One of my underground Christmas music heroes is Kurt Reighley (AKA DJ El Toro), the fine purveyor of Festive! Fanzine, one of the OG publications in this whole scene. Last holiday season, Kurt discovered Chicago crooner (and self-described queer country singer-songwriter) Andrew Sa after Kelly Hogan (a friend of Festive! and an alt. country luminary in her own right) shared a video of Andrew covering one of my favorite Neko Case songs, “I Wish I Was the Moon.” Andrew’s cover is so haunting and soulful – I was floored. Kurt was writing about a holiday livestream Andrew hosted, which I am so very sad I missed, but it did send me over to his Bandcamp to find out more. There I found a delightful, three-song EP of classic Christmas covers. Yes, covers are never what I am truly seeking out, but I’ll always let some good ones fall in my lap, for sure. On the first two tracks, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town (The Argument)” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas (The Through),” simple piano accompaniment frames Andrew’s lovely vibrato – the economy of the arrangement is quite refreshing and beautiful. Heck, the Bessie Smith cover of “At the Christmas Ball (The Striptease)” has only a simple snapping finger to keep the time. Strip these songs down to the studs, add Andrew’s beautiful, emotional vibrato, and you hear them as wholly new songs. Truly, discovering this small collection of Christmas covers was most certainly an unexpected-yet-expected (parse that one out) delight.
Bottom Line: There is something there in this Andrew Sa’s voice that (for me) is just undeniable. I’ll like a second serving please, whenever you’re ready Andrew. 🙂
There isn’t much info about Moonfire Mountain beyond their short bio, which lets us know that the band contains Harry (from Bear Driver!), Cassie, Jon and Rich. Thankfully, this crew got together and covered Yoko’s “Listen, the Snow is Falling” with dreampop brevity, which I always appreciate. They also tackle “Christmas” by Florence Dore (which they mislabel as a Posies cover). Their instrumentation is what makes this song; I think I hear a theremin! The EP’s finisher is a rocking version of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ.” I particularly like the harmonies on the chorus, and the rough edges of the guitar work. All in all, three super-solid covers for less-covered songs. I sure wish that more folks would give up on Last Christmas, Christmas Time is Here, etc, etc, and branch out. Universe… make it so.
Bottom Line: One of these three, great Christmas covers just might scratch that Christmas-mix itch for you.
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.
Dublin’s No Monster Club treated us to a great new original (anti)Christmas song in 2016, “Start the Carvery” (kindly pointed out by Lie in the Sound), but did you know that they have a whole Christmas compilation EP that they released back in 2011? The hilarious titling of Sleigh Decibels Volume One certainly helps set up expectations, as the lyrics are clever and biting throughout. The lo-fi fun runs through the entire release, which compiles songs from comps by net label Rack N Ruin Records in the Netherlands, as well as Belfast’s CF Records. Each song has its own charm, but my favorite is the short and dirty “A No Monster Club Christmas,” which has an infectious chorus that I have found myself humming walking down the street on more than one occasion.
Bottom Line: No Monster Club’s lo-fi Christmas tunes stylistically compliment their clever lyrical point-of-view on this fantastic compilation EP.
The Golden Dregs are working on a theme here… they began with “White Christmas,” and have now moved on to “Blue Christmas,” I am waiting for “Green Christmas,” or as the title would suggest “Gold Christmas.” Well, as we wait to see if this project is bigger than two songs in the Art Is Hard Advent Calendar, lets take a listen to “Blue Christmas.” So… I’m not as enamored of this version as I was of their take on “White Christmas.” The Golden Dregs excel when they tackle material that is outside their normal aesthetic, and “Blue Christmas'” country roots are just a bit too close. This is actually their second take on “Blue Christmas,” as you can find a version on their Soundcloud from 5 years ago… (EDIT, they took it down) with oddly less listens than this year’s! That one is even more lo-fi, but has essentially the same approach to the material. All this said, “Blue Christmas” is not even close to being a personal favorite in my house… I have never included it on a mix, as I often find it terribly boring. So, The Golden Dregs may have been fighting a losing battle with this song.
Bottom Line: “Blue Christmas” may leave me feeling blue, but I very much enjoy The Golden Dregs holiday efforts and would LOVE to hear their take on some more adventuresome/against-type material.
What can I say? I am super-connected. I have been talking to the folks over at Computer Perfection for about a week, and we are totally the best of friends. How can I make such a wild claim? Well, they’ve invited me to Christmas dinner (they don’t know this yet) and they sent over a new mix of their wonderful 2011 Christmas track, “When the Key Turns.” Originally released on Love, Detroit Volume 2 (still available for free download!), this new mix is absolutely beautiful; it shimmers out of the headphones. Computer Perfection fancies this song to be their most beautiful work to date, and I would not argue them on that fact.
Bottom Line: Absolutely beautiful indie pop from masters of the craft. 5/5
Sugar & Tiger‘s “Noël Christmas” has been around since 2011, but the song was not properly released until this year on their debut, Télévisage. An extremely fun tune, sung largely in French with some English in the chorus, these Parisians expertly straddle the pond. They list their influences as the Ramones, the Raveonettes and Phil Spector… so it makes perfect sense that they recorded a rockin’ Christmas song.
Bottom Line: Upbeat with that certain, I don’t know what (hehe) that makes me want to listen to it multiple times. If only it were easier to purchase as a single song! 4.1/5
Like my fellow friend-in-Christmas Stubby, I too believe that the Swedish country-punk band, The Linedance Fever, have recorded one of the most wonderful and original versions of the oft-covered Wham! classic, “Last Christmas.” I have included a few covers of this song on my mixes in the past, each one quite distinct from the other… and this version joins the Erlend Oye version as the best that you can find. (They also have another Christmas tune, 365 Days of Christmas, and I may review that at some point… and I do hope they make some more.)
Bottom Line: A gem. If you have any taste, you’ll think so too. 🙂 5/5
Cherrytree/Interscope Records Buy:Amazon (Try to find it elsewhere – eBay is often cheaper)
A side project of both singer-songwriter Marcus Srunegard and Adam Olenius (of the Shout Out Louds), Serenades (now known as “We Are Serenades“) put out a fantastic little EP, Come Home, to indie record stores in late 2011. A friend at our local college radio station proceeded to hip me to the fact that the title track is actually a Christmas song! And what a Christmas song! Melancholy Swedish Christmas songs are pretty much my favorite thing, and add a big chorus and I’m pretty much putty in your hands.
Bottom Line: These swedish songsmiths have created a song worthy of all-year-round listening – not bad for a Christmas tune. And hey, you can get this CD for CHEAP. 5/5
Adam Arcuragi has a number Christmas tunes… and every damn one is excellent. He has been on 2 of my mixes, and this one narrowly missed making it onto this year’s (strictly a flow thing). It will remain the in the hopper for 2014…
This version of the oft-covered “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” has just what I look for in a cover – originality in interpretation. He re-imagines it with much darker production, slowing it down and finishing with a beautifully emotional last chorus. Hey, its short too. I always gotta love a short one, especially when its slowed down.
Bottom Line: I will likely write about Adam’s other tunes, but if you are so inclined, hunt down “The Belgian” and “Christmas Song.” This man needs to put out a Christmas record. 4.7/5