Shadowlark “Christmas Time” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

You might think my Christmas music hunt is scientific – that I have specific terms and techniques that I use. In some ways, you are right. There is most definitely a place for an educated search. However, there is also a place for just clicking and clicking and clicking, going down the rabbit hole to see where it might lead. This time, it somehow lead me to somewhere familiar, and I discovered Shadowlark. The voice behind this band is Ellen Smith, previously of the much more folky Ellen and the Escapades. I would often check back in and see what they were up to, as I loved Ellen and the Escapades (they have been featured on CU before!). Yet somehow, time passed and I had completely missed this new project, the synth-heavy Shadowlark. To my surprise, they even released a Christmas song last year, “Christmas Time.” I listened… and it sounded quite familiar. The song is a rework of one of the final released recordings of Ellen and the Escapades, expanded from its stripped-back original with some more production and additional lyrics. There are qualities to both versions that I really love, and I would leave it to you to decide which one you prefer. They even released a video with an acoustic version, which is also quite good. Three versions to parse, to compare, to enjoy.

Bottom Line: I could listen to Ellen Smith sing Christmas songs all day long. Her originals are exquisite, and her covers are gorgeous. Should anyone ever come across her version of “Silent Night,” please do share.

LISTEN

Steven Branstrom “Christmas” (2011/2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I really should have posted this on November 1. Frankly, I’ve had this song in my pocket for YEARS. I meant to write about it way back in 2015. That’s at least when I sent Steven Branstrom a note on Soundcloud, in the hopes that he’d give me a bit more info beyond the 3 tracks on his account. (Of note… there is an additional account under the same name, with this song, that was posted way back in 2011!). Enough background, little information as it provided, let’s get into the song. “Christmas” may very well be the shortest song that I’ve ever featured, clocking in at only 40 seconds. BUT, it is a very nice 40 seconds, and with slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics coupled with a beautifully sincere delivery, transitioning us from Halloween to Christmas.

So let’s grab the spider webs and put away the skulls.
Clean up the fake blood that got splattered on the walls
Let’s put everything scary out of our sight
cause Santa’s coming baby in 54 nights.

Streaming-only… but there are ways, should you decide you need this little guy on your mix.

Bottom Line: And that’s it! Short and sweet!

Stuck in the Sound “Marry Me On Christmas Day” (2018)

Stuck in the Sound - Marry Me On Christmas Day

Self Released
Buy: Stream

French indie rock band Stuck in the Sound did an odd little thing back in January 2018… they released a Christmas single! “Marry Me on Christmas Day” throws me back to my college days listening to Travis’ The Invisible Band, as the vocals are quite pretty, and the lyrics equally sentimental. Nearly too sugary-sweet for my older, crustier ears, this understated song benefited from multiple listens, listens that reminded me of the pleasure a sweet song could bring.

Bottom Line: Hey, there is plenty of shit going on right now. Here is 3:30 of kindness to smooth out your wrinkles. Unfortunately, this track only exists on YouTube… but you know… there are ways to get it onto your mix, should you need to.

LISTEN

Lachlan Denton & Studio Magic “This Christmas” (2019)

Lachlan Denton & Studio Magic - This Christmas

Bobo Integral / Spunk Records / Osborne Again
Buy: Bandcamp

Melbourne’s Lachlan Denton, best known for his work in The Ocean Party, has written one of the most honest and heartbreaking Christmas songs that I’ve ever heard. “This Christmas” is written for Lachlan’s brother Zac, who passed away suddenly last year. This song is bourne out of grief, and while the words are Lachlan’s, the sentiment is everyone’s. That first Christmas without someone you hold dear… is a Christmas of sadness, but also simple memories that suddenly have so much more importance. This is a painful song, while being a truly beautiful one. Zac would be proud.

Bottom Line: Lachlan shares his grief with us, and we are blessed he did.

LISTEN

The Slow Sliders “Merry Christmas” (2017)

The Slow Sliders Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Youtube

The fine folks over at Jean Luc Tobine’s Official Fan Club hipped me to this amazing track about a year ago… but I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. It is just such a massive song. The Slow Sliders are this wonderful french 4-piece who decided to jam on a fantastic Beach House-esque shoegaze Christmas song (“Merry Christmas”) for a whole hour, thirty-six minutes and fifty-five seconds. I would say that you could use this one song for your entire mix, but being that I am a Christmas mixer still attached to physical media and its constraints… that would be too long! The gentle rhythm combined with a mesmerizing organ melody, this song becomes a Christmas lullaby interrupted only by bursts of soaring, fluttering vocals. What I would give to hear a proper, 4-5 minute version…

Bottom Line: The pure audaciousness of this song. I somehow love it. I have caught myself listening to this one song for over 40 minutes before, and I still liked it. I’m a little baffled myself.

