Stuck in the Chimney (More Christmas Singles) (2001)

Stuck in the Chimney

Parasol
Buy: Discogs (CD) | 7Digital MP3 | iTunes

This is one of those pretty ubiquitous releases that everyone knows about already, at least, for those searching out indie rock/pop Christmas tunes. That said, its not one of the better ones. I want to single out a great track that you NEED TO HEAR, but I’m at a loss to find one. The entire release is ok, but just that. Nothing on there makes me cringe, but nothing makes me excited. It hurts me to say so too, in that I really like the Parasol label, and greatly miss their distro.

However, don’t take my word as sacrosanct. I may be looking for something that you are not, and again, nothing on this release really sucks to the point where I would discourage you from listening on your own.

Bottom Line: When I think of average, I think of a record like this. 3/5

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A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

Radiant
Buy: Free!

Hailing from New South Wales, all these songs were performed live on Radiant Radio, and thus, you can expect a bit less of a stretch when it comes to overall performance and product.

It starts with a deep-voiced gentleman, Kirin J. Callinan, working through “Merry Christmas,” a song he just wrote. Tough to get through, but to be expected for a song he’s only worked through on his way there.

Packwood’s “Oh Holy Night” is a ramshackle folk performance that comes in and out of tune and key, but that rawness directed to a song that you normally heard sung by a huge voice and soaring orchestra might just be what the doctor ordered.

The Maple Trail and A Casual End Mile & R. Somerset each do covers of traditional songs as well, and none of them are notable enough to highlight. They are both perfectly fine, but the song and the performance just don’t lend themselves to comment.

The Preachers “Run Run Rudolph” is notable for the single fact that you’ve got a woman covering a Chuck Berry tune that is most often covered by dudes. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, you got a twist. Otherwise, nothing too crazy. Excellent guitar playing, but not exactly what I’m looking for.

The Holy Soul’s “Six White Boomers” is a original, normally a bonus a cover (Stubby has corrected me, it is apparently a Rolf Harris tune)… and the production value (e.g., the sound… not everyone is mic’d well) torpedos it. I can’t say that I think the song is very good either. If you are an Aussie, you might enjoy it a bit more; I doubt I get the humor, especially when it sounds like they are having sex in the middle of a song.

Side Note: This is the second review where I have missed a cover version and assumed it was an original. I either have to take more time doing research (which I likely will not have time for) or you will just have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: Overall, not something you need to take the time with unless something I described above sounds particularly appealing. 1.5/5

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Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

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Don’t Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape (2012)

Don't Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape

Select Music
Buy: Free!

One of my most recent finds, this free compilation from Sydney-based Select Music is an extremely solid compilation that is wholly listenable; A fine effort that I hope they continue to pursue in the future.

Step-Panther‘s version of “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight tonight)” begins and ends with a skit, which I’m sure you could edit out quite easily. The delivery of the actual song makes me think of a bunch of 16-17 year olds rolling through this classic Ramones tune, which could be exactly the vibe you’re looking for… I, however, don’t feel like this song is good enough (as in, the song, not the performance) for simply a serviceable cover. Asobi Seksu’s version is different enough to enjoy over multiple listens, but Step-Panther’s, while not bad, just doesn’t quite break the mold of the original.

Wax Witches‘ “Forgot Me” is a solid indie-rock Christmas tune. I am always partial to originals, and the Wax Witches effort is certainly in the upper 10% of the pack. It actually grows on me a bit with each listen… not quite sure if its going to get to the level where it will be mix-worthy, but a great effort no matter.

The Cairos rendition of “Sleigh Ride” is about as good as it can be. I would never consider this song for my mixes to begin with, but if I HAD to find a version to play for someone, this would certainly be an option. They do their best with what they’re working with.

Millions take a stab at the modern-classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and they do it admirably. Its kind of a fusion of indie rock with an alt-country beat and the twangy guitar of an earlier time. Their arrangement really makes the song their own, and thus it is immensely listenable. This is one of the songs that you need this compilation for… and hey, its free.

The Preatures take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and they follow the Millions lead-in with a similarly unique take on a classic tune. They lighten the mood, add some dirty edges, and throw their version onto the top of the pile. Short, sweet, and spot on.

Finally, Jonti‘s “Christmas Worm” makes an appearance at the end of this short compilation. If you read my blog, you are well aware of how much I enjoy this song. I will no doubt be writing more about this song as the season develops, as I have also found a cover from a few years ago as well. So… enjoy this release and the FREE FLAC that it offers.

Bottom Line: There are three great songs, and three good songs. If every other Christmas compilation could be so fortunate. 4.5/5

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Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records (2010)

Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records cover

Adventure Club Records
Buy: Bandcamp

This compilation from Adventure Club Records used to cost a few bucks… but for the moment, it is FREE! How about that??!! Well, first off, you can’t beat free. Secondly, there is some great stuff on here.

