Buy: Bandcamp | Spotify
Nashville’s Charlie Marie just released one heck of a combination of classic-country Christmas originals. Charlie’s voice is the kind that you’ll immediately recognize, soulful and strong, the kind of voice that you would have heard forty years ago coming out an AM radio. Those folks out there who wish to save country music will no doubt find solace in this voice. “Old Fashioned Christmas” is simple and pure in presentation and purpose; the song is about wanting a simple Christmas with family. The only flourishes in this song reside in her voice, where you fully understand how much it means to her. To convey so much beyond the words on the paper, simply through the emotive quality of her voice… you are going to recognize this as the defining feature of Ms. Charlier Marie. “Under the Mistletoe” is ALL about that chorus. I may have mentioned Charlie’s voice one or two times before, but here is where she takes you for a ride. Sit down and read the lyrics to “Under the Mistletoe,” and you may find it fun to have a “Home Alone” reference, and smile with a story of working for a moment away from the kids to connect. Charlie’s voice takes that basic frame and blows it up into an incredible song, adding a vividness that only a big, soulful voice like hers can provide. Charlie Marie could make the phone book sound important and meaningful – her voice is just that good.
Bottom Line: Charlie Marie, thank you for hipping me to your songs, you just made my night. These are some absolutely stunning classic-country Christmas songs deserving of your ears.
Buy: Stream on Spotify
There are three Christmas events that are on the top of my bucket list: Lost Map Records’ Christmas Baubles, the party that Fowler VW throws every year celebrating their latest amazing Christmas compilation, and of course, The Grapes & Friends’ Annual Christmas Extravaganza! This Austin, Texas tradition is going into an 11th year this year – and if the party is anything like the energy that the Grapes & Friends infuse into their songs every year… it just must be the biggest party of the year.
Now, for the uninitiated, Grapes & Friends come together like Voltron every year, joining together members of Dangeresque, The Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically Christmas supergroup. “Christmas in My Neighborhood” is the 6th original Christmas song from the Grapes & Friends. Staying true to their mantra of “making Christmas sexy,” the band finds themselves immersed in the genres of 90s boy band R&B and yacht rock-style production. The song is rich with layered harmonies, bells, synths, and more. There’s even a special treat at the end!
The lyrics are all about finding a sense of community and love in a place where you thought you were alone.
From Chris Galis, one of the lyricists: “One of the first times of the year you notice that its really Christmas season is when the lights go up on your street. That’s when you feel it. That’s what we wanted this song to vibe with.”
The Grapes & Friends will be hosting their 11th Annual Christmas Extravaganza in Austin, TX at the Hole in the Wall on Saturday, December 7th. Should you be in walking, driving, train, plane or teleportation distance, the details are below:
RSVP on FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/440203936621398/
Bottom Line: The Grapes & Friends can always be relied on to spice up your Christmas, and this one is going to certainly entice your taste buds.
Norman, Oklahoma has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to underground Christmas music. Of course, the Fowler Volkswagen/Blackwatch Studios compilations are based in Norman, and so are a bunch of fantastic musicians. One such musician is singer/songwriter Beau Jennings. Having earlier contributed the dark, yet excellent “Christmas Bus” to 2013’s Fowler VW/Blackwatch compilation (Volume 3), Beau returns with a full Christmas record, The Christmas Light. The album is a collection of originals, with a few excellent covers sprinkled in. There is some real beauty in this sparsely-orchestrated affair, most notably in some of the lyrics in the title track, “The Christmas Light.”
“Woke up that morning to ta wonderland
The TV said that school was closed
Mom made hot chocolate in the microwave
We put on our winter clothes
The snow just fell as the day went on
We smelled the neighbor’s fireplace
Inola Oklahoma 1985
Oh if Christmas had a face.”
The imagery is simple, but damn if you can’t feel it. The warmth and love that emanates from that track is undeniable and can be found in the tone and pacing of the instrumentals as well. Beau’s motivation for creating this beautiful record is one of love, but also of loss.
In many ways, I made this record for my mother. She died earlier this year and it’s the first Christmas my family will spend without her. Because I recorded it late October and into November of this year, I suppose it was a way to keep her spirit present as the holidays approached. But it also turned into a larger reflection of how memories of holidays past can sometimes define or refine a holiday’s meaning in the present. I’ve always felt ‘the Christmas spirit’ most acutely when it’s late at night and I’m the only one awake, and so I wanted to capture that feeling as best I could.
