Rusty Spork – Christmas Down Home (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Gainesville’s Rusty Spork has created this DIY folk Christmas EP that, in its simplicity and its subtle phrasing choices has made some very trite songs (Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) sound fresh and easy. The recordings are intimate, letting you hear the setup and the fuck-up, and it helps to draw you in, to maybe pull up a chair. A cover of the Jason Mraz & Justin Bieber mashup, “Mistletoe (I’m Yours),” is far less cloying than the saccharine sweet originals, rounding out a record that might not knock your socks off, but might certainly cause you to put on your most comfortable pair.

Bottom Line: There aren’t many ornaments on this tree, but it makes the room feel pretty damn cozy.

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Porlolo “Christmas in Hollis” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

WHAT THE WHAT? I’m amazed that I’ve never quite encountered an approach to Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” like this before! Denver’s Porlolo have scored a SOLID Christmas hit, with this saxophone-heavy rendition of the classic tune. I am so DOWN with that wind section! They do such a great job with it, that what might have been a joke song ends up feeling perfectly inevitable. Of course this song works as a strolling indie folk song… how could I have ever doubted it? Love love love.

Bottom Line: This song might just be the most unexpected delight of the season.

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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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Lost Map Christmas Card Compilation (2020)

Lost Map Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

Ever since I first discovered Kid Canaveral about five years ago, Lost Map has been a label that I continue to obsess over. I covet their Visitations series, as well as nearly every release they put out – they just have excellent taste in music (and their graphic design is phenomenal too – RESPECT!) and I wish I had all the money in the world to buy everything and then pay the shipping to the States. International shipping is just a killer, and keeps on record blocking me… I shake my fist at you shipping costs! Thankfully their postcards do not cost as much to ship, as I have partaken in a limited-edition Pictish Trail Christmas postcard in the past. That is a deep cut that I relished putting on last year’s Christmas mix. This year was even better, with a full Christmas compilation postcard from our Scottish friends! So, you buy the postcard (or simply, the digital download) and you get nine tracks from Lost Map bands. First off, you may notice the similarity between three tracks, all with the same title, “I Remember Xmas.” This song may even SOUND familiar to longtime readers of the blog, as I covered it back during the song’s first incarnation, as performed by Marble Gods. Marble Gods soon became Happy Spendy, and Happy Spendy’s woodwind wing, Happy Clarinetty, grabbed the song as well. Thus the compilation features THREE versions of the same great song! I’m totally OK with this, as obviously, I’m a fan of the song. The Happy Clarinetty is, as you might imagine, the most sonically distinct of the three, and a welcome addition.

A.R. Pinewood features quite heavily on this release with three songs on the record… and while I would like to give you some background on him as well, I’m just going to defer to the press release:

A.R. Pinewood is the heartbroken cyber-cowboy you’ve been dreaming of. Fully loaded with a baseline encyclopaedia of American musical influences from Abner Jay to Woody Guthrie and Buckweat Zydeco, built with a harmonica for an oesophagus, a pitch-perfect auto-tuned voice, double-denim as standard and a strangely human heart, this machine writes classics, every time.

This cyber-cowboy indeed does write classics, every time, as my favorite track off an already fantastic record is the beautiful “Tis the Season.” The pitch modification on A.R.’s tracks is initially sonically curious, but I quickly settled in to the lyrics: “Tis the season for lovesick fools.” That is one incredible line. A.R.’s cover of “Silent Night” is solid, with his vocal tweaks being the most interesting aspect of the performance until his lonely guitar is joined by a heavenly host of additional voices and instrumental colors. The song most certainly gets better as it progresses, just as a song should – especially one you already know so well. A.R.’s final contribution is the groovy “This Year,” with its’ big, singalong chorus, it is most certainly a crowd-pleaser. Three great tracks, but what more can you expect – he was programmed to do this!

