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.

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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!

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Roders “Julen 92” (2014/2017)

roders - Julen 92

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Readers into Swedish indiepop are likely familiar with the underground indiepop legend Nixon. However, those only familiar with Pitchfork-famous indiepop likely don’t, but you may know Sally Shapiro’s “Anorak Christmas,” the main single off their excellent Disco Romance. Well… that is a Nixon cover. Nixon has been around since the 90s, when Roger Gunnarsson set up his home recording studio, and is largely considered Roger’s first major musical project. However… one band predates Nixon, Roders, though it does not get mentioned in Roger’s Swedish-language Wikipedia entry. Roger and his cousin Anders Nilsson started Roders back in 1982 when they were eight, and it also appears to be the only Roger Gunnarsson project that is presently active (despite any Nixon releases you might see coming out of the Nixon Archives). Roger recently (well, this has been a draft for a while, so not quite so recently) released this lovely, Swedish-language indiepop tune on his Nixon Archives Soundcloud feed, and while the production is more traditional pop than the lo-fi indiepop I expect from a Nixon track, the qualities of the vocals maintain the indiepop roots. Snippets of the video that inspired the song combine with a wistful melody, as this song beautifully invokes the Christmas of these two eighteen-year-olds, celebrating a Christmas on the border of childhood and adulthood. This is just the tip of the Nixon/Roders/Garlands/etc Christmas iceburg… so feel free to dig into the feed, or just wait for me to stumble through my reviews.

Bottom Line: Roger Gunnarsson has a long history if quality indiepop Christmas tunes, and the sweet “Julen 92” is a welcome addition.

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Olympians “Leaving You at Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have been thinking a good bit about what my 2018 Christmas mix might be like. Last year, I gave myself a bit more room to use profanity and politics, saying that it would be an every-so-few-years loosening of standards. I’m a father of a young kid, a lot of my friends have young kids, and I like the idea of being able to listen to the mix around them. However, I am quite undecided as to the tone of this year’s mix. I suppose everything will be decided in November, as to whether this mix will follow the darkest timeline, or will show shreds of hope. That said, should I consider the darker timeline, this track from Norwich->London’s Olympians could fit nicely. Recorded a few years prior to release, they remembered they had this Christmas song and dropped it back in 2014 – completely overlooking the fact that they could have let someone (ahem) know about it! I love a good song about drinking and watching TV on Christmas – and this one has both in spades. The song’s narrator is sitting there, in his girlfriend/boyfriend’s folks house, having a terrible time, drinking to pass the time while he wishes to go home and watch TV. Stuck there for a week, he begins to ponder leaving… only to decide in a crescendo of Weezer (when they were good) wall-of-sound that indeed he will. Any readers of this blog know we love the dark stuff as much as the light, and this one is a solid, deep gray.

Bottom Line: I’d love to see if the Olympians could dig up another Christmas song, because this indie-rock downer is damn solid.

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Street Joy “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” (2017)

Street Joy

Self Released
Buy: Stream

“Two jews can still appreciate a good Christmas jingle.” LA’s Street Joy are indeed this – two jewish dudes who just released a fantastic cover of “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?.” In my brief research, this track doesn’t appear to be covered very often, and thus this may be your first experience hearing the song (unless you watch Narcos). The original was sung by a 12-year-old Augie Rios, backed by the Mark Jeffrey Orchestra, and actually sounds better than you’d imagine a child singing a novelty song might. In their version, Street Joy keep some basic melodies, but the dance beat, the synthesizers, and the fuzzy bass line completely transform this song; they have managed to perfectly modernize this novelty song from 1958, and make the song cooler than I ever thought it could be.

Bottom Line: Who knew “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” could sound this awesome?

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Premiere: The Heart Of “Winter Song” (2017)

The Heart Of - Winter Song

Brooklyn Basement Records
Buy:Stream on Spotify (Release Date Sat. Dec. 23)

Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song” is slowly becoming a modern classic, as more and more high-profile artists have begun to cover it in recent years. The song has a signature emotional quality that has landed frequent appearance in television and movies as well, further entrenching it in our consciousness. NYC’s The Heart Of is the latest to tackle the song, as he found kinship with the emotional core of the song:

“For lots of people, the winter can be a difficult time to face alone, calling into question whether love is waiting for them at all, hiding in the cold. I identified with those sentiments and felt moved by their manifestations in my own life. Not everyone is rocking around the Christmas tree, and I thought it was nice that there’s a song for those people who aren’t. Of course, the arrangement and performance in the original is really beautiful, so I just tried to do it justice.”

The Heart Of certainly does the song justice, and IMHO, improves upon it. The subtle changes in instrumentation, the addition of banjo as a featured instrument, as well as further developing the percussive possibilities of the song wonderfully fleshes out what is a generally sparse, piano-centric original. These choices highlight the excellent taste level of The Heart Of, and their ability to create a modern, interesting approach to a burgeoning classic bodes well for spring 2018, when we’ll get to check out their debut EP.

