Jesu - Christmas

Jesu “Christmas” (2010)

Robotic Empire
Buy: Bandcamp | Discogs (LP)

Post-rock Christmas! This is for those folks who dig Mogwai, or even… though this is a bit more of a stretch, those folks who dug the Mark Kozelek Christmas record last year! Why Koz? Well, he’s putting out a record with Jesu early next year! And whaddaya know? They both have a Christmas record! I don’t know how I missed this for so many years. Honestly, in the places I search, I would have thought that this would have been much more prominently featured, if simply based on indie name-recognition. Released in 2010, and remastered a few years later, this EP comprised of one song and 3 remixes is a great example hard, yet cinematic post-rock Christmas song. Give it a listen, and if you fall in love, the LP is $40 on Discogs. That’s a bargain at $10 a song! Ha!

Bottom Line: Certainly not my usual fare – but I have to say I enjoyed it. I don’t foresee it on my mix, they never get this heavy, but I’m not here just to serve me. Well… mainly me. 3.8/5

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Beans & Fatback "Tonight Girl I'm Coming Back Home"

Beans & Fatback “Tonight Girl I’m Coming Back Home (X-Mas Edit)” (2010)

Excelsior Recordings
Buy: Stream

The Netherlands’ own Beans & Fatback have just dropped a (I stand corrected – thanks Christmas A Go Go!) have a Christmas edit of “Tonight Girl I’m Coming Back Home,” and its a rocking, bar-band R&B good time. While it wasn’t originally a Christmas song, it very much works in the “Coming home for Christmas” milieu. They’ve even adjusted the lyrics very slightly to place it at Christmas, and it works perfectly. Check out this tune, then go down the rabbit-hole to their other stuff – its really pretty great.

Bottom Line: Solid Christmas R&B that could easily find a place on your mix. Points shaved off for no obvious way of purchasing or downloading this great song! 4.6/5

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Christmas With Naive Twins

Naive Thieves & Summer Twins – Christmas With Naive Twins (2010)

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

Way back in 2010, Naive Thieves and Summer Twins, two LA/SoCal-based bands, teamed up for a 2-song Christmas release, Christmas With Naive Twins. The result is a lovely little piece of indie-rock Christmas that sounds like Little Joy & Local Natives got together to record some seasonal sounds. Both “Holiday in the Sand” and “What Better Time than Now” have a timeless feel, contemporary, but harkening back to a 60’s feel at times. These tracks really are something special that should be heard by more people. While it was posted on the Summer Twins Bandcamp page at one point, it no longer resides there, nor on the Naive Thieves Bandcamp. I’ve tried contacting them through Bandcamp and Facebook multiple times, but to no avail. I, for one, would love to pay them a few bucks for FLACs, but for now we’re going to have to settle for the free downloads that still exist on Soundcloud. Thankfully, they are high-bitrate MP3s.

Bottom Line: Both tracks are superb. 4.8/5

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Fletcher C. Johnson "Merry Christmas"

Fletcher C. Johnson “Merry Christmas” (2010)

Burger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Fletcher C. Johnson has a great pop sensibility, in a garage-rock sense of the word. “Merry Christmas” is the B-Side to his Happy Birthday 7″. It has a truly excellent groove – certainly a groove good enough to be in the running for a mix. Fun, happy lyrics that I genuinely enjoy (believe it!) with the kind of pretty (yet still dirty around the edges) production quality that I am a sucker for. I just have to get over the children’s choir that is low in the mix of the chorus. Certainly worth a listen… I’d imagine you could edit it down to not have such a long intro too…

Bottom Line: Certainly better than most, this tune is solid, though I’d be a much bigger fan if there was a childless version. Oh, and I’d love a download… anybody know if you get an MP3 or FLAC download from the actual 7″? It doesn’t appear to be so on Bandcamp… 3.9/5

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkXoPwt2bMY]
A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

Radiant
Buy: Free!

Hailing from New South Wales, all these songs were performed live on Radiant Radio, and thus, you can expect a bit less of a stretch when it comes to overall performance and product.

It starts with a deep-voiced gentleman, Kirin J. Callinan, working through “Merry Christmas,” a song he just wrote. Tough to get through, but to be expected for a song he’s only worked through on his way there.

Packwood’s “Oh Holy Night” is a ramshackle folk performance that comes in and out of tune and key, but that rawness directed to a song that you normally heard sung by a huge voice and soaring orchestra might just be what the doctor ordered.

The Maple Trail and A Casual End Mile & R. Somerset each do covers of traditional songs as well, and none of them are notable enough to highlight. They are both perfectly fine, but the song and the performance just don’t lend themselves to comment.

The Preachers “Run Run Rudolph” is notable for the single fact that you’ve got a woman covering a Chuck Berry tune that is most often covered by dudes. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, you got a twist. Otherwise, nothing too crazy. Excellent guitar playing, but not exactly what I’m looking for.

The Holy Soul’s “Six White Boomers” is a original, normally a bonus a cover (Stubby has corrected me, it is apparently a Rolf Harris tune)… and the production value (e.g., the sound… not everyone is mic’d well) torpedos it. I can’t say that I think the song is very good either. If you are an Aussie, you might enjoy it a bit more; I doubt I get the humor, especially when it sounds like they are having sex in the middle of a song.

Side Note: This is the second review where I have missed a cover version and assumed it was an original. I either have to take more time doing research (which I likely will not have time for) or you will just have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: Overall, not something you need to take the time with unless something I described above sounds particularly appealing. 1.5/5

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Kite Club “Royal Gums” (2010)

Speak’N’Spell
Buy: Free!

