Four Eyes – 3XMAS EP (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Athens’ Four Eyes already has my heart. I mean, come on. Her song from last year was phenomenal, and her songs from 2013… well, they are too. It all comes down to her voice. Four Eyes (Erin Lovett)’s voice is just beautiful. I think she could sing me a phone book and I’d happily sit there eating my Thai leftovers. These tracks from 2013 are stripped down, vocals and acoustic guitar, and they are perfect that way. The first track “Believe (In What Sounds Beautiful)” has her wondering if it is Christmas or family that has her feeling so wonderful… I mean COME ON. That is some damn poignant beautiful stuff. The second song, “I Don’t Remember (Christmas Eve)” has Four Eyes’ apologizing for a drunk Christmas Eve… which, is rather adorable. That, and I love a good Christmas drinking song, and rarely do those contain apologies. The last song, “In a Diner,” is a beautiful story of an interaction in a diner: “Her laugh reminds you of someone / who showed you to believe / in what you cannot see.” This song, when listened to after 2 gimlets on a Tuesday night… makes you nostalgic for an experience you never had.

Bottom line: Simple, short, beautiful songs. What else is there to say?

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UPCOMING: The Minus 5 – Dear December (2017)

Yep Roc
Buy: Record Store Day (LP) | Amazon.fr (LP)?

The Minus 5 is essentially Scott McCaughey and his band of merry, quite famous and somewhat famous friends rocking out and taking names. I presently have his Down with Wilco on my shelf, which, you can imagine, features members of Wilco. My friend Ned just hipped me to the fact that Scott also likes to hang with friends… and record CHRISTMAS SONGS. Dear December features M. Ward, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service), Peter Buck (R.E.M. – duh), Mike Mills (ditto), Colin Meloy (Decemberists), Chuck Prophet, Tammy Ealom (Dressy Bessy), The Posies, Kelly Hogan (The Flat Five/Neko Case), Nora O’Connor (The Flat Five/solo badass) and more. That’s a rather impressive lineup, as most of the Minus 5 albums are… which obviously raises my expectations. The first single, “When Christmas Hurts You This Way,” does not disappoint. It is a downer with a Wilco AM vibe: “When the last one your remember / is the last one you deserve / you look back at all the mistakes you make / that somehow made much worse.” DARK! Love it! This is not a safe leadoff single, and that is what make this a great leadoff single. Hell, I love Nick Lowe, but I’d much rather listen to this than “Christmas in the Airport” – it is just so much darker and interesting to me! (No offense Yep Roc, you continually release Chatham County Line records, so you’ve got my love.) McCaughey can write a great song, and he obviously is respected enough by some stellar artists to lend their name to the project; Thus, if the rest of the songs are as good as this… well hot damn.

Dear December will be a Record Store Day release on vinyl, with an advent calendar-inspired gatefold sleeve on colored vinyl, limited to 1500 copies. It will also be released on December 1 on CD, as well as on your favorite digital retailers (7Digital??? Bandcamp??? They have FLACs!!!)

Bottom Line: Looks damn promising. Yep Roc – hook me up! I want it early! (In a curious twist of fate, most of the stuff I get sent is not Christmas-related at all… not gonna happen.)

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The Just Joans – The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet (2010/2016)

WeePOP! Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Way back in 2010, the wonderful Scottish band The Just Joans released The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet, a limited mini CDr Christmas EP, on the wonderfully-titled WeePOP! Records. And it looks like just about every holiday season, they would pop a track out here or there, released on Soundcloud or as a live recording on Youtube. However, it appears that in December 2016, the whole EP became readily-available again via their Bandcamp page! This is a wonderful turn of events, as there are some excellent tunes on here for those who like a melancholy, slow-tempo Christmas. “Card from a Multipack” is (for me) the strongest of the bunch, as the approach is interesting and the delivery feels genuine – there is some pain in this track. My second favorite would be the vaguely indie-folk rendition of the classic “Last Christmas,” where their Scottish brogue and gently strummed banjo give this stale song a fresh feel. Certainly worth your time and money.

Bottom Line: The Just Joans are due for another Christmas EP… just throwing it out there 🙂 But until they do, I’m happy to have “Seasonal Greet” to tide me over.

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UPCOMING: Dude York – Halftime for the Holidays (2017)

Hardly Art
Buy: CD/Digital via Hardly Art | Bandcamp

Seattle’s Dude York is early to the game, premiering their new track “Break Up Holiday” today on Stereogum – the site where every notable indie rock band seems to release Christmas tracks. (Someday, Stereogum, I will beat you to the punch… someday…) Turns out they are actually releasing a whole EP, Halftime for the Holidays! Nine tracks, nearly all of them originals… this looks (and sounds) promising. The first track, “Break Up Holiday,” is a bitter and funny tale of having to see an ex at the holidays. A dash of pop-punk with a healthy dose of Weezer at their poppiest, I’m curious if the rest of the album will sound like this, rather than the less poppy (though not without pop), more indie rock style that I’m used to. I await more tracks!

Bottom Line: Too soon to tell, but promising!

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Jay Stansfield's "Christmas is..."

UPCOMING: Jay Stansfield & SAY – Christmas is… (2017)

Self Released
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.

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Dogs on Tour "Music for Winter Volume 1 & 2"

Dogs on Tour – Music for Winter Volume 1 & 2 (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Way back in 2010, Stubby hipped me to a free download of Dogs on Tour Music for Winter Volume 2. I grabbed those MP3s, enjoyed it, then forgot about it. This is the curse of the Christmas mix… you end up listening to soooo much music, that sometimes it is tough to find the time to really sit down with a record. Fortunately, Dogs on Tour have given me a second chance. 2016 saw the re-release of both Music for Winter Volume 1 and Volume 2, put together as an extremely strong 14-song album. The album is comprised of mostly covers of classic Christmas songs, but there appear to be two originals peppered in there, the extremely solid “Six Words” and jam/sound-collage “I Don’t Know.” (Of note, this would not be a song to play for a Santa-believing child). However, for my money (and btw, it’s name-your-own-price), the highlights of the album are an absolutely essential version of “Christmastime is Here,” where they add saxophone seasoning to perfection. I don’t know what part of the Hudson Branch, Jadiid, Enoke, Andy Mills, Nate Henricks, All that Noise for Feeling mix (these musicians comprise Dogs on Tour at different times) brought the brass section, but thank youuuuu! Other tracks, such as their refreshing and contemporary arrangement on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and their subtle lyrical changes to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” really push this record up to the front of your seasonal rotation. The choices are interesting, the production is great, and that saxophone… that saxophone.

Bottom Line: “Christmastime is Here” is almost so good that it overshadows the other solid tracks, making them look weaker in comparison… but fight that urge. This is a great record. Dogs on Tour have earned themselves a spot on the top shelf of indie Christmas releases.

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No Monster Club - Sleigh Decibels Volume One

No Monster Club – Sleigh Decibels Volume One (2011)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Dublin’s No Monster Club treated us to a great new original (anti)Christmas song in 2016, “Start the Carvery” (kindly pointed out by Lie in the Sound), but did you know that they have a whole Christmas compilation EP that they released back in 2011? The hilarious titling of Sleigh Decibels Volume One certainly helps set up expectations, as the lyrics are clever and biting throughout. The lo-fi fun runs through the entire release, which compiles songs from comps by net label Rack N Ruin Records in the Netherlands, as well as Belfast’s CF Records. Each song has its own charm, but my favorite is the short and dirty “A No Monster Club Christmas,” which has an infectious chorus that I have found myself humming walking down the street on more than one occasion.

Bottom Line: No Monster Club’s lo-fi Christmas tunes stylistically compliment their clever lyrical point-of-view on this fantastic compilation EP.

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husbands - xmas

Husbands – Xmas (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

How in the world did HusbandsXmas sneak by me for nearly 3 full years? That’s what will happen when you don’t have “Christmas” in the tags on Bandcamp. (Man, Bandcamp needs to up their search game.) Thanks to the tweets of Jonathan Fowler over at Fowler VW (yes, THAT Fowler VW), this oversight has been remedied, and Husbands’ stellar Christmas record, Xmas, is now mine. This record is so much fun, it is truly ridiculous. I’m going to call out a few of my favorite tracks, one of which might be a bit of a surprise to loyal readers…

Xmas begins with “Little Bummer Boy,” which is, for all intents and purposes, “Little Drummer Boy.” But wait… it is FUCKING GREAT. Yes, a version of “Little Drummer Boy” that is great. I truly enjoy, nay, love this song. Their chillwave styling brings in so many beautiful colors, its groove becomes viral.

“Hey Yew” is the kind of track, that had Animal Collective wrote it, would have been on every indie Christmas mix on 8tracks from now until the end of time. The harmonies and the rhythm are so uplifting and fun, I dare you to not turn it up and groove in your seat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” throws the traditional “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” into a pot of simmering beats and synths that makes my head sway back and forth in absolute pleasure. Throw in some Beach Boys harmonies and this song is ready to eat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” segues perfectly into the “Jingle Back Margaret,” whose upbeat, shimmering melody is perpetually battling it out with “Hey Yew” for my favorite song on the album.

Yeah, my review is pretty front-heavy, as I have a particular attachment to these first few songs. But don’t let that discourage you from the latter half, where you’ll discover the layered sonic landscape of “Slayer Ride,” and the absolutely beautiful meditation of “Midnight.” Simply put, this record is an absolute pleasure. Over the holiday season, I played it for a few different folks, and have yet to find a consensus on a favorite song; Everyone finds a different track that they are drawn to. Which one will be your favorite??? Maybe let me know in the comments!

Bottom Line: Xmas is populated with enough stellar songs to justify every single reader of this blog to buy the whole damn thing. Of note, “Hey Yew” leads off my 2016 mix, and thus, mints this album with stone-cold classic status. This record needs to be spoken about in the same breath as the Parenthetical Girls, Sufjan Stevens, and Low when the seasonal indie rock Christmas blog posts make their way back onto the pages of Stereogum, Pitchfork and the like.

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The Aux - christmas isn't funny anymore

The Aux – Christmas Isn’t Funny Anymore (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

The Aux have released a really nicely produced, lo-fi Christmas EP the past two years, and can usually be counted on to have one of the most profane and funny releases of the season. This year is a bit different – the profanity is there, but as the title suggests, there is a bit of a shift. The first two songs are both really well written, introspective struggles with life and the season. Trying to find comedy in a year like this leaves you with a lot of those “it would be funny if it weren’t true” situations that can be hard to take. The third track, “all i wanted for christmas was my fantasy football super bowl,” brings out the clever bitter lyrics that I’ve come to expect from Mike. I feel for this song… I lost out on my fantasy football super bowl last year after a Thursday POINT ADJUSTMENT after I had specifically benched my defense as to not have one of those dreaded -1 weeks… DAMN IT. Heh. The final track is the obligatory cover the classic Wham! track, “Last Christmas,” but with way more fucks than usual. The autotune works really well on this track too, and has a great ending, “This song is fucking repetitive and this is the end.” Ha! About time someone cut that song off.

Bottom Line: The Aux are always a refreshing listen, even when the entire song is bitching about something. I do hope that Mike finds some inspiration for next year, and I share his hope that 2017 will be in improvement on what was a supremely unenjoyable year.

Charlie's Hand Movements - Be, Be Together

Charlie’s Hand Movements – Be, Be Together (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (FREE!)

What the what?!?!?! How come Bandcamp didn’t let me know that there was a new Charlie’s Hand Movements release? I had to find it in my Twitter feed?? HUSSAH! The boys are back, and as great as ever with this new 3-track EP, Be, Be Together. The leadoff track “Snow Globe” is a fuzzed-out guitar, flippin’ good time. “We can block the whole world out and be together.” Awesome.

“Until the 25th Came” is one of CHM’s most interesting Christmas songs to date. The musical movements, as well as the lyrics, take a journey that culminates with the some of the most beautiful lyrics they have written. “Forget the jealousy, forget the misery, embrace the melody, take pleasure from the small things like giving more than you get, appreciating friends, tell people that you love that you love them.” The ending is warm, cathartic and gorgeous.

“Fairy Lights & Cheap Beer” finds CHM pinpointing a simple moment. “Get together every year, fill the room with fairy lights and drink cheap beer. Drink cheap beer. Talk about nothing. So glad you’re here. We don’t need to talk about anything. Our hopes, jobs, or fear. No, we don’t need to talk about anything, just be together. Don’t leave me hanging.” There is something so perfectly human about this moment. There is the warmth of connection that you have with those few people in your life, where you don’t even need to speak, a mere presence is enough. But that final line, “Don’t leave me hanging,” there is something so fragile there that everyone can relate to. Those who we love the most, can break us so easily.

Bottom Line: Charlie’s Hand Movements have given us their most beautiful Christmas record to date. Of note, their past two releases are back up on Bandcamp as well, so I’d grab them while you can.

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