A City Without Snow

A City Without Snow (2016)

Middle Class Cigars
Buy: Bandcamp

Singapore’s Middle Class Cigars has released, from front to back, one of the most enjoyable compilations I’ve heard this year. A mixture of Books-esque spoken word folktronica, indiepop, lo-fi folk and downtempo chill-out music, the production value is uniformly excellent, and the taste level is on-point. If I had to pick out a track or two to highlight, for me it would be the lovely “A Song to Sleep to” by Ferry, and the dreamy “0212” by Cosmic Child.  You could put this album on, and not have to skip any horrible tracks… which in the Christmas-music world is a RARITY. Most certainly worth a listen – and for those in the US, it’s only a dash above $10 to have the limited edition cassette (ed. of 50) shipped from Singapore!

I found their description both useful, and endearing.

Music plays an important part in the season of Christmas, as we sing along to the carols written years ago, it still remains as powerful as ever.

With contributions from 9 Singapore-based musicians, A City Without Snow is a Christmas compilation album consisting of seven original songs and two renditions of classics. Born from different emotional perspectives of the season, each composition is a musical vignette of a uniquely Singaporean Christmas.

A City Without Snow is Middle Class Cigars’ proudest release thus far, encapsulating a collective dynamic of warm and intimate sounds of which the label thrives in.

Bottom Line: Just a pleasure. A pleasure. A pleasure.

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Christmas Tape

Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Twaague Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know everyone is all about the NEW NEW NEW songs… throw a “2015” after a song and nobody wants to retweet it. BUT, when nearly all the seasonal releases come out in a month’s time, you are bound to miss some great stuff. Berlin-based Twaague RecordsChristmas Tape was one of those misses… released on December 12 of last year, this release certainly suffered from missing the “christmas” tag on Bandcamp, which made it nearly invisible to my search. (Bandcamp really needs to up their game on search – they limit results and don’t let you combine tags…) This was the tape that led me to Skiing! This was the tape that led me to Hanemoon! And this is the tape that will make you love Milwalkie. Get comfortable, I’m going to cover my personal highlights of this excellent release.

The tape leads off with “26th December,” originally appearing on Skiing’s excellent Generous Fire EP. Its anti-consumerism rhetoric is comfortable terrain for me, and the punk rock aesthetic is invigorating. A very strong start.

Colorado’s Kissing Party is no stranger to Christmas songs – they have 2 featured on their Bandcamp as I type this review. “Merry Christmas Darling (Maybe Next Year Things will Change)” was originally released as their 2014 single, and it remains a great indiepop downer.

Berlin’s Milwalkie contributes one of my favorite tracks on this release with “This Year (All I Want is You).” From what I understand, this begins a string of tracks exclusive to this release. What they might call cheesy (and they do), I call simple and nearly perfect. Playful and nostalgic, this song hits all the marks without getting too sweet; A wonderful, perfectly seasoned (pun!) Christmas tune.

Who would have expected Berlin to be a hotbed of amazing indie Christmas songs? My head has been stuck searching in London for years… should have been looking here! Berlin’s Man Behind Tree channel 90’s-era Merge Records indie rock and blends their jangly guitars, dark lyrics and understated vocals into a fantastic Christmas song, “I Was Santa Claus.”

Hanemoon, who we featured a week or so ago with his 2013 gem, has blessed us with the equally wonderful “My Bell Ride.” This is a driving indie rock Christmas song that I could imagine Yo La Tengo (or my much beloved Mendoza Line) just ripping shit up with; It has the kind of frayed edges that I am such a sucker for.

Strand Child (also from… Berlin!) contribute their dark electro-pop “Yer Feet.” Is this a Christmas song? No idea! But I like it. “I was drunk when I met you / I was drunk when you walked out the door.” It may take place during Christmas… as might the equally non-Christmas specific “F&f” by Berlin’s Mother of the Unicorn. They are a bit less confusing on their Facebook than Strand Child, as they address their song as “not so Christmassy really, but it is a bit sentimental, so that’s the same thing right?” They are tapping into the same deep emotional well as The National… which I consider a high compliment and comparison.

Finally, Farfara’s instrumental “Flying Pan” is also damn good. Again, it suffers by not having an explicit nod to Christmas, but overall a great track that, depending on your own personal mix rules, might still qualify for consideration. At the very least, this track proves them to be an excellent band, worthy of further listening.

Overall this release is extremely strong, and with few exceptions, immensely listenable and wholly enjoyable. I would consider 3-4 of these songs for my own personal mix, which is like scoring a hat trick… very, very hard to do on a Christmas compilation. Tapes are still available via their Bandcamp, as well a digital downloads for a very respectable €5!

Bottom Line: Berlin is just killing it right now. One of the strongest compilations of 2015, easy.