LISTEN

Is this what a 4-minute version might sound like? 🙂

Chris Campisi Lifestyle Band “Wet Christmas” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Stream?

Brooklyn Vegan hipped me to this song about boozing it up at Christmas, and so I tip my hat to you BV. The Chris Campisi Lifestyle Band is fronted by freelance production designer Chris Campisi – who I can’t find anything beyond a very impressive LinkedIn page, and a Youtube account (which features only one other track, “Marijuana”). I mean, this guy does not seem to have a band to his name, with the exception of the band that has his name! Ha! Well, I know my readers all love some good ol’ drinking Christmas songs, and this one aims to be the biggest. The drinking is bigger (as he is now drinking for two without you), as is the guest list. Featured on this song is Adam Green (Moldy Peaches), Jared Van Fleet (ex-Beirut), Delicate Steve (who has his OWN Christmas album out now), and Michael Tapper (We Are Scientists), who is not only on this track, but also directed the video. There is nothing deep here – the premise floats to the top on tiny bubbles of carbonation: he is getting drunk because you are gone. Classic premise, a great rocking backing track, and a singalong chorus. Swish, 3-points.

Bottom Line: Now let’s just have a little fun and enjoy this song, ok? It’s just a damn good time.

LISTEN

Premiere: The Heathen and the Holy “It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It)” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp7Digital (soon) | iTunes | Amazon MP3Amazon.uk MP3Amazon.de MP3Amazon.fr MP3

The Heathen and the Holy, the seasonal project of classically-trained violinist Tom Hobden and musician/writer/producer Fred Abbott, who once recorded together in the much-missed folk/rock band Noah and the Whale, are back once again! The Heathen and the Holy are one of those Christmas treats that you hope for each year, as their songs always bring a bit of levity to what can become a very serious and earnest season. Not saying that these guys can’t be both serious and earnest, but there is always humor that helps take the edge off. So let this song be your snowy day, afternoon gin and tonic, and let’s premiere this great new Heathen and the Holy track together.

“It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It)” is about having to be apart for Christmas, and how that separation casts a pall over the entire holiday. Heavy! What was I just saying about levity? Well, no worries there – upbeat orchestration, along with Fred Abbott’s interjections keep you smiling through the pain. There are some truly fantastic parts; my favorite being when Tom and Fred begin trading lines toward the end of the song, culminating in a crescendo where they both sing “They take me back to Regent street to the Christmas lights tonightttttttt.” It is a theatrical moment, which if you have seen any of their previous videos, is no surprise. I love this band equally for their music, as well as for the brilliant videos that they have put together in the past. It is hard not to think of Tom and Fred, dressed in their holiday best with a drink in-hand… somehow still playing instrument… you know, because of the magic of Christmas. The Heathen and the Holy are truly the mulled wine of Christmas bands – a warm, cozy, delicious treat that somehow always seems to present itself at the exact right time. Cheers.

Bottom Line: The Heathen and the Holy have kept their Christmas flame burning bright with “It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It).”

LISTEN

Tom Rosenthal “The Only Time I’m Home” (2018)

Tinpot Records
Buy: iTunes | Google Play | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Wow. British singer/songwriter Tom Rosenthal has crafted an epic Christmas song, “The Only Time I’m Home,” and you should probably grab a set of headphones. From the haunting, fluttering synths, to the lines “You know the drill / mom buys you socks / so she loves you still. / you’re lying if you can say / your heart is not home / you’re trying to slide out of view / but Christmas is you.” Truly a beautiful song, one that will make many a mix I’d imagine. Enjoy.

Bottom Line: “The Only Time I’m Home” slowly builds into one of the most beautiful songs of the season.

LISTEN

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

lola Kirke

Downtown Records
Buy: 7Digital | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

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.

LISTEN

Quilt “Blue Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

“Blue Christmas” has never been a favorite of mine, so the source material is already (and unfortunately) placing this track on a slightly lower branch on my Christmas tree. However, there are some qualities to Quilt’s take on this ol’ chestnut that I’d like to chat about. Their casual country-psych rock approach does not reinvent the song, but the small touches they add, such as the woodsy, chirping noises, contrasted by the a buzzing synth melody that appears late in the track, keep things interesting. Brevity is also their friend, keeping the track just barely over two minutes – especially important with such a (IMHO) boring and overplayed song. Simply stated, this is a perfectly fine version of “Blue Christmas,” one that might fit the bill for those folks out there who don’t have such issues with the original.

Bottom Line: Quilt’s subtle choices are solid – imagine what they could do with a better song!

LISTEN