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.

LISTEN

Advertisements
Street Joy

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

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?

LISTEN

The Heart Of - Winter Song

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

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.

LISTEN

the Christmas Cards

The Christmas Cards “Christmastime is Here” (2017)

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.

LISTEN

Grapes & Friends "Wishlist"

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

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.)

LISTEN

Pauline Andrès "Christmas in Paris, TN"

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

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.

LISTEN

The Wild Raspberries

The Wild Raspberries “Snow” (2017)

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.

LISTEN

Bjéar Christmas

Bjéar “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Things are getting weird around these parts. We’re all about to get nuked, and I’m sitting here writing the second post in threee days about an instrumental Christmas song. Adelaide, Australia’s Bjéar has a Soundcloud stream full of solid, RIYL Bon Iver/Sufjan Stevens indie folk/rock. I initially heard his excellent Sufjan-esque “Big Sky” and really loved it; I think it was one of those “Soundcloud chooses another song” situations. So I click through to the profile, and discover these two Christmas songs – “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” These are two songs that rarely make appearances on this, very secular Christmas blog. However, there is a quality to them that leads me to this moment. Bjéar’s arrangements are the obvious strength of these songs. “Joy to the World” has subtle variations on the melodies you’d expect, and yet it sounds fresh to my bitter ears. “Silent Night” is extremely simple – pretty much a solo piano effort for the first minute. Then, more colors enter, and it opens up. Neither track reinvents these classic songs, but Bjéar’s choices have a sensibility that indie rock fans such as myself will certainly appreciate.

Bottom Line: I find myself in uneasy, instrumental and religious Christmas song waters, but Bjéar helps me swim.

LISTEN

Rostam “Fairytale of New York” (2017)

Nonesuch
Buy: Stream 😦

Rostam (Rostam Batmanglij), the genius behind the production on those early Vampire Weekend records, put out a phenomenal album of his own this year, Half Light. Couple that with him being the main collaborator on the last two Hamilton Leithauser solo records (with equal billing on the last LP, the absolutely stellar I Had a Dream that You Were Mine), and you are pretty much looking at one of my favorite artists of the moment. That said, Rostam does not have a powerful voice, and I feared this song might just need a some more oomph behind it. I was most certainly wrong. The qualities of Rostam’s voice actually bring a new depth to the song. Rostam has a fragility to his delivery that makes this version unique from those I’ve heard before. The orchestration is beautiful, and has some slight variations to the norm, certainly not the re-imagination that was Daniel Woolhouse’s last year. However, there is a lovely part around 2:45 where the guitar lines lead into a what feels the most like a Rostam-like arrangement, which is lovely. Surprising and wonderful, this version just needs the ability to purchase/download/etc to make me one happy camper. (Thanks Larry for the tip!)

Bottom Line: My fears were unfounded – Rostam continues to impress.

LISTEN

 

Cold Fins "It's Christmas Time"

Cold Fins “It’s Christmas Time” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

London’s Cold Fins specialize in reverb/organ pop, and while they are short on social media presence, they are long on musical taste. The classic, yet contemporary feel of “It’s Christmas Time” takes some basic “it won’t be Christmas without you” tropes and dresses them up in some interesting, fashionably worn new clothes. Cold Fins feel like a kind of band that could play Christmas hits at your favorite bar, and you would suddenly look up from your drink and realize you are at the fucking hippest Christmas party ever. Their organ, the guitar licks, and the steady beat will keep your head bobbing and feet tapping for many seasons to come.

Bottom Line: Soundcloud feeds you a winner every so often, and thankfully tonight, they were serving Cold Fins.

LISTEN