Bottom Line: The Heart Of find a subtle, new approach that breathes new possibilities into an increasingly high-profile modern classic.

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The Christmas Cards “Christmastime is Here” (2017)

the Christmas Cards

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

To what do my indiepop ears hear shuffling through my Soundcloud feed? Could that be a band formed by the members of “indie-pop darlings The Postcards and lo-fi teenage sensations Father?” Why by golly, it is! The Christmas Cards combined these two bands for a South London, basement recording session this past November and ran through 14 indiepop Christmas tunes! For those who love raw indiepop, this will be right up your alley. Being that it is a Saturday, and I have 3 different birthday/Hanukkah/Christmas parties to go to, I’m only going to single out one, “Christmastime is Here.” The Christmas Cards do it well – speeding up this classic in a jovial indiepop fashion.  It really was the handclaps that got me over the hump on this one being the track to highlight, as I then noticed that I was sincerely grooving and tapping my foot to their lovely cover. Of note, there are some solid, real deep cut covers in there too – but I think they’ll require multiple listens to really get into… so perhaps in a future post or two!

Bottom Line: A truly enjoyable cover for you indiepoppers out there! Check out the other tracks too if you like – some are great, others are good, and only one or two I wouldn’t press play on again (but Little Drummer Boy is pretty much my least favorite song ever). I threw all of them in a playlist below, for your perusing pleasure.

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Premiere: The Grapes & Friends “Wishlist” (2017)

Grapes & Friends "Wishlist"

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Let me quickly introduce you to the Grapes and Friends, as there is the slight possibility that some of you have not been reading my blog all year. (FYI, I write about Christmas music all year… because I have problems, obviously).   an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. TOMORROW NIGHT (Dec. 9) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Wishlist” is exploding with cheeky funk, that special kind that will both get your ass moving and put a big smile on your face. When they bust this out at their xmas party – shit is going down. The song pairs perfectly with last year’s “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” tickling those Midnight Vultures-era-Beck feelings of carefree youth. And those vocals…  that delivery suggests something naughty is going down, and you know what? It just might. The day is just beginning… the possibilities are endless, and this is your holiday soundtrack.

Bottom Line: Slam your beer and start jumping around… or start evaluating whether you have any life left inside you – you choose. (Shit got deep there for a second.)

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Pauline Andrès “Christmas from Paris, TN” (2017)

Pauline Andrès "Christmas in Paris, TN"

Self Released
Buy: Stream | Bandcamp

Originally “born in France a coal miner’s daughter,” then a Berlin-based country artist, Pauline Andrès has found a new home in Nashville to record her latest album, due in 2018. In the meantime, she has recorded this excellent new Christmas tune, “Christmas in Paris, TN.” The song begins as a intriguing title, and quickly expands into a melancholy, country-rock standout of this Christmas season. One would think that a track about Christmas in Paris would be a song of beauty, lights and romance – but add that Tennessee onto the end and you’ve got a wholly different scene. This song is about being extremely lonely on Christmas, where every reminder of Christmas makes it worse. So, she writes her family a postcard, “Alone for Christmas, Alone in Paris.” It takes a round or two of that line before she adds “Tennessee,” and that delay is so clever and effective – just wonderfully crafted. Her voice shares qualities with Lucinda Williams, and as with Lucinda, the rough edges compliment the lyrics beautifully. The production is wonderful, and the addition of country organ is the icing on the cake. I’m sure this song will find a place on someone’s mix out there, no doubt.

Bottom Line: Pauline has a very dark approach toward Christmas songs (check out her 2015, A Happy Christmas Song EP), and with “Christmas in Paris, TN,” she’s delivered her strongest song yet. Beautifully crafted, on all fronts.

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The Wild Raspberries “Snow” (2017)

The Wild Raspberries

Self Released
Buy: iTunes!

The Wild Raspberries, who already put out two absolutely beautiful Christmas songs the past two season, are back once more. Continuing what is already an incredible day of releases, “Snow” is the leadoff single to a mini-Christmas album, Be Merry Be Bright, slated to be released next week. So, consider this to the first of two December 2017 posts about the Wild Raspberries, because you’re gonna hear about them again. With “Snow,” the Wild Raspberries pull out the big guns, a beautiful overlay of Keez and Hannah’s vocals throughout the entire song. In their earlier single, “A Christmas Song,” the meeting of their voices was the part that just destroyed me. Now, it is as they decided to just give me the straight dope, from start to finish. With “Snow”, the Wild Raspberries maintain their gorgeous melodies, floating vocals, and taste level that can only be described as impeccable. I cannot wait for next week to see what else is in store – even if it is just a proper download of all three (known) season tracks, I’m pumped.

EDIT: 5 tracks! Looks to be four originals and one cover! WAHOO! Link above!

Bottom Line: The Wild Raspberries are the dessert on what has become the best day for Christmas tunes (and poetic justice) so far this year.

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