UPCOMING: The Minus 5 – Dear December (2017)

Yep Roc
Buy: Record Store Day (LP) | Amazon.fr (LP)?

The Minus 5 is essentially Scott McCaughey and his band of merry, quite famous and somewhat famous friends rocking out and taking names. I presently have his Down with Wilco on my shelf, which, you can imagine, features members of Wilco. My friend Ned just hipped me to the fact that Scott also likes to hang with friends… and record CHRISTMAS SONGS. Dear December features M. Ward, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service), Peter Buck (R.E.M. – duh), Mike Mills (ditto), Colin Meloy (Decemberists), Chuck Prophet, Tammy Ealom (Dressy Bessy), The Posies, Kelly Hogan (The Flat Five/Neko Case), Nora O’Connor (The Flat Five/solo badass) and more. That’s a rather impressive lineup, as most of the Minus 5 albums are… which obviously raises my expectations. The first single, “When Christmas Hurts You This Way,” does not disappoint. It is a downer with a Wilco AM vibe: “When the last one your remember / is the last one you deserve / you look back at all the mistakes you make / that somehow made much worse.” DARK! Love it! This is not a safe leadoff single, and that is what make this a great leadoff single. Hell, I love Nick Lowe, but I’d much rather listen to this than “Christmas in the Airport” – it is just so much darker and interesting to me! (No offense Yep Roc, you continually release Chatham County Line records, so you’ve got my love.) McCaughey can write a great song, and he obviously is respected enough by some stellar artists to lend their name to the project; Thus, if the rest of the songs are as good as this… well hot damn.

Dear December will be a Record Store Day release on vinyl, with an advent calendar-inspired gatefold sleeve on colored vinyl, limited to 1500 copies. It will also be released on December 1 on CD, as well as on your favorite digital retailers (7Digital??? Bandcamp??? They have FLACs!!!)

Bottom Line: Looks damn promising. Yep Roc – hook me up! I want it early! (In a curious twist of fate, most of the stuff I get sent is not Christmas-related at all… not gonna happen.)

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Minor Miracles - Christmas All Over Again

Minor Miracles “Christmas All Over Again” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (might come back) | Stream

Tom Petty’s death is a bigger blow to me than George Michael, Prince, David Bowie or any of the other legends that have passed in recent memory. I likely have listened to more Petty than all three of those legends combined over the years… not to take away from how much I loved them, just that Tom Petty was with me for a long time, and in heavy doses at different moments in my life. That said… I’ve never been the biggest fan of his modern (mini) classic, “Christmas All Over Again.” So, I began poking around for an interesting version, one that takes slightly different directions to get to the same place. Athens’ Minor Miracles have achieved this, covering Petty back in 2014 and releasing it on Bandcamp (presently gone) and Soundcloud. Normally a really upbeat song, lending itself to garage rock/lo-fi treatments, Minor Miracles have toned it down, added a drum machine, layered some lead vocals, sprinkled some synths, and made it their own. The chorus leadout with dueling keys is truly fantastic, and well worth the wait. I hope you dig it too.

Bottom Line: Minor Miracles dim the garage rock down to reveal a cool synth version of the Tom Petty classic. Of course… Stubby knew all about this back in 2014.

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Follies "Grave Matters"

Follies “Christmas Day” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Random strokes of luck, that is often what Soundcloud feels like to me. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE SOUNDCLOUD, and would be lost without it. But anyone who has ever done a keyword search knows my pain. Thankfully, every so often you strike silver and gold (Christmas pun!). Kate Siefker, also known as Follies, has fought her perfectionist tendencies and released a bunch of tracks that she was working on in 2013-14 under the title Grave Matters (2013-2014). Included amongst these beautifully layered tracks is, yes, a Christmas song! “Christmas Day” is a beautifully raw track, with ukulele, (maybe guitar too?), beats and handclaps circling each other for just over two minutes. It is certainly not your usual ukulele fare, so those expecting the expected… you may be pleasantly surprised.

Bottom Line: Short, raw and beautiful. Best of luck with your move Kate (if you see this.)

