Dr. Dog – Oh My Christmas Tree EP (2013)

Dr. Dog Oh My Christmas Tree - EP

ANTI
Buy: 7Digital MP3 | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3

This release is nearly flawless. I loved every single song on this 4-song EP, and find myself justifying that any track could be on 2014’s Christmas mix. Dr. Dog has created a wonderful collection of original Christmas tunes that is unrivaled in both scope (4 great songs!) and originality. If I were to make ANY criticism, it would be to take out the verse sung by a child in “Rejoice,” otherwise a spectacular song. Even with that blemish, “Rejoice” still makes me swoon.

Bottom Line: One of indie rock’s modern Christmas classics. Why not release it somewhere where I can purchase a FLAC?? 5/5

[youtube http://youtu.be/dDC8PXIV9Kw]

Duover – Christmas Vol. 1​.​5 (2013)

Duover - Christmas 1.5

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I awoke to a pleasant surprise in my mailbox, a new Christmas record from DUOVER! They had mentioned that there was something in the works… but time was fleeting, and I wasn’t quite sure it was going to be this year. This band is one of those underrated Christmas songsmiths who (while they don’t make a record every year) fill their records with originals, ALWAYS a plus in my book. Their voices work so well together, especially when dealing in nostalgia, as in “The Ghost of Christmas Past.” There are some other standout tracks, such as the uptempo “Wintertime Blues,” and the “subdued “It’s Your Turn,” certainly worth your time and money. I do hope that we get to see the other .5 next year!

Bottom Line: Another excellent addition to their already strong Christmas catalog. Extra points for original tunes. 4.4/5

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Annie Hall / Gonzo48K – Goldenbread (2007)

Goldenbread cover

Pipolla Music
Buy: CD (Italy)

High hopes are never a good place to start. Though I know you should never judge a book by its cover, a swedish indie pop band named Annie Hall checks three of my boxes: Swedish, indiepop and a Woody Allen reference. How could it go wrong? Well, first off, this thing was a huge pain to get ahold of. You can’t order from the label (they do not ship to the US), and thus I had to get it from France, and pay more in shipping than the CD cost. Not looking good already, because if you know this blog, cost to obtain certainly plays into the overall rating.

Annie Hall begins the disc with “Morning News,” a fine-enough little song that I can’t for the life of me figure out how its seasonal. Their second song, “Walk Around,” does begin with “It’s Christmas time / Here’s an old song / for a new year.” They also mention snowballs… but really, its a bit of a downer right out of the gate with the dour music. Not something I really want to listen to again. Bummer.

Gonzo48K is the Japanese wildcard of this release – I really had no expectations, as I don’t listen to much Japanese indiepop. “Snowman’s Tears” has the kind of music that I wish Annie Hall had – upbeat, poppy, certainly in a Swede-pop vein. The lyrics, well… “So darling / You make me colder / you make me older / you close my folder?” Not exactly what I’m looking for, but really, english is their second language and they write better songs in English than I do in Japanese. “Turn off the Radio” is a much better attempt. It may even be on a shortlist for future mixes… I dig the backing beat, and the lyrics are much better: “Walk through the street light / in the Christmas time / Back to the starlight / Where the children write / Turn off the Radio / Turn off the Radio.” Still not quite telling a story, but certainly evocative when complimented by the contemplative backing track. I can’t find it posted anywhere, but you can preview 30 seconds of it on Last.fm.

Bottom Line: Good luck trying to buy it, especially in the US. Certainly not worth the price it cost to import, with only one possible song. Loses points for all the wrong reasons. 1.2/5

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Bears – Snowman 7″ (2009)

Bears - Snowman 7"

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

The Bears released this lovely little 7″ record back in 2009, and I am flabbergasted that they are still available. Limited to 250 copies, the Bears are offering up this EP (6-songs!) for a mere $2! The songs are classic indiepop – beautiful music, melancholy lyrics. I recently revisited their Twitter account, and they made mention of their love of the Acid House Kings. This love, which I share, can be heard throughout this record. Standouts (for me) are “Easy Days” and the slow grower “Holidays.” Also not to be ignored, the extremely cheery “Merry Christmas Have a Happy New Year,” where the Bears delightfully sing “To all the people we hate / have a terrible year.” Hussah!

