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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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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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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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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Les Bicyclettes de Belsize – 12 Days of Christmas (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

The latest collection, in a long series of excellent indiepop Christmas releases, finds Charlie Darling’s Les Bicyclettes de Belsize in full-album form; Twelve more songs to add to an already large and excellent catalogue. On “Every Christmas Eve,” Charlie seems to be channeling a Clientele vibe, which is most certainly up my alley. “Bad Christmas Cover Version” and “Andy Partridge (From XTC)” have some of the fantastic band references that I’ve loved in previous LBdB classics like “A Very Indie Christmas.” The shared secrets and upbeat groove of “Under the Mistletoe” nicely blends sweet and saucy to create a warm feeling of nostalgic holiday romance. There truly are a lot of nice moments on The 12 Days of Christmas, which shine even brighter the more you believe in indiepop Santa.

Bottom Line: Les Bicyclettes de Belsize add some indiepop gems to their already substantial chest of Christmas tunes.

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Chad Thomas Johnston – Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul (2018)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I will see how this week goes, but it is gearing up to be a challenging holiday season, time-wise. Thus, you may find my reviews becoming much more short & sweet; I am going to have a much shorter missive from me to you about this excellent record by artist/writer/singer Chad Thomas Johnston (CTJ as I will now call him). CTJ resides in Lawrence, Kansas, where he day-jobs as a writer, having pieces in many publications you might know such as Spin and In Touch Magazine. Come to find out, he also releases some damn fine Christmas records! Back in 2004, CTJ released a 10-track holiday album, All is Calm, All is Bright, and added tracks to the digital version again in 2005 and 2007. For 2018, CTJ has compiled all of his holiday tracks (all 30 of them) into this beautiful collection, wonderfully titled Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul. I prefer the secular stuff, as usual, but even the religious material is treated well. It is CTJ’s subtle orchestration choices (the heartbeat in “Joy to the World”) which really made we sit up straight and say “dammmn, that’s good.” The lo-fi crackling of “Oh Christmas Tree” was the track that initially got me – it established CTJ as having a certain taste-level that I knew I was going to get into. The record also includes CTJ’s entry into Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas song contest back in 2007, “Bethlehem (The 51st State).” It is no surprise that CTJ entered this contest, as I feel he and Sufjan would pair well as a Christmas-music double feature. That said, what makes this song fun is that he actually brings Sufjan directly into the song, which is a fantastically fun and interesting approach. In summary, CTJ has promised you coal, but he’s giving you much, much more with Stalking Stuffers.

Bottom Line: RIYL Sufjan Stevens, or if you ARE Sufjan Stevens. This expansive collection of beautifully-orchestrated Christmas songs is wholly worth your time.

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The Bridges – Do Christmas (2012)

The Bridges Do Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Hey, we all know that I like the dark stuff. I like a nice downer of a holiday tune, a political rant, even a solid anti-Christmas screed. I also like sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. The Bridges, an (apparently) now-defunct 5-piece folk-pop band from Nashville created this charming 3-song EP as their second (and last) release back in 2012. Each song has its own feel, with the leadoff track “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus” is a cover of a 1956 Brenda Lee track which is a nice skiffle novelty track that you won’t hear too often. The second track is the most radio-ready, and if I’m not mistaken, their only original; “First Christmas” has some infectious hooks, and the folk-pop charmer doesn’t wear out its welcome at only 2:37. “Rock N Roll Santa” is their take on a Little Joey Farr tune from 1961. Not only did they pull up a song from the 45 bin under the counter, but they perform it with genuine affection. Too bad that the band’s Facebook page stopped updating in 2013, as they did appear to have something here…

Bottom Line: My inner grinch has to take a Friday off every so often, and perhaps this little EP will find some room on your digital shelf too.

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UPCOMING: Say Sue Me – Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie (2018)

Say Sue Me - Christmas, It's Not a Biggie

Damnably
Buy: Vinyl + Digital at Bandcamp

I am terribly torn as to when I should write about this record, and have been putting it off for well over a week now. I have been wrestling with buying a copy, but just cannot bring myself to pay for the shipping. I’m feeling quite poor at the moment, and just can’t do it. I wish I knew of a place in the US that might be carrying this! I will sure update my post if I find one, that is for sure. All I am left with is hope; Hope that I might get a copy for Christmas – and that Santa grabs one before it inevitably sells out – BECAUSE IT WILL. Simply said… if Say Sue Me’s back catalogue is any indication of how good Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie might be – it is going to be stellar. EDIT: I ordered a copy! Bless you Jim!

