Gypsy Charms “It‘s Mother Fuckin‘ Christmas” (2013)

nollaig

Brown Bear Records
Buy: Free!

Brown Bear Records released three largely DIY/punk/experimental Christmas comps between 2013-2015, and as with any DIY Christmas release, the quality can have pretty dramatic swings from song to song. That said, there is a LOT to go through when you look at all 3 releases, 66 songs in total, and I thought I’d put a big ‘ol spotlight on the best of the best, this deliciously-titled track by  Chicago’s Gypsy Charms, “It’s Mother Fuckin’ Christmas.” A punk rock track, delivered with attitude and ramshackle, profane glee, this song is brilliant and less than a minute. Yes, I see the 1:40 next to the track title… but believe me, this thing really begins at 0:50. They kick some ass, then get out of the way, which is a sure fire way to win a fight.

Bottom Line: This is expertly crafted punk rock Christmas.

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Lola Kirke “Cross You Off My List” (2018)

lola Kirke

Downtown Records
Buy: Soon? Streaming on Youtube

Lola Kirke, best known as an actress in projects such as Mozart in the Jungle and Gone Girl, is also a talented musician in her own right. Having released her first LP, Heart Head West, earlier this year, she has quickly followed it up with two seasonal tracks which debuted today. The first, “Little Drummer Girl,” flips the gender within the traditional song… but any reader will know how I feel about that song – so we will move on. “Cross You Off My List” is her first original Christmas song, and what a start! Originally written following the 2016 election, she tells PAPER Magazine, “It was a much more somber sounding song that set out to question how to celebrate Christmas in such a fraught environment. While we’re still conflicted about how to invoke the “spirit of Christmas” in today’s political climate, we decided to revise the song—set it to a more a upbeat chord progression and dash it with a bit more hope.”

There are some just killer lyrics too:

“There must be another day / to spend this holy holiday. / Maybe I should run away / or find a better way to stay.

All I want for Christmas / is to dance. / Forget romance, / I’ve made new plans / Maybe cause it’s Christmas, / I should take a stand, / and give my hand / to a better land.

All I want for Christmas / is to be less complicit / and love all those who need it. / You can take your kisses / and cross them off of my list.”

The song was co-written and beautifully produced by her partner Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and together they have made one of the strongest songs of the season. I can’t wait to find out where you can pick it up – because right now, I got nothing!

Bottom Line: Great production with absolutely killer lyrics, this song deserves your ears.

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Pond “All I Want for Xmas (Is a Tascam 388)” (2017)

Pond "The Weather"

Marathon Artists/Universal Music Australia
Buy: Bandcamp | 7Digital | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

So many Aussies, so little time. Pond is a fantastic psych rock band from Perth who are the spiritual brothers of Tame Impala, even sharing members at times. “All I Want for Xmas (Is a Tascam 388)” came off of Pond’s excellent LP The Weather, released way back in May of 2017. I know Jim, you’ve known about this for a while, why now? Well, I got nothing – time is a fickle beast, and who knows when our time (or a song’s time) will come. This is a psychedelic delight with wonderful layers of synths, chunky beats, and a deep yearning for that Tascam mixer. Clocking in at just about 2:30, it also doesn’t overwear its welcome; Brevity is essential for a Christmas song that really only has one point to make. Santa, go grab that guy a Tascam 388!

Bottom Line: Mixing it up a bit with some psychedelic Christmas tunes, which can be hard to come by. Pond are top tier psych, and this is a pretty fun song.

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Spiral Perm “Santa at NASA” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

As many of my friends will attest, Australia’s indie rock scene is exploding right now. So much so that I have been finding myself almost exclusively going down(under) Facebook /Bandcamp rabbit-holes that are almost exclusively Australian… and thus… here we are. Spiral Perm are a three-piece, all-kick-ass indie rock band from Melbourne featuring Ali E (Damn Terran, Heavy Beach, Little Athletics, Mod Vigil, Ali E Band), Kate Koomen (Deep Scene, Bunny Monroe), and Rita Khayat. Their latest single has a track that jumped out at me – “Santa at NASA.” How exactly this track got its title is beyond me, as Santa is never mentioned… BUT I SAY IT COUNTS! I’m just going to assume that they are imagining that Santa is the one hanging out with them among the equations… so, I’m going to bend the rules to get something Australian and cool onto my blog.