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Okay Kaya "Holiday Song"

Okay Kaya “Holiday Song” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

NJ->Norway->NYC singer/songwriter Okay Kaya (aka Kaya Wilkins) released this little gem on YouTube last season, and it was deservedly touted by my Christmas-music-blogger-in-arms Christmas-A-GoGo. Her voice is beautiful, yet with a mournful quality, and the message, while not your typical cheery Christmas romp, is most certainly relatable. My favorite line is, “I want to talk, I want to talk, I don’t want to talk, I want to talk loud and confidently.” There is something refreshing to the honesty found in the struggle embedded in the lyrics. I don’t think I’m far off-base to say that a quick glance at the central premise of this song might lead a listener to quickly dismiss it (as I think it would be terrible as either the pop-punk or twee song I imagined in my head), the line “All I want for Christmas is therapy,” threatens to be both trite and precious in equal parts, but Okay Kaya does a wonderful job to fully develop this song into a beautiful and complicated view of the other side of Christmas.

Bottom Line: Okay Kaya built upon a concept that I was almost reflexively suspicious of, and made me a believer.

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Grapes and Friends - Christmas Crush

The Grapes & Friends “Christmas Crush,” “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” and “I Wish it Would Snow in Austin” (2016/2015/2012)

Self Released
Buy: Amazon MP3 | Amazon.UK MP3 | Amazon.DE MP3 | Amazon.FR MP3iTunes

Here is something I had been meaning to write about since well before Christmas… but you know what? There is only so much time in the day, and you know… family, work, and all that other shit.  That, and Christmas A Go Go already covered it! Not that I don’t write about things that other folks do – I just feel less urgency about actually doing it. I think I just had a breakthrough! Thanks for listening guys and girls. I’ll see you all next week.

Oh yeah – review.

Grapes and Friends are an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of Dangeresque, The Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are like the Austin version of our friends the Sunturns, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. They combine to throw a Christmas party (have for eight years now) and it sounds like a fucking blast; I would love to go. This year they released the fantastic “Christmas Crush” as a teaser to get you to come to their holiday shindig, and what jam! I don’t know if I quite agree with C-a-Go-Go (Hall & Oates meets Ween), I find it to be equal parts Young Americans-Bowie and Midnight Vultures-Beck as the recipe for this cheeky holiday romp. The music is groovy, the lyrics are clever, the whole thing just makes me want to (Christmas) party.

They also released “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)? in 2015,” which is still a ton of fun, just a bit goofier. Smooth and silly, it is something that wouldn’t be out of place in a fireside seduction scene on Flight of the Concords. “Can I Come Home with you for Christmas / Can I get stoned with you for Christmas? / make you feel alright pretty baby, maybe.” Some fun shit indeed.

BUT WAIT, there is one more! The final track is “I Wish it Would Snow in Austin,” released in 2012 and accented with beautiful horns and lots of love. It reminds me of Yoko-era Beulah, which is a band I fucking love. (What’s with all the profanity today?) I truly dig this one too – battling with “Christmas Crush” for my favorite by these Grapes folks. Can’t wait for this year’s!! (fingers crossed)

Bottom Line: The Grapes and Friends are a welcome indie-Christmas supergroup that would be amazing on a double bill with their Norwegian counterparts… just imagine that one… what a party! Love this band!

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The Wild Raspberries

The Wild Raspberries “Together On Christmas Day” (2016) and “A Christmas Song” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

First off… big, big shout out to The Christmas Chaos Radio Show for hipping me to this fantastic new Dutch band, The Wild Raspberries. How they snuck past the Christmas music radar that I have eternally pointed at northern Europe, I have no clue. Their 2016 track, “Together on Christmas Day,” isn’t even their first seasonal rodeo; They are now two years into this seasonal tradition! And yes, I’m going to say tradition in the hopes that they will continue putting out these gorgeous songs. To describe these songs is to close your eyes and imagine what an amazing Mojave 3 Christmas album might sound like. I consider this a huge compliment, because I own every single Mojave 3 record, and to remind me of them… specifically the best moments of them… is huge. On both these tracks, the Wild Raspberries’ ethereal vocals and the ringing guitar lines lead to some beautiful fingerpicked lyrical imagery:

From Together on Christmas Day: “Cause it’s a long way home and I miss you / It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed you / but all the roads lead to be with you / so it’s all ok / we’ll be together on Christmas day.”

From A Christmas Song: “On Christmas day / I fell asleep next to the fire / In my dreams you called my name / You never changed / you held my hand and I believed you / when you said ‘all is ok'”

Each song has its own moment that made me sit up and marvel. There is the moment in “A Christmas Song” when Keez’s vocals join Hannah’s (goosebumps), and then there’s that initial guitar line that joins the opening synth in “Together on Christmas Day” (beautiful) – each solidifying these songs as essentials in my seasonal repertoire. Perhaps you will find your own, different moments… because there are many more to choose from. The Wild Raspberries are worth your time, and hopefully in the future, your money. You can support them by listening on Spotify as we all await whatever they have in store.

