YACHT “Christmas Alone” (2015/2020)

Yacht - Christmas Alone

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I swear. I will stop talking about how I always burn out at the end of the season, and will no longer begin every post with an apology for not posting it sooner. But.. especially when songs are topical, and (HOPEFULLY) very specifically attached to one particular year, it does feel like a missed opportunity (so… sorry). Los Angeles’ YACHT have been on my radar for years, and I do recall their fun, oddball electro-pop track “Christmas Alone” from that inaugural Indie for the Holidays playlist that Amazon released back in 2015. That first version was mainly about how much they love spending time home alone on Christmas – having fun grabbing takeout and going to the movies and such. Well, this past Christmas had its own unique circumstances, and they rewrote the song for our 2020 COVID Christmas. The fun imagery is gone, replaced by these truly beautiful lines, disguised inside this bouncy, Waitresses’ evoking track.

Mom and Dad are vexed we’re spending Christmas far away,
But love is not a test, love is opening to change

We don’t need a Christmas tree and we don’t need a chimney
We just need each other and to stay home watching TV

Remember the days before money ate the mission
Maybe now’s the time to make some new traditions

This year we’re just happy we can celebrate our luck
We made this far and that should be enough

Everybody has to stay at home
This Christmas it’s you and me alone

All we need is love to make a home
So this Christmas it’s you and me alone

Hope is a relation tween the future & the past
Time is so short but dreaming helps it last

Give a little this year to the ones who need it best
lost a lotta living but we’re grateful for what’s left

Gear up for another year you think is gonna break ya
Keep holding up the ones you love and keep each other safer

Doesn’t even matter if it’s Christmas Day today
When we have each other, every day’s a holiday

Everybody has to stay at home
So next Christmas we won’t be on our own

All we need is love to make a home
So this Christmas it’s you and me alone

I’ve been looking for those bits of hope, those bits of love. Those are the songs I gravitated to last year. So… even though I’m a bit late to the post, and even though this song may not have as much potency beyond last Christmas (PLLLLEEEAAASSEEE be so), it is still a worthy song.

Bottom Line: YACHT converted this fun, poppy song into a poignant, yet still fun, poppy song. All money goes to the Los Angeles Food Bank, so don’t be scared off that $5 price tag.

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael “Mary and Joseph” (2015)

Don't Call me Ishmael Dark Christmas E.P.

DROMA Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP) | Bandcamp (Compilation)

Stafford, England’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael are big fans of Christmas. I’m honestly amazed that I had not discovered them until this year, as they have multiple Christmas EPs, with releases every year since 2015. I’ve got a lot to choose from, but the song I’m going to highlight is the beautiful, and powerful, “Mary and Joseph,” off of 2015’s Dark Christmas EP. What immediately caught me was this sensation that I’m hearing an amazing Billy Bragg Christmas song. I’ve got this live Billy Bragg record that has been in my CD changer (yes, I have one) for YEARS… I stress, YEARS, because it always seems to pop on when my soul needs it. “Mary and Joseph” scratches that same itch. No accompaniment, just two voices reminding us to be grateful for what we have at Christmas. I’m most certainly looking forward to their upcoming Christmas release slated for Monday, December 9th. Follow them on Facebook, their label on Bandcamp, etc, to be the first to hear it! And dig into those older tracks too!

Bottom Line: Powerful simplicity in the vein of Billy Bragg… which is high praise.

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Steven Branstrom “Christmas” (2011/2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

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.

Bottom Line: And that’s it! Short and sweet!

Stephen Solo “War is Never Over (Even if you want it)” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

For those bands out there who want to write a Christmas song, but don’t know where to begin – let me pose two options for you. The first would be found in Bossy Love’s reinterpretation of the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” where they updated the song to be more of-the-moment. The second approach would be to write a response song. A good example of this approach can be found in Stephen Solo‘s “War is Never Over (Even if you want it).” Back in 2015, the British had begun participating in airstrikes in Syria, and from Stephen’s perspective back in Glasgow… beginning a new chapter of an unending war. So, he took his phone (as he does) and recorded this brutal condemnation of the action, hung on the frame of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”

“Let the Big Ben bells ring out for bombs this Christmas / the only peace we’ll get this year is pieces of skulls and baby bones. / War is never over even if you want it.”