Bottom Line: Truly worth the $2, and then some. 4.5/5

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Parenthetical Girls – Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls (2012)

Parenthetical Girls - Good Christian Men Rejoice, It's Parenthetical Girls

Slender Means Society
Buy: Bandcamp

Parenthetical Girls never disappoint when it comes to Christmas tunes; They are ALWAYS interesting.  2012’s edition, Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls, does not have any of the sure-fire xmas singles that some of their early releases had, but the entire release is uniquely fantastic. This release is a fully-formed group of songs meant to be listened to as a set. After some basic research, I am led to believe that all these songs may very well be originals, but I just await that clarification from my better educated readers. For example, there are a bunch of “Christmas Mourning” tunes out there, but the Parenthetical Girls’ version rings original to me. My favorite track would have to be the gorgeous “The Salvation Army Bell.” Parenthetical Girls can be wonderfully abrasive, but this track is like a warm hug… at least, as warm as the Parenthetical Girls can be. The lyrics set such a vivid scene and very much suggest the short story that comes in the final 12-minute track, with lines like: “A cold day, the end of December / those bright bells chimed. / In a twin bed, we swore to each other / you’d show me yours, if I showed you mine.” Parenthetical Girls, please continue this tradition. You are in the top tier of Christmas songsmiths, and each release is a welcome addition to the underground Christmas canon.

Bottom Line: This release stands beautifully as a fully realized piece of art. Would be a perfect 5/5 if I could have just squeezed on single off it, which I am well aware, is antithetical to why I loved this record. 4.6/5

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Duover – Christmas Volume 1 (2010)

Christmas Vol. 1 cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Portland’s Duover recorded one of the best original Christmas tunes (Grandma’s House) I’ve heard in years. For that fact alone, you should buy this record. And when I say buy this record, I mean it. Send them some money. Presently, Christmas Volume 1 is name-your-price, but come on… throw AT LEAST a buck or two their way.

Originals!!! ORIGINALS!! Yes, you heard it right… there are a whole bunch of originals on this one. 8/9 tracks if I count correctly… beginning with the absolutely stellar “Grandma’s House,” which really highlight Duover’s ear for a hook and subtle groove. This is followed by my second favorite track, “Trivial Pursuit,” which brings their harmonies to the front, while spinning a tale with some wonderfully clever wordplay (Nerds, this one’s for you).

“Home for the Holidays” slows things down a bit, and while still a solid song (I normally love a good Christmas dirge), Duover really excel when employing a faster tempo. Though… I must say, this may be the first song that name-checks “The Bud Bowl.” Certainly, bonus points for that one.

“Under Mistletoe” looks to either be their single, or simply the song that a friend wanted to make a video of. The music really creates a level of drama that I would not expect from a Christmas song. Though this drama is tongue-in-cheek… which makes the rapping much more palatable. Its a lot of fun.

“Coyote Christmas” is a great example of the power of simplicity. The lyrics are short and oft repeated; the vocals are subdued, as is the music. These elements combine into a beautifully constructed song that has no fat left to trim.

“Fruitcake” and “Old Soles” are the two slowest songs on the record, and as I mentioned earlier, Duover are at their best when they up the pace a bit. That said, they are still strong songs. There is not a single song on this album that I dislike, which is saying quite a lot for a Christmas record. The two instrumental tracks, “Ice Cycle” and the lone cover “Auld Lang Syne” are also quite nice and enjoyable. Though I have to wonder… had they not hooked me with that first track, would my lenses still be so rose colored? Yeah, probably.

Bottom Line: A wonderful collection of originals – quite a feat in the Christmas music genre. I look forward to Volume 2 (which they have *somewhat* confirmed in a response on Facebook). 4.7/5

LISTEN:

Under Mistletoe by Duover from Noel Taylor on Vimeo.

Parenthetical Girls – Save Christmas (2011)

Parenthetical Girls Save Christmas cover

Slender Means Society
Buy: Bandcamp

So, we are in an off year here in Christmasland. Why an off year you ask? Because the Parenthetical Girls only release a Christmas single/EP every other year, and they blessed us with this 3-track gem last year. So, alas, we will all have to make do with listing to the wealth that is their back catalog (which I shall review on another date). EDIT: They have thrown me for a loop… and are releasing a new EP this year!

Save Christmas is their second Christmas release in a row that is stellar from top to bottom – 3 tracks of gold. I could have put any of these tracks on my personal mix and been completely happy. The leadoff track, “Christmas Past,” sets the tone for the rest of the release with dark lyrics, surrounded by a shimmering bass line and jingle bells. This ending relationship is a tragic and beautiful song, one that finds my soft spot for sad Christmas tunes and pokes it repeatedly.

“Post-Christmas Time”… from what I understand, being that there are no lyrics, and it can be, at times, a little tough to discern, is about a post-apocalyptic time that no longer celebrates Christmas. Lines like: “Run for your life, its post-christmas time,” have led me to that assumption. Its interesting listening, even outside of the season. And the music is fantastic.

It ends with an absolutely lovely “There’s Always Tomorrow,” from the holiday classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Both sad and hopeful at the same time, this version conveys the requisite emotion that the song demands… if you ever wanted a sweet Christmas song out of the Parenthetical Girls, this might just be your dance partner.