Bottom Line: The Wild Raspberries have created some spectacular Dutch dream folk Christmas tunes that you really need to listen to.

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Kristin Kontrol - Last Christmas

Kristin Kontrol “Last Christmas” (2013/2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Soundcloud | Download

I first came across this synth-heavy (not that the original wasn’t) version of “Last Christmas” via Kurt Feldman, the producer of this track and the driving force behind the equally synth-heavy Ice Choir. Of course, I grabbed it and filed it away. Jump-cut to this past week, as I began to get back in the swing of things, and I came across the Minneapolis-based blog WeHeartMusic (who also did the great graphic above), and their feature about this song (including a download!). Kristin Kontrol (AKA Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls) recorded this classic Wham! song back in 2013 as a sort of a b-side to the spectacular Dum Dum Girls’ “On Christmas.” At the time they weren’t allowed to release it, but after the death of George Michael, KK said:

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(Here is a twitter moment that I’ve created showing the progression of tweets – including the reference to “On Christmas” being proto-KK”)

Thus, we have this cool, very Kurt Feldman + Kristin Kontrol version of “Last Christmas.”The beats are slightly amped up throughout the song, and it gives a perfect pacing to a song that I sometimes find just a hair slow. My favorite part about this track comes in at around 3:20, when they bring in these subtle little bits of percussion; They sound like synth bongos or something of the sort. Spot on KK & KF.

Bottom Line: Truly a killer version of THE Christmas pop song of the 80s.

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Gotta go to Soundcloud for this. They won’t let me embed it!

 

Give Me Wallets "On this Christmas Night"

Give Me Wallets “On this Christmas Night” (2016)

Self Released?
Buy: Stream

I don’t normally do straight-up pop, but Tokyo’s Give Me Wallets have released this fantastic, groovy song and I thought it best to share it with you all. “On this Christmas Night” has a nostalgic feel, strictly based on the chord changes amongst the fluttering synths. The lyrics are a  bit tougher for me to pin down… “she wanna post some stuff now / that everyone can see freely / are you happy to receive as a gift / you were supposed to be fine / but the world’s not the same now / what can anyone do for you” There may be something lost in translation here… but what is not lost, is that I’m boogieing in my seat.

Bottom Line: I hope you enjoy this piece of Japanese Christmas candy.

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Faye and the Scrooges "It's Christmas Time"

Faye and the Scrooges “Time for Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I walk in from wassailing at our local pub, and find I’ve been tweeted at! Faye and the Scrooges have released their 2016 Christmas song in 2016! I usually get their song well into the next year, but to my delight, here it is! I believe this is the first time that they’ve tackled what I’d consider to be a dance track, as “Time for Christmas” is meant to move your fucking ass. There is the humor you expect from a F&TS Christmas song, which I absolutely love. Between the verses of cheeky holiday observations and frustrations, the chorus swings in with a full embrace of the season. It’s how many of us feel about the holiday – nothing is quite perfect, but you can still fucking love it. In closing, as Faye and the Scrooges say, “It’s Christmas time / lets all get wasted.” I certainly took a page from that book last night…

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges have my ass moving and grooving with this Christmas jam. Now, you might wonder why I’m swearing so much in this review… it’s to make up for the “Where the f***’s that f***in Sellotape?” that F&TS dropped. Hey Faye! Release a parental-advisory version too! I love a good ‘ol profane Christmas song!

EDIT: Look below! 2 versions, one with all the 4-letter words you could want!

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Daniel Woolhouse "Fairytale of New York" (2016)

Daniel Woolhouse “Fairytale of New York” (2016)

37 Adventures
Buy: Stream (for now)

The Line of Best Fit hipped me to this fantastic new cover of the holiday classic (well, in the UK), “Fairytale of New York.” Daniel Woolhouse, AKA Deptford Goth, begins this classic Pogues’ track with an ethereal a cappella intro, and eases it into a beautiful, electro-pop room. Daniel also makes some refreshing choices in where he adds weight to the lyrics; he accents words where you would not expect it. I truly appreciate that, by every metric, this is far from a straightforward cover. This includes Daniel’s choice to exclude that one, problematic part of the song. He doesn’t change the lyrics, as some do, he just doesn’t even walk down that street. I’m cool with that, and I’m loving this song.

Bottom Line: Finally, a fresh version of “Fairytale of New York” that I feel 100% fine adding to a mix, minus that particular shitty word.

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