Dogs on Tour "Music for Winter Volume 1 & 2"

Dogs on Tour – Music for Winter Volume 1 & 2 (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Way back in 2010, Stubby hipped me to a free download of Dogs on Tour Music for Winter Volume 2. I grabbed those MP3s, enjoyed it, then forgot about it. This is the curse of the Christmas mix… you end up listening to soooo much music, that sometimes it is tough to find the time to really sit down with a record. Fortunately, Dogs on Tour have given me a second chance. 2016 saw the re-release of both Music for Winter Volume 1 and Volume 2, put together as an extremely strong 14-song album. The album is comprised of mostly covers of classic Christmas songs, but there appear to be two originals peppered in there, the extremely solid “Six Words” and jam/sound-collage “I Don’t Know.” (Of note, this would not be a song to play for a Santa-believing child). However, for my money (and btw, it’s name-your-own-price), the highlights of the album are an absolutely essential version of “Christmastime is Here,” where they add saxophone seasoning to perfection. I don’t know what part of the Hudson Branch, Jadiid, Enoke, Andy Mills, Nate Henricks, All that Noise for Feeling mix (these musicians comprise Dogs on Tour at different times) brought the brass section, but thank youuuuu! Other tracks, such as their refreshing and contemporary arrangement on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and their subtle lyrical changes to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” really push this record up to the front of your seasonal rotation. The choices are interesting, the production is great, and that saxophone… that saxophone.

Bottom Line: “Christmastime is Here” is almost so good that it overshadows the other solid tracks, making them look weaker in comparison… but fight that urge. This is a great record. Dogs on Tour have earned themselves a spot on the top shelf of indie Christmas releases.

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Four Eyes "Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber"

Four Eyes “Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber”

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2016 quite the year for Die Hard-inspired Christmas tunes, and while the Irish have had their shot, it’s time to see what our stateside talent had up their sleeve. Athens, Georgia’s Four Eyes released the absolutely captivating “Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber.” Written from the perspective of Hans Gruber being a man and not only an evil villain, it makes you oddly sympathetic through quiet finger picking and layered vocals that recall those quiet Sufjan Stevens classics of the past. The oddly nostalgic atmosphere that is only broken by the “motherfuckers” that pepper the ending; The dichotomy between the subject and the treatment was just a blast.  Fantastic.

Bottom Line: Four Eyes… you are just too good to be a one-off indie Christmas classic (cause you have more!). I’ll be seeing you again for sure.

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Zefereli "Oh Christmas" (2016)

Zefereli “Oh Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: iTunes

Brisbane, Australia’s Zefereli are a wonderful indiepop duo who… despite my best efforts, alluded me this past Christmas season. “Oh Christmas” is a beautiful, simple folk Christmas song in the vein of early, more acoustic Slow Club. There are no bells and whistles, just beautifully delivered harmonies and warm sentiment. “I won’t be asking for much this Christmas / I’ll just be asking for you.”

Bottom Line: I’m going to take this opportunity to ask Alistar and Clea to record another Christmas song this year because “Oh Christmas” was just too good, and I’m much more demanding than the song’s narrator.

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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!

 

Soy Christmas - Tinsel

Soy Christmas “Tinsel” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

It would make sense that a band named Soy Christmas would have a Christmas song on their first EP, and while the dreamy electro-pop tune “Tinsel” is by no means explicitly a Christmas song, it most certainly places itself during the season. “Up at the top / over the sot — right where you want / this time o’ mine / the causeway’s covered in ice — tinsel and lights ”

Lyrically, the song starts off innocently enough, but be aware, it gets significantly darker as it progresses. “keeping it cool / stepping in real close to you — it’s something to do / just kids on a bridge / someone hopped over the edge — you know the rest / i found a photograph of us in the back corner of my house / i thought that we could work this out — i thought we’d work this out”

This track can be found on this Boston band’s debut EP, Spent, and while this may be the only track that can stretch to your 2017 Christmas mix, the whole thing sounds pretty damn great. For those who wish to hear “Tinsel” from a glitchy, EDM perspective, they also have a remix version on their Bandcamp as well.

