Four Eyes – 3XMAS EP (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Athens’ Four Eyes already has my heart. I mean, come on. Her song from last year was phenomenal, and her songs from 2013… well, they are too. It all comes down to her voice. Four Eyes (Erin Lovett)’s voice is just beautiful. I think she could sing me a phone book and I’d happily sit there eating my Thai leftovers. These tracks from 2013 are stripped down, vocals and acoustic guitar, and they are perfect that way. The first track “Believe (In What Sounds Beautiful)” has her wondering if it is Christmas or family that has her feeling so wonderful… I mean COME ON. That is some damn poignant beautiful stuff. The second song, “I Don’t Remember (Christmas Eve)” has Four Eyes’ apologizing for a drunk Christmas Eve… which, is rather adorable. That, and I love a good Christmas drinking song, and rarely do those contain apologies. The last song, “In a Diner,” is a beautiful story of an interaction in a diner: “Her laugh reminds you of someone / who showed you to believe / in what you cannot see.” This song, when listened to after 2 gimlets on a Tuesday night… makes you nostalgic for an experience you never had.

Bottom line: Simple, short, beautiful songs. What else is there to say?

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husbands - xmas

Husbands – Xmas (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

How in the world did HusbandsXmas sneak by me for nearly 3 full years? That’s what will happen when you don’t have “Christmas” in the tags on Bandcamp. (Man, Bandcamp needs to up their search game.) Thanks to the tweets of Jonathan Fowler over at Fowler VW (yes, THAT Fowler VW), this oversight has been remedied, and Husbands’ stellar Christmas record, Xmas, is now mine. This record is so much fun, it is truly ridiculous. I’m going to call out a few of my favorite tracks, one of which might be a bit of a surprise to loyal readers…

Xmas begins with “Little Bummer Boy,” which is, for all intents and purposes, “Little Drummer Boy.” But wait… it is FUCKING GREAT. Yes, a version of “Little Drummer Boy” that is great. I truly enjoy, nay, love this song. Their chillwave styling brings in so many beautiful colors, its groove becomes viral.

“Hey Yew” is the kind of track, that had Animal Collective wrote it, would have been on every indie Christmas mix on 8tracks from now until the end of time. The harmonies and the rhythm are so uplifting and fun, I dare you to not turn it up and groove in your seat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” throws the traditional “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” into a pot of simmering beats and synths that makes my head sway back and forth in absolute pleasure. Throw in some Beach Boys harmonies and this song is ready to eat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” segues perfectly into the “Jingle Back Margaret,” whose upbeat, shimmering melody is perpetually battling it out with “Hey Yew” for my favorite song on the album.

Yeah, my review is pretty front-heavy, as I have a particular attachment to these first few songs. But don’t let that discourage you from the latter half, where you’ll discover the layered sonic landscape of “Slayer Ride,” and the absolutely beautiful meditation of “Midnight.” Simply put, this record is an absolute pleasure. Over the holiday season, I played it for a few different folks, and have yet to find a consensus on a favorite song; Everyone finds a different track that they are drawn to. Which one will be your favorite??? Maybe let me know in the comments!

Bottom Line: Xmas is populated with enough stellar songs to justify every single reader of this blog to buy the whole damn thing. Of note, “Hey Yew” leads off my 2016 mix, and thus, mints this album with stone-cold classic status. This record needs to be spoken about in the same breath as the Parenthetical Girls, Sufjan Stevens, and Low when the seasonal indie rock Christmas blog posts make their way back onto the pages of Stereogum, Pitchfork and the like.

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Kristin Kontrol - Last Christmas

Kristin Kontrol “Last Christmas” (2013/2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Soundcloud | Download

I first came across this synth-heavy (not that the original wasn’t) version of “Last Christmas” via Kurt Feldman, the producer of this track and the driving force behind the equally synth-heavy Ice Choir. Of course, I grabbed it and filed it away. Jump-cut to this past week, as I began to get back in the swing of things, and I came across the Minneapolis-based blog WeHeartMusic (who also did the great graphic above), and their feature about this song (including a download!). Kristin Kontrol (AKA Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls) recorded this classic Wham! song back in 2013 as a sort of a b-side to the spectacular Dum Dum Girls’ “On Christmas.” At the time they weren’t allowed to release it, but after the death of George Michael, KK said:

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(Here is a twitter moment that I’ve created showing the progression of tweets – including the reference to “On Christmas” being proto-KK”)

Thus, we have this cool, very Kurt Feldman + Kristin Kontrol version of “Last Christmas.”The beats are slightly amped up throughout the song, and it gives a perfect pacing to a song that I sometimes find just a hair slow. My favorite part about this track comes in at around 3:20, when they bring in these subtle little bits of percussion; They sound like synth bongos or something of the sort. Spot on KK & KF.

