Cassette | iTunes | 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
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.”
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
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
Miles Apart Records
Lets continue this string of indiepop Christmas releases with an infuriatingly small run, cassette-only release from Japan, Miles Apart Records’ Christmas Small Gift Vol. 2. This release comes out tomorrow (Dec. 20), is limited to 300, and is only offering downloads to those who are fortunate enough to get ahold of one of the cassettes. First, I am well aware that the exchange rate + shipping costs will likely make this release not cost-effective for my Christmas mix needs. However, the collector in me keeps looking at it. Oh, and in case you are interested, yes there is a Vol. 1 that was only 150 copies (no download either) and very much sold-out.
Now lets get to the music. The release itself is quite nice. While I’m not as familiar with Japanese-sourced indiepop as I am with those from the US/Europe, the bit that I have been exposed to had lowered the bar (for me) when initially exploring this release. The music and the lyrics for Small Gift 2 quickly surpassed my expectations in just one listen, with a few tracks really standing out for me. Superfriends‘ “Million Miles Apart” is a nice little song that I’ve come back to a couple times… not terribly Christmasy, just referencing winter, but nice. Fandaze‘s “Big Socks” begins with a clip from Home Alone’s trailer, then swings into a classic indiepop sound, with shimmering guitars and hushed vocals. I am having a very tough time picking out lyrics though…
I doubt my description has you chomping at the bit to hear the whole thing (I feel I’ve done a terrible job with it), but this release is very listenable all the way through. It certainly ranks above many of the other indiepop Christmas comps I’ve come across. It may be sacrilegious… but I’d actually listen to this release than any Very Cherry one…
Bottom Line: Solid indiepop from Japan. However, why wouldn’t you allow Bandcamp downloads? I feel like its money left on the table. Navigating Japanese websites is challenging enough to make you scream… 3.8/5
Deer Bear Wolf Records
Buy: Cassette | Bandcamp
Small Reactions are a garage/indie rock band from Athens, Georgia, who happen to also share members with the excellent Slumberland band Gold-Bears. In November 2013, they recorded a 5-track cassette in the band’s basement, which the version of The Sonics “Santa Claus” comes from. The reverb-drenched vocals huddle next to the rocking organ in this faithful, fun & dirty cover. I can’t wait to hear what the other tracks sound like.
Merry Christmas to Y’all tracklist:
1. “Santa Claus” (the Sonics)
2. “Run Rudolph, Run” (Chuck Berry)
3. “Christmas Spirit” (the Wailers)
4. “Don’t Believe In Christmas” (the Sonics)
5. “Dancin’ With Santa” (the Trashmen)
These Merry Chistmas to Y’all cassettes have begun popping up in various places in the Atlanta area, gift wrapped and gratis. However, for those of us who cannot travel a couple hundred miles to hunt one out can pick one up on their Bandcamp page. Hot tip, (likely for a limited time) if you purchase a CD/LP, you get the cassette for free!
Bottom Line: Excellent version of an excellent song. Can’t wait to hear the rest. 4.6/5
Shy Nature had one of my personal highlights last year with “It’s Christmas (Close Your Eyes).” They have returned with a brand new tune, paired with the wonderful one from last year, on a limited-edition cassette. Did I say limited? Yes… 25 copies! They artwork is handmade, and with it, you’ll own two great Christmas tunes by this wonderful British band.
Bottom Line: Two great seasonal originals you won’t be sad to own. 4.5/5
So, when I tweeted at A Sunny Day in Glasgow the other day, kindly suggesting that they make some more Christmas tunes… I received a cryptic response:
They were NOT joking. Jump on this quick – there are only 300 of this, the first in a series of cassettes by Geographic North, with four bands taking on winter themes. A Sunny Day in Glasgow has gotten the ball rolling with Sketch For Winter I: New Christmas Classics. I only wish they had contacted me first – thankfully I got one! GET ONE NOW!