Bottom Line: “Tinsel” is an absolutely gorgeous electro-pop tune that, for a lack of a better description, shimmers.

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Nicolas Mateo - De crisma song

Nicolas Mateo “De Crisma Song” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

So, Argentina has really made itself known within 2016’s crop of Christmas tunes. First there was Polvo de Estrellas, the terrific indie rock/pop compilation released by Polvo Bureau, and now this interesting tune by Nicolas Mateo, “De Crisma Song.” As usual, I have no idea what they are saying… my ignorance is truly frustrating for everyone I’m sure. This chiptune song has a lot (or one might say, a little) going for it – it’s short! It’s fun! I really enjoy the colors he adds as the song goes on – at its peak, it’s damn cool.

Bottom Line: Short and sweet, “De Crisma Song” leaves you wanting more.

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Nick Delffs - As I Sat on a Sunny Bank

Nick Delffs “As I Sat on a Sunny Bank” (2016)

Mama Bird Recording Co.
Buy: Bandcamp

As I searched down the feed of Bandcamp purchases by folks I follow on that wonderful service, I came across the absolutely fantastic Ryan Oxford release that came out a few days ago. I am hoping they will fix their payment processing issues, so that I can buy that cassette. But this is not the real point of this post, the real point is to highlight the Christmas single that Nick Delffs put out on the same label, Mama Bird Recording Co., this past December. “As I Sat on a Sunny Bank” is a traditional English Christmas carol arranged and performed splendidly by Nick. There is a warmth to recording, with the muted, pulsing drumbeat and the shimmering guitar accents, which makes this song sound contemporary, as well as just downright fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to feel the warmth as they sit on a sunny bank?

Bottom Line: A beautiful treatment of a traditional song by the talented Nick Delffs… you have my vote. Which…. doesn’t matter for much, which is why if you buy this track today (Friday, February 3, 2017), you’ll be giving a small slice to the ACLU as they fight for our civil liberties.

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Three for Silver Christmas

Three for Silver “Our Rest Has Come” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Stubby hipped me to the excellent Portland trio, Three for Silver, when they released the fantastic Three Stones for St. Stephen in 2015. They are back once again, with a less ambitious release (1-song), but certainly with an eye towards the same level of quality. Three for Silver sound like a balkan-Tom Waits, and their style of junkyard folk-punk is a unique seasonal treat. Written in a recent snowstorm when the band had nowhere to go, you can feel the warmth of their studio come through in the production. A lovely antithesis to the dour news of the past few days, this is like a warm cup of coffee when you desperately need one.

Bottom Line: Three for Silver hit me at the right time, and hopefully you’ll find something here too.

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Sleepwalkers - Stop Your Christmas Moanin

Sleepwalkers “Stop Your Christmas Moanin'” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Richmond, Va’s Sleepwalkers have returned with another Christmas release! Their 2013 release, Merry Christmas, remains one of the strongest Christmas indie rock releases of recent memory, and even their short-lived second seasonal release, 2014’s “Under the Christmas Tree” was a stellar effort. So it’s no wonder that “Stop Your Christmas Moanin'” is a stomper that will get you to sit up and listen. And you know what, after you initially appreciate the fantastic music and excellent production, you’ll finally have a moment to realize how wonderful the lyrics are. “Stop your Christmas moanin’ / You can’t always get what you wanted. / You can take all your money and flaunt it, / but you won’t get a cent from me. / So stop your Christmas moanin. / It’s such a sight to see. / Stop your Christmas moanin, / it ain’t hard to be poor in the land of the free.” When a band can write a meaningful song without bashing your head over with schmaltz, then you have written a fucking winner in my book.

Bottom Line: Sleepwalkers are still batting 1.000. I want them on my team. Oh… and grab it before they change their mind and take it down (hope some of you got “Under the Christmas Tree” a few years back!)

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Edit: Well… it looks like Sleepwalkers have joined Charlie’s Hand Movements in