Bottom Line: Truly a killer version of THE Christmas pop song of the 80s.

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Gotta go to Soundcloud for this. They won’t let me embed it!

 

Hanemoon Christmas

Hanemoon “The Smells and Bells of all Christmas Songs” (2013/2015)

Self-Released
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

I know next-to-nothing about Hanemoon, other than that he claims to be from Tirana, Albania, and that he has some seriously great Christmas songs. Yes, I said songs… there are more… you may find out from me (or others) later. “The Smell of Bells and Christmas Songs” seems to smash together Summerteeth-era Wilco and American Analog Set at their most poppy into a groovy little synthesizer-dusted, melancholy Christmas tune. The song starts out with some lovely imagery, “Staring at the sea was fun / and surfing till the waves were gone. / Now they’re working on a silver sun to replace the gold one.”  But it quickly gets darker as the chorus kicks in, “The smells and bells of all Christmas songs / sound so wrong / and taste like waste / till New Year’s day.” I don’t have much context, but perhaps its about the emotional letdown that can come after Christmas has passed, leaving you staring at Christmas decorations that you need to take down. That’s just my take. I certainly do not have a full understanding of this song… but I very much enjoy the atmosphere it creates.

EDIT: So, at times, I have a hard time hearing words from beneath the music. Of course, I saw Hanemoon’s Christmas playlist on his page, and listened to all the tracks multiple times, but initially didn’t hear the references. Thus, I thought they were not necessarily Christmas songs… but I have heard them now! “Mushrooms” specifically references Santa and reindeer! I’m don’t see the connection to “I’d prefer the mammals,” nor “Save Projects,” but I’ve inquired and am trying to get some lyrics to better review the whole collection as a whole.

Bottom Line: Hanemoon is as mysterious as their Christmas songs, and who doesn’t love a good mystery!

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Skiiing "Holly"

Skiiing – Holly (2013)

Self-Released/Späti Palace
Buy: Bandcamp

On day two of my Skiing trip, we visit 2013’s Holly. Upon initial discovery, I nearly flipped out and thought the entire record was Christmas… but alas, I’m only going to point to two… two stellar tracks on this overall fantastic release. Let’s begin with “Skiing,” the eponymous second track on the album. Here, skiing is used as a metaphor for life, blazing paths and picking up (and staying with) friends. While this is not explicitly a Christmas or winter song, the imagery and the nostalgia evoked by looking to the past and relying on your friends certainly brings out the spirit. Similarly, the title track “Holly” is another metaphor song, this time for a false friend. However, the dressing of this song in this Ilex opens the door to a seasonal attachment – to use this particular metaphor (to me) grounds the time period the song takes place in as the holiday season. I know, I know… maybe a bit of a stretch on these two… but I’m flexible. I just like this band too damn much to talk myself out of this post.

If you are interested in picking up any of these Skiing releases, they are often only print runs of 100 or so… so if you are like me and like a physical copy of a disc/cassette, you’ll grab them sooner than later. Of note… Holly appears to be gone, gone, gone.

Bottom Line: Did you enjoy my attempts at Christmas-mix gymnastics? If you did or didn’t, I hope you join me in just enjoying the hell out of this band.

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Skiing Generous Fire E.P.

Skiing – Generous Fire E.P. (2013)

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

Skiing have just popped onto my radar… in an absolutely massive way. This will be the first, of a few, posts about this superb band from Berlin. Frankly, I’ve only held out posting about this band until I could pick up a few releases that I knew would be hard to get after the massive interest generated by this powerful, taste-making blog. Comprised of “Everett Darling and his current, future, and ex-friends, family, and lovers,” Skiing have been releasing superb “post-adult contemporary” indiepop/rock since 2012, and how I do love those descriptors. They exude this wonderful, sophisticated sense of humor, which is one of many reasons why Skiing is such a pleasure. The Generous Fire E.P., released in 2013 as a Christmas present to the fans, is a hot 3-track E.P. with a loose connection to the Christmas holiday. While only one specifically name checks-Christmas, I see all the songs as taking place during the season.  From the aggressive DIY decorating of “Interior Design,” to a clever play on words and the disposability of Christmas presents in “26th December,” and finally the dark side of generosity in “On Me,” Skiing has created a wickedly short and concise piece of consumerism criticism that belongs at any slightly grumpy (me!) Christmas table.

Bottom Line: With each song coming in under 2:00, this fun-sized E.P. will start your anti-holiday season off with a bang! And what do you know… it’s free (obviously!).

