Dylan Mondegreen - Ghost of Christmas Past

Dylan Mondegreen “The Ghost of Christmas Past” (2016)

Shelflife Records
Buy: Bandcamp | 7Digital | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

If you know me at all, or read this blog, you know I have a particular affinity for Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, etc. To top it off, I also have a particular love for indiepop, as well as the Shelflife label. Thus, when I saw that Norwegian singer-songwriter Dylan Mondegreen had a Christmas-ish song, “The Ghost of Christmas Past,” on his new album, Every Little Step, I jumped in and gave it an immediate listen. While these are not going be big name checks that everyone will be familiar with (unless you read this blog), I found this particular track to share equal parts Pelle Carlberg and Jens Lekman. Dylan has a quality to his voice that matches quite well with Pelle, and the flute flourishes felt like the Bacharach-influenced tracks of Night Falls on Kortedala-era Jens Lekman. The songwriting is also very clever; It’s a song about visiting yourself as the ghost of Christmas past, and realizing that you’d do it over again. Certainly worth a listen!

Bottom Line: Solid indiepop that will please indiepop fans.

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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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Andrew Bird - Things are Great Here... Sort of

Andrew Bird “So Much Wine” (2014)

Wegawam Music
Buy: Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | 7Digital (US)

How in the world did I miss THIS track last year? Released on Andrew Bird‘s 2014 release, Things Are Really Great Here…Sort Of, this fantastic cover of the Handsome Family not only does the song justice, but makes it his own. Andrew’s phrasing led me to believe that I was actually listening to a different song in that first verse. This haunting, beautiful and tragic song is one of those songs that sticks with you. I almost feel like writing about it takes away from the impact it can have…. one last thing though: Thank god that Andrew has brought Tift Merritt into the fold; Her harmonies are truly gorgeous.

Bottom Line: Andrew Bird honors the Handsome Family, handsomely. 5/5

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHZLHPLzEdY]
Little My's Fourth

Little My – Little My’s Fourth (2007)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

There must be a significant (well, it’s all proportional!) readership who enjoy a good twee-Christmas tune, because I sure do write a good bit about indiepop. Thus, if you have an indiepop itch that needs a good scratch, Little My’s Fourth will do the trick. Cardiff’s Little My are up to their 11th release now, and have recently come back from five-year hiatus. Thus, their fourth release was a good while ago, yet somehow I haven’t come across it until now! The 2-song single leads off with an original, “Xmas Song,” which is chock-full of jingle bells, soft voices, and was that a recorder? It’s classic indiepop Christmas, pretty music with sad lyrics. “I’ll have a sad, sad christmas with a sad, sad look on my face / since you’ve gone away.” Thankfully the music keeps this song from entering dirge territory – so I think you could get away with having it on your mix without bringing everyone down.

The second song is a Shakin’ Stevens cover, the oft-(but not enough!) covered “Merry Christmas Everyone.” Their version is certainly a nice little indiepop version, but it did not jump out at me as the Kate Canaveral version from last year. Still, a solid tune, but more-so because I like the song, not necessarily how they tackled it.

Bottom Line: Little My have done up 2 solid indiepop Christmas tunes for a cool £1, or perhaps splurge a bit and get one of the 2 remaining CDs? Sure! Certainly good enough to hope that they do some more Christmas tunes in the future. 4/5

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Superfuxxxmas Songs

Superfuck Numero 2: Spécial Noël (2014)

Superfuck Magazine
Buy: Superfuck Zine | Bandcamp

Hi Everyone. Missed me?

All hail Christmas Chaos for hipping me to this release. Superfuck magazine is a self-published zine from Paris, and their second issue is extra-special (in this guy’s eyes) Christmas edition. There is a CD-R attached, and it contains 16 seasonal tracks from French artists (I haven’t verified EVERY artist is French… but from my spot checks… highly likely). So many of these bands are so under-the-radar that I couldn’t even find a link for their site…
EDIT – Yes, they are all French artists – thanks Superfuck Magazine for the clarification!

