Bossy Love “Christmas Rapping” (2014)

Bossy Love - Christmas Rapping

Something In Construction
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

Back in 2014, the Scottish duo Bossy Love premiered their reinterpretation of the Waitress’ “Christmas Wrapping” on the always-excellent The Line of Best Fit. I somehow missed it… and I thought I was on my game back in 2014! Though featured on their Under the Covers mixtape, the song (and the mixtape) has nearly disappeared in the intervening 5 years. Not on Spotify, not on Soundcloud (well, at least this one song is technically available, but hidden), not on Bandcamp, nor available for purchase on Amazon. This may very well be your last time to find this track. I managed to hunt it down from a direct link still available on their Facebook page, but who knows how long they will keep that alive. Back to the actual song! The track is far more dance-pop than the original, which is to be expected from a Bossy Love-treatment. Well executed, but not something I hadn’t heard before. What DOES make this track stand out is the updated lyrics – a character arc of a fuck-up who gets her shit together for Christmas. The story references blogs, iPhones, DUIs, and Youtube – a “Christmas Wrapping” for a 21st century.

Bottom Line: I’m digging this approach. I would love to see more modern reinterpretations of the classics, rather than just straightforward covers. Universe, make this happen!

Sapin “Christmas Eve” (2013)

Sapin - Christmas Eve

Retard Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Don’t you hate it when you find a band, get all excited, then find out that band has JUST broken up. Well… consider this fantastic garage rock anthem Sapin‘s final Christmas gift to us all. This four-piece garage country-rock band from the Rennes, France countryside demands that you move around in your seat. The youthful exuberance seeps out of every pore with this song – from the lyrics of anticipation and angst – to the driving music and carefree, raspy vocals. This song is just damn, damn fun. Prendre plaisir! (Google translate, don’t fail me now!)

Bottom Line: You are sitting on your couch, wearing your headphones, and your family begins to see you slightly convulse, legs wiggling, head bobbing, eyes wide. This sounds about right.

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Christmas in July – Christmas is a Feeling (2012)

Christmas in July - Christmas is a Feeling

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

As the sole proprietor of this humble little Christmas blog, most of my music research goes toward finding those delicious, spicey new tunes. I do, however, get as much (if not more) satisfaction from digging up gems from the past… and this nice little EP by Christmas in July is just that. Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek are the duo who slapped a holiday name on and released “Christmas is a Feeling” back in 2012. The duo would later release 2 EPs, A-Sides and B-Sides, two years later. This seems like a long tease to finally get to the fact that both Adrianne and Buck would eventually expand their musical universe, adding two more bandmates and starting one of the most interesting, prolific and distinctive bands of the past few years, Big Thief. Having recently released the much-lauded U.F.O.F. back in May, they just announced a follow-up, Two Hands, which had been recorded only days after finishing U.F.O.F.. Since 2016, Big Thief will have released 4 albums, with another acclaimed solo Adrianne Lenker album, abysskiss, released in 2018. They appear to be in the middle of one hell of a creative streak.

All that said… this IS a Christmas music blog, and there are five solid tracks on Christmas is a Feeling, two of which deserve more attention. The lone original on the EP, the folksy “Miss Mistletoe,” appears to be a wholly Buck Meek tune (at least, he appears to perform it alone). My favorite bit comes about halfway through:  “So pour the cider and stoke the coals / finish up the pie / what comes tomorrow, goodness knows / but tonight I’m by your side.” The airy production, with the guitar fluttering between both channels, flickers with the warmth of a fire; This song is a mix-worthy beauty. The other highlight is “Walking in the Air,” a cover of the modern-British classic from “The Snowman,” which blends the voices of Buck and Adrianne with the subtle beauty that you expect from this ethereal song. Simply stated, this is a gorgeous version of a wonderful song. There are three more covers of Christmas classics on here, and they are all quite good on the strength of their great voices, production, and taste level. However, they do not reinvent the classics, which can be great but isn’t as noteworthy. In summation, this release is one that can be listened to from front-to-back, which is no easy feat for a Christmas record. 

Bottom Line: How a Christmas release by members of such a notable (and fantastic) band has slipped under the radar for so long is beyond me. This EP is fantastic, and will no doubt help feed your hungry mixtapes this holiday season. If I were 4AD, I’d be slapping this thing on vinyl and releasing it. Please send me a copy if you do.

