Perfect Pop Records / Two Zero Records / Thatsperfectwonderball Records
Buy: Download | CD
Released in Norway back in 2001, this EP is a solid little piece of indie Christmas. Two tracks are of particular note (and they can be previewed at the Norwegian website where you can download it), the John Prine classic “Christmas in Prison,” performed by Cinnamoon, and Peru You’s “Real Maria.”
The Oslo-based Cinnamoon cover “Christmas in Prison” with a great, full-band, folk treatment, that has just enough banjo to make you really take note of (and enjoy) – and before it was fashionable. I think they made some wonderful decisions with the arrangement – nothing seems out of place, and while they didn’t reinvent the song, they certainly improved upon it.
Also a Norwegian band, Peru You’s “Real Maria” sounds like something that Vampire Weekend could really tear up on a Christmas single. The vaguely Caribbean feel of the instrumentation, the interesting phrasing and the lyrical bobs and weaves really make this a great track. You need to hunt this down.
I can’t bring myself to write about every single song, so I shall end it there, with the two best. Additionally, I am certainly fascinated by the fact that I can find out very, very little about these two bands… who have no doubt broken up in the over ten years that its been since this release. I thought I could find every answer on the internet… or at least a long-abandoned myspace page…
Bottom Line: Those 2 tracks make the record. 3.5/5
Le Grande Magistery
Buy: iTunes | 7Digital MP3
A Very Magistery Christmas is one of the stronger indie rock/pop compilations I’ve come across. Originally an iTunes exclusive, this album has made its way into Amazon, Rhapsody, and eMusic.
Leading off the record is Pas/Cal, who are known (at least by me) as having some of the BEST christmas tunes around, and their cover of “Last Christmas” lives up to their stellar reputation. This is one of the best versions you can find – and there are a LOT of covers out there. You can also grab this track on their 12″ split with Asobi Seksu. Their stab at “Jingle Bell Rock” isn’t quite as fantastic – but for a song that I don’t particularly like, they cover it well. It is quite unfortunate that when thinking about Pas/Cal, you must think of them in the past-tense… such a loss of lovers of indie pop christmas tunes.
The Stars also make two appearance on this compilation – and for this, be very thankful. First off, I’m a fan. Secondly, they hit a sweet spot that I enjoy – political Christmas songs. “Christmas Song” reflects on our perpetual wars in the Middle East, while reminding us that the Christmas season and Ramadan overlap. “A New Year (Live)” ends the record with a wonderfully stripped-down performance, dramatic as ever, and subtle with its hook. Two tracks worth a listen for sure.
Other standouts would be the electro-pop Baxendale tune, “Flash Gordon,” Mascott & Dave Derby‘s sad folk number “This Christmastime,” and Finian McKean‘s bluesy “Lost & Found.”
I’m not in love with the rest of the record, but nothing on it truly makes me cringe. You might be able to save a few bucks singling out the tracks you want, but overall, a worthwhile compilation that I am happy to own and support.
Bottom Line: Some stellar tunes in here make it rise above the pack. Loses a fraction of a point for not having an avenue to get a CD or FLAC. 4/5
Mojo, January 2011
I don’t know how “Alternative” Mary Chapin Carpenter is considered… but there is some real traditional fare on this disc. There’s some great stuff here, which makes it a worthwhile collection to hunt down, but the boring stuff is mind-meltingly boring. Use this more as grist for your Christmas mix, rather than giving it a place in your holiday rotation.
There is a span of four tracks which create the powerhouse of the record, beginning with Superchunk‘s John Cale cover of “Child’s Christmas in Wales.” This track is exclusive to the release, and truly wonderful. The song fits Superchunk perfectly, and had this been the only song I liked on the disc, I would have been pleased with purchasing it.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings‘ “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” gets a CD release here – for those who want a physical copy beyond the 7″ that they released earlier in 2009. Great piece of R&B/Soul that can find its place on any interesting Christmas mix.
Hannah Peel & Tunng give us “Hey Santa!,” the second of three exclusive tracks. This is an indie pop gem – truly out of left field with its lyrical content, and a groove you can get in to.
Sea of Bees‘ “Feliz Navidad” is also exclusive to this collection. Most certainly the best surprise on this disc, they take a Christmas classic (which I usually find a bit annoying) and made it something enjoyable! The music creates a warm atmosphere, and the slight variations on the vocal phrasing keeps you interested. Well done.
Bottom Line: The good stuff is certainly enough to pick this up for a few bucks. 3.4/5
Buy: CD | iTunes
Tiny Tide’s “Left Alone for Christmas Time” begins with the line “Do I have to wait and cry,” which sums up a lot of indie pop Christmas tunes–Dreary lyrics with a danceable beat. The rest of the disc does not follow quite the same formula, and for that, I am appreciative. The tone is pretty similar though – its all indie pop. “M.I.S.T.L.E.T.O.E.” is a solid song about office-party romance… not quite catchy enough for me to consider for my own mix. Cherry Berry has two songs on this release… which is unfortunate (for my taste). “Berry Xmas” is the weakest track on this record, and its on there twice. The vocals are just distracting, and make it impossible to get into – though their English is no doubt much better than my Indonesian.
Without giving a rundown of EVERY track on this 8-song release, I would like to highlight the two bright spots. Paisley and Charlie offer a beautiful slice of holiday melancholy with “Unhappy New Year.” Perhaps a bit too dreary for my wife to stand, I really enjoy the groove the music creates (and you, oddly, really need to listen to it LOUD). Stars in Coma also have a standout with “The Frozen Spectacle.” With harmonies that are reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes, these Swedes have created a track 2:36 of subtle beauty. Brevity is often an asset when it comes to a good Christmas song… and Stars in Coma do not wear out their welcome.
Bottom Line: Inexpensive, with two very-solid tracks makes this release better than most. 3.7/5
UPDATE! Stars in Coma have re-recorded “The Frozen Spectacle” for their upcoming, Christmas Eve release of You, Me and a Nuance of Arctic Air. This is a slightly different mix, so its all a matter of personal taste as to which one you like.
For fun, I’m also posting their demo of this, fantastic track GONE (which is a highlight of my personal mix this year!).
Where Its At Is Where You Are
Buy: CD | Bandcamp
Christmastime, Approximately is one of the stronger indiepop Christmas compilations of the past few years. This was originally released in 2010 as a free download (500 downloads), and now available as a ₤5 Bandcamp download or as a ₤3.50 CD! I picked up the CD, as I am a sucker for a physical copy.
While every compilation (with very few exceptions) suffers from filler, there are certainly some standouts here worth appreciating. The Social Interaction Foundation (aka Help Stamp Out Lonliness) leads off the CD with a danceable, folktronic version of Low’s classic, “Just Like Christmas,” which is different enough from the original to be interesting. Other standounts are Eux Autres‘s “Teenage Christmas,” The Hillfields‘ folky “Spirit of the Season,” and especially Hexicon‘s “See That Day.”
Bottom Line: The songs are good enough to justify the price. 3.9/5