EDIT: Confirmed! It is Santa! Spiral Perm posted on their Facebook about how the song came about: “Anywho, the title of this track came from a discussion about palindromes and thus A Santa at NASA was born.” Thanks Spiral Perm!!

Bottom Line: Science + attitude + Santa = Yeah – I’m going to feature this on my blog.

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Adam Arcuragi “The Belgian” (2008)

High Two Records
Buy: Bandcamp (Vinyl) | Label (Vinyl/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

As the world commemorated WW1 this past week (there was rain – eek!), I began to think about this fantastic song that Adam Arcuragi included on his wonderful mini-album Soldiers for Feet back in 2008. “The Belgian” references that famous 1914 Christmas armistice, where soldiers along the western front ceased fighting and celebrated Christmas. It is a truly beautiful song – one that I have mentioned before, but never featured. I always imagined it was one that was meant to be discovered… but you know… let this be your point of discovery.

Bottom Line: Adam Arcuragi is three-for-three when it comes to Christmas songs. Just saying – I’d buy whatever he’s selling.

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Sufjan Stevens “Lonely Man of Winter” (2007/2018)

Asthmatic Kitty
Buy: Bandcamp | Vinyl 7″ (Limited to 1000) (Looks to be sold out at the label – in retailers Nov. 9)

WHAT?!?! HERE IT IS!

From Asthmatic Kitty:

In 2007, Sufjan Stevens wrote and recorded “Lonely Man of Winter” and, as part of a holiday marketing contest to promote Stevens’ Songs for Christmas boxset, traded ownership of the song to the winner, Alec Duffy. In turn Duffy gifted his song, “Every Day is Christmas,” to Stevens.

But instead of widely releasing “Lonely Man of Winter,” Duffy held listening sessions in his home and around the world, sometimes pairing the private listenings with cookies and hot chocolate.

In an end to that years-long project, Duffy – now founder/Artistic Director of the non-profit Brooklyn performance venue JACK – has decided to release the song “Lonely Man of Winter” on Asthmatic Kitty Records, digitally and on limited edition 7 inch, with funds going to support JACK’s mission of fueling experiments in art and activism.

So. I have heard it now. And yes, it is a Sufjan Stevens Christmas song, so it will obviously be much, much better than 97% of other Christmas songs. I particularly like the new mix – the electronic percussive touches especially. Had I only heard the first, original version, I might have come out and said that this could be a “filler track” on one of his Christmas EPs; It just didn’t hit me. This is the blessing and the curse of Sufjan, as he has raised expectations of his work by creating a vast, incredible back catalog with such amazing songs like “Christmas in the Room” and “Sister Winter.” Criticism in comparison to his previous work is frankly unfair; I certainly compare most songs against their Christmas music genre, rather than the artist’s past work. Don’t get me wrong, despite my waffling, I’m still damn pleased, and I am so happy to hear that mystery track from long ago. You know what would be an incredible finish to Sufjan’s holiday season though? How about a cover of Alec Duffy’s track, “Everyday is Christmas.” I kinda feel like Sufjan could knock that out of the park…

Bottom Line: Sufjan’s 2018 recording of this mysterious track from 2007 is indeed a worthy improvement.

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Richard Walters “The First Snow in Years” (2017)

Richard Walters - The First Snow in Years

Pilotlights Music
Buy: Bandcamp

My friend Kurt over at Festive! wrote a great post about the search for “Christmas (Not Christmas)” songs the other day, and not only did I immediately see myself in those paragraphs, but it got me thinking much more about those gems of the past that skirt around the edges of Christmas. One of particular note is the spectacular “Snow” by Sweet Tempest. Those chilly, not-quite-Christmas tunes always find a way into my heart, and this standout by Richard Walters, “The First Snow in Years,” has done so as well. The synth brass lines create an interesting ground for the fingerpicked melody to float over. Richard’s voice is beautiful, as is the imagery: “Midnight / standing still / streetlight / paints my shadow onto the white ground / the whole world is white. / See how it covers everything. / See how it covers everything. / The first snow in years. / The first snow in years.” Gorgeous.

