Anna Preston “California Eve” (2018/2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Stream

Written in 2018, but released in 2020, Seattle’s Anna Preston has crafted one of the most beautiful and intimate Christmas songs I’ve found this year (a year late!). The edges of her voice crack with emotion as she finds herself jealous that she wasn’t the first kiss, or standing next to the jukebox watching her love in the colored lights. The production is simple – Anna’s delicate voice over a strumming guitar – until the song opens up and backing vocals layer to lift the song gently up, swaying on its toes. The ending is a bit devastating, yet comforting, in that nostalgic way that we look back on lost love and share in the universal experience of it all… Truly excellent.

Of note, Anna also recorded a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which you can check out on her Soundcloud.

Bottom Line: Anna Preston’s perfectly-imperfect delivery is incredibly intimate and rewarding.

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Geese “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” (2020)

Self Released
Buy: Stream!

Everyone needs a layup here and there, and this faithful cover of Sufjan Stevens’ modern classic “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” affords me that luxury. Yes, the Irish folk band Geese’s approach is much more of a parallel line rather than a perpendicular explosion, but there are some subtleties that I very much enjoyed. Their keyboard atmospherics give the song an etherial feel, while the original trades in the warmth of an occasional piano. Their notes also tend to linger longer than the original, a shimmer to Sufjan’s soft crackle. These changes in approach haven’t changed the heart of the song – it still very feels like the song we all love, just a bit grander in scope.

Bottom Line: Another excellent cover of a great song. I swear I’m not getting lazy – just catching up on some deserving songs! Also, who the heck are Geese? I can ONLY find them on Soundcloud so far…

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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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Faye and the Scrooges “Christmas is Lit” (2019)

Faye and the Scrooges

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Faye and the Scrooges are one of those hidden gems that only our little community of weirdo Christmas music will ever know about. Why? Well, the band exists only in the context of these delicious, one-off Christmas singles, hopefully to be finished before the big day.  2019’s offering is classic Faye and the Scrooges, blending poppy melodies and profane language with equal parts of the bitterness and sugary sweetness found in the holiday season. I only wish I could have given them the last-minute PR bump “Christmas Is Lit” deserved… but alas, 2019 ended as a portent of things to come… with me quite sick and exhausted. Perhaps this little gem will help you claw your way out of the funk of 2020, as it has certainly helped me.

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges don’t come out to play every year, but when they do, you know the song will certainly make it onto your playlist.

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PREMIERE: The Grapes & Friends “Christmas in My Neighborhood” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Spotify

There are three Christmas events that are on the top of my bucket list: Lost Map Records’ Christmas Baubles, the party that Fowler VW throws every year celebrating their latest amazing Christmas compilation, and of course, The Grapes & Friends’ Annual Christmas Extravaganza! This Austin, Texas tradition is going into an 11th year this year – and if the party is anything like the energy that the Grapes & Friends infuse into their songs every year… it just must be the biggest party of the year.

Now, for the uninitiated, Grapes & Friends come together like Voltron every year, joining together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically Christmas supergroup. “Christmas in My Neighborhood” is the 6th original Christmas song from the Grapes & Friends. Staying true to their mantra of “making Christmas sexy,” the band finds themselves immersed in the genres of 90s boy band R&B and yacht rock-style production. The song is rich with layered harmonies, bells, synths, and more. There’s even a special treat at the end!

The lyrics are all about finding a sense of community and love in a place where you thought you were alone.

From Chris Galis, one of the lyricists: “One of the first times of the year you notice that its really Christmas season is when the lights go up on your street. That’s when you feel it. That’s what we wanted this song to vibe with.”

The Grapes & Friends will be hosting their 11th Annual Christmas Extravaganza in Austin, TX at the Hole in the Wall on Saturday, December 7th. Should you be in walking, driving, train, plane or teleportation distance, the details are below:

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/11th-annual-grapes-and-friends-tickets-81387160187
RSVP on FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/440203936621398/

Bottom Line: The Grapes & Friends can always be relied on to spice up your Christmas, and this one is going to certainly entice your taste buds.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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