Stark indeed. Extremely well-produced, yet tough to listen to, as you are forced to reflect on what violence means to you when it happens so far away.

Bottom Line: Stephen Solo’s “Christmas” song will likely feel quite contemporary, renewed by humanity’s skillful violence, for many years to come.

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Bjéar “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World” (2015)

Bjéar Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Things are getting weird around these parts. We’re all about to get nuked, and I’m sitting here writing the second post in threee days about an instrumental Christmas song. Adelaide, Australia’s Bjéar has a Soundcloud stream full of solid, RIYL Bon Iver/Sufjan Stevens indie folk/rock. I initially heard his excellent Sufjan-esque “Big Sky” and really loved it; I think it was one of those “Soundcloud chooses another song” situations. So I click through to the profile, and discover these two Christmas songs – “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” These are two songs that rarely make appearances on this, very secular Christmas blog. However, there is a quality to them that leads me to this moment. Bjéar’s arrangements are the obvious strength of these songs. “Joy to the World” has subtle variations on the melodies you’d expect, and yet it sounds fresh to my bitter ears. “Silent Night” is extremely simple – pretty much a solo piano effort for the first minute. Then, more colors enter, and it opens up. Neither track reinvents these classic songs, but Bjéar’s choices have a sensibility that indie rock fans such as myself will certainly appreciate.

Bottom Line: I find myself in uneasy, instrumental and religious Christmas song waters, but Bjéar helps me swim.

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Diane Coffee “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” (2015)

Diane Coffee - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Western Vinyl
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

Take a song that feels rather formulaic, one where 1 + 1 obviously equals two… and to throw a wrench (and maybe a tab of acid) in the works. Diane Coffee‘s rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is just this… it nudges the classic formula gently off the cliff and all of a sudden you are in the middle of this amazing fuzzed-out guitar, and you’ve forgotten how to count. For those unfamiliar with Diane Coffee, he has released two fascinating art-pop records on Western Vinyl (most notably the original home of Dirty Projectors), as well as being the initial drummer for friends (and sonic brothers) Foxygen. This one-off track was released in 2015, and is still available for free on Soundcloud, which is extremely generous. This track is good enough to be released on its own… perhaps Diane Coffee should record another xmas tune this year and release a 7″? I’d buy it, no doubt. For now, we’ll have to settle for a non-holiday 7″, as his new release Peel will be out on Polyvinyl on October 20th.

Bottom Line: It’s beginning to look a lot like art-pop Christmas, Diane Coffee, and I’m totally cool with it. Let’s get freaky.

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Bitter’s Kiss and Blue Stone “These Bells Will Ring” (2015/2016)

Bitter's Kiss & Blue Stone - These Bells Will Ring

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC)Amazon MP3 | Amazon.UK MP3 | Amazon.DE MP3 | Amazon.FR MP3 | iTunes

Weehawken NJ’s Chole Grace, formerly known as Bitter’s Kiss and now professionally known as Baker Grace (and apparently signed to Republic Records), collaborated with electro-pop group Blue Stone with “These Bells Will Ring.” It’s a call for peace in the holiday season; You can’t get much simpler than that. It is short, poignant and beautiful. I have a version from 2015 that is 30 seconds shorter and with MUCH less production value than the slightly celtic version that adorns this video… and I prefer the stripped-down version a bit more. Still dig the new one, just not as much.

Bottom Line: Short, thoughtful and beautiful. Make the original version available again and I’ll be a happy, happy blogger. It’s back!

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HEY! Look! The original version!

The Grapes & Friends “Christmas Crush,” “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” and “I Wish it Would Snow in Austin” (2016/2015/2012)

Grapes and Friends - Christmas Crush

Self Released
Buy: Amazon MP3 | Amazon.UK MP3 | Amazon.DE MP3 | Amazon.FR MP3iTunes

Here is something I had been meaning to write about since well before Christmas… but you know what? There is only so much time in the day, and you know… family, work, and all that other shit.  That, and Christmas A Go Go already covered it! Not that I don’t write about things that other folks do – I just feel less urgency about actually doing it. I think I just had a breakthrough! Thanks for listening guys and girls. I’ll see you all next week.

Oh yeah – review.