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Lor “Christmas Morning: Busza’s in the Garage” (2017/2019)

Lor "Christmas Morning: Busza’s in the Garage"

TBA Music / Wydawnictwo Agora
Buy: 7Digital MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Discogs (CD)

Polish folk group Lor may have released their heartbreaking track “Christmas Morning: Busza’s in the Garage” back in 2017, but this humble blogger didn’t stumble across it until their first proper album, Lowlight, was dropped earlier this year. I’ve been piecing together a bit about the band, largely from translated Polish websites, and I must admit a wry smile crossed my face when I saw they had cited recent CU favorite Tom Rosenthal as an early inspiration. These four girls, Julia Skiba, Paulina Sumera, Jagoda Kudlińska and Julia Błachuta, are still teenagers, and when you press play below, you will be somewhat astounded. “Christmas Morning” is a delicate song, deeply sad, yet somehow comforting. Written about a man who spends Christmas alone, Lor draws you gently into this scene. Then there is the video, shot and directed by Mateusz Mleczko (you can see the full credits on the Youtube page), which adds even more to the drama of an already emotional song and compliments it beautifully. They teamed up with Anna Dymna’s Against the Odds Foundation (donate here), who “help intellectually disabled adults by giving them a place where they can be happy and have a substitude (sp?) of home,” and this connection feels wholly appropriate with this song. This is a heavy one, but very much worth your time.

Bottom Line: To be teenagers, already opening for the likes of Rhye, and displaying this level of talent, taste, and sophistication… incredible.

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Pedro the Lion “Yellow Bike” (2019)

Pedro the Lion "Yellow Bike"

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

David Bazan is no stranger to Christmas music, and even when he isn’t writing specifically-Christmas songs… he still sometimes writes an almost-Christmas song. “Yellow Bike” is the latest single from David’s recently resurrected Pedro the Lion project, and it is perfectly situated in the Venn diagram that is my life: Christmas songs and cycling. It begins…

“On a desert Christmas morning, 1981
One month shy of six years old
In the valley of the sun
My first two-wheel bicycle stood by the tree
My heart thumping in my chest
Though I’d tried, I couldn’t ride one yet”

The song is a beautiful tale of nostalgia, longing, and communion, facilitated by the memory of that first bike David got for Christmas. Just. Loved. It.

Bottom Line: Chapeau David, it’s a stunner. Lots of vinyl options out there for folks who want to pick up the entire album, which I would also recommend.

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Red Sleeping Beauty “The Swedish Winter” (2019)

Red Sleeping Beauty "The Swedish Winter" (2019)

Labrador Records/Matinée Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp | Matinée Recordings CD | iTunes  | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I am no stranger to stretching the definition of a Christmas song; I fully embrace a good winter song, the imagery of falling snow, the chill in the air, etc. However… this might be the most Van Damme I will get on this blog. Red Sleeping Beauty are the kind of Swedish synth-pop that I can get behind, as all their previous Christmas tunes have found a way onto these digital pages. (If you share members with my beloved Acid House Kings, you will get noticed by me.) So, I was excited to receive a DM from RSB a few weeks ago hipped me to a new single! “The Swedish Winter” certainly tackles the long, cold nights that those in the upper-regions of the northern hemisphere suffer through – but the celebration that bursts from the song is all about summer. This is definitively NOT a Christmas song. Yet somehow… I began to think that this song might be a good finale to a Christmas/winter mix. Christmas (and your mix) is over… so what else do you have to look forward to? Summer. “You lose your faith / and you lose your mind / the Swedish winter / The darkest times / and the darkest thoughts / the Swedish winter/ Then suddenly, a ray of light / to save your soul / Get ready cause here comes the summer / and everything feels right.”

Bottom Line: This is synth pop at its synthiest and popiest, and will most certainly satisfy fans of the genre.

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Gaptooth Grin – Far Away / Bye Bye Santa (2018)

Gaptooth Grin - Far Away / Bye Bye Santa (2018)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

