Christmas Tape

Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Twaague Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know everyone is all about the NEW NEW NEW songs… throw a “2015” after a song and nobody wants to retweet it. BUT, when nearly all the seasonal releases come out in a month’s time, you are bound to miss some great stuff. Berlin-based Twaague RecordsChristmas Tape was one of those misses… released on December 12 of last year, this release certainly suffered from missing the “christmas” tag on Bandcamp, which made it nearly invisible to my search. (Bandcamp really needs to up their game on search – they limit results and don’t let you combine tags…) This was the tape that led me to Skiing! This was the tape that led me to Hanemoon! And this is the tape that will make you love Milwalkie. Get comfortable, I’m going to cover my personal highlights of this excellent release.

The tape leads off with “26th December,” originally appearing on Skiing’s excellent Generous Fire EP. Its anti-consumerism rhetoric is comfortable terrain for me, and the punk rock aesthetic is invigorating. A very strong start.

Colorado’s Kissing Party is no stranger to Christmas songs – they have 2 featured on their Bandcamp as I type this review. “Merry Christmas Darling (Maybe Next Year Things will Change)” was originally released as their 2014 single, and it remains a great indiepop downer.

Berlin’s Milwalkie contributes one of my favorite tracks on this release with “This Year (All I Want is You).” From what I understand, this begins a string of tracks exclusive to this release. What they might call cheesy (and they do), I call simple and nearly perfect. Playful and nostalgic, this song hits all the marks without getting too sweet; A wonderful, perfectly seasoned (pun!) Christmas tune.

Who would have expected Berlin to be a hotbed of amazing indie Christmas songs? My head has been stuck searching in London for years… should have been looking here! Berlin’s Man Behind Tree channel 90’s-era Merge Records indie rock and blends their jangly guitars, dark lyrics and understated vocals into a fantastic Christmas song, “I Was Santa Claus.”

Hanemoon, who we featured a week or so ago with his 2013 gem, has blessed us with the equally wonderful “My Bell Ride.” This is a driving indie rock Christmas song that I could imagine Yo La Tengo (or my much beloved Mendoza Line) just ripping shit up with; It has the kind of frayed edges that I am such a sucker for.

Strand Child (also from… Berlin!) contribute their dark electro-pop “Yer Feet.” Is this a Christmas song? No idea! But I like it. “I was drunk when I met you / I was drunk when you walked out the door.” It may take place during Christmas… as might the equally non-Christmas specific “F&f” by Berlin’s Mother of the Unicorn. They are a bit less confusing on their Facebook than Strand Child, as they address their song as “not so Christmassy really, but it is a bit sentimental, so that’s the same thing right?” They are tapping into the same deep emotional well as The National… which I consider a high compliment and comparison.

Finally, Farfara’s instrumental “Flying Pan” is also damn good. Again, it suffers by not having an explicit nod to Christmas, but overall a great track that, depending on your own personal mix rules, might still qualify for consideration. At the very least, this track proves them to be an excellent band, worthy of further listening.

Overall this release is extremely strong, and with few exceptions, immensely listenable and wholly enjoyable. I would consider 3-4 of these songs for my own personal mix, which is like scoring a hat trick… very, very hard to do on a Christmas compilation. Tapes are still available via their Bandcamp, as well a digital downloads for a very respectable €5!

Bottom Line: Berlin is just killing it right now. One of the strongest compilations of 2015, easy.

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Marika Hackman - Wonderland EP

Marika Hackman – Wonderland EP (2016)

Transgressive
Buy: Vinyl | iTunesAmazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Marika Hackman is no stranger to Christmas tunes – she’s been featured on Daisy Digital’s past two Christmas compilations, covering “O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” The Christmas bug must have really caught her, as her new EP does not just gather together her previous efforts (it doesn’t in fact), but it has her recording a bunch of new covers, as well as some originals. The first track that has been teased out is an absolutely incredible original song, the synth sprinkled “Driving Under Stars.” I’m such a fan of this track. The vibe is perfection – just what I needed today. This is a stone-cold mixworthy track… I can’t even bring myself to get beyond it to talk about the other selections. One exception… “O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel” is a new version, different from the charity comp version previously available, so all-new material! ALSO, vinyl vinyl vinyl! 300 copies are available via Transgressive, coming out on December 1st. So… pony up. In a related note… care to buy me one? 🙂 You can find my address in the Submissions section. Hehe.

Bottom Line: 30 seconds is all I need to fall in love. No joke. Likely you too!

