Big Beard Christmas

Natalie Prass “White Christmas” (2008)

Big Beard Christmas
Buy: Stream

Natalie Prass has gotten a ton of press lately for self-titled debut record, getting Pitchfork’s much-hyped “Best New Music” label, amongst other praise. Before the all the hubub, Natalie was a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, and one who did not appear to shy away from Christmas tunes. Digging around on the corpse of MySpace, you can find tunes from a live, holiday show from 2008, Big Beard Christmas. There are six tracks there, and they are all pretty good, but the one I’m obviously singling-out is Natalie’s wonderful cover of “White Christmas.” Natalie takes this classic, and makes it her own. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed “White Christmas” this much in years.

Also of note from 2008, Natalie laid down “No Better Time,” a proper, original studio Christmas track on Holiday Noise Vol. 3. Its a nice, jazzy song Stubby wrote about back in 2010, when it was released on the always-interesting Indiecater Records compilation. While I do like it, and certainly prefer originals, I wish Natalie’s vocals weren’t so far in front of the music. It bothers me enough that I can’t fully commit to the song.

Bottom Line: This is “White Christmas” done right. I could see this all over 2015’s mixes… if it hadn’t already found its way to you earlier. Since its from the wasteland that is MySpace, and from way back in 2008… I’ve taken the liberty of adding it to Soundcloud for everyone’s listening ease. Enjoy. 5/5

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VA - Christmas Party - Computer Perfection and Friends (2008)

Computer Perfection and Friends – Christmas Party (2008)

Romantic Air Recording Company
Buy: A Gift from Me (and Computer Perfection), to You

Many moons ago, a group named Computer Perfection was born from the ashes of Pas/Cal and released a Christmas record, Christmas Party. The indiepop world rejoiced, for the Christmas-loving band of Detroit musicians had not lost the urge to make delicious, loving, interesting Christmas music. This record disappeared from the internet, to the dismay of myself, and any other self-respecting, indie Christmas music fan. But alas… it has returned!

Lets run through my favorites…

The leadoff track, “Winter Las” by the 1900s is a wonderful piece of indiepop. There is something about good songwriting and tasteful production that can shield a good song from the ravages of time – this song is as wonderful today as it was when I first heard it. “Try to find forgiveness in your heart.” Beautiful.

The second track is the first by our hosts, Computer Perfection, and my personal favorite of theirs. This cover of the Marvin Gaye semi-classic “Purple Snowflakes” adds enough electro-flourishes and indiepop sheen to create a sparkling world of their own.

The fifth track, by LTD, “Whenever Snow Starts Fallin’,” is a great, soulful song that plugs into that age-old Christmas scene… the snow is falling in the lonely city, and he just wants his baby to come back to him. “Whenever snow starts falling / that’s when my heart is calling.” Very nice.

The final track is yet another cover by the wonderful Computer Perfection, this time trying their hand at “Feliz Navidad.” There is just a sense of joy that oozes out of this song. I’m not much of a fan of this tune normally… but Computer Perfection have found a way to bring out something in this song that I did not expect. Thanks.

There are 9 tracks in total on this record, and while I did not go in-depth on the other 5, they are all very much worth a listen. From a reworked Beyonce song, to a hushed electro “White Christmas,” this record is most certainly worth your time and attention. Thankfully, with the blessing of Computer Perfection, I offer my readers their very own, nicely tagged copy.

Bottom Line: Computer Perfection can bring their friends over to my house anytime to sing Christmas songs. 4.5/5

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Here is one sample track… Computer Perfection’s wonderful cover of “Purple Snowflakes.” Enjoy, and download (Links above)!

strayfolk

Strayfolk “Christmas Day” (2008)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

How about some wonderful Americana from Sweden for your Saturday morning? Strayfolk came into my radar back in 2008, courtesy of Swedesplease, and their “Christmas Day” immediately became part of my regular rotation. Long existing as an mp3 floating out in the ether of the internet, it now has a home on Bandcamp. Why would you go to Bandcamp, rather than just popping over to their website? Well, because you can now get a FLAC version, as well as show your appreciation for such a great song with a buck. Christmas Underground is all about supporting the artists that make our season happen.

