Annika Norlin “CORRESPONDENCE: Silent Night” (2018)

Razzia Records
Buy: Bandcamp7Digital (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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Forest Creatures – Noble Fir (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Oh those seasonal bands. Those spectacular seasonal bands. There are a few, a few bands who come together for explicitly Christmas music, the obvious ones (for my readers being Christmas Aguilera and Sunturns), and now Forest Creatures are making their claim for elite status. Not only do they only release Christmas music, and not only have they released something for the past three years in a row, but they have released FULL ALBUMS three years in a row. There are some bands that have matched this feat… but Forest Creatures are really taking this to another level. A healthy mix of originals and covers, all performed beautifully – so beautifully that you find yourself wondering where they find the time? This year’s entry is Noble Fir, which follows in last year’s beautiful Was That Christmas? in brilliant fashion. The title track is a standout for sure. Their interesting arrangement for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was pretty damn great and unexpected. The calming bliss of the other two originals, “Silent Morn” and “Christmas at the Cabin,” combined with this coffee I’m drinking has put me in a serene, blissful mood that this bitter, overworked Christmas blogger kinda, really, truly, definitely needs. This record is fantastic, for those who like that sort of thing…

EDIT: Woah. Mind. Blown. All three originals have EXACTLY the same running time… 2:37. That is crazy.

Bottom Line: Forest Creatures have maintained an incredible track record of fantastic, FULL-LENGTH Christmas records – a nearly unmatched feat.

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The Staves “Home Alone, Too” (2018)

Nonesuch Records
Buy: Nonesuch FLAC/MP3 |iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3

Well shit. I lied. Here I am again. I worked so much last night, I’m taking a few more minutes for myself… and I suppose, for you. This track by London’s The Staves is phenomenal. Like NUTS good. I’ll add to this post later. (I now see I am quite late to this game – of course Stereogum had it yesterday.)

Bottom Line: Stone-cold mixworthy. And yes, I just bought Home Alone on Blu-Ray on Black Friday…

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Said Fantasy “Chorus Noel” (2018)

Plastiq Musiq
Buy: Bandcamp

If you follow me on Twitter, you know this is a tough week for bloggin. So, I’m going to be brief! Said Fantasy is Ronnie Martin, and he knows his way around a MOOG. “Chorus Noel” is a fantastic experimental synth-pop song that I wish could be replicated 5 times on one record… because I’d buy that shit on vinyl. “Chorus Noel” comes as the lead, title track of their 5-track Christmas EP, out now on CDr (100 copies), as well as digital download on Chicago’s Plastiq Musiq. I’m not as down with the traditional covers, but it is totally worth it for that lead track. So… let that be your bit for the day. Best of luck you all in your mixin’ endeavors, and send me stuff you think I’d like – @xmasunderground!

Bottom Line: Some awesome synth-pop for your ear-holes. I do wish you could buy a single track though….

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Denison Witmer “For the Beauty of the Earth” (2018)

Asthmatic Kitty Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Denison Witmer is a great songwriter. This I know is a fact. I remember being in college, watching a friend of a friend open for Denison, and this guy had a pretty big crowd. Filled with fraternity brothers and such, they were there for their boy. Passable strumming ensued, and when he was done, those guys pretty much all left. A smaller, but much more dedicated crew was left, and we all realized that THAT is how you write a good song. The difference was truly astounding; I was shook. Well, it is now over 15 years later, and my man Denison is releasing a Christmas EP under his own name. He has popped up on others’ works, Sufjan and Rosie Thomas, but I don’t believe he has ever done his own. Now all we have to do is have him write some originals… The EP sports a traditional instrumental, a song who-shall-not-be-named, as well as an old hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” It is a touching song, simple in its arrangement, but full of fragile emotion; the imperfections in Denison’s voice emote more than any singer from The Voice could ever muster. This is certainly more on the religious side that I would normally write about, but the fact that it was Denison (a good guy), since it was so damn pretty, and that it is only available until Jan. 1 has put me over the top. If you want this, get it now. Hat tip to Christian for making me aware of this!