Friends of the Guinness jump in the mix with two tracks, and you might be asking – who the heck are these people? I googled ’em and came up with NOTHING. Well, they are a new supergroup! Martha Ffion and Eimear from Happy Spendy, accompanied by Romeo Taylor, Craig and Beth from Savage Mansion and Ryan from Catholic Action have joined forces for this Google-challenged band, and these two tracks are their first releases. This band really knows their way around a chorus, which is that most addictive of musical drugs. “Ciara” is a snowy tale of lost love with a catchy chorus that almost tricks you into thinking you’re singing a happy song. “Town for Tomorrow” begins with this classic sound, but the keyboard melody snaps the song out of the past. I found the song is best experienced loud, so when those big chords of the chorus hit, they overwhelm. What a fantastic introduction to this new band, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Last, but certainly not least, London’s Fell has created this incredible dayglow indiepop Christmas song that is bound to move your ass. This song shimmers, but the music doesn’t overwhelm the lyrics, which include some incredible lines like “You know you’ve only come to get drunk on a memory.” Incredible from top to bottom, start to finish, Fell’s “Fear of Christmas” is indiepop perfection.

Lost Map has nailed it. Pick up 2 postcards and send them to a friend, and even better… subscribe to the Postmap Club!

Bottom Line: Rarely do I tackle an entire compilation, but this one was too good to pass up.

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Jeff Hulett “Know by Now” (2020)

Small Batch Records
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Memphis’ Jeff Hulett has popped up on one other excellent Christmas comp that I know of (Oh Holy Crap: A Very Makeshift Christmas – which I may feature at some point too… I mean, that Star and Micey song!), but it but his latest, the original “Know by Now,” that deserves a few inches of solo coverage. “Know by Now” is most certainly my favorite track off the new Small Batch Records’ Spiked Nog: A Small Batch Holiday Compilation. The laid-back stroll of this song paints such peaceful images, both lyrically and in the bits of musical color added to the rhythmic bed of the song. I just want to have a fire on, a great beer in my hand and have this on the radio. Hell, I kinda want the the radio to be just that little bit shitty, to create a bit more ambiance. Yeah…

While I’m not tackling the entire compilation (I am in the midst of Christmas mix production!), there are certainly a few more solid tracks on there. Pick up the whole thing and throw them a few bucks so they make another!

Bottom Line: Just a beautiful tune. There’s even a barking dog in it… oh doggo, you did great.

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Christmas Mix 2020: Christmas Storytelling

So here we are. This year is nearly over. The unwarranted feeling of relief is taking over, despite what that lies before us. So, as I listen to this Billy Bragg record that hasn’t left my changer for years and very much not a Christmas album, I release this sixteenth Christmas mix into the world. This could have been an extremely dark Christmas. We could be staring down record-setting pandemic infections AND four more years of him. Last night I was imagining the songs that folks have written, perhaps even recorded, that will now go unheard because the feeling is just different now. Those who read my blog will not be surprised by many of the choices, as I show my cards all season long. There are some weird ones, some ridiculously beautiful ones, some older ones that needed the right home, and a finale that should be a radio hit if people listened to the radio like they used to. The only connective thread is that every song is a song I truly love. Perhaps you’ll find you do too.

Honestly, I’m just so relieved that it is a rather happy mix… something that I couldn’t even imagine earlier in the year.

1.Randolph’s LeapStay Away This Christmas
2.SleepwalkersChristmas Morning
3.CrocodilesChristmas in Hell
4.JW FrancisChristmas Heartache
5.King Gizzard and the Shitpost WizardChristmas Lights
6.Swampmeat Family BandA Present for Me
7.A.R. PinewoodTis the Season
8.Andrew BirdAndalucia
9.Grace EdenHold You
10.MeikoThis Year Can Kiss My Ass
11.GirlhouseUgly Xmas Sweater Party
12.HanemoonChristmas Time Goes By
13.Night FlowersSnowfall
14.Jacklen RoC U Christmas Day
15.Christmas AguileraWhy Can’t I Go To Sleep?
16.Rachael Dadd (with Rozi Plain and Kate Stables)We Built Our Houses Well
17.Purple MountainsSnow Falling in Manhattan
18.Willie J. HealeyMerry Christmas
19.Thom StoneMerry Christmas (What a Hell of a Year)
20.SaintsenecaWinter Breaking
21.The Martial ArtsSnow Flakes
22.Charlie’s Hand MovementsSnow Globe
23.Polish ClubCountdown