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Silas Nello "Chelsea Boots On a Holiday"

Silas Nello “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday” (2016)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Dallas singer/songwriter Silas Nello contributes an excellent new Christmas original to the 2016 holiday season, one certainly worthy of a listen. Silas doesn’t quite fit in the alt.country mold, as the track leans more rock than country, but his voice (both actual and lyrical) most certainly drives toward those Gram Parsons/alt.country fields. “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday” is a wistful tale of someone whose life demands that they stay in the city, as his mind wanders towards the Christmases of home and lost love. “I can hear the sleigh bells / rolling down the street / its my imagination / mixed with drunk and winter dreams. / New Years coming soon, / I hope it’s not too late. / But I can’t forget you, / wearing Chelsea boots on a holiday.”

Bottom Line: For those looking for some excellent, rootsy melancholia, I give you “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday.”

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Christmas for Cowboys

Christmas for Cowboys (2016)

Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP)
Buy: Stream | Amazon.de MP3

How about some country music from Norway? Because that makes total sense right? Everything makes sense right now! Well, actually Norway, Sweden and the like have long had a healthy Americana/Country scene. The folks over at Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP) gathered four Norwegian country bands (The Brigade, Helldorado, Flying Shoes and the Tramps), and each band chose two songs by prominent country and americana bands and songwriters. Songs featured on this release were originally recorded by the Handsome Family, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Jackson Browne, John Prine, The Band, Buck Owens, Chris Hillman and Glen Campbell. Those are some big names indeed, though my favorite is perhaps the smallest name (Handsome Family). That said, I am having a tough time singling out specific tracks to feature, because truly, the quality level is high enough on each of these tracks. The entire release is certainly worth your time. For extra credit, check out The Brigade’s Beyond Christmas Day EP from 2014.

Bottom Line: These Norwegians really love this country music, and it comes through.

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Acoustic Christmas

UPCOMING: Amazon’s “Acoustic Christmas” Playlist (2016)

Amazon Music
Buy: Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

Today is a day of upcoming posts apparently. Amazon looks to be creating their own Christmas tradition with their holiday playlists. They like to mix it up, and this year they have moved on from the indiepop and rock of yore, and on to the fertile grounds of Americana. Texas Monthly recently debuted three songs to be featured on the collection, and it certainly looks promising. Hayes Carll covers himself (hehe) by polishing off “Grateful for Christmas,” Bob Schneider lays down a studio version of his “Christmas Street,” and Shinyribs add a little boogie woogie to the mix with “Birthday Cake for Jesus.” Be on the lookout for additional tracks by G.Love, Trampled by Turtles, Son Little, BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY (together???). You might have an idea of who I’m most interested in hearing from…

Edit: Shoutout to Arum Rae! You’re on this playlist! GREAT SONG!

Bottom Line: Again… haven’t heard it yet, but Amazon’s got the money and exposure to not only bring in some great names, but also support some newcomers.

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Head on over to Texas Monthly yo to hear Hayes, Bob and Shinyribs. You know the deal… ‘sclusives.

Blackwatch Christmas 6

UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 6 (2016)

Fowler Volkswagon
Buy: Bandcamp

The time is almost upon us for one of the best compilations out there to be released. The good folks over at Fowler VW and Blackwatch have been hard at work all year, whittling instruments from whole logs and carving black vinyl discs with an exacto knife in a pattern that would create beautiful music. That, or they’ve been recording a bunch of local Oklahoma folks to produce what has become a wonderful holiday tradition. The first track, a electro-pop cover of “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Prettyboy, just debuted on NewsOK, and as usual, it’s a strong start! I don’t want to go into too many details, as I wish to give NewsOK the traffic they deserve, but there is a Flaming Lips connection this year too! CHECK IT OUT!

Bottom Line: Haven’t heard it yet… but I’m pumped! Oh, and they are doing vinyl again this year – hopefully a few copies will end up on Bandcamp??

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Make Like Monkeys

Make Like Monkeys “Xmas Time W/ U” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Ok… so I pretty much just chose one song, because to tackle the whole thing would be overwhelming. There are 20+ songs on Make Like Monkeys’ Soundcloud account – some covers, and lots of originals. Not many have over 50 listens, and for these most recent ones… I was the first tick on the counter. “Xmas Time W/ U” is one of 6 new tracks released overnight, each one with the same 60’s influenced, lo-fi power pop treatment. I wish I knew more about MLM, but truly, Soundcloud is it – no other social media to be found. Simply said, the songwriting and production are certainly more interesting than most milquetoast Christmas releases, and especially for you power-pop folks, you may just find what you’re looking for here.

