Buy: Bandcamp (Preorder)
Popping over to Bandcamp for a second to find something new on the top of the new arrivals list, I don’t normally expect to find something I haven’t seen (there is not a lot of turnover this time of year), let alone something this promising. I often judge Christmas tunes by their covers, and it rarely surprises me. Jay Stansfield‘s Christmas is… sports a simple cover of the decapitated snowman, which was odd enough to get me curious, even as I thought the typography could be a bit more interesting (sorry Jay, I can’t get the graphic design snob out of me). The cover may have gotten me in the door, but it was the description that convinced me to press play.
“Over the years I have written many happy, optimistic Christmas songs featuring death, homelessness, zombies and old people burning alive. This album celebrates those moments along with four miserable tracks from the SAY Archives.”
Well that sounds interesting! Only two tracks are available to preview, and both are solid. The Beach Boys’ harmonies of “Wake up the Children” bloom into some lovely holiday sentiment that could inspire any Grinch to feel optimistic. The second track, “The Man in Red” has moments when you imagine Vampire Weekend has put out a Christmas record, which would no doubt light up any indie-kid’s holiday season. Both these tracks are really strong – from the lyrics, to the music and the production – this may be the Winterval of 2017. (Of note, Jay’s got another from 2014, “Christma$ Twenty Fourteen,” and while it has its moments, it is not quite as strong as these two tracks… but worth a listen too!)
Bottom Line: Two tracks in and I’m willing to call Jay Stansfield’s Christmas is… a winner. Can’t wait to hear more, but we’ll have to wait till Dec. 1.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Prints Jackson‘s epic task, to write a song every month till he dies, may have ended (is he still alive??) in February, but before the streak ended (36-months in), he did produce three Christmas tunes for your enjoyment. Each has its own indie-rock charm, but my favorite is certainly last year’s “Reindeer Reindeer.” Why you ask? Well, I love how the song builds from the pulsing synth, bringing in indie rock colors of all sorts as it progresses. But what really drew me in are the lyrics. They are clever, funny, and at times political (“Sweet baby Jesus, / what with Brexit? / It’s hard to have faith / when the President’s a sexist. / Do we still pretend he’s a circus clown? / Let liberal kids knock him down and make yellow snow.”). So, check out this excellent original Christmas tune, as well as Prints Jackson’s back catalogue, because it is all pretty damn great.
(Author’s note: Those who have been reading this blog most certainly have a clue as to my political leanings, and if you have just come across it, and find yourself offended by this track… well, just don’t listen to this song, or go somewhere else? Free society is freedom of choice. I certainly wouldn’t be hanging out on a site that was saying any of the million “Trump Train” songs were any good. Also… because none of them are!)
Bottom Line: Prints Jackson may have ended his run of a song a month, but we are most certainly lucky that he was still writing in December 2016.
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)
Take a song that feels rather formulaic, one where 1 + 1 obviously equals two… and to throw a wrench (and maybe a tab of acid) in the works. Diane Coffee‘s rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is just this… it nudges the classic formula gently off the cliff and all of a sudden you are in the middle of this amazing fuzzed-out guitar, and you’ve forgotten how to count. For those unfamiliar with Diane Coffee, he has released two fascinating art-pop records on Western Vinyl (most notably the original home of Dirty Projectors), as well as being the initial drummer for friends (and sonic brothers) Foxygen. This one-off track was released in 2015, and is still available for free on Soundcloud, which is extremely generous. This track is good enough to be released on its own… perhaps Diane Coffee should record another xmas tune this year and release a 7″? I’d buy it, no doubt. For now, we’ll have to settle for a non-holiday 7″, as his new release Peel will be out on Polyvinyl on October 20th.
Bottom Line: It’s beginning to look a lot like art-pop Christmas, Diane Coffee, and I’m totally cool with it. Let’s get freaky.
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes
Montreal’s MC Paquin’s “Noël Song” is one of the more breezy Christmas tunes I’ve heard in a long time. Splitting time between solo work and being a member of the folk-pop band Jolie Jumper, MC Paquin’s finds the sweet spot between folk-pop and indiepop with “Noël Song.” The airy production, strolling beat, and lovely brass accents will leave you tapping your foot (unless you have no feet). Readers of this blog will know I normally gravitate toward the rougher edges of Christmas tunes, looking for those tracks that don’t quite buy into everything being perfect and snow-covered. However, lines like, “Drove all those miles just to leave them with a smile,” capture a particular sentiment that I just haven’t heard before… and I loved it.
Bottom Line: I’ve always known that Montreal is a hotbed for fantastic music, and MC Paquin has not let her city down. (However, her city let me down this summer when my car was stolen on the FIRST NIGHT OF VACATION. Booooo Montreal, BOOOOOO!)