Similar to Lachlan Denton’s “This Christmas,” Beau is using his music to keep his mother’s memory alive, and dammit if I’m not getting a little emotional thinking about it. You can’t quite imagine how it is going to feel… or how you are going to move on. Beau shares his journey with us, and it is beautiful.
Bottom Line: Warm, simple and full of love. That sounds like a great Christmas to me.
Commodore Trotter / Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly
I am not the kind of blogger who seeks out a great voice. So many of my favorite singers couldn’t sing (How I miss David Berman), but even I can still fall for a voice. Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly is a fantastic blog and music-compiler based in Seattle, and their most recent release is Ball of Wax 58: The Ball of Wax Winter Spectacular, featuring this truly beautiful song by Brittain Ashford & Matt Bauer. Honestly, I’m having a tough time describing Brittain’s voice in a better manner than Ball of Wax did:
The teller of this tale is Broadway star and thematic alchemist* Brittain Ashford. With a voice that balances diaphragmatic force with childlike vulnerability, Ashford paints the sort of holiday portrait that those of us who suffer from melancholy particularly this time of year can appreciate and empathize with, and what’s more—what we need most during the dark season—she infuses every line with a tattered but palpable hope.
This song was almost too pretty for me… but those distinctive qualities of Brittain’s vocal delivery were undeniable. The music is also quite lovely, but after learning of composer Matt Bauer‘s folk and banjo background, I am SO intrigued to hear a version with banjo. Damn that could be cool.
Edit: Turns out this song was initially released in 2018 on an EP, Tinsel and Snow & Other Mid-Winter Missives. Go check it out!
Bottom Line: Like Messi’s “Charlamagne,” this song is defined by a beautiful and distinctive voice.
Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | Bandcamp
Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club.
I should just leave the review with that, in that those who understand, those in the know, would just see that and buy the record. However, I’m not going to be so presumptuous, and think that every single person reading my blog already knows the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. This label is devoted wholly to Christmas music, creating a yearly tradition of 3-4 limited 7″ vinyl Christmas singles, featuring a wide array of fantastic bands contributing an A-side original seasonal song, with a B-side cover of their choosing. Paris trio SuperBravo is a particular highlight for me this year. Their original, “La Nuit” is Pinback-esque in rhythm and melody, but with these fascinating noises interjected throughout. Honestly, Snowflakes’ writeup captured it pretty damn well: “The song itself sounds like magic, as a fairytale come to life, with strange little creatures making weird sounds, angels harmonizing ‘Noel Noel’ and dreamy vocals – as dreamy as only French female vocals can sound.” This truly sounds like no other Christmas song I’ve heard, and that is most welcome.
The B-side, “Chanson Pour Les Enfants l’Hiver” (‘Song For The Children Of The Winter’) is a poem published by Jacques Prévert in 1946. Their take collages sounds overtop a chiptune/toytronica base, which wonderfully frames how classicly French-pop Armelle Pioline’s vocals are; They add beauty to every canvas they touch. This is a solid one-two punch of a Christmas single.
Bottom Line: Fascinating French pop that bends the genre to its will.
So, do you fancy yourself a collector of underground Christmas records? If you are like me, and began this extremely hip search back when Yahoo still ruled the internet and Facebook was but a baby website only opened to ivy leaguers… well then you’ve been a fan of this CD-only (physical media!) collection of the scrappiest, kookiest, raunchiest, and indiepoppiest Christmas songs available. The latest edition of A Very Cherry Christmas has great tracks by some folks I’ve previously showered with adoration (Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions, A Mild Peril), as well as some great songs from bands I’m just getting accustomed with (Jacqui and Geoff, Ballard). There is something for everyone – from the hilarious “What If Santa Claus Is Just 20 Ferrets In A Red Suit” to an exuberant satirization of consumerism with “Consume! Consume! Consume!” So take out your credit card (or your Paypal password), and celebrate the patron saint of buying shit… and fucking buy it! (Grab the few copies of older releases that are still available too!)
Bottom Line: A tradition for all the misfits, one to be celebrated and feared! ONLY 200 COPIES! You are warned.