Melbourne’s Kite Club first came to my attention via their recent profile on The Line of Best Fit (a wonderful music blog if you don’t already read it). So, I headed over to their Soundcloud page, pressed play, and began to do some work. While listening to their 2010 EP Esoterica, I heard jingle bells. “Royal Gums” is an oddball of a Christmas song… one that I would really love to know all the lyrics to. If I am not crazy, it begins as such: “Gorgonzola on Rye, made the Christians cry.” I really want to know these lyrics. This track sounds like it would be a great compliment to a Parenthetical Girls’ Christmas release… so if you like that vibe, you’ll like this one too. I’m about 95% sold that it will be on 2013’s mix. Oh, and its free for download on their Soundcloud page!

Bottom Line: Really interesting, could claw back that .5 to be a classic… just give it time. 4.5/5

The Love Language

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

Bladen County Records/Merge Records/Self-Released

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.

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 

The Aislers Set

The Aislers Set “Cold Christmas” (2010)

Self-Released/Suicide Squeeze?
Buy: Free!

I wanted a quick post today, just to keep things rolling. So, I thought I’d dip my toes into the generally excellent back catalogue of Christmas tunes that The Aislers Set have amassed. Their most recent xmas release was 2010’s “Cold Christmas,” released too late for most to enjoy during that year. However, if you were lucky enough to come across it in early 2011, then you are in your second season of grooving to this indie-pop classic. “Cold Christmas” is good enough to be on anybody’s Christmas mix – I only wish that they would release it properly… on a site such as Bandcamp, so that I might have a FLAC. Hear me Aislers Set? I will pay for this… my $1+ is at the ready.

Bottom Line: Free and FANTASTIC. 5/5

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Christmas Vol. 1 cover

Duover – Christmas Volume 1 (2010)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Portland’s Duover recorded one of the best original Christmas tunes (Grandma’s House) I’ve heard in years. For that fact alone, you should buy this record. And when I say buy this record, I mean it. Send them some money. Presently, Christmas Volume 1 is name-your-price, but come on… throw AT LEAST a buck or two their way.

Originals!!! ORIGINALS!! Yes, you heard it right… there are a whole bunch of originals on this one. 8/9 tracks if I count correctly… beginning with the absolutely stellar “Grandma’s House,” which really highlight Duover’s ear for a hook and subtle groove. This is followed by my second favorite track, “Trivial Pursuit,” which brings their harmonies to the front, while spinning a tale with some wonderfully clever wordplay (Nerds, this one’s for you).

“Home for the Holidays” slows things down a bit, and while still a solid song (I normally love a good Christmas dirge), Duover really excel when employing a faster tempo. Though… I must say, this may be the first song that name-checks “The Bud Bowl.” Certainly, bonus points for that one.

“Under Mistletoe” looks to either be their single, or simply the song that a friend wanted to make a video of. The music really creates a level of drama that I would not expect from a Christmas song. Though this drama is tongue-in-cheek… which makes the rapping much more palatable. Its a lot of fun.

“Coyote Christmas” is a great example of the power of simplicity. The lyrics are short and oft repeated; the vocals are subdued, as is the music. These elements combine into a beautifully constructed song that has no fat left to trim.

“Fruitcake” and “Old Soles” are the two slowest songs on the record, and as I mentioned earlier, Duover are at their best when they up the pace a bit. That said, they are still strong songs. There is not a single song on this album that I dislike, which is saying quite a lot for a Christmas record. The two instrumental tracks, “Ice Cycle” and the lone cover “Auld Lang Syne” are also quite nice and enjoyable. Though I have to wonder… had they not hooked me with that first track, would my lenses still be so rose colored? Yeah, probably.

Bottom Line: A wonderful collection of originals – quite a feat in the Christmas music genre. I look forward to Volume 2 (which they have *somewhat* confirmed in a response on Facebook). 4.7/5

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Under Mistletoe by Duover from Noel Taylor on Vimeo.

Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records cover

Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records (2010)

Adventure Club Records
Buy: Bandcamp

This compilation from Adventure Club Records used to cost a few bucks… but for the moment, it is FREE! How about that??!! Well, first off, you can’t beat free. Secondly, there is some great stuff on here.

The EP starts off with Bear Driver‘s cover of “Walking in the Air” from the classic animated Christmas special, The Snowman. This is truly a wonderful version, floating and beautiful, and I was compelled to add it to my personal mix this year. The mix has not been in my friends’ hands for very long, but so far, 2 of 3 of the mentions of their favorite song have been this one.

Ian Williams and the Dead Flowers‘ cover of “Little Donkey” is actually LISTENABLE. I’m not a big fan of this song, but their slow, dark folk version makes it not only listenable, but genuinely good. This will be on the short list for next year.

Lee Schofield covers “In the Bleak Midwinter,” another song that I have a tough time really getting into – Rue Royale has been the only version I truly enjoyed. Lee Schofield has not surpassed Rue Royale, but he has created a simple, folky version with excellent vocal layers and nice instrumentation… a very solid effort.

Glaciers‘ “Happy Christmas” has this compilation batting 4/4 so far, with this truly wonderful song. Ragged, but beautiful, this song is very very much also on a shortlist for next year. This song has it all – interesting vocals, compelling lyrics, mention of whiskey, great music… knocked it out of the park.

Nir Graham rounds out the release with a (I feel like a broken record) listenable(!) version of Blue Christmas! I normally… really dislike this song. But he has made a messy version, that is pretty damn good. I still don’t like the song enough, but his use of the banjo to, basically, just make noise, makes this ramshackle version of Blue Christmas a compelling listen.

Bottom Line: I find no fault whatsoever with this release. One of the strongest Christmas comps I’ve come across. AND FREE (for a limited time no doubt). 4.9/5

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