For the uninitiated, Say Sue Me are an indiepop band from South Korea, and have released a string of fantastic EPs and full-lengths starting in 2014 on a South Korean label, Vitamin Entertainment, and more recently on Damnably out of London. Their most recent (and absolutely excellent) LP, Where We Were Together, is already on its fourth pressing… this band has some heat… and this Christmas EP is limited to 500. IT WILL NOT LAST LONG. Our only glimpse into what the record will sound like is with the title track, “Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie,” having appeared back in 2015 on the South Korean comp, 허수아비들의 성탄절 Heosuabi Christmas. That is one of those releases that I’ve had as a draft post for way too long… so long I forgot I had it as a draft post! Entire comps can bog me down when I normally have just 30 min here and there to try to knock out a post, and I have the thoroughly-encyclopedic Stubby as a role model, which gets me thinking I need to provide much more thoughtful, and complete information on every band. (I am full of tangents today.) Back to the song: The indie/surf pop is jangly and refreshing – a sorbet between courses of sorts – yet the lyrics are melancholy and detached. I totally dig it… but the thing is… I suspect that it is not going to be the best track on the record. Again – just based on how great their last record was, I think this EP is going to be a total highlight of the season.

Bottom Line: BLARG! I want to hear this thing. Perhaps I will do a proper (well, as proper as I do) review when I do.

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UPCOMING: Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert – Ghost Stories for Christmas (2018)

Rock Action
Buy: Preorder | Preorder + Tickets to the release show if you live in/near Glasgow

Aidan Moffat (ex-Arab Strap) and RM Hubbert (ex-El Hombre Trajeado), both known for their prolific solo careers as well as their past bands, have hooked up of late, releasing the excellent Here Lies the Body back in May. Certainly Aidan is no stranger to Christmas songs, with Arab Strap releasing a few throughout their run, as well as having his own solo Christmas EP back in 2011. Thus, the two began with an idea for one Christmas song, meant to be a one-off seasonal treat. It soon developed into an EP, and eventually ballooned into a full album. The description sounds fascinating:

“These are the ghosts of love, haunting happy homes and fairy-lit bars; these are the ghosts of memory, of haunted mirrors, pagan festivities, and unforgettable friends. As with this year’s critically acclaimed debut album, Here Lies The Body, Moffat’s quiet, pensive storytelling finds a perfect partner in Hubbert’s intimately intricate, flamenco-flavoured guitar. Across eight new original compositions and two deftly executed covers, here they offer an alternative view on the Season To Be Jolly.”

This is certainly one to be checked out! Available for preorder now and will be released on Dec. 7, which is unfortunately a bit late for my mix. However, if you live in the Glasgow area, you can order from Monorail Music and grab a ticket to their special Christmas release party on Dec. 6!

Unfortunately, they have not released a true Christmas song to preview, only a cover of Yazoo’s “Only You,” which was a Christmas #1 in the UK. The original intended one-off, “A Ghost Story for Christmas,” is the forthcoming single and will likely be released in short order. BTW, I don’t consider Christmas #1’s to be appropriate holiday listening… their version here is very nice, but it should have been a digital extra or something 🙂

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Dollar Signs – Another Sad Holiday (2017)

Dollar Signs - Another Sad Holiday

No Time Records
Buy: Cassette (3 left as of posting) | Digital

Charlotte, NC’s Dollar Signs have taken a detour from their usual punk rock aesthetic, and channeled the Mountain Goats for the profane and fantastic Christmas EP, “Another Sad Holiday.” Each of the two originals (“Caroler” and “Selfish Christmas”) are chock full of bitterness, but in a bizarre twist, also express a tangible warmth that is undeniable. The third track is a cover of the Tom Waits’ classic “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” which is a song I do very much enjoy. Dollar Signs’ version feels as though it is sung with a smile, which gives it a wholly different feeling than any version I’ve ever heard. Can’t say I prefer this angle, but it is certainly a unique and interesting take. This EP will most certainly find some fans out there. Bonus – If you are quick, you can still grab one of the 30 cassette copies they pressed!

Bottom Line: “Another Sad Holiday,” Dollar Signs’ loving, smirking approach to Christmas was a refreshing palate cleanser for this world-weary Christmas blogger.

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