1. Shut Your Mouth, It’s Christmas
2. Saturn Pulls Me Apart (Death of the Unconquerable Night)
3. Fantasia on Xmas (From Vaughan Williams)
4. The Strange Presents of Idols (Merry Christmas!)
5. All I Want for Christmas Is You (This is Peter McCallister, The Father Version) [Mariah Carey cover]
Self-Released / Cat from Japan Records
Buy: Bandcamp | Cassette
The Manchester band Hot Shorts has laid (first track-related pun!) some nice Christmas tunes on us with plenty of time to spare. Not trying to be taken too seriously, this 2-track release starts off with “Sex Christmas.” Here are the lyrics if you wish: “I wanna Sex Christmas / and I don’t even know what that means.” That’s pretty much it! The vibe is fun – heavy guitars, shouting, everything you’d hope from sexin’ it up at Christmas.
The second tune is pretty fantastic, and while I enjoy the cheekiness of the leadoff track, “I Don’t Even Want to Talk about It (This Christmas),” certainly satisfies my hunger for indie-rock Christmas tunes. I’m trying to find a good RIYL – perhaps Weezer if they hadn’t sucked for the past 10 years? Listen to it though. Its totally worth the 1:32 it runs…
Bottom Line: Two SHORT tunes, a name-your-own-price, and an opportunity to get a luxurious, double-sided artwork cassette tape? 4.3/5
Analog Ghost Records
Buy: Vinyl/MP3 from label | Vinyl from Jigsaw |
What a lineup. Quasi. Rob Crow (of Pinback). The Music Tapes. Wooden Wand. Ida. Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy). Mike Watt (of the Minutemen/etc/etc). Certainly some indie heavy-hitters on this compilation, thus I would have expected this record to make more waves last year. I found it rather late in the season, too late for my mix no doubt, but don’t recall really coming across it very many other places either. I don’t know whether it was the rather generic title (Comfort and Joy) that pushed it down in Google results, or what might have happened, but this release deserves your attention! Limited to 500 copies on vinyl (and likely much fewer on cassette), proceeds from this release benefit the Covenant House, a charity that helps homeless youth across the country. Check out Analog Ghost’s Facebook page to see a pic of the nice letter that they got back after their first donation of proceeds.
I don’t normally provide tracklists, but I think you would benefit from this:
- Quasi – “Christmas on Credit”
- Rob Crow (Pinback) – ”Wasail Among Us”
- Joe Jack Talcum (Dead Milkmen) – ”Christmas Waltz”
- Human Hearts (Franklin Bruno) – “June is as Cold as December”
- David Ivar aka Black Yaya (Herman Dune) – ”I Fought the Lord”
- Golden Boots – “Mele Kalikimaka”
- Wckr Spgt – “The Ballad of Snowy Brown”
- Refrigerator – “Christmas in the Sun”
- The Music Tapes – “Let it Snow”
- Ida – “Heard it from Heaven Today”
- Nima Kazerouni ft Maston – “Dear Santa, This World is Strange”
- Wooden Wand – “Silver Bells”
- Outravez (Monotonix) – ”Banu Hoshech Legaresh”
- Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) – “Piano Fell Asleep In The Bushes”
- Mike Watt – ”The First Noel”
- Terry Riley – ”God Rest Ye”
I don’t want to get bogged down in a track-by-track rundown, so here are some personal highlights. Quasi‘s “Christmas on Credit” is one of those snarky Christmas tunes that I love. Rob Crow‘s “Wasail Among Us” dips more into the territory his hard-rocking side projects and really shakes up the record. David Ivar (AKA Black YaYa)’s “I Fought the Lord” is a great take on “I Fought the Law” and has some welcome harmonica. Even Golden Boots‘ “Mele Kalikimaka” is 100% enjoyable and their fuzzy baseline really does it for me – It may even be my favorite tune on the record. Nima Kazerouni ft. Maston’s “Dear Santa, This World is Strange,” has the echoey vocals, jangling bells, and general mood that you expect from a Christmas tune. While the pace is slow, it may find a place on your mix if your sequencing fits. I love the title & the general concept of the song.
There are really only a few tunes that I would skip by – the Mike Watt bass-only cover of “First Noel” would be one. Something about the entire song being played ONLY on a bass… just not for me. With minimal clunkers, Comfort and Joy is a very welcome compilation that, certainly for the price, you should feel great exchanging your hard-earned money for.
If I am not mistaken, there is also a download card in the package as well. I ordered from the label last year, and they actually dropboxed me the tunes immediately. But I’m pretttttty sure there’s some sort of card in there too. Let me know if there isn’t…
EDIT: I’ve updated the “Buy” section – the record label has some more copies!
Bottom Line: Certainly enough here to be happy about. 4/5