The Ornaments “A Coca-Cola Classic Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

This Christmas band began as a reason for its two members, Mike Behrends and Lance Owens, to spend some time together. Their hang sessions have resulted in some of the most dark, poignant and interesting Christmas music I’ve ever encountered. Mike tipped me off that The Ornaments were indeed on track to release a song in 2020, which had me spinning with possibilities. In a normal year they’ve written about plane crashes… so what will an extremely fucked up waste of a year bring? Like all of the Ornaments songs, “A Coca​-​Cola Classic Christmas” paints a simple, yet vivid portrait from the fringes of the holiday. The song is a holiday card, written to someone the narrator would like to see, but hasn’t in a good number of years. Personally, this feels like an estranged parent, with lines like, “filled it with ornaments from your childhood Happy Meals,” hinting at the more-than-Facebook relationship they once had. That final entreaty is so simple and heartbreaking, “If this sounds nice, I’ll be in room 104 just left of the coke machine.” This short vignette of a holiday apart conveys so much awkward love in so few words, that I find it tough to decide whether the song is terribly sad, or oddly sweet. The Ornaments always leave me with questions… so I keep coming back.

The Ornaments have big plans for 2021, as we all do, and have plans for a 2-song 7-inch, so be sure to follow them on Bandcamp if you want a shot at that . I believe that first 7-inch only had about 8 copies or so pressed…

Bottom Line: The Ornaments are a rare treat, though perhaps an acquired taste. However, once you got it… you’re in it for the long haul.

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Oihana & Tamu “Una noche más” (2020)

El Nébula Recordings
Buy:
Bandcamp

I sit here a broken man. After weather reports promised 5-8 inches of snow, I gaze out upon our lawn and its slushy, icy mess, and a single tear ran down my cheek… only to freeze before it falls. Then, a DM comes in, announcing a new track by some of my favorite indiepop Christmas folks, and things begin to turn around. Following the triumph that was last year’s Christmas single, Oihana and Tamu return with “Una noche más ,” yet another shimmering Christmas present. The pulsing beat propels their dreamy vocals, as more synths swirl in to season this lullaby for the year that has passed. I was graciously provided an English translation of the lyrics, and they are simply gorgeous.

One more night the year’s over
And we, together, say goodbye
One more night you’ll come with me
Looking -both of us- for a little love

And the light will guide us to the manger, again
And the snow will cover the road as we walk
One more night One more night we’re peaceful
I see you shine in the dark
And the light will guide us to the manger, again
And the snow will cover the road as we walk
One more night.

Should you find yourself wanting even more Oihana and Tamu, and you will, there is much more to enjoy. Oihana leads the band Melenas, whose last fantastic LP, Días Raros (which I am listening to and fucking loving as I type this), came out in May on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind. You can look for Tamu’s band Exnovios, to have a new record in 2021, but in the meantime, you can rock out to their 2020 EP, Exnovious (Apache), which is also available as a 7″. So much good music to spend your Christmas money on…

Bottom Line: There are few bands I can rely on to send me absolutely anything, and I can be rest assured I will love it. Oihana & Tamu have officially joined this club, as they continue their streak of incredible indiepop/garage/dream pop Christmas tunes.

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Stephan & Johnny “Too Broke for Presents” (2016)

The Flowershop
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Santapalooza noted this release on twitter a week or so ago, noting that while it was from 2016, it was “new to us.” Indeed, it was new to us. I’m not sure it was on Bandcamp before, but I could easily be mistaken. What got me was the cover… It was terrible but fantastic. The band is composed of members of two Chicago punk bands, Stephan (Nervous Passenger) and Johnny (Rat Hammer). Their unholy alliance produced three songs – two covers and an original, “Too Broke for Presents.” The covers… let’s just pretend they don’t exist. They are fine, but they are songs that are so over-covered that need to be amazing to be even acknowledged. The original, “Too Broke for Presents,” is another story altogether. The sound is what you’d expect from these guys – it has attitude, humor and a chorus that demands crowd participation – shout out that shit! “Yeah, I’m to broke for presents and I’ve got nothing for you/ I’m too broke for presents and I hope that we’re still cool. / Cause I don’t have a job to buy you anything / but I hope we’re still cool / I totally think you rule.” Yesssss.

Bottom Line: Their energy is infectious, and in a pandemic year, let’s hope that this song is the only thing you catch.

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The BV’s “I Hope There’s No Snow” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Likely used to the challenges of socially-distanced recording, the BV’s hail from both Falmouth in Cornwall and Ausburg, Germany. This year, they found some time to scratch that itch – you know, the one when you want a little Joy Division mixed into your indiepop Christmas mix! I’m sure I should be able to think of a couple other touchstones, but man… really feeling that Joy Division sound, and it is just what I needed. Between the steady beat, those glimmering guitar lines, to those talk-singing lyrics of woe, this is the prettiest dirge I’ve heard this year.

Bottom Line: This downer is fucking fun!

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The Grapes & Friends “Next Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Stream | VIRTUAL PARTY RSVP

Our friends in Austin have been BUSY during this, the oddest of years. In years past, the Grapes and Friends have created a swanky jam to add to their already substantial Christmas repertoire, and to be performed at their annual Christmas Extravaganza! Of course, the usual extravaganzas are on hold this year, but that has not stopped this juicy crew from planning a big, virtual party! There will be singalongs, cocktails and shenanigans! Hell, I might even be able to finally tick one of those bucket-list Christmas parties off my list! This year’s song keeps in the recent Grapes’ style, mixing equal parts Beck’s Midnight Vultures, the Bee Gees and Prince. Move this song onto that playlist of hopeful, happy songs that have come out of this lockdown year. Next Christmas is going to be amazing, and the Grapes will be there to woo you with their falsetto seductions and slinky basslines.