Grapes and Friends are an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of Dangeresque, The Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are like the Austin version of our friends the Sunturns, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. They combine to throw a Christmas party (have for eight years now) and it sounds like a fucking blast; I would love to go. This year they released the fantastic “Christmas Crush” as a teaser to get you to come to their holiday shindig, and what jam! I don’t know if I quite agree with C-a-Go-Go (Hall & Oates meets Ween), I find it to be equal parts Young Americans-Bowie and Midnight Vultures-Beck as the recipe for this cheeky holiday romp. The music is groovy, the lyrics are clever, the whole thing just makes me want to (Christmas) party.

They also released “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)? in 2015,” which is still a ton of fun, just a bit goofier. Smooth and silly, it is something that wouldn’t be out of place in a fireside seduction scene on Flight of the Concords. “Can I Come Home with you for Christmas / Can I get stoned with you for Christmas? / make you feel alright pretty baby, maybe.” Some fun shit indeed.

BUT WAIT, there is one more! The final track is “I Wish it Would Snow in Austin,” released in 2012 and accented with beautiful horns and lots of love. It reminds me of Yoko-era Beulah, which is a band I fucking love. (What’s with all the profanity today?) I truly dig this one too – battling with “Christmas Crush” for my favorite by these Grapes folks. Can’t wait for this year’s!! (fingers crossed)

Bottom Line: The Grapes and Friends are a welcome indie-Christmas supergroup that would be amazing on a double bill with their Norwegian counterparts… just imagine that one… what a party! Love this band!

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The Wild Raspberries “Together On Christmas Day” (2016) and “A Christmas Song” (2015)

The Wild Raspberries

Self Released
Buy: Stream

First off… big, big shout out to The Christmas Chaos Radio Show for hipping me to this fantastic new Dutch band, The Wild Raspberries. How they snuck past the Christmas music radar that I have eternally pointed at northern Europe, I have no clue. Their 2016 track, “Together on Christmas Day,” isn’t even their first seasonal rodeo; They are now two years into this seasonal tradition! And yes, I’m going to say tradition in the hopes that they will continue putting out these gorgeous songs. To describe these songs is to close your eyes and imagine what an amazing Mojave 3 Christmas album might sound like. I consider this a huge compliment, because I own every single Mojave 3 record, and to remind me of them… specifically the best moments of them… is huge. On both these tracks, the Wild Raspberries’ ethereal vocals and the ringing guitar lines lead to some beautiful fingerpicked lyrical imagery:

From Together on Christmas Day: “Cause it’s a long way home and I miss you / It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed you / but all the roads lead to be with you / so it’s all ok / we’ll be together on Christmas day.”

From A Christmas Song: “On Christmas day / I fell asleep next to the fire / In my dreams you called my name / You never changed / you held my hand and I believed you / when you said ‘all is ok'”

Each song has its own moment that made me sit up and marvel. There is the moment in “A Christmas Song” when Keez’s vocals join Hannah’s (goosebumps), and then there’s that initial guitar line that joins the opening synth in “Together on Christmas Day” (beautiful) – each solidifying these songs as essentials in my seasonal repertoire. Perhaps you will find your own, different moments… because there are many more to choose from. The Wild Raspberries are worth your time, and hopefully in the future, your money. You can support them by listening on Spotify as we all await whatever they have in store.

Bottom Line: The Wild Raspberries have created some spectacular Dutch dream folk Christmas tunes that you really need to listen to.

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Charles Cave “This Fucking Time of Year” (2015)

Charles Cave "This Fucking Time of Year"

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Charles Cave, the bassist and lyricist for the British post-punk band White Lies, released a great, 80’s synth Christmas jam last December that is making the rounds again thanks to a new video. This song is dramatic in all the ways you want an 80’s synth Christmas song to be.

If you’re gonna leave,
Go on and leave;
Leave my heart in the cold snow
When you go.
But if I wanna drink,
Well then I’ll drink.
I’ll drink to forget I drink alone.
So alone.

‘Cos I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.
I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.

This is a hot track. It’s just what I needed when I woke up this morning… the montage was epic. There was singing into a hairbrush. There may have even been dramatic turns to a mirror. I put on a great, ill-fitting suit slicked back my hair and got into my Ferrari. My best friend Alf and I took off and headed for our Club Med vacation. We’ll see you all in the new year, 1987.

Bottom Line: Yeah yeah yeah, technically from last year, but I actually HEARD about it THIS year. And I love it. So there.

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