The EP starts off with Bear Driver‘s cover of “Walking in the Air” from the classic animated Christmas special, The Snowman. This is truly a wonderful version, floating and beautiful, and I was compelled to add it to my personal mix this year. The mix has not been in my friends’ hands for very long, but so far, 2 of 3 of the mentions of their favorite song have been this one.

Ian Williams and the Dead Flowers‘ cover of “Little Donkey” is actually LISTENABLE. I’m not a big fan of this song, but their slow, dark folk version makes it not only listenable, but genuinely good. This will be on the short list for next year.

Lee Schofield covers “In the Bleak Midwinter,” another song that I have a tough time really getting into – Rue Royale has been the only version I truly enjoyed. Lee Schofield has not surpassed Rue Royale, but he has created a simple, folky version with excellent vocal layers and nice instrumentation… a very solid effort.

Glaciers‘ “Happy Christmas” has this compilation batting 4/4 so far, with this truly wonderful song. Ragged, but beautiful, this song is very very much also on a shortlist for next year. This song has it all – interesting vocals, compelling lyrics, mention of whiskey, great music… knocked it out of the park.

Nir Graham rounds out the release with a (I feel like a broken record) listenable(!) version of Blue Christmas! I normally… really dislike this song. But he has made a messy version, that is pretty damn good. I still don’t like the song enough, but his use of the banjo to, basically, just make noise, makes this ramshackle version of Blue Christmas a compelling listen.

Bottom Line: I find no fault whatsoever with this release. One of the strongest Christmas comps I’ve come across. AND FREE (for a limited time no doubt). 4.9/5

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Another Grey Christmas 2 (2008)

Another Grey Christmas 2 cover

Willamette Week
Buy: Discogs | Stream

The second in a series by Willamette Week’s Local Cut section – this is the first one that I’ve actually held in my hands. Only available in Portland and (briefly) online, the Another Grey Christmas series compiles local Portland bands doing both originals and covers… as so many other cities do. What Portland has in their favor though… is that it’s Portland. They’ve got a bunch of great bands just chilling out, waiting to record something amazing.

There are some solid tunes on this disc, with the perfectly passible indie-folk rendition of “Winter Wonderland” by A Weather, a stripped down “Silver Bells” by Run on Sentence with Mike Midlo, and a delicate “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Laura Gibson. There are some good originals here too – Future Historians‘ “Family Tree” is a darker take on the holiday season, and the lyrics have a wonderful sense of reality to them – something you don’t normally get from a Christmas song.

The best song on the disc is Dolorean’s cover of the Dolly Parton classic, “Hard Candy Christmas.” Slow, sparse and haunting at times – this is not your mother’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” And best of all… they posted it on their website for download.

Definitely check out the rest of the series… but be forewarned, they do not let you BUY anything but vol. 4 & 5. I had to call a boutique in Portland to get ahold of #2… actually purchased their in-store play copy. And I’ve never seen one go up on eBay either.

BOTTOM LINE: Some solid classics are covered, with one strong original. 3.6/5

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Free Music – A Carpark Record (2011)

Free Music - A Carpark Record (cover)

Carpark Records
Buy: LP

Class Actress. Dan Deacon. Cloud Nothings. Three Christmas songs on a free record (from select indie stores last year) that had me on the edge of my seat.

Too bad I don’t like any of them. The Cloud Nothings track is purely instrumental… not something I normally look for with a Christmas tune, though if it were compelling enough, not something I’d rule out. The Dan Deacon tune samples animal noises… which makes it (in my estimation) unlistenable. The Class Actress cover of “Silent Night” is acceptable… but I just don’t like that song on a mix. If it ever makes the cut, it will be because someone did something truly unique with the song that makes me enjoy it.

The non-holiday songs are generally great. Shortest review ever.

Bottom Line: If you create a Christmas mix based strictly on the hipness of the band and not the song, this LP is for you. The following number score is holiday-song specific and does not reflect the generally excellent non-holiday tunes. 1.3/5

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Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight? (2010)

Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight cover

Cloudberry Records
Buy: CD | Bandcamp (but it doesn’t allow purchasing!)

Not technically a Christmas release, the 3″ CDR Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight falls in the winter/snow category that I open up my mix to. The vibe is much more varied than the previous Cloudberry release, adding a bit more of an indie rock tone at times. The first track, “Catch Your Cold,” is the best example of this. Evans the Death have created a rocking song with a great feel, and some very silly lyrics – “I’m afraid of getting a job / I’m afraid of Snoopy Doggy Dog…,” but it works.

Seapony‘s “Dreaming” is a lovely piece of 80’s inspired chillwave that will find favor with kids who listen to Wild Nothing. It later appeared on their 2011 record, Go With Me, and is certainly good enough to be mix-worthy BUT – is not winter-related enough for me (or at all!).