Bottom Line: Make Like Monkey’s Christmas output is certainly worthy of many more listens. There is some really solid stuff here.

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My Bubba "Champagne Drops"

My Bubba “Champagne Drops” (2016)

Cash Only / Tone Tree Music
Buy: iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The duo of My Bubba, previously known as the trio My Bubba and Mi, hail from those crazy Nordic states (Sweden and Iceland to be specific), which any reader will know are a particular hotbed of music that Christmas Underground both covers, and loves. To my pleasant surprise, their most recent single… is a one-off Christmas original! “Champagne Drops” is both fresh and new, as well as completely familiar, as it has suggestions of both “Unchained Melody” and “What a Wonderful World” in the cadence and melody that drives the song. This feeling of familiarity helps bring the song into an even more intimate experience. The vocals accentuate this intimacy, hushed but not whispered, as if spoken in a room so that others might not be bothered by their intrusion. “Feels like home when you dance me around / much crackling under the soles of our feet / a Christmas sound.” This cozy song demands a fire… and a bit of champagne.

Bottom Line: Sometimes I don’t go for the extremely pretty stuff… but the intimacy that My Bubba achieve in this song is undeniable.

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This is the Kit - Christmas Time Is Here b​/​w La Peregrinación

This is the Kit – Christmas Time Is Here b​/​w La Peregrinación (2016)

Brassland
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

I’ve had my eye on this release ever since Brassland prompted me with a new release on Bandcamp. That was many, many moons ago… like a week or so. Weeks are LONG these days. So… are you familiar with This is the Kit? No? Well, let me introduce you. This is the Kit is Kate Stables, a originally from England, now primarily based in Paris. I credit the gateway drug of The National to my introduction to Kate; Bryce Dessner (of the National) produced her last record, and Brassland also happens to by Bryce & Co’s own label. Thus, when I hear of a National connection, I’m compelled to find out more.

This is the Kit’s earlier work would fall along the lines of some of the earlier “freak folk” bands such as early Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, and the like, and her sound has expanded beyond that initial entrance point, as with many of her early contemporaries. This last record, Bashed Out finds a fuller sound that fills in the gaps that freak folk often left open.

This new, 2-track digital Christmas finds its home somewhere in the middle of these two approaches. The first track, “Christmas Time is Here” has been previously available on Amazon’s All is Bright playlist, and it is a very lovely version of this Christmas classic. The atmospherics sprinkled throughout create a lovely bed for the simple acoustic guitar and vocals to lay upon. I normally like my covers to dramatically reinterpret the source material, but This is the Kit claim their own unique and beautiful space, without having to reinvent it.

The second track, “La Peregrinación,” is the most intriguing one to me, as it is the only “new” track, and I’m wholly unfamiliar with the original. The original was performed in Spanish by Ariel Ramirez, and Kate found a loose translation to base her version upon. It is quite lovely, almost a Dirty Projectors-do-xmas-bossanova-lite approach. If that isn’t a questionable and crazy description, I don’t know what is. I mean come on, this is a lovely Christmas tune and I just made up that crazy sentence. But does it make you want to find out more? I sure hope so!

Bottom Line: Are you looking for a beautifully crafted Christmas single? This 2-song set will scratch that itch. Oh, you have to wait until Friday 🙂

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Venus and the Moon - Happy Xmas (War is Over)

Venus and the Moon “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have to say… this isn’t easy. On so many levels, I don’t feel like entertaining anything that gives me pleasure. Nothing is funny. Laughter can feel like a betrayal. Smiling can feel futile. I mean… shit is dark. So… here’s a dark song. I know I said I didn’t know when I’d be able to post again, but this required very little effort and paid off quite spectacularly.

Venus and the Moon‘s special brand of “galactic country” has taken, what I often think of as an extremely boring and over-played song, and made it not only listenable, but beautiful. The slide guitar is so perfect that it makes me a little angry. I know, stupid reaction right? This is driven from a place where I just discovered this extremely easy and obvious answer that had eluded me for so long, and I feel really stupid that it took me so long – You know, that feeling. Don’t let me stop with the slide guitar, the vocals are also impeccable. The honest quality of the delivery takes a song that (for me) has lost all meaning, and you believe them. A wonderful early Christmas present for us all, at a time when we need it most.

Bottom Line: LA’s Venus and the Moon have helped me find meaning in “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” which is no easy task. Perhaps even more challenging, they prompted me to write when writing is the last thing I want to do.

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