Bottom Line: You and your country band are going to want to cover this song, so go buy it and start practicing. 5/5

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an Indiecater Christmas

An Indiecater Christmas (2008)

Indiecater Records
Buy: Bandcamp7Digital MP3

An Indiecater Christmas was Indiecater Records‘ first foray into Christmas tunes, beginning a streak that ended in 2011. But wait… set your clocks for December 1, because 2013’s edition is not far away! But I digress – 2008 felt like a moment in time where a wealth of comprehensive indie Christmas comps were coming out (as opposed to the single tracks that I see more frequently now), and An Indiecater Christmas is one of those must-have releases of yesteryear.

There are plenty of good songs on this record, but I will call out a few for review’s sake. The Very Most, purveyors of generally excellent Christmas tunes, give us the jingle-bell heavy “This Year, Christmas Came on November 4th.”  A solid tune, that could sneak its way onto anyone’s Christmas mix without much trouble.

Jape and David Kitt (YES!) contribute an appropriately titled “I Will Cry this Christmas.” While I do enjoy the vibe, and even the song in general, I can’t bring myself to put it on a mix. Perhaps your mix will have different needs – because its an excellent song – and I f*ing love David Kitt. I wish he would do another Christmas tune…

My Teenage Stride‘s “Is it Christmastime Already,” has a vibe and production value that makes you think that it is already a Christmas classic. Any major-label band that wants to pick it up, cover it, and throw it on their platinum-selling Christmas record will likely make this song a holiday staple.

There are many other good songs on this record – but when it comes to large compilations, and with my job/child/computer problems, brevity shall be my mantra.

Bottom Line: Great price, great songs, why not? 4/5

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Wave Pictures - Instant Coffee Baby

The Wave Pictures “I Love You Like a Madman” (2008)

Moshi Moshi / Little Teddy
Buy: Discogs (CD/LP) | 7Digital MP3 | iTunes

Every so often, I strike gold and pull out a double, as in I love the Christmas song and also find that I love the band. The Wave Pictures are indeed one of those true finds, that hooks me in the xmas and reels me in for the rest of their catalog. Their 2008 release, Instant Coffee Baby, contains “I Love You Like a Madman,” one of the most interesting and enjoyable Christmas songs I have ever experienced. Their style is as if Jonathan Richman had listened to a good bit of Dexys Midnight Runners while reading Raymond Carver stories (I am stretching here… I can’t find the perfect combo). The chorus begins with “The air in here is dead / But we’re not finished yet / Throw the back door open / Let me see your breath.” Its this kind of simple, visceral visual that I find in Evan Dando at his best and David Berman at his most poignant, and is indeed, a large part of why I love music.

Bottom Line: Like a weird short story that you can’t help but see yourself in. 5/5

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Spottiswoode and His Enemies - Salvation

Spottiswoode and His Enemies “Chelsea Boys” (2008)

Self-Released
Buy: BandcampiTunes

This song is amazing. I’m going to step back and let Spottiswoode explain it though:

“My recollection is that i wrote the opening two melodic lines with the clear intention of composing a Christmas carol (only realizing later that the melody was, of course, similar to “Hark The Herald”). and then the words for the first two lines came out:

Boys in Chelsea holding hands
Whistle as they watch us dance.

“Had I intended to write a gay carol? i don’t remember. My guess is that after mouthing those two lines my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to see where the song would go. i understand that many people may dismiss the tune as a novelty song or just think that’s it’s a little clever and twisted ditty, but to me it’s an achingly romantic song. it’s a love song. it’s not just a love song to the girl the singer is addressing who is about to share a dance with some leather-clad homosexuals in the snow. it’s a love song to gay New York and thereby, in Christmas spirit, to human brotherhood.”

Listen to this song. Its beautiful.

Bottom Line: One of my favorite finds, ever. 5/5

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Jesse Malin “Fairytale of New York” (2008)

One Little Indian
Buy: Discogs (CD) | iTunes

Jesse Malin has been on my radar since his first solo record, The Fine Art of Self Destruction (which also has a Christmas tune…). Yes, I missed his days in D Generation, but I am not Superman, and I give myself a pass. In 2008, Jesse put out a covers record, and I dutifully picked it up. To my delight, track 12 became my absolute favorite cover of “Fairytale of New York” that I’ve ever heard. Jesse Malin and Bree Sharp have a grittiness to their version that I love about the original, but Malin’s distinctive voice and phrasing really gives his version its own life. Again, this is one of Jesse’s multiple Christmas tunes (which I may cover later), so if you are intrigued, certainly do a bit more digging.