Let’s talk about records. I mean, an album as a full album. Some indie Christmas folks have done this well, creating an album of largely originals that you can listen to and critique as a whole – Chris Farren initially comes to mind. Milwaukee’s L’Resorts have created a lo-fi, tropical indiepop Christmas tour-de-force. Last year’s 4-song Christmas EP has expanded into an incredible collection of fascinating, cohesive Christmas tunes. Depending on your mood, you might find yourself humming the tropicala-infused “Shutdown Mode,” or the contemplative and confrontational “Christmas is a Time for Dreaming,” there is a song on here for everyone. Some of the lyrics are downright incredible too – such as my favorite line from “Christmas is a Time for Dreaming”, “Christmas is a time for screaming / into the pillow that nothing has meaning.” HA! This band has earned a spacious place in my heart. As a whole, one of the strongest Christmas albums of the season, without a doubt.
All proceeds from the sale of this album during the month of December will benefit The Black String Triage Ensemble, a group of classical musicians who play music at Milwaukee crime scenes after the law enforcement teams have left. So, buy early and often, because you are not only showing the band your appreciation, but also supporting a cause they feel close to.
Bottom Line: This may be the shortest review of a full record, only mentioning two songs and two lines of lyrics. Why? Because you don’t need to waste any more time not listening to this!
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play
I’ve been a fan of Flyte for a few years now, and have been following their tour of the US on Twitter – watching them go lots of places that aren’t near me, choosing city-specific covers to play in every town. I’ve gotten over the snub, I mean, not everyone can come to Charlottesville, VA (my closest city) I suppose. It was this Twitter monitoring that did tip me off to their latest Christmas song though, so we are cool now, Flyte. “Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is full of soaring vocals and harmonies that have me thinking a good bit about the Beach Boys, but not happy Beach Boys… DARK Beach Boys. This is Flyte’s “miserable fucking Christmas song,” but as sad as the lyrics truly are, the production dresses it up in shimmering clothes. I kind of liken the approach to what I normally love about Swedish indiepop – beautifully happy music with terribly sad lyrics. Thus, here were are, with a wonderfully sad song by Flyte on Christmas Underground. I’m pretty predictable I suppose.
FYI: Their other Christmas songs can be found through their Facebook page – a number of live videos – as well as on the It’s Coming on Christmas compilation put out by Daisy Digital a few years ago… which looks to have disappeared! Well, I sure learned my lesson… I hadn’t yet bought part 2 of that compilation…
Bottom Line: Gorgeous Beach Boys-inspired sadness, perfect for a holiday nightcap.
Well fucking shit. This fucking Christmas song is a great time. I’ve decided that today is devoted to songs that you can’t play around your fucking kids. Sean Keller was kind enough to tweet his song at me overnight, and I’m fucking glad he did. Sean keeps a day job writing for television shows and writing/composing musicals like SLASHED! The Musical. Recently, his free time has involved getting together with friends to shout along to profane Christmas tunes; This man is living his best life. The song is a boozy romp that would nicely serve as the climax to your office-party playlist, provided everyone is drunk enough. Let’s shout-along together: “Holy fucking shit it’s Christmas / God I’m so glad it’s here again I’m sorry I was such a Scrooge / Holy fucking shit it’s Christmas / Everything is so holly jolly just so long as I have you.” I feel like I’ve joined the drunken choir. I’ll have another round, Sean!
Bottom Line: The song is fucking fun as hell.
People in a Position to Know (PIAPTK) Recordings
Buy: PIAPTK (vinyl)
Memphis psych-rock taco afficianados Spaceface are quickly building a reputation for their badass Christmas songs. 2018 saw Spaceface release two holiday tracks, their woozy psych rendition of “Christmas Time is Here,” as well as their collaboration with LABRYS (Penny of Broncho), “Single Star,” which was a highlight from Fowler VW presents A Blackwatch Christmas Vol. VIII: The Sounds of the Season. This year (so far), they are releasing a lathe-cut, limited to 68 copies, naughty psych-rock jam called “Xmas Party (Nice & Naughty).” This song is an orgy for the ears, with a groove that recalls the kind of party music that Grapes and Friends throw down, combined with the naughty voiceover styles of Ryan Lindsey (of Broncho). Sandwich this song within a playlist, and who knows what is gonna happen. There does not appear to be a digital download of this… yet.
Bottom Line: This groove should sustain you all for a good while!