Randolph’s Leap “Stay Away This Christmas” (2020)

Olive Grove Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

Randolph’s Leap had one of the highlights of last season with the EPIC “Christmas, Burn it All),” and they have returned with yet another addition to their already-stellar Christmas Album. “Stay Away This Christmas” is the #xmas2020 anthem we have all been waiting for – a gently aggressive message to just stay the fuck to ourselves and sit this one out to keep each other safe.

“Stay away this Christmas, I don’t want you coming near
Please maintain your distance cause you aren’t welcome here.
I’m sure we can cope without tradition for one year.
Stay away this Christmas, I don’t want you coming near.”

The song has Randolph’s Leap sounding their most dangerous – driving in the fast lane, passing cars and weaving in and out of traffic with these atypical garage-rock riffs. A great change of pace indeed, while still maintaining the melody and instrumental flourishes (that ending!) that you expect from this excellent Scottish indie pop/rock band. They really just nailed it for the second year in a row.

Of note – the track was simply tagged on to their already-excellent, and quite substantial Christmas album which they’ve been adding to for a number of years. In fact, it was a damn pleasant surprise to already own this song! So… if you don’t already, grab the record, and maybe you’ll also get something in your Randolph’s Leap stocking in the future – who knows?!

Bottom Line: Randolph’s Leap continues to impress with yet another perfectly-timed Christmas song. You all are spoiling us… (I can’t wait for next year! Pretty please!!)

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The Happy Somethings “It’s Christmas Time (We’re as Miserable as Sin)” (Blizzard Version) (2018/2019/2020)

Golden Believers Records
Buy: Bandcamp

My favorite track off of last year’s A Very Cherry Christmas 13 (still available!) has been re-released with a new “Bah Humbug Blizzard” version! The Happy Somethings‘ ode to being miserable on Christmas an odd delight. I absolutely love the groove in this song. Putting together your mix? Need a dance break with bleak lyrics? Let me sell you this song!

(How do you like my update job mess?)

Bottom Line: Indiepop misery at its finest! And it is free! And it is for charity!

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Chad Thomas Johnston – Let’s Have a Snowball Fight! / And On That Day (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

I would like to call out Chad Thomas Johnston for not releasing another epic, 30-song Christmas record this year. I mean, throw out a record that size once, and you just expect it again (hehe). Unlike 2018’s epic compilation of Christmas tunes, Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul, Chad has recorded a sweet two-track single, with the highlight being an indie rock Christmas original on the A-side. “Let’s Have a Snowball Fight!” is a wonderful song about, well, having snowball fights with his sister when he was a kid! I loved the ringing guitars, the reverb on the vocals and the the rolling baseline. The B-side, “And On That Day” is a Phil Keaggy cover, and religious in nature. Readers will know that this blog is pretty devoted to secular Christmas tunes, but even with my particular bias, the song is done very well. I especially took note of when he layered his vocals in the latter half of the track – it was a gorgeous finish. Overall, two super-solid tracks from a gifted purveyor of Christmas songs (now with 32 to his name!).

Bottom Line: Who knows if we’ll get snow this year, but if not, we can live vicariously through Chad Thomas Johnston.

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Sugar World – A Sugar Christmas (2020)

Sunday Records
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

I swear I listen to stuff that isn’t indiepop or the Captain Underpants soundtrack (I swear it is my son), but when there is great indiepop, I always pay attention. San Diego’s Sugar World has dropped a 4-song EP of covers, and I’m thoroughly digging it. From the fuzzed-out cover of Low’s “Just Like Christmas,” to the synthy, understated cover of Nixon’s “Anorak Christmas,” to the glitchy clipping on “Blue Christmas,” and the static on the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling,” the band tweaks each song enough to make them interesting and fresh. Solid!

Bottom Line: Even more excellent indiepop for those who like that DIY alt-Christmas sound.

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