Night,” is interesting enough to not be a bore, though I probably would never include it on my mix… just because I don’t think the song fits what I’m going for.

This disc is nearly impossible to hunt down… don’t pay an arm & a leg, but give it a shot.

Bottom Line: Hunt down that My Latest Novel track, and you’ve got a surefire winner. 4.3/5

EDITDid My Latest Novel find my post and decide to upload it to their Soundcloud account? I doubt it… but it is rather fortuitous that it was posted there yesterday… and that does look my scan of the cover art! Be sure to listen to the song all the way through – the latter half is fantastic!

Laura Marling - Goodbye England cover

Laura Marling – Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) (2009)

Virgin
Buy: 7″ | iTunes

I originally heard Laura Marling perform this song on a Youtube video, a year before she released it officially (see below). Performing at the amazing folk collective Communion Christmas show, this glimpse into what would be her incredible second record left me in awe. It then popped up on the BBC in a live set about a month before the official single was released, and if you hunt that one down, you will not be disappointed. The official single is a one-sided 7″, and extremely limited. If you are a collector, you would do yourself a favor to hunt it down. The same version can be found on her sophomore release, I Speak Because I Can, as well as a live version on the 2-CD deluxe edition of Creature I Don’t Know and the Live from York Minster 2LP release.

I have to say… perhaps my #1 Christmas release wish, is for Communion to put out a nice live recording of one of these shows…

Bottom Line: A classic. 5/5

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKFT-heAf_s]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt1dmt-Zqyc]

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Glasvegas - A Snowflake Fell cover

Glasvegas – A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss) (2008)

Columbia
Buy: Discogs (CD) | iTunes
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So, yes, they are on a major label. However, talk to most people in America, and ask them if they know who Glasvegas are, and you may be asking around a good bit. This is unfortunate – because they put out a very solid debut, and an absolutely stellar Christmas EP, A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss).

I honestly do not have a song that I do not care for on this EP – though I do have some favorites. Standouts are “Fuck You, It’s Over,” “Please Come Back Home,” and the title track, “A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss).” Two of those tracks have made my personal Christmas mixes (not in the same year), and one is always in the running… though likely less so as I will soon have a child in the house.

Available as a second disc in a special edition-version of their debut, it was also given away at indie record stores in the US. Hunt one down for about $10 and you are doing splendidly.

Bottom Line: A fantastic, moody Scottish rock record that I could listen to (and do) outside the holiday season. 5/5

LISTEN:



If I Make it Through Christmas

If I Make it Through Christmas (2001)

Perfect Pop Records / Two Zero Records / Thatsperfectwonderball Records
Buy: Download | CD

Released in Norway back in 2001, this EP is a solid little piece of indie Christmas. Two tracks are of particular note (and they can be previewed at the Norwegian website where you can download it), the John Prine classic “Christmas in Prison,” performed by Cinnamoon, and Peru You’s “Real Maria.”

The Oslo-based Cinnamoon cover  “Christmas in Prison” with a great, full-band, folk treatment, that has just enough banjo to make you really take note of (and enjoy) – and before it was fashionable. I think they made some wonderful decisions with the arrangement – nothing seems out of place, and while they didn’t reinvent the song, they certainly improved upon it.

Also a Norwegian band, Peru You’s “Real Maria” sounds like something that Vampire Weekend could really tear up on a Christmas single. The vaguely Caribbean feel of the instrumentation, the interesting phrasing and the lyrical bobs and weaves really make this a great track. You need to hunt this down.

I can’t bring myself to write about every single song, so I shall end it there, with the two best. Additionally, I am certainly fascinated by the fact that I can find out very, very little about these two bands… who have no doubt broken up in the over ten years that its been since this release. I thought I could find every answer on the internet… or at least a long-abandoned myspace page…

Bottom Line: Those 2 tracks make the record. 3.5/5