Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

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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Christmas Mix 2018: How to Solve our Christmas Problems

Well, here ya go. Hopefully since it is done, I’ll be able to get back to writing blog posts! I would have assumed there would have been some more political stuff that I’d want to include this year, and while there has been some nice ones (Quiet Company), it hasn’t quite panned out as I expected. I thought this mix was going to be full of hilarious vitriol, but instead I found myself trying to speed it up a bit. There is lots of sweet stuff on here, some longing, some French and Italian, and some swearin’. I hope you enjoy.

1 Billy Changer New Year Dreams
2 Slept in Through Christmas Eyes Lips Eyes
3 Babaganouj Shitty Christmas
4 Gabrielle Papillon Then It Snowed
5 The Grubby Mitts Come on Home For Christmas
6 Le Couleur Le Dernier Noël
7 Futuro Pelo Swamp
8 Christmas Aguilera Footsteps
9 Guillaume Cantillon Noël Je Me Souviens De Tout
10 The Staves Home Alone, Too
11 Pictish Trail But Once A Year
12 Richard Walters The First Snow in Years
13 Amy Stroup Holiday Ease
14 Saintseneca New Coats
15 Fontaines D.C. Winter in the Sun
16 Matty Took 42 Degrees
17 Whyte Horses Next Year Will Be Mine
18 Dirty Nice It’s All Gunna Go Wrong
This Christmas
19 Lullabier feat. Faro Natale A Ceneda
20 Traveller Christmas Eve at Kroger
21 Annika Norlin CORRESPONDENCE: Silent Night
22 Tom Rosenthal The Only Time I’m Home

 

pizzagirl “Pizza for Christmas” (2018)

Heist or Hit
Buy: Bandcamp

Sometimes I can’t do Vaporwave. It gets too hardcore early-90s muzak synthy, but Liverpool’s pizzagirl, who is neither pizza, nor a girl, has found that sweet spot. His other work is not Vaporwive either – listening to an earlier track “Blossom at My Feet, Flower,” is ridiculously good indiepop, so perhaps he only takes quick tokes of the vapor. “Pizza For Christmas” has a pulsing beat, and a classic premise – his baby is gone for Christmas. He’s going to sit there and eat pizza for Christmas, alone. But all is not lost… and suddenly that pizza of resignation is pizza of celebration! It is a fun one, for fun folks. Enjoy.

Bottom Line: Vaporwave-adjacent indiepop fun!

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Joyful Noise Recordings’ Holiday Party Vol. 2 (2018)

Joyful Noise Recordings
Buy: 7″ Lathes | Bandcamp

Joyful Noise has done it again! Those delicious little lathe-cuts are back for a second season – only 100 of each song. You buy a snowflake, you get all the tunes! Or, you can pay $10 and just get the songs. Some highlights from this year are the Netherlands-based Eerie Wanda‘s cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow is Falling” and the Low Anthem‘s original “Fairy on Top of The Christmas Tree.” The crazy part about this whole project is that these songs are all tracked in one hour! They roll them in, figure out their parts (the bands also bleed over into each other’s tracks), and lay it down. In addition, 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to Second Helpings, a non-profit that rescues perishable food, to feed people in need, all while providing culinary job training for disadvantaged adults. Now that sounds like a plan!

Bottom Line: These snowflakes are for a good cause, and with a lineup like Kishi Bashi, Danielson, No Joy amongst many other notable purveyors of indie rock, it is certainly worth checking out.

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The Proctors “Icelandic” (2018)

Sunday Records
Buy: Free (til 12/31)

Indiepop legends The Proctors have recorded a nice little indiepop Christmas song and placed it under all of our trees… because it is free! The song begins with a romantic visual of snow falling on an Icelandic town, but it quickly turns, as many sweet indiepop songs do, towards melancholy. The phone lines go down, and they say they’ll talk in a week or so, but then they just drift away, and now it has been a year since they spoke. It is a simple song – but one that you can relate to, even if you aren’t in Iceland. This is a song for those you like, even love, who drift away. I think we’ve all had that – life gets in the way.

Bottom Line: A very nice, snowy song by some of my indiepop heroes.

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Premiere: The Heathen and the Holy “It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It)” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp7Digital (soon) | iTunes | Amazon MP3Amazon.uk MP3Amazon.de MP3Amazon.fr MP3

The Heathen and the Holy, the seasonal project of classically-trained violinist Tom Hobden and musician/writer/producer Fred Abbott, who once recorded together in the much-missed folk/rock band Noah and the Whale, are back once again! The Heathen and the Holy are one of those Christmas treats that you hope for each year, as their songs always bring a bit of levity to what can become a very serious and earnest season. Not saying that these guys can’t be both serious and earnest, but there is always humor that helps take the edge off. So let this song be your snowy day, afternoon gin and tonic, and let’s premiere this great new Heathen and the Holy track together.