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Skiiing "Holly"

Skiiing – Holly (2013)

Self-Released/Späti Palace
Buy: Bandcamp

On day two of my Skiing trip, we visit 2013’s Holly. Upon initial discovery, I nearly flipped out and thought the entire record was Christmas… but alas, I’m only going to point to two… two stellar tracks on this overall fantastic release. Let’s begin with “Skiing,” the eponymous second track on the album. Here, skiing is used as a metaphor for life, blazing paths and picking up (and staying with) friends. While this is not explicitly a Christmas or winter song, the imagery and the nostalgia evoked by looking to the past and relying on your friends certainly brings out the spirit. Similarly, the title track “Holly” is another metaphor song, this time for a false friend. However, the dressing of this song in this Ilex opens the door to a seasonal attachment – to use this particular metaphor (to me) grounds the time period the song takes place in as the holiday season. I know, I know… maybe a bit of a stretch on these two… but I’m flexible. I just like this band too damn much to talk myself out of this post.

If you are interested in picking up any of these Skiing releases, they are often only print runs of 100 or so… so if you are like me and like a physical copy of a disc/cassette, you’ll grab them sooner than later. Of note… Holly appears to be gone, gone, gone.

Bottom Line: Did you enjoy my attempts at Christmas-mix gymnastics? If you did or didn’t, I hope you join me in just enjoying the hell out of this band.

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Kid Canaveral - Wasn't Really Listening

Kid Canaveral “Wasn’t Really Listening” (2015)

Lost Map Records
Buy: Cassette!

Edinburgh’s Kid Canaveral obviously love Christmas; they are in fact hosting their sixth-annual Christmas party… a party that I follow on twitter, wishing that I was not thousands of miles away, and could actually go to. IN FACT, if you are going to Baubles VI this year… you’ll get this new song in the form of a limited edition cassette tape! So, if you live anywhere nearby and are not going… for shame! If you are going, pick me up a tape! Either way, one of those tapes WILL BE MINE. Hear that internet? I will get one somehow, some way, if I have to crash their website next week, I will do it. Because this first song, if it remotely sets the quality level of what I am to expect, has me absolutely frothing at the mouth like a rabid badger.

I first became aware of “Wasn’t Really Listening” back when Lost Map posted an early version to their Youtube page, and I thought it was beautiful then. To my particular enjoyment, the song has been expanded, and Christmas has been brought into the mix. I really love the music – Kid Canaveral have an amazing sound. As each instrument enters the track, they fill their own little space that has been perfectly carved out for it. The song is big, emotional and beautiful.

I want to live in a house the light still reaches in winter
I know it sounds trite, but it’s easier when we face it together
So come on home.
to me.

Bottom Line: I have been waiting for this, a true Kid Canaveral Christmas song to be released… and boy is it good. Rock solid for next year’s mix in my book. Very limited cassette (and digital download) now available!!

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Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums - It's Not Christmas Anymore

UPCOMING: Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums – It’s Not Christmas Anymore (2015)

Fika Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

Fika Recordings has blessed us with yet another seasonal release this year! Bill Botting and the Two Drink Minimums’ It’s Not Christmas Anymore features so many folks from bands that I love, including: Bill Botting & Paul Rains (Allo Darlin’), Hannah Botting (Owl & Mouse) Darren Hayman (Hefner, Papernut Cambridge, amongst a million other bands) and David Tattersall & Jonny Helm (Wave Pictures). Look at that lineup!! Those are some Christmas music all-stars!!

The only track that you can preview is the title track, “It’s Not Christmas Anymore,” and it is fantastic. I wish I could go on a bit more about the track, but I’m at my inlaws, my son is running around shouting, and I need to let you know about this ASAP… cause there are cassettes, and only 100 of them. Had I gotten home before midnight last night, and not been gone all day, I would have mentioned this record earlier… So listen and BUY!

Bottom Line: Only heard one song, loved it and bought it.

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Cassie Ramone - Christmas in Reno

UPCOMING: Cassie Ramone – Christmas in Reno (2015)

Burger Records
Buy: Burger Records (Colored LP/LP/Cass) | Amazon.UK (LP/Dig) | Amazon.DE (LP/Dig)

Ex-Vivian Girls’ guitarist/singer Cassie Ramone has announced a new Christmas covers album, Christmas in Reno, and it has been shouted out from the rooftops of Pitchfork, Stereogum and the meat-and-diary-free Brooklyn Vegan to name a few. I also tweeted about it. Thus, I doubt this is news to anyone. However, should this be finding you today, on a day when writing about Christmas music seems pretty damn inconsequential, maybe it’ll bring you some happiness, and that’s worth something. 10 covers, with some cool choices (Run Run Rudolph) and some terrible ones (Wonderful Christmastime), I’m really interested into hearing how this lo-fi Christmas comes together. “Run Run Rudolph” has a chilled-out, shimmering vibe, which makes it extremely enjoyable. I truly love the music, as it tickles the part of me that absolutely love Real Estate, and that would be the biggest RIYL if I were to go down that path.

For those interested in picking up this records, the preorders have begun. Burger has the colored & regular vinyl, as well as their classic format, cassette. Amazon also has the cassette and an LP listed (for cheaper than Burger), which I assume its the black vinyl. Amazon around the world is also listing the LP, so I’m not guessing the black vinyl is going to be ultra-limited.

Bottom Line: I’ve only heard one song. So no.