Bottom Line: Three great songs, a name-your-own price (pay them!), what have you got to lose?! 4.8/5

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Christmas Aguilera – S/T EP (2012)

Christmas Aguilera cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

So… to post or not to post. Is it truly selfish to want to keep this to myself, so that I might impress my Christmas music loving friends upon receipt of their mix CD? If it were not for the good cause this EP is supporting… I might have kept it in my back pocket.

The mysterious “supergroup” that claims to be the “greatest band since Wizzard,” has put out a truly excellent 4-song Christmas EP that will be one of the highlights of my personal mix. Four original songs that really push my buttons, be it a love of the melancholy, the political, or the secular… this EP has it all.

The leadoff track, “I Wanna Give You a Present,” is… for lack of a better word… dirty. And awesome. Its dirtiness not only comes from the playful lyrics, but specifically from the singer’s voice, which just sounds like he’s got something in mind for you, and you’re going to like it.

The second song is my personal favorite – “I Want a Car” revisits that classic idea of just wanting your significant other for Christmas… and damn I love that chorus. The vocals are a little rough-around-the-edges at points, but perfectly so. This is no way a knock on the performance; he has a way of making the vocals seem more sincere than a pretty voice ever could.

“Lennon, Oh” is the kind of political Christmas song that I knew I could get behind – “Lennon, Oh, where are you when we need you – Cause War’s Not Over.” Fantastic chorus – man this band can swing a chorus.

The final track, “Red Nose, Red Dress,” has a great groove – and would benefit from offering up the lyrics… because I don’t believe I understand it… “One longstanding misunderstanding, I am Rudolph, I am no man?” Who cares if I understand. It’s fantastic.

Really, this thing is so good that you will wish that it was 8 tracks long – because I do believe they have 4 more! The group will be performing 8 originals at the “Jolly Santa Social Club” benefit show on Saturday December 10 at The Victoria in London. All proceeds of both the EP and the show benefit Crisis, the national charity for the homeless.

Bottom Line: Buy it. It’s only ₤3 – its very enjoyable all the way through, and often quite brilliant. 5/5

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The Rosebuds – Christmas Tree Island (2012)

Christmas Tree Island cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Few modern bands have had as much success writing enjoyable Christmas tunes as the Rosebuds have. I have hunted down their Christmas offerings on more than one Raleigh-area compilation, and am extremely happy to have a bunch more songs to sink my ears into.

My expectations were high, and they were roundly met. The two tracks I was familiar with, “I Hear (Click, Click, Click)” and “Oh It’s Christmas” are standouts (of course), but so are a good number of the new (at least, to me) cuts. The moody, saxophone-heavy “Xmas in New York” is truly exceptional. The sorrowful “Thru That Door,” also has some fantastic saxophone parts, that if not done so well, would be cheesy. “Melt Our Way Out” may be my new favorite – great music, and wonderful lyrics.

There are only a few tracks that I’m not too into, as I tend to enjoy the Rosebuds the most when the tempo is quicker. Another word of caution – the lyrical content of the record is largely melancholy. So… perhaps not party music – but its probably better than your party music anyway.

Bottom Line: A wonderful effort. I hope this (sort of) compilation does not signal an end to them writing Christmas songs. 4.5/5

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The Starside Eight – Kiss for Christmas EP (2002)

Kiss for Christmas EP cover

Electric Frog Recordings
Buy: iTunes

The Starside Eight existed for what looks to be one full length (which I haven’t heard, but will certainly hunt down), and a rather excellent Christmas EP. There are a number of other songs out there called “Kiss for Christmas,” but this is not a cover, and Starside Eight’s song is better than the rest. While released back in 2002, it sounds as thought it could have come out today. Their production falls smack in hard-scrabble indie rock vein, and the sad tale they spin is done with cleverness and a great ear for a hook. The percussions is of particular note – it really keeps this track going. This song alone would make this VERY affordable release worthwhile, and I’m happy to say that the rest of the record is quite commendable too. “Yuki Ya Kon Kon” is a Japanese snow song, and while its not something terribly up my alley, it is done well. “November Fights December Blues” is the second of two Starside Eight originals, and while it shares its predecessor’s melancholy, it does not do so with the driving beat that “Kiss for Christmas.” Later in the song, the guitar work gives it the kick that you wish it had earlier on in the song, but too late in my opinion. Its very good, but not quite up to mixworthy status. The final track is a cover of Lou Reed’s “Jesus,” and while they don’t reinvent the song, they do it very, very well.

Bottom Line: The whole thing is quite listenable, with one particularly strong original song. 4.5/5