There are some gems on here though – I’m a huge fan of “The Tree is Made” by Milk and Fruit Juice. It is a very solemn acoustic number, but when the electric guitar flourishes enter, the song shimmers.  Certainly a downer if you judge the lyrical content (death), but if you like that sort of thing, you will love this.

There are some upbeat songs on here too… for sure. “Silence in Your Mind” by Wonderflu is a great indie rock tune, and while I can’t quite make out the lyrics enough to hear the Christmas connection – I’ll take their word for it.

“The Gift” by Edam Edam has punk rock spirit, a speed, and a crassness that I appreciate. “Can I kiss your ass / Like its for Christmas?” Fuck yes.

(BTW, Sugar & Tiger‘s excellent “X-Mas Babe” is on this comp too)

There are also a bunch of great instrumental tracks, ranging from the criminally short chimes and claps of “Bruschetta” by Orouni, to the wonderfully glitchy “Some Girls Under to the Snow” by MUDD.

The final track, “Christmas Boogie” by Jaromil Sabor and Prêcheur Loup, is a ramshackle jam that perfectly rounds out a night of Christmas tunes – loose, pretty, with slightly jagged edges. This one could certainly make its way on to a mix.

Bottom Line: If you are looking for an obscure French Christmas comp to impress your friends with, look no further. 1 euro (or more!) gets you 16 tracks, and there are some solid tunes here. 4.3/5

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Chin Chin Records Vol. 2

A Christmas Chin para ti, Vol. 02 (2013)

Chin-Chin Records
Buy: Bandcamp | CD

How the heck do I write this review? I am using a Bandcamp page to give me translations of the titles… so I have at least a clue of what they are singing about. I should cite the Spanish language titles, rather than the English titles – this I know. But now I’m jumping back between two pages for 36 tracks of fantastic Spanish garage rock/indiepop Christmas tunes – and it is feeling quite overwhelming. So, I think I may take the pressure off my shoulders, do a very shallow review, but let you know that THIS IS AWESOME. I largely have NO idea what they are saying, but I don’t care. There are a few that I know, such as The Fraukettes Spanish cover of “I Wish It Was Christmas Today,” which is absolutely lovely. Then there is Ooby & Dooby’s “Uvas o lentejas,” which Google translates to “Grapes or Lentils,” yet sounds JUST like “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Really, this record is all over the place. Perhaps if I understood Spanish, I might have some criticisms of the lyrics, or perhaps I’d like it even more! There are two English-language tracks on here too – check out the moody “Seasons Greetings” by Leather & Lace.

Bottom Line: I have no idea what they are saying, but I like the groove on 75% of these super-short Christmas tunes. With a name-your-own price on Bandcamp, and a reasonably priced CD version (with beautiful artwork), how could you go wrong? 4.5/5

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The Very Most - Winter EP

The Very Most – Winter EP (2009)

Indiecater Records
Buy: Indiecater MP3iTunes | Indiecater CD

You would be hard-pressed to find a band who loves Christmas more than Idaho-based indie-pop band The Very Most. For years they have been steadily producing indie-pop Christmas classics, and their 2009 Winter EP is the strongest of the bunch. This was the last of the series of season-themed EPs, which were later compiled into the full-length, A Year with the Very Most. All three songs featured on the EP are extremely good, beginning with a fantastic indie-pop take on “Away in a Manger.” If the focus of your mix is to give traditional tunes new life, then I would highly recommend The Very Most’s take on that classic. The next two songs are both originals, which I very much appreciate. “It’s the Best Thing” sets the scene in the evening, lit up by the streetlights just as snow begins to fall. All is quiet, except for the excited shrieks of his giddy children. It’s a beautiful scene, so honest and so easy to place yourself into. I truly love that song. Finally, “When Does the Goodwill Start?” rounds out the EP, wondering (because it’s Christmas) when the goodwill and peace on earth will start. Its a melancholy Christmas song wrapped in indie-pop paper – truly wonderful in its execution.