Bottom Line: Makes it his own, without washing the bits of grit and grime from the original. Loses points only because that .2 goes to the original. 4.8/5

The Love Language

The Love Language “White Christmas,” “Gsus,” “Christmas in Toyland” (2008-2011)

Bladen County Records/Merge Records/Self-Released
Buy:
See below

The Love Language make some fine indie rock in Raleigh, NC… and in the proud tradition of their fellow Raleigh-ites, The Rosebuds, have some incredible Christmas tunes.

In 2008, the Love Language released “White Christmas” on a (now long-lost) download-only comp put out by Bladen County Records. However, this is not your parents’ “White Christmas.” You can’t get much darker than “Santa bring my baby to me / I’m gonna hang myself from a Christmas Tree / But all the ones that I’ve bought / They’re only six feet tall.” So… be prepared… and also be ready for some fantastic music. This song sounds amazing. — EDIT: This was also released as “White Christmas/Black Fetus” by the Light Language, a meeting of the Love Language and the Light Pines! I don’t know how I just discovered this link!!

2010 saw the Love Language move on from Bladen County Records, and head for the bright lights of indie-rock powerhouse Merge. It also marks the first year of (what I really hope is) a yearly tradition of last-minute Christmas songs released to the Raleigh-centric (duh) blog NewRaleigh.com. “Gsus” is a fantastic groove, one that made its way onto my 2011 mix and remains a personal favorite. It was recorded by Stu and BJ, with voicemails from the band members who were out of town – which sounds odd, but totally works. YOU NEED THIS.

The Love Language released “Christmas in Toyland” to NewRaleigh.com last year… also in the nick of time (Dec. 23). Another great song… a bit of a slow-burner, but very well worth it. Check it out.

My fingers are crossed… and I’ve been checking The Love Language’s FB and NewRaleigh.com for the past few days, hoping for another late Christmas gift from one of the great composers of indie rock Christmas classics.

Bottom Line: Free downloads of fantastic original songs. 5/5 

Lilac Time cover

Pelle Carlberg “Soon After Christmas” (2008)

Labrador Records
Buy: CD (You need the CD to get the download!)

Pelle Carlberg is one of my FAVORITE singer/songwriters… I am particularly fond of his two most recent solo records, In a Nutshell and Lilac Time. So, I dutifully bought them, enjoyed the hell out of their witty wordplay and to my amazement… there is a bonus… a hidden bonus to be found.

I encourage you to first look up Pelle Carlberg, or just groove to the songs below. If you like what he’s putting down, then you should go buy a copy of Lilac Time. If you read the liner notes carefully, you’ll find a link that shall lead you to three additional songs. One of those tunes… a wonderful cover of Stina Nordenstam’s “Soon After Christmas.”

You might imagine… when I found this… I jumped out of my seat, punched a waterfall, and smacked a leprechaun. It was damn exciting.

I will not post it here, and I beseech you to not post it anywhere once you hunt it down yourself. Lets actually buy some records. Lets put a few bucks in Pelle’s pocket. He has a family, and he is a full-time musician. The album is 100% worth it… throw in a ultra-rare Christmas tune that you have to search for… and you cannot beat it.

Bottom Line: The album itself is fantastic, and the Christmas song is wonderful. 5/5

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Another Grey Christmas 2 cover

Another Grey Christmas 2 (2008)

Willamette Week
Buy: CD OOP | Stream

The second in a series by Willamette Week’s Local Cut section – this is the first one that I’ve actually held in my hands. Only available in Portland and (briefly) online, the Another Grey Christmas series compiles local Portland bands doing both originals and covers… as so many other cities do. What Portland has in their favor though… is that its Portland. They’ve got a bunch of great bands just chilling out, waiting to record something amazing.

There are some solid tunes on this disc, with the perfectly passible indie folk rendition of “Winter Wonderland” by A Weather, a stripped down “Silver Bells” by Run on Sentence with Mike Midlo, and a delicate “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Laura Gibson. There are some good originals here too – Future Historians‘ “Family Tree” is a darker take on the holiday season, and the lyrics have a wonderful sense of reality to them – something you don’t normally get from a Christmas song.

The best song on the disc is Dolorean’s cover of the Dolly Parton classic, “Hard Candy Christmas.” Slow, sparse and haunting at times – this is not your mother’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” And best of all… they posted it on their website for download.

Definitely check out the rest of the series… but be forewarned, they do not let you BUY anything but vol. 4 & 5. I had to call a boutique in Portland to get ahold of #2… actually purchased their in-store play copy. And I’ve never seen one go up on eBay either.

BOTTOM LINE: Some solid classics are covered, with one strong original. 3.6/5

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