Bottom Line: I write this as the election results trickle in… and this song has calmed me. No small feat. Let’s all wake up to a better tomorrow.

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Jeremy Neale “Christmas (Turn This Around)” (2017)

Dot Dash / Remote Control Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Aussie Jeremy Neale LOVES Christmas. His first Christmas single, 2016’s “Christmas Time (Is My Favourite Time Of The Year)” pretty much sums up his holiday attitude. (That track is great too, maybe I’ll need another post.) His 2017 Christmas single, “Christmas (Turn This Around),” finds Jeremy giving a holiday humbugger a pep talk – they have never found happiness in Christmas, but he is going to turn their holiday around. The driving power-pop rhythm culminates in a flurry of brass and congas that will not be denied, making this perhaps the happiest Christmas song that I can possibility stand at the moment. I mean, can’t you tell I’m falling apart here? I am writing about HAPPY MUSIC. I’m desperately trying to be positive. GO VOTE.

Bottom Line: This song is so happy it could turn a grinch into a Who! GO VOTE. *smooches*

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Brad Peterson “All is Well” (2017)

Brad Peterson "All is Well"

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Chicago-area’s Brad Peterson has been releasing wonderful, one-off singles for a few years now… he may have even released one already this year! I had originally intended to highlight 2017’s excellent “All is Well” last year, but you know how things go – the holidays can get nuts. Having once shared stages with Radiohead and Jeff Buckley (what a lovely story btw), Brad suffered a spinal injury years ago that kept him for recording or performing. Thankfully, he has healed well enough to get back in the game. Brad writes and records in his little backyard garden shed, concocting these wonderfully written indiepop gems. “All is Well” approaches those memories of loss that can sometimes sneak up at Christmas, and as with an Irish funeral, turns it into an exercise in fond remembrance.

“If we’re fortunate, as we get older, we may recall in wistful reverie -an idyllic Christmas season surrounded by loved ones. For me, that blissful time, before experience and loss, can hurt to contemplate. Rather than the melancholic tendencies I’ve often fallen to, this year I choose to celebrate in fond remembrance, those absent loved ones.”

Truly a lovely sentiment, wrapped in excellent indiepop production.

Bottom Line: Brad’s always one to watch when the holidays come around – and this will no doubt be the first of many mentions on CU.

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Traveller “Christmas Eve at Kroger” (2018)

Traveller - Western Movies

Refuge Foundation for the Arts
Buy: Vinyl & CD | iTunes | Google Play MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Traveller, the Americana supergroup comprised of Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel and Jonny Fritz, may have taken three years to follow up the release of their first track, “Western Movies,” but I would contend… this is most certainly worth the wait. Robert Ellis has released four solo records, including his latest self-titled album, Robert Ellis, in 2016. Cory Chisel has toured for years with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, releasing seven records since 2004. Jonny Fritz (AKA Jonny Corndawg) first came to my attention with a gift from a friend, a glow-in-the-dark LP copy of the endlessly entertaining Dad Country. So when you put all three of these already-accomplished alt.country/country/Americana artists together for a proper full-length (also called Western Movies), you are likely going to get something pretty special. And to my surprise, there is the added bonus of an absolutely stellar Christmas song on there – “Christmas Eve at Kroger.” I’ve been listening to this track for a few months now, and the first time my wife heard it – she began to tear up. I certainly wasn’t surprised; This song has a bunch of these little, deceptively-powerful moments. The lyrics are so simple and real, that they feel as though they could have come right out of your own mind. I was hooked upon hearing them name-check Cracklin’ Oat Bran and “watching Die Hard with my mom.” While I would not have watched Die Hard, I most certainly ate that cereal and snuggled with my mom as a kid on many, many occasions. Cracklin’ Oat Bran was that little indulgence that my mom would give herself back when my family was young, and I remember those days like it was yesterday. I may be a bit of a humbug at times, and I know I find interest in the bitterness of the holiday, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t also secretly (and sometimes openly) love Christmas – and you can tell these guys do too.

Bottom Line: The heart found in the lyrics compliment the warmth of the recording, as all three singer-songwriters trade off verses in this beautifully delicious song.

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