Bottom Line: You can’t get indie-pop Christmas better than this. 5/5

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Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols Cover

Mark Kozelek – Sings Christmas Carols (2014)

Caldo Verde
Buy: 7Digital FLAC/MP3 |Caldo Verde CD | Discogs LPs | Amazon UK

Mark Kozelek took his classical guitar into the studio in November/December 2013 and recorded a (largely) classical guitar, classic Christmas record. Classic, you say? Yes, but I mean it more in the terms of the subject matter than the execution. The whole tone doesn’t exude the warmth that most classic Christmas records do – I don’t know if Mark Kozelek could do warm & fuzzy, it’s not in his (performing) character. Don’t get me wrong though, the record is lovely. So, if melancholy classical guitar Christmas loveliness is what you’d like, then this LP is for you. This record will fit the bill if you have left-of-center tastes (as in, you love that Low Christmas record) and have a soft spot for very traditional Christmas tunes.

Mark excels in the early traditional songs on this record, such as “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Away in a Manger.” There are moments that you can imagine one of those songs being played over a melancholy scene in a Christmas movie. The more contemporary you get, the more hit-and-miss it can become. “Christmas Time is Here” is a standout track; the classical guitar approach is refreshing on a song that has been covered more often than it should, and the spoken word section adds a bit of humor that is very much appreciated. “O Christmas Tree” is a misstep if only for the song selection. Do you know anybody who really loves that song? It’s Christmas white noise, one of those songs that you hear, don’t hate, but truly… never love. Mark’s stab at the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” while pretty straightforward, is also excellent (though its ending feels quite abrupt). It’s simple, and quite lovely. I very much admit my bias here, as I lean toward new Christmas, rather than classic Christmas, when it comes to my Christmas mix. There is nothing on this record that I completely disliked, probably because I enjoy Mark Kozelek’s voice too much. However, it did leave me slightly underwhelmed. I appreciate Mark for taking a stab at the Christmas genre that he has flirted with for years, but the Christmas genre is one I am way too familiar with to find full satisfaction with a release with not one original song on it.

Bottom Line: Having a dinner party or scoring an indie Christmas film, add a full point to this score. Otherwise, a missed opportunity by one of our greatest living songwriters to have penned an original song. 3.7/5

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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Listen via Stereogum)
Christmas Time Is Here (Listen via Stereogum)

Sugar & Tiger - Noel Christmas

Sugar & Tiger “Noël Christmas” (2011/2014)

Atmosphériques
Buy: Amazon UK | Band’s Webstore | Amazon FR MP3 | Bandcamp

Sugar & Tiger‘s “Noël Christmas” has been around since 2011, but the song was not properly released until this year on their debut, Télévisage. An extremely fun tune, sung largely in French with some English in the chorus, these Parisians expertly straddle the pond. They list their influences as the Ramones, the Raveonettes and Phil Spector… so it makes perfect sense that they recorded a rockin’ Christmas song.

Bottom Line: Upbeat with that certain, I don’t know what (hehe) that makes me want to listen to it multiple times. If only it were easier to purchase as a single song! 4.1/5

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the liminanas rarities

The Limiñanas “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (2014)

Trouble in Mind
Buy: 7Digital FLAC/MP3 | Amazon UK | Amazon UK MP3 | iTunes

Get ready for a lovely slice of French garage rock from the duo known as the Limiñanas. This unreleased cover of Phil Spector’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” can be found on their new rarities compilation on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind Records, (I’ve Got) Trouble In Mind: Singles & Rare Stuff 2009/2014. They don’t stray too far from the spirit of the original (not a dirge to be found), yet their rough-around-the-edges delivery makes it feel like something new. Check it out, buy a copy and impress your friends.

If you find that you like their sound, and want to make a bit more of a commitment, you can even pick this up on vinyl. So, finger to the wind… how does it blow for you?

Bottom Line: I already like the song, and the Limiñanas give me that little bit extra to make this tune mix-worthy. 4.8/5

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