It is rare that a version of “Silent Night” will catch my attention. BUT THIS. This caught my attention. New Zealand indie/lofi artist Lucky Boy began by translating “Silent Night” into Te Reo Maori, which is interesting in itself, but then he goes and makes it SOUND AMAZING. The song builds until all this awesome shit jumps in with a distorted guitar solo bridge. You have to hear this song to believe it… it only gets better as it goes, which for a song I’m generally bored with, is somewhat astounding.
Bottom Line: THIS is how you put your stamp on a classic. Lucky Boy has demolished “Silent Night” and rebuilt it in spectacular fashion.
Something seems to go wrong every year, but somehow I have managed to make 15 of these things. Thanksgiving being so late this year pushed everything back, and I’m still catching up. This year’s mix is dominated by multiple tracks off the incredible Fowler VW / Blackwatch compilation (review STILL to come), as well as the Merge You Wish release, which really grew on me. I dipped back a few years to resurrect a long-lost The Films’ track, and took advantage of a couple great songs that came out late in last year’s cycle. The struggle was to keep this mix happy, as is often the case. If you read the blog, you’ll know I tend to skew toward the melancholy, so my wife has to run interference and keep me from sending out something that is going to be a total bummer. I believed I avoided that bummer pothole, and have created something that I certainly like, and perhaps you will too. Merry Christmas!
||Eastern Conference Champions
||It’s Christmas (What’s The Difference)
||Show Me Light And Love
||Mac McCaughan & Annie Hayden
||Down We Go (Sledding Song)
||Christmas in July
||The Christmas Light
||Signs & Wonders
||Virgin of the Birds
||Christmas in the Borough of Our Birth
||Won’t Be Alone Tonight
||Pedro The Lion
||Christmas is a Time for Dreaming
||Underneath the Mistletoe
||Lonely Man of Winter (feat. Melissa Mary Ahern)
||Christmas For Cowboys
||Paul Thomas Saunders
||Christmas, The Sequel
||The Classic Brown
||Christmas Time (Keep It Together)
||Merry Christmas on New Year’s Eve
||Christmas, Burn it All (Featuring the Olive Grove All-Stars)
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Sometimes, a groove is all I need. Cambridge indiepop band Death to Slow Music dropped a 2-song single over the weekend, and I am finding myself really moving to the b-side, “Like Christmas.” It’s later-Pavement-era indie rock, which is a time that still holds a soft spot in my music criticism heart. There isn’t too much to the lyrics, but in all fairness, they hatched this whole “Christmas song” idea about two weeks ago. The groove works, so I’m digging it. I’ll take an original with great music over a boring cover any day.
Bottom Line: Sometimes I just need that SOUND, and Death to Slow Music deliver it.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Philadelphia is one of those cities that I do my best to focus on when it comes to Christmas music hunting. The wealth of great bands that have come out of there in the past 10-15 years is damn impressive, with Dr. Dog, the War on Drugs and Kurt Vile being some of the headliners amongst a menagerie of other fantastic bands which I don’t have the time or space to fully account for (there are just too many). Gianmarco Cilli has been in the mix amongst many of these bands, both performing with and having them play on his own recordings since his first record, Homely Joys, came out in 2008. While he released a great new record back in September, The Feel is Now (LISTEN! BUY!), this IS a Christmas music site… so I was extremely pumped to see an e-mail from Bandcamp that Gianmarco has a CHRISTMAS song. “Christmas Right Here with You” has that throwback sound that is certain to make Christmas feel warm and cozy. I love the slide guitar accents that ring throughout the song and combined with perhaps my favorite bridge of the season, has put this song on repeat since it dropped last night. Rarely am I a guitar solo guy, but that was just perfection. I’m thinking you all are going to like this one.
Bottom Line: Gianmarco Cilli reps Philly with a fantastic song destined for your Christmas party playlist.
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3
Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play | Spotify
DIY Magazine hipped me to the excellent London duo San Scout, and this super-chilled out, current-era Bon Iver-esque Christmas song “Christmas Number One.” The song has a very emotional quality, from the slow, buzzing baseline to the line that the song was crafted around “I need to love myself but I don’t know how.” Depression certainly has a place in the holiday season and San Scout has done an excellent job capturing this without being overwhelming. Appropriately, San Scout has teamed with CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity that runs confidential suicide prevention services. Depression and suicide will touch us all, whether through ourselves, our friends and family, or through people we admire and feel like we know (Scott Hutchison would be one I often think of.). Talking can save lives – be there for someone this holiday season, even if they don’t seek you out first. Check in on your friends and family, as well as with yourself.
Bottom Line: A sonically and lyrically beautiful song with its complicated heart in the right place.