On this somewhat stressful morning of Mueller-report-anticipation, I thought I’d take a second and write about some fun Christmas tunes. I think I got going (well, for a bit) around this time last year as well… a good pre-Easter Christmas-song surge. Yellow Springs, Ohio’s Gaptooth Grin put out a fantastic 2-song single last December, and it is about time you heard them. The A-side, “Far Away,” is a breezy stroll of a song which reminds me of a particularly beloved (by me) band, Little Joy. I really enjoyed that first line, as it sets the scene perfectly: “It must be Christmas / cause I see stardust / on my television / outside you’d think it’s July / but I know it’s snowing somewhere / far, far away.” The B-side, “Bye Bye Santa,” dips its toes into powerpop, with some sugary-sweet “ba-bas” bopping around in the background, which beautifully plays along with the hilarious and political lyrics. Here is a taste: “Daddy’s been telling you that Santa’s coming some snowy night, / but those kids at school been telling you since you were five / that some fat man flying reindeer with presents on his sleigh, crosses into US airspace, / it might be judgment day. / Yes its goodbye Santa, / bye-bye Santa. / So long Santa Claus. / You’ve seen all those pretty presents beneath the tree, / but how do you make it past your daddy’s AR-15? / Those jackboots on the corner with their red hats and their ties, / they all put up picket fences and locked themselves inside / singing goodbye Santa …. ” I love a good political Christmas song, and this track has scratched that itch perfectly. I know that some folks don’t appreciate bringing politics into Christmas… but frankly, I’ve been doing this for a while and have come to understand that the vast majority of this weird tiny minority of alternative Christmas music obsessives… well… we often find ourselves paddling in the same boat. So… paddle on, and enjoy.

BONUS: “Far Away” actually appeared on a solid little compilation EP, The Gaptooth Wonderful’s Christmas Birthday (which I may review as well at a later date), back in 2015 and you can pick up for FREE.

Bottom Line: Two killer Christmas tracks to brighten up an uncertain future. These tracks are bound to make a Christmas mix or two next year…

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The Aux – Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Sometimes I do feel like I’m writing about the same bands, year after year. Well, that is a great problem to have, as so many of the bands I dig keep on putting out great Christmas music! I haven’t hit Mike Nevin’s The Aux releases every single year, but I am on a pretty good, every-two-year schedule. The latest EP, Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems, is Mike’s most personal release. After years of hilarious, dark and often bitter Christmas songs, he has found himself in a spot of sincerity. Mike presents these songs as such:

“this year was both the least creative and most solitary year of my life so far. so this is what has come out of it. i hope you enjoy these genuine christmas songs that i mean from the bottom of my heart. sorry that they’re not as funny as they used to be!”

He is indeed right – these songs are not as funny as they used to be. But that humor has been replaced by a true candor, best felt in his autotuned confessional, “A Real Santa,” where Mike owns up for being a bad friend at times. The ending is genuinely touching:

“cuz santa just wants to feel like he exists
and i know that i could be more like him if i gave a shit
if i’ve treated you like santa
i promise i’ll start acting less like the grinch
and fulfill your christmas wish
i will be a real santa that exists”

Mike goes pretty deep on these songs, and while the subject matter highlights his perceived faults and battles with loneliness and depression, it is refreshing to hear someone so connected to his feelings. These are deeply personal Christmas songs, thrown into a sea of seasonal cheer. You hear these things and the sugary-sweet artifice of the season begins to make your teeth hurt. Sometimes a little pain feels good.

Bottom Line: This year’s brutal honesty (and hope) is quite refreshing, while still remaining true to The Aux’s trademark bitter charm.

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Dearnley “Christmas in a Strip Club” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

David W. Dearnley has managed to take a provocative title, which many a song relies on exclusively, and surprises the hell out of me. The song does not just being and end with that title – it is the little details that make this song so damn special. However, this song  would not be possible with David’s voice, which has a quality that can’t be denied. It is one of those voices that sounds lived in, one with a patina that grows more beautiful under bar lights. Stubby wrote about this record earlier in December, and he rightly loved this track as well. He loved the twist as much as I… that the protagonist is recapturing childhood memories at the strip club, the one “where the Stuckey’s used to be.” You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to get it, and even when you know the reveal is coming, it is still so very worth it. “Christmas in a Strip Club” is a dirty, sad, thoughtful, beautiful song that is worth your money… so bring a stack of singles.

Bottom Line: This song reminds me of a Raymond Carver short story – dark, personal, and fascinating. Highly recommended.

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Bien “Bells, Bells, Bells” (2018)

Dream Whale Creative
Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

Nashville’s Bien have been recording Christmas tunes since back in 2016, but until now, they have all been standards. “Bells, Bells, Bells” however, is particularly excellent in both song choice and performance. This is an original, and that is ALWAYS going to pique my interest more than a dusty old standard. Largely driven by beautiful vocal harmonies, as it progresses the instrumentation builds, and “Bells, Bells, Bells” truly blooms. This song is so pretty that your heart might get 2 sizes too big. I’m going to have to follow Bien on Instagram (@wearebien) to keep an eye out for next year’s track, as they are dangerously close to a tradition. 🙂

Bottom Line: Yet another beautiful, happy Christmas song that I somehow loved. I’m going to have to rebrand from being that miserable old Christmas blogger who posts all these songs about how terrible Christmas is. Well… off to print new business cards.

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