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Mont - Snow in the New Year

Mont “Snow in the New Year” (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud

Bath, UK’s Mont have been on my radar ever since randomly searching the term “snow” in the Hype Machine many moons ago. There, I discovered the brilliant, etherial, musical collage that is “Snow in the New Year.” The vocals float in on a breeze of warm beats, leading up to a cacophony of sound that, given the right mood, can give you goosebumps. It is truly a beautiful song. Of particular note, Mont also has a new EP out November 4th, If You Got it Wrong, and after checking out that first track… damn… I love this band.

Bottom Line: “Snow in the New Year” was certainly a highlight from my 2014 mix, Jolly Snow Sculptor Santa, and remains one of my favorite winter-season/new years songs. They just flipped the switch to allow downloads too – so grab it while you can (and buy their new EP too!)

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Applennium “Just This Christmas” (2013) / “Is It Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream/Free

Buffalo’s Applennium have now released wonderful Christmas songs for two years in a row, and we can only hope there’s another coming in 2015. I’m getting antsy to write about the tracks… so here we go.

2013’s release, “Just this Christmas,” begins as the kind of song that my wife would roll her eyes at, as I have an affinity for a Christmas dirge, and she does not. “Santa, don’t bring me some silly toys / unless I can stomp on them. / No child could imagine the emptiness / of lack optimism.” Dark! But really beautiful. The music is a blend of indie rock, folk and alt country, pretty much hitting three favorites in 3:30. The song is not all dark clouds, though: “This holiday just made me believe / that there’s still hope in me.” Melancholy with a glimmer of hope? I’m hooked. (And its a free download on Soundcloud!)

2014’s effort, “Is It Christmas,” is nearly the polar opposite to “Just this Christmas.” “Tonight, begin to trust / begin to take less than you must / let go of sorrow / let in the good.” The music is soaring, echoing through the night and shimmering out of the speakers. As the track builds, the mandolin flutters into the background and the layered vocals float over the music, and you think, “Low would kill to have written this song.” Such wonderful production to a tremendous song. Loving it.

Bottom Line: These songs have grown on me over the past weeks or so, which is the mark of a winner. Everything about these songs, from the writing, to the music, to the production – truly exceptional. Check out their non-seasonal songs too – you won’t be disappointed. 5/5 (You readers seem to like the rating system.)

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Frontier Folk Nebraska - Drop the Ball, Waste Another Year 7"

Frontier Folk Nebraska – Drop the Ball, Waste Another Year 7″ (2013)

No Chaser Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know, I’ve been doing some housecleaning, posting some songs that did not come out this year. Well… that’s ok, because this site is as much about what’s coming out this year, as it is about the great stuff that has been hidden in the past. Frontier Folk Nebraska are not a folk band and are not from Nebraska. So who the fuck are they? They are, simply said, a badass rock band from Kentucky. Some of the influences they point to are Sleepy Jackson, the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo and Guided By Voices amongst others… and I would have to agree (to a point). I mean… Sleepy Jackson? I haven’t listened to that first Sleepy Jackson record (Lovers) in a good while, and while I don’t hear a drop of that influence on this 7″, I’m psyched that they like them enough to be mentioned. I loved that record! Those other bands… much more in line with the sound of FFN.

Now to the record: Both tracks on this 7″ are fantastic – the hearty singalong “Ho Ho Ho & Away We Go,” with drinking, theft and lighthearted debauchery mixing together to wish us all a merry fucking Christmas. You can’t help but want to be there. The flip side find FFN at New Years, and “Happy New Year” takes it’s Replacements meets GBV vibe and tears through a rough New Years morning. Love the music, especially the guitar interplay. These songs are all wonderfully conceived and executed – truly stellar tracks from front to back.

Bottom Line: How this band has not sold out of their 275 copies of random, multicolored 7-inch vinyl records is an absolute mystery to me. 5/5

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Couples Skate Only 7"

Couples Skate Only “First Christmas” (2013)

Gotta Groove Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Gotta Groove Records is a fantastic pressing plant/boutique label in Cleveland, OH… and these fine purveyors of the little vinyl discs we all know and love also send out a Christmas 7″ to some friends and clients each year. 2013’s release had a whole mess of tracks! What a little, vinyl bundle of joy to celebrate the holiday with… wait a tic… did I use that turn of phrase because this song is about being a new parent? You bet I did. Couples Skate Only and myself obviously must become best friends (Hi Tim!), as we both: 1. Enjoy indiepop Christmas music and; 2. have at least one tiny child. Their contribution to the 7″ captures parenthood wonderfully in 2 minutes, while in the warm embrace of a driving indiepop electro beat. Love it.

If you’re interested in vinyl – they have 5 left (as of this posting), on random colored vinyl. Looks like you all liked the track as much as I did. They appear to be ALL SOLD OUT!

Bottom Line: Fantastic indiepop that I personally can relate to… but not quite sure about those without kids… but hey, I’m the one giving the number. 4.6/5

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