It is quite possible that Kristian Noel Pedersen has written more original Christmas songs than anyone, ever. (Well…. maybe Make Like Monkeys has given him a run for his money…) Kristian is headling into his 11th year producing a Christmas album of all originals, which should make bands who struggle to write one new Christmas song… feel a little inadequate. So why am I writing about Kristian recording a COVER song? Well, because when Kristian decides to record a cover, he goes big. To my knowledge, I can’t recall a full reimagining of an entire Christmas album until Kristian took on the challenge (I’m sure some of my fellow Christmas-music aficionados will correct me). His target? Hanson’s Snowed In, an album that I am not familiar with, despite my dedication to Christmas music. But that leaves me to ponder, what album should/would you need to cover to truly make this a worthwhile endeavor? You have to cover a record that is known because especially within Christmas music, there are only a few that maintain catalog sales (and this one is one of them). Then, you also have to choose an album with originals, otherwise, it is as if you are just covering a sequence of tracks, rather than a specific artist’s album. So, I really think Kristian made a great choice targeting the Hanson LP. The first two singles are up, but the original is where the interest truly lies. “Everybody Knows the Claus” does NOT sound like Hanson. I’m going to have to agree with Kristian in his correspondence with me, his version has turned the song into a “weirdly fucked punk thing.” With dramatic vocals and a driving, fuzzy bassline, I can’t imagine Hanson ever sounding like this. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the rest of this record sounds like and I will not forget the donuts.
Yet another album to look forward to, A Kristian Kinda Christmas XI is coming to an internet near you in the next few weeks. Luckily you have a new Hanson LP and TEN previous records to tide you over. Tune in and listen as Kristian adds to his likely world-record worthy Christmas music legacy.
Bottom Line: Kristian’s Christmas-music ambition is boundless and inspiring. I love this effort, which only looks even more impressive with every new boring cover of “Blue Christmas.”
Olive Grove Records
Scottish! Horns! Politics! Beloved musicians! Randolph’s Leap and the Olive Grove All-Stars have checked off every single required box for me to love them. “Christmas, Burn it All” is a cathartic release of frustration with a big chorus. “It’s Christmas time and all your heroes are dead / So love yourself, your family and friends tonight instead / It’s Christmas time and all your dreams are gone / But Santa’s on his way to bring a new and hopeful dawn.” EPIC! You think this thing is going to be bleak, and only bleak when you hear that first line – but then bam! – there is Love. In two short lines, your perception of what this song is going to be is flipped. I haven’t even gotten to the part that truly hooked me. The verse with Daniel Johnston was just so damn touching, I continue to be destroyed by it. “It’s Christmas time and all your heroes are dead / The ghost of Daniel Johnston came and hovered by my bed / We talked about some random things then finally he said / Merry Christmas and True Love Will Find You In The End.” That verse made this song undeniable. AND THEN CAME THE ENDING. Horns ring out with “Burn it all, throw it all in the fire / It’s Christmas day / a new age is on the way!” To finish with an explosion is pretty much the best way to go.
Bottom Line: This song is the first EPIC Christmas song of 2019, and perhaps the last and greatest one of the decade.
Fisher And Porcupine
The other half of my favorite (title) song off of Chris Farren’s brilliant Like a Gift from God or Whatever,” Jenny Owen Youngs has a Christmas song of her own this year. “Maybe Next Year” is one of those Christmas songs drenched in emotion. There is no rocking around the Christmas tree, this song makes you FEEEEEEELLLL. The best way I can describe it is that I feel the same way listening to Elliott Smith. Some of those early songs are heartbreaking, but because you feel it so deeply, you feel more alive. So, live a little and check out this song.
Bottom Line: Sad songs are the best, and scientifically proven to make you feel better.
Buy: Bandcamp (FREE!)
Hot tip. Just follow a bunch of folks from Oklahoma City, and you’ll find some great Christmas music. The latest, courtesy of Beau Jennings’ (who has his own great xmas record) twitter account, is Chase Kirby’s “Angels in the Snow.” There is so much going for this song: Chase’s voice has an authentic quality (which makes all the difference in folk music), and his songwriting is damn clever. “The little drummer boy is clocking out at six / he’s got to make it in time to pick up his kid / oh the wise men have been stuck in traffic for days / it would be nice if they saw a star on the way.” You are just going to have to listen to it, because I’m busy trying to finish my mix today. Hell, I’m 100% positive that this is going to end up on someone’s mix, because it is most certainly mix-worthy.
Bottom Line: Oklahoma City, with Beau Jennings, Chase Kirby and the Fowler/Blackwatch Christmas comp (FULL REVIEW COMING SOON) is the epicenter of excellent Christmas music. There is no rival this year.
Manchester’s Young War is three-for-three so far, yet to miss. Tweeting out this morning with the kind of cover that I can seriously get behind, one that sounds nearly nothing like the original. In fact, it sounds so much like a Young War song, that I swear the intros to 2014’s brilliant “I Won’t Come Back for Christmas (I’m Serious),” (GO BUY THAT SONG NOW) and this Ramones cover are damn-near cousins. I’ve heard slowed down versions of this song, ones that attempt to chill-out one of Christmas’ rock classics, and they sometimes go way too dark. Not only has Young War not gone dark, but dammit if this isn’t the sweetest version of this song I’ve heard – from production to delivery, this song feels turned on its head, which is exactly where a Christmas cover should be.
Bottom Line: Make Christmas your own, like Young War does with this fantastic version of The Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”