The Sweater Girls follow with “Sweater Weather,” which has a much more indie-pop feel than its predecessors. It could use a bit more a hook, with the lead singer’s spoken vocals over a buzzy guitar that is going in circles that would benefit from some variation of tone. Still, not a bad song – it gets bonus points for being the second song whose subject matter qualifies for Christmas mixes.

Floridian indie-poppers Cassolette weigh in with “Not Just Anyone,” the longest song on the record… a little over 3 minutes (a definite plus for this record if I may say so), but it is not a winter song! The only nod to the season is the lyric “You turn my winter into spring.” Too bad – it is a wonderful piece of indie-pop!

Finally, the Christmas-y named The Garlands finish out the album with a song that could be off a Sarah record of old, “Throw Away This Day.” My personal taste leads me to say this is the least strong song on the record, though if you love the indie pop sound of the 1980 & 90s, you’ll absolutely love it. Though, this is not a winter song either! (They did release a rather good Christmas tune two years prior that you should check out.)

Bottom Line: Not enough winter-themed songs hurts its rating, but some strong stuff. 3.3/5

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Last Train to Christmas (2008)

Last Train to Christmas cover

Cloudberry Records
Buy: Discogs | Bandcamp (but it does not allow purchasing!)

This little 3″ CDR packs a big indie-pop punch. Four tracks of solid songs that would please any fan of the genre, and perhaps even those who don’t normally warm towards the twee. Featuring four originals that don’t fall into any heavy religion at all… pretty much what I wish every Christmas CD I picked up was like.

The Swedish band Twig starts it off with “Antoinette’s Christmas Wedding,” which will give you all the crooning, brass, and calypso that you never knew you wanted in a Christmas song. A small story of a song, it sets the wedding (and surrounding) scene quite well. I am quite partial to Christmas originals, and this one is a very interesting one… It has yet to make a Christmas mix for me yet, it just hasn’t fit yet. It may never fit… but that doesn’t make it a lesser song.

The first of two NYC bands, Strega follows with “When the Stars are Shining Bright at Christmas Time,” and their very familiar, sleigh bell-heavy, female fronted approach does not stand out quite as much as the dulcet tones of Twig. However, they have written a tight little song that is immensely listenable.

The Soft City lead off “Side B” with “Snow Keeps Falling,” with a much more 60’s inspired treatment that I could imagine being off an early Essex Green record for some reason. Great motion to this song…

The final song is by the Danes Champagne Riot, who can be found singing Christmas tunes (Xmas Safari) on the most recent Matinee Records holiday offering. “December Slopes” is a fine first effort with a great groove; they reach a level that not many bands hit after many Christmas attempts.

Bottom Line: Every song is truly good, though no song is mind-blowing incredible. 4.8/5

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Avalanche Records’ Alternative Christmas (2009)

Avalanche Records (Edinburgh)
Buy: Good luck!

One of the biggest challenges with reviewing Christmas records, is that so many are released to benefit charities. I certainly don’t want to crap all over a record that benefits sick kids, and thankfully, I don’t have to.

Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland released a very DIY Christmas record back in 2009. Simply titled Alternative Christmas, this compilation features mainly Scottish artists each submitting an original song, with only a few exceptions. So, for those out there who love originals (like me), this is a good start.

I originally purchased this to have an audio master for There Will Be Fireworks‘ “In Excelsis Deo,” which is a dramatic, and fantastic song; a perfect ending to my 2010 Christmas Mix. This used to be the only place you could buy this track, and of course it has since been released elsewhere. Fellow dramatic Scots Frightened Rabbit also lend their (by now) classic track, “Its Christmas So We’ll Stop.” I think this may be the only official CD release of the track, beyond a promo that they sent to radio stations back in 2008.

A large chunk of this record is terribly sad. The Savings and Loan contribute a serviceable cover of the Palace Brothers’ lament “Christmastime in the Mountains,” but it does not improve upon the original – which is a must if you are going to perform it in a similar style. Withered Hand gives us an emotional “Its a Wonderful Lie,” and while it certainly has its moments, it is just too dreary for me. Really, this one could be you favorite tune on the record if you really love a Christmas dirge. Another rather brutal, but well-done song is the Phil Ochs tune, “No Christmas in Kentucky”, retitled “Christmas in Kirkcaldy,” and performed by Meursault. Scots singing about the Southeast United States… and the poverty that is Appalachia. I have heard it all.

Two final tracks that are certainly worth a listen are Emily Scott‘s “Holy,” and X-Lion Tamer‘s stab at Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy.” Both are done well, and “Holy” is an extremely pretty, sparse folk song with excellent vocal layers.

Bottom Line: Can be quite sad, but has a higher percentage of good songs than most comps out there. 3.8/5

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