“It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It)” is about having to be apart for Christmas, and how that separation casts a pall over the entire holiday. Heavy! What was I just saying about levity? Well, no worries there – upbeat orchestration, along with Fred Abbott’s interjections keep you smiling through the pain. There are some truly fantastic parts; my favorite being when Tom and Fred begin trading lines toward the end of the song, culminating in a crescendo where they both sing “They take me back to Regent street to the Christmas lights tonightttttttt.” It is a theatrical moment, which if you have seen any of their previous videos, is no surprise. I love this band equally for their music, as well as for the brilliant videos that they have put together in the past. It is hard not to think of Tom and Fred, dressed in their holiday best with a drink in-hand… somehow still playing instrument… you know, because of the magic of Christmas. The Heathen and the Holy are truly the mulled wine of Christmas bands – a warm, cozy, delicious treat that somehow always seems to present itself at the exact right time. Cheers.

Bottom Line: The Heathen and the Holy have kept their Christmas flame burning bright with “It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It).”

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Ariane Zita “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Someday I’ll finish my mix… but in the meantime, maybe I’ll help you finish yours. Ariane Zita, an indie folk singer/songwriter from Montreal, has a Christmas advent calendar that is turning out to be quite lovely, Un Noël à Botch. The first track, “Christmas Can’t be Far Away,” is an Eddy Arnold cover, and TBH, not a song I was familiar with. Ariane’s voice is is beautiful, and her arrangement makes the song feel particularly intimate. The calendar continues in a similar fashion, each song building a soundtrack to that first snow.

Bottom Line: This is truly the season of beautiful songs, and Ariane Zita could very well put out more than everyone else combined…

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Annika Norlin “CORRESPONDENCE: Silent Night” (2018)

Razzia Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide) set off on their Correspondence project at the beginning of this year, writing each other letters though song in an alternating fashion. I don’t recall specifically hoping that there would be a Christmas song, but that hope is my default position. My default hope has been fulfilled, and I am ecstatic that one has emerged in this, the final month of the project. It is Annika Norlin’s turn for a song, and boy does she deliver a finale. “CORRESPONDENCE: Silent Night” has Annika musing on the the two composers of the original “Silent Night,” and how they must have felt to create it, then for those around them to experience it for that first time. What a brilliant approach for a song – I’m already in and I might not have heard a note yet. Annika’s simple guitar melody propels her delicate voice through a series of vignettes, from the birth of the song, to its first performance, finally culminating in the famous Christmas truce of 1914. And while there are powerful moments such as that truce, there are also some moments of levity, as she wonders if that first crowd might have thought: “Well I like the older stuff better 
/ They should do more upbeat tunes.” So terribly clever and moving in both approach and execution, this song has it all. Thanks to Jeremi for the tip!

Bottom Line: What a stunner.

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Grapes & Friends “Mrs. Claus” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Free on Soundcloud!

Now… how many times do I need to introduce these guys? I mean come on… they are awesome!! Grapes & Friends are an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-Christmas supergroup. If you live in the Austin, Texas area (or have the means to trave) – NEXT SATURDAY (Dec. 15) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Mrs. Claus” is ridiculously fun. That 70s R&B groove about grooving on a lady, but she won’t have anything to do with a “Christmas band”… and then that chorus hits! THAT CHORUS! You can’t help but get moving in your seat… but if you insist on sitting still – it’s your loss. This band sounds like SO. MUCH. FUN. I can only imagine what this party is like!!

Bottom Line: Grapes & Friends are the ultimate Christmas party band, and this might be a highlight of the night!

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Dirty Nice “It’s All Gunna Go Wrong This Christmas” (2018)

Chiverin
Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

As I attempt to finish up my mix… I will be posting a track here and there, likely without as much exposition as I like to provide. Dirty Nice are an interesting electro-pop/R&B band from the UK. There is not much out there about the band – in fact, The Line of Best Fit called them “mysterious” earlier this year. I think that may have been before their names were known… which they are now (Charlie Pelling and Mark Thompson), but still precious little is out there. What town are they from? What bands might they have been in? But… you know what, who cares! They just put out a great Christmas tune about how Christmas never quite works out the way you think. Me? I’ll be working while my family is at the Christmas parade! We all have our holiday hopes, and they rarely quite line up… and now we have a song about it.

Bottom Line: Really love the concept and equally love the execution. Keep mixin’ and good luck. Send me tips.

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