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Dog Legs - Holiday EP

Dog Legs – Holiday E.P. (2015)

Soft Power
Buy: CassetteiTunes | Amazon.uk

Lo-fi indie fuzz pop. That’s my stab at explaining London/Brighton’s Dog Legs. They have an edge and a sense of humor that immediately grabbed me. April saw their latest release, Holiday E.P., and mixed into the shotgun silliness that is Dog Legs, were two songs that could be considered Christmas/holiday tunes. “Holiday” leads off the release, and this song, more-so than any other on the release, has a much more traditional lyrical structure. You know… verses, choruses, those things. Some of their songs, such as “Ice Cream Cone” are pretty much one sentence of fun. Its got a great sound – certainly a contender for my mix. The second prospect is the much sillier “Xmas Cookie.” Great music, fun, certainly silly – it all depends on what your mix needs. Too much heavy stuff? Lots of yearning for lost love and childhood? “Xmas Cookie” might snap you out of it.

Bottom Line: I really dig this whole release. I wish I could find a place where “Xmas Cookie” was also available, because it appears that iTunes/Google Play/Amazon.uk only have a 2-song single version with “Holiday.” Sorry that the cassette is gone too – with only 100 copies, it was not going to last long. Perhaps if a groundswell of interest amasses from my extremely influential underground Christmas music blog, they will repress. So, all four of you dedicated readers, contact Soft Power Records and beg. I will update the post if any additional options develop. 4.6/5

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Coal: A Winter Split

Coal: A Winter Split (2015)

Breadking Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Milwaukee’s Breadking Records first release is a 4-track, winter (and Christmas) themed E.P…. released this February! The lead-off track, “On A Quiet Winter Night” by Hello Death is a beautiful weaving of three voices, a cello, guitar and brandy. J.E. Sunde‘s “Rest in the Everlasting Arm” blends layered vocals, sparse notes and waves of electronic instrumentation; truly a break from the norm while remaining in the folk genre. Boom Forest‘s take on “The Holly & the Ivy,” is yet another excellent stab at a recent cover du jour. It’s quite atmospheric, as the instruments ring and seem to hang in the air. Christopher Porterfield bats cleanup on the E.P. with my favorite track on the release. Porterfield may be better-known as frontman of the Milwaukee-based folk band Field Report, but with this solo track, he leaves the genre behind to rock out a bit more. “Christmas Ghost” is a stone-cold lock for my 2015 mix. The driving beat, the shimmering keys, the booze… sign me up.

Look for this release to be released on cassette later on in the year, but for now, you can buy each single track on Bandcamp.

Bottom Line: Solid all the way through… this truly lives up to the label’s intent. 4.8/5 

“When I was growing up, every other Christmas or so, my mom would forget about a really awesome present and randomly find it some months later. It would always be one of the sickest gift and have a lot of thought and love. Please accept this release as a very late present on behalf of all of us at Breadking.”

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HomeMade X​-​Mess : Compilation : 2013

HomeMade X​-​Mess : Compilation 2013 (2013)

HomeMade Records
Buy: Bandcamp

This cassette (and download) release from 2013 somehow snuck by me. Its a small release with largely originals… exactly what I’m normally clawing through the internet to find.

“Wyoming County”, the Scott Rankie song that leads off the release is quite nice – sparse, with a solid, pained vocal. If this was an example of things to come, I would have been very pleased. However, like any Christmas compilation, this release ends up all over the board. The following track, Kevin Marlis’ “Saturday Slay” is a noisy, psych mess (though, in a good way), and I can’t quite hear the Christmas connection whatsoever. Other tracks are lo-fi indiepop (Songs by Thom’s “The Colours of Christmas”), 50’s pop-inspired profanity (“Jeffzilla’s “Christmas Song”), and what appears to be fuzzed-out karaoke (White Widow’s “When Santa Clause Gets Your Letter”), to name a few. It kept my interest, which I don’t say for a lot of Christmas comps… but I can’t say I really loved it.

Bottom Line: I found this comp to be unique, and at times, quite interesting. I have a feeling like some of you might find something else in these songs – that and the name-your-own-price on Bandcamp is encouraging. 3/5

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Pupppy Christmas

Pupppy “Puking (Merry Christmas)” (2015)

Father/Daughter Records
Buy: Cassette | Bandcamp

I love a grimy Christmas as much as the next guy, and Pupppy’s “Puking (Merry Christmas)” is as grimy as it gets. The smell of New York permeates this song – as Pupppy’s brand of “twister folk jangle pop” spins a tale of a drunken train ride home on Christmas eve.

“Twisting thought and bending time, / your soul weeps inside your mind / as you puke up all of that red wine / in the morning time. / But there you stand on both legs / feel the snow your head.”

It begins with an alt.country twang, then moves towards the dirtier qualities (no synths, no beats, no shimmery guitars) of indie rock as it progresses. The song would certainly help keep your Christmas mix from being too family friendly, and I consider that a good thing.

Bottom Line: I love a slightly fucked up Christmas song, and Pupppy fucks some shit up quite well. 4.5/5

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