Bottom Line: This is also a charity release, with all proceeds going to a friend and fan who is battling Leukemia. So… count your blessings and spread the love.

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Oh hey – Denison has this other Christmas track from his The 80’s EP.

And Rosie, Sufjan and Denison…

Soft News – ep1 Christmas (2018)

Mother West
Buy: Bandcamp

Well that does it. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t find a version of “Last Christmas” that would be deserving of a mention on these illustrious, digital pages. Well, Soft News has proven me wrong. NYC-based multi-instrumentalist Erik Laroi has been using this moniker to “dramatically reimagining songs from an 80s childhood spent immersed in the alternative music scene of that era.” Well, he does this particularly well, by stripping back the high gloss, bringing in cellos, acoustic bass, soaring violins, choirs of voices and the like, to bring spectacular earnestness to the artifice. “Last Christmas” is a triumph, but only one of 4 tracks on this excellent ep1- Christmas. That said, throw as much lipstick as you like on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” I will still find it troubling, and just don’t want to get into this at the moment. However, the Spanish-style horns in “White Christmas” was just so unexpected that I couldn’t help but smile. That small touch makes a normally trite standard fresh enough to be considered for your holiday party, no doubt. I’d love to find out who else was on this record – as his list of past collaborators was quite impressive: “Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields, Jon DeRosa), Lorraine Lelis (Aarktica, Mahogany), Claudia Chopek (Father John Misty), Margaret White (Sparklehorse), Perry Serpa (TV On The Radio, The Sharp Things), and Mike Levey (Tito Puente, Mos Def).” Such a pleasure – such a pleasure.

Bottom Line: This release was strong enough that you’re going to want to find out how Soft News deals with other tracks… cause damn “Last Christmas” was good.

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Bubble & Squeak “The Christmas Stick” (2018)

Moshi Moshi Records
Buy: Moshi Moshi | Bandcamp

Legends of Country/Boy Least Likely To impresario Jof Owen and Girl Ray‘s Poppy are both no strangers to fantastic Christmas tunes, so of course they decided to record one together!! I most certainly enjoy the way they describe it:

From Moshi Moshi:
Sweet and impossibly romantic, with a little nod to Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett and a cheeky wink to Nancy And Lee, the Christmas Stick is a misty eyed slacker pop masterpiece. It retells the story of a chance encounter on a lonely winter night between two strangers whose eyes meet across a bustling broadway before they’re both struck by a mysterious festive talisman and end up spending the rest of the holidays together and writing a Christmas love song all about it.

Bottom Line: This thing is silly and sweet.

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Whyte Horses “Next Year Will Be Mine / Coldest Night of the Year” (2018)

CRC Records
Buy: Limited 7″ | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Truly, what more can I say about this record? First, Snowflakes Christmas Singles wrote a full history of them! If you dig this – then please go there and find out all about them… you’ll find that this is an indie super-project of sorts! That said – If there is one release this holiday season that all my blogger friends can seem to get behind, it is most certainly this one. Manchester’s Whyte Horses have put together a fantastic double-A-sided 7″, with one original and a perfectly-chosen cover on the flip. “Next Year Will Be Mine,” in all its Phil Spector-glory, will leave folks at your Christmas party asking “who sings this??” The mistakes, problems, and shit of the last year are a memory – replaced by a hope that this new year is going to be different. The content is pretty heavy at times, but the music wraps it up in beautiful paper, a wonderful dichotomy indeed. The cover, “Coldest Night of the Year,” is pitch-perfect. Lucy Styles and Natalie McCool’s vocals both have an uncanny Vashti Bunyan-quality, while the orchestration’s subtle changes are just beautiful. This whole thing is a standout of the season.

Bottom Line: Whyte Horses have laid down the first release that everyone I know loves, and since I know you… so you will love it too.

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