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″ (2013)

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

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 “First Christmas” (2013)

Couples Skate Only 7"

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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HomeMade X​-​Mess : Compilation 2013 (2013)

HomeMade X​-​Mess : Compilation : 2013

HomeMade Records
Buy: Bandcamp

This cassette (and download) release from 2013 somehow snuck by me. Its a small release with largely originals… exactly what I’m normally clawing through the internet to find.

“Wyoming County”, the Scott Rankie song that leads off the release is quite nice – sparse, with a solid, pained vocal. If this was an example of things to come, I would have been very pleased. However, like any Christmas compilation, this release ends up all over the board. The following track, Kevin Marlis’ “Saturday Slay” is a noisy, psych mess (though, in a good way), and I can’t quite hear the Christmas connection whatsoever. Other tracks are lo-fi indiepop (Songs by Thom’s “The Colours of Christmas”), 50’s pop-inspired profanity (“Jeffzilla’s “Christmas Song”), and what appears to be fuzzed-out karaoke (White Widow’s “When Santa Clause Gets Your Letter”), to name a few. It kept my interest, which I don’t say for a lot of Christmas comps… but I can’t say I really loved it.

Bottom Line: I found this comp to be unique, and at times, quite interesting. I have a feeling like some of you might find something else in these songs – that and the name-your-own-price on Bandcamp is encouraging. 3/5

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Crying Day Care Choir – Christmas Day Care Choir (2013)

Crying Day Care Choir - Christmas Day Care Choir

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Last year the wonderful German blog Lie in the Sound pointed me toward this beautiful folk EP by Sweden’s Crying Day Care Choir. The two best tracks, “Christmas Day Care Choir (Falala)” and “First Christmas” bookend the release, and led to a very tough decision when considering which one to include on this year’s mix. I finally decided to add “First Christmas,” which surprised me. Sweet Christmas songs have never really been my forte, and this is most certainly the sweetest to make a mix. The song is grounded in a reality that I found beautiful, and try as I might, I was unable to talk myself out of adding it. It was just too good.

Bottom Line: Simple, beautiful folk music and harmonies from Sweden. 4.8/5

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The Garlands – Christmas Song / I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You 7″ (2013)

SNOWFLAKE 2 The Garlands front cover 600px

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | 7″ Vinyl Bandcamp | 7Digital MP3 (US) | Amazon UK MP3

The Garlands‘ contribution to last year’s inaugural Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club is a perfect indie pop Christmas single. For the uninitiated, the SCSC format is 7″ records with an original A-side, and a cover B-side. The Garlands A-side, “Christmas Song,” is as beautiful as anything they’ve ever done. These Swedes can do English-indie pop better than most native speakers. I find myself liking it more with every listen – there is this part where the tone takes a somber dip, and damn I love it. The B-side cover of Claudine Longet classic is equally pretty, as they somehow found a way to pour more sugar on an already sweet song. Claudine would be proud.

You can still pick up this release, but there are only 500, so I’d get it sooner than later.

Bottom Line: Indiepop Christmas at its finest. 4.6/5

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The Explorers Club “Christmas Must Be Tonight” (2013)

The Explorers Club - Christmas Must Be Tonight

EC Records / Burger Records
Buy: Free!

Philadelphia’s The Explorers Club released a gem of a cover last year, picked up by a number of my fell0w bloggers-in-Christmas, but worth highlighting once more for its general level of excellence. This is a faithful cover of The Band’s original, so nothing much has changed. However, this version does differ in subtle ways, best experienced during the chorus where they inject just enough energy to fill that gap I (personally) feel in the original.

Bottom Line: The Explorers Club took a great song, and upped the ante. 5/5

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Sleepwalkers – Merry Christmas (2013)

Sleepwalkers Christmas

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Richmond, Virginia’s Sleepwalkers have made a fantastic indie rock Christmas EP, and you should listen to it. In fact, it was their DEBUT release. Every track is strong, their production is top-notch, and they wrote their own damn songs. To my ears, its as if the Strokes met the Shins, decided to write a Christmas EP, and did it f*ing well. I may be partial to the VERY Strokes-esque “Christmas Morning,” but all the tunes are great. Pay attention to the spelling, the subject matter is quite different than the last post.

Bottom Line: Hey Sleepwalkers, how about you make this a tradition? 4.8/5

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A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Xmas Mixer (2013)

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Xmas Mixer

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

This 3-song Christmas EP was released on Christmas day last year – so I’m guessing this is the first time that they may be finding their way to a Christmas mix, unless you were REALLY late last year. Xmas Mixer features three members of A Sunny Day in Glasgow, each taking a song and running with it. First, there’s Jen, who sings the awful “Christmas All Around” from Love, Actually. You know, the song that the washed up rock singer is pimping? Well, she does it quite well, for it being a generally awful song! Second up is Annie, who picks “The Holly and the Ivy,” which has become a song du jour in recent years. She strips it down, layers some vocals with what sounds like cello, then adds some fluttering digital bits, all to a beautiful result. Finally, Adam supplies a synth version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which I honestly can’t get into. Midi Christmas has never been my thing, and never will be. But hey, I’m not you!

Bottom Line: Lets see… Two solid tracks? Check. Free? Indeed. 4/5

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Short Skirts “Christmas Depends on You” (2013)

Short Skirts - Christmas Depends on You

Self Released
Buy: Free!

I love the rabbit hole that is Soundcloud. If I find a song I like, I’ll explore all the playlists that its been added to, in the hopes that the listener has equally good taste as that particular selection. At some point, this journey led me to Short Skirts, a fantastic garage rock band from Norway. “Christmas Depends on You” brings in Ida Horpestad from Blomst on vocals, and her touch really brings this garage/surf Christmas song to the next level. The lyrics are fantastic – I really don’t want to ruin them for you before you listen. To top off an already great song… they are offering it as a free (WAV) download on Soundcloud.

Bottom Line: This song is good enough to be covered for years to come. 5/5

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