The virtual party is tomorrow (DECEMBER 12), at 8 PM CST at grapesxmas.com/stream and RSVP on Facebook to be kept up-to-date!

Saturday, December 12th!!

• Live performances by the Grapes & Friends
• Updates on Boy Christmas’ journey to finally see The Grapes & Friends live in Austin
• Exclusive preview of Jack Frost’s latest thriller feature length film
• Special guest appearances by some of our celebrity friends
• Debut of this year’s Christmas Single music video
• Singalongs, audience participation and more!

Bottom Line: The Grapes and Friends are pure, uncut fun. That bridge is gonna get you off your damn ass, no doubt.

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Jeff Hulett “Know by Now” (2020)

Small Batch Records
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Memphis’ Jeff Hulett has popped up on one other excellent Christmas comp that I know of (Oh Holy Crap: A Very Makeshift Christmas – which I may feature at some point too… I mean, that Star and Micey song!), but it but his latest, the original “Know by Now,” that deserves a few inches of solo coverage. “Know by Now” is most certainly my favorite track off the new Small Batch Records’ Spiked Nog: A Small Batch Holiday Compilation. The laid-back stroll of this song paints such peaceful images, both lyrically and in the bits of musical color added to the rhythmic bed of the song. I just want to have a fire on, a great beer in my hand and have this on the radio. Hell, I kinda want the the radio to be just that little bit shitty, to create a bit more ambiance. Yeah…

While I’m not tackling the entire compilation (I am in the midst of Christmas mix production!), there are certainly a few more solid tracks on there. Pick up the whole thing and throw them a few bucks so they make another!

Bottom Line: Just a beautiful tune. There’s even a barking dog in it… oh doggo, you did great.

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Randolph’s Leap “Stay Away This Christmas” (2020)

Olive Grove Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

Randolph’s Leap had one of the highlights of last season with the EPIC “Christmas, Burn it All),” and they have returned with yet another addition to their already-stellar Christmas Album. “Stay Away This Christmas” is the #xmas2020 anthem we have all been waiting for – a gently aggressive message to just stay the fuck to ourselves and sit this one out to keep each other safe.

“Stay away this Christmas, I don’t want you coming near
Please maintain your distance cause you aren’t welcome here.
I’m sure we can cope without tradition for one year.
Stay away this Christmas, I don’t want you coming near.”

The song has Randolph’s Leap sounding their most dangerous – driving in the fast lane, passing cars and weaving in and out of traffic with these atypical garage-rock riffs. A great change of pace indeed, while still maintaining the melody and instrumental flourishes (that ending!) that you expect from this excellent Scottish indie pop/rock band. They really just nailed it for the second year in a row.

Of note – the track was simply tagged on to their already-excellent, and quite substantial Christmas album which they’ve been adding to for a number of years. In fact, it was a damn pleasant surprise to already own this song! So… if you don’t already, grab the record, and maybe you’ll also get something in your Randolph’s Leap stocking in the future – who knows?!

Bottom Line: Randolph’s Leap continues to impress with yet another perfectly-timed Christmas song. You all are spoiling us… (I can’t wait for next year! Pretty please!!)

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The Happy Somethings “It’s Christmas Time (We’re as Miserable as Sin)” (Blizzard Version) (2018/2019/2020)

Golden Believers Records
Buy: Bandcamp

My favorite track off of last year’s A Very Cherry Christmas 13 (still available!) has been re-released with a new “Bah Humbug Blizzard” version! The Happy Somethings‘ ode to being miserable on Christmas an odd delight. I absolutely love the groove in this song. Putting together your mix? Need a dance break with bleak lyrics? Let me sell you this song!

(How do you like my update job mess?)

Bottom Line: Indiepop misery at its finest! And it is free! And it is for charity!

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Chad Thomas Johnston – Let’s Have a Snowball Fight! / And On That Day (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

I would like to call out Chad Thomas Johnston for not releasing another epic, 30-song Christmas record this year. I mean, throw out a record that size once, and you just expect it again (hehe). Unlike 2018’s epic compilation of Christmas tunes, Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul, Chad has recorded a sweet two-track single, with the highlight being an indie rock Christmas original on the A-side. “Let’s Have a Snowball Fight!” is a wonderful song about, well, having snowball fights with his sister when he was a kid! I loved the ringing guitars, the reverb on the vocals and the the rolling baseline. The B-side, “And On That Day” is a Phil Keaggy cover, and religious in nature. Readers will know that this blog is pretty devoted to secular Christmas tunes, but even with my particular bias, the song is done very well. I especially took note of when he layered his vocals in the latter half of the track – it was a gorgeous finish. Overall, two super-solid tracks from a gifted purveyor of Christmas songs (now with 32 to his name!).

Bottom Line: Who knows if we’ll get snow this year, but if not, we can live vicariously through Chad Thomas Johnston.

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Crocodiles “Christmas in Hell” (2020)

Deaf Rock Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

YES! Reinvigorated!!! San Diego’s Crocodiles have brought me back from the Christmas-mix brink with their rip-roaring “Christmas in Hell.” Sickness! Unemployment! Fascists! Jerks! Christmas! This is that song I fucking needed to feel like my mix is going to happen this year. It has been years since the fantastic Dum Dum Girls’ collaboration, “Merry Christmas (Please Don’t Die),” and damn I wish they would show up to this party every year. I have too much listening to do for a very long review, but this thing is going to grab you immediately, so no need for the hard sell.

Bottom Line: “Bah bah bah bah… Christmas in Helllllll”

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