Cecilia Ebba & Emma Miller – Winter EP (2019)

Emma Miller and Cecilia Ebba - Winter EP

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Spotify

If you did a quick survey of what I’ve been writing about lately, a lot of the music has been a bit critical, sad, profane and perhaps a bit silly at times. Yeah, I do like that stuff, no doubt about it. Just hook me up and feed it to my veins directly.

But… as I do… I am also a sucker for music that feels wonderfully genuine. 2019’s Winter EP is exactly this – beautiful and genuine. Cecilia Ebba and Emma Miller are two extremely talented writers and vocalists, and they sound so good together that you could easily be mistaken to believe that they do this all the time! But no, London-based Swede Cecilia Ebba and Scotland-based Emma Miller have only collaborated on this one-off Christmas EP! The songs are thoughtful, loving, nostalgic, and fucking beautiful. The leadoff track, “Snowy Roads,” is simple in premise, and brilliant in execution. The vocal lines make turns that you wouldn’t expect, but love, and then the chorus begins and in come these beautiful strings. While I was already taken with the vocals in “Snowy Roads,” we haven’t even seen what these two voices can do together until the second track, “Apple Tree.” This lullaby to an apple tree is a fantastic premise to create a beautiful visual of a calm, snowy winter night, made only more spectacular by their interwoven voices. “December” sounds like a sister to “Snowy Roads,” with its spare piano bed and scaled-back harmonies (in comparison to “Apple Tree”). This one might get you, with its lyrics of lost love, but the holidays are gonna do that to you anyways, and it might as well sound this good. The finale (to me) is actually the next-to-last track, “Winter.” I don’t think there is an instrument on this track, it is all their beautiful layered vocals. This song has some of their best lines as well: “The aches and pains of yesterday unravel in the warmth. / So lay me down in winter snow / and watch it all melt away.” That is some truly gorgeous stuff.

So yeah, they also have a very nice version of “Silent Night” as well. Technically that is the closer… but I’m here for the originals.

If there is justice in the world, this record will be released by a fantastic label on a beautiful 10″ record. I’ve added it to my vision board, now it is up to you, universe.

Bottom Line: Front to back, this record is undeniably good. To have an EP with four original songs that are this strong… this record deserves both your attention and your money because you are going to want to listen to this for years to come.

LISTEN

I am adding Soundcloud embeds so that they can be indexed by sites like the Hype Machine, but you really need to look up the entire EP on your preferred streaming/buying service. Remember, buying means WAY more than streaming, so go buy.

Lagniappe Kernow Records’ Home 4 Xmas E​.​P. (2019)

Lagniappe Kernow Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

What a happy accident. I stumbled upon this little Home for Xmas E.P., and found it to be an absolute delight. Four songs (five if you consider a version without the swears a truly additional song), each with its own charm. The leadoff, titular track, “Home 4 Xmas” by The Winona Project, has this oddly captivating, descending melody that ties the song together beautifully. Klaus!’s cover of “Good King Wenceslas” is a very solid version, with these great spoken-word pieces sprinkled in. You might think that this would be too cheesy, and while I do not deny a dash of cheese, it most certainly works. Speaking of spoken-word, Lumpkin Judkins & The Nom De Plumes’ “An Xmoose Tale,” is most definitely spoken-word, and who would have guessed… IT IS FANTASTIC. The music underneath the story sets the mood perfectly, and the text has these moments of humor that even after multiple listens, would still make me smile. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a spoken-word “Christmas song” like this before, but I know for certain haven’t heard one that I liked this much… that is for damn sure. Finally, The Charles Bronson Quintet’s “Merry Lil’ Christmas” is at its core, a very pleasant instrumental cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but they overlay some captured audio that makes this delicate Christmas classic just that little bit… profane; A pleasant dash of “fuck you” sprinkles on top of your Christmas cookie. What a delicious, unexpected treat from Lagniappe Kernow Records. *Chef’s kiss*

Bottom Line: I rather think that folks will find their own favorite from this handful of tunes, as each has a unique charm that could appeal to you, my weirdo Christmas music friends.

UPCOMING: Murder by Death – Lonesome Holiday (2020)

Murder by Death - Lonesome Holiday

Tentshow Records
Buy:
Vinyl | Bandcamp

Louisville’s Murder by Death released a fantastic, 2-song Christmas single back in 2014 appropriately titled 2014 Christmas Cover Songs. In 2020, they’ve collected those two tracks and added a healthy 9 more release what promises to be a truly fantastic (though melancholy) Christmas record. I’m really looking forward to hearing more, as hopefully they will preview a few more tracks in the coming weeks. Either way, this is one to look out for.

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UPCOMING: Mark Lanegan – Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020 (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Rough Trade Exclusive LP

Well well well… this popped up on my radar, either by fate or coincidence…. Mark Lanegan is re-releasing his tour-only Christmas EP, Dark Mark Does Christmas 2012, as a full-length Christmas album – the appropriately titled Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020. Lord knows that 2020 is a year for a dark Christmas record…

From Rough Trade (who have an exclusive version, perhaps THE exclusive version?)

2020 has been a dark year and so to end the year Mark Lanegan returns as Dark Mark and releases a full Christmas album. Five tracks were released as a tour only 12″ in 2012 which is now rare and impossible to find. He has recorded five more tracks recently and turned it into a full length album. Lanegan successfully takes some traditional Christmas songs, some Christmas covers plus some originals and twists them into a dark, melancholic affair. Standouts include Burn The Flames, originally recorded by Roky Erickson and Lanegan makes this sinister song, even more sinister. The Everley Brothers Christmas Eve Can Kill You is stripped back and haunting whilst the Lanegan original A Christmas Song is delicate and heartbreaking. 2020 is going be a dark Christmas.

Rough Trade

LISTEN (to the 2012) version

wejzak – Four Christmas Songs (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

These curious December 24th releases… I don’t get em. All the Christmas blogs are nearly tucked in for the holiday, snug in our beds awaiting a brief day or so rest before tackling the New Years’ songs. So when a band or singer I really like sneaks one under the door, it drives me a little mad. I want to yell about the music I like, and there isn’t time to yell! So here I am hollering, deep into 2020 and nearly upon this treacherous holiday season (it’ll be here tomorrow, and that’ll oddly feel like a fucking year and half), and I’m only now getting a chance to tell you about this stellar followup to wejzak’s 2016 Christmas EP. Will Ejzak (wejzak) has created a fantastic new collection of Christmas songs (appropriately titled Four Christmas Songs), which crackle with life, beauty and the occasional “don’t give a fuck.” Everything is there that I loved on Merry Christmas!, the sparse instrumentation and the layered vocals, but there is a (dare I say) a sexiness to “Wrap Your Presents” that I wasn’t quite anticipating. There are funny moments, sweet lines, and moving imagery throughout this brief, but beautiful, EP, and I’ll leave it to you to seek out your own favorite moments.

Bottom Line: An extremely solid Christmas EP, and worthy successor to wejzak’s brilliant 2016 Christmas EP.

LISTEN

Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017/2020)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2020 Addition: This COVID/anxiety-riddled/dumpster fire of a year has brought few bright moments. Today is an exception (for the moment), as one of my favorite Christmas records of the past few years is reintroduced to the world on beautiful, red-marbled vinyl. Zach Malm‘s The Darkest time of Year has been released in a limited pressing of 100 copies, and I strongly suggest that one of those copies should be yours. Heck, there is even a bonus song that wasn’t on the original release! This is your chance to have a fantastic private-press Christmas record that future generations of weirdo Christmas music fans will be alllllll about. Let us take a moment to look back upon my 2018 review of this beautiful record that completely floored me.

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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.

LISTEN

Dr. Dog “Ebenezer Scrooge” (2019)

We Buy Gold Records
Buy: Bandcamp | Cassette!

Dr. m*f*ing Dog. Years ago, they released one of the best indie rock Christmas releases I’ve heard, Oh My Christmas Tree. I’m a greedy man. I wanted more. I’ve tweeted at them. I’ve wished upon stars. I’ve taken up voodoo and fashioned a small recording studio for the dolls to demo new songs. All that work has obviously paid off, and today we got Oh My Christmas Tree Vol. 2! I’m two listens in, but it is obvious to me what song has my heart – “Ebenezer Scrooge.” The imagery is vivid, the production is loose and warm, and there are just many moments, both lyrically and sonically, that move you. It is a concise and beautifully human retelling of the story – I don’t think I’ve ever been quite in Scrooge’s mind like this. “Ebenezer Scrooge” is just gorgeous.

Bottom Line: “Ebenezer Scrooge” is six minutes that feels like two. This song is that good.

LISTEN

 

 

Kristian Noel Pedersen “Everyone Knows the Claus” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

It is quite possible that Kristian Noel Pedersen has written more original Christmas songs than anyone, ever. (Well…. maybe Make Like Monkeys has given him a run for his money…) Kristian is headling into his 11th year producing a Christmas album of all originals, which should make bands who struggle to write one new Christmas song… feel a little inadequate. So why am I writing about Kristian recording a COVER song? Well, because when Kristian decides to record a cover, he goes big. To my knowledge, I can’t recall a full reimagining of an entire Christmas album until Kristian took on the challenge (I’m sure some of my fellow Christmas-music aficionados will correct me). His target? Hanson’s Snowed In, an album that I am not familiar with, despite my dedication to Christmas music. But that leaves me to ponder, what album should/would you need to cover to truly make this a worthwhile endeavor? You have to cover a record that is known because especially within Christmas music, there are only a few that maintain catalog sales (and this one is one of them). Then, you also have to choose an album with originals, otherwise, it is as if you are just covering a sequence of tracks, rather than a specific artist’s album. So, I really think Kristian made a great choice targeting the Hanson LP. The first two singles are up, but the original is where the interest truly lies. “Everybody Knows the Claus” does NOT sound like Hanson. I’m going to have to agree with Kristian in his correspondence with me, his version has turned the song into a “weirdly fucked punk thing.” With dramatic vocals and a driving, fuzzy bassline, I can’t imagine Hanson ever sounding like this. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the rest of this record sounds like and I will not forget the donuts.

Yet another album to look forward to, A Kristian Kinda Christmas XI is coming to an internet near you in the next few weeks. Luckily you have a new Hanson LP and TEN previous records to tide you over. Tune in and listen as Kristian adds to his likely world-record worthy Christmas music legacy.

Bottom Line: Kristian’s Christmas-music ambition is boundless and inspiring. I love this effort, which only looks even more impressive with every new boring cover of “Blue Christmas.”

LISTEN

Beau Jennings – The Christmas Light (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

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.

LISTEN

 

L’Resorts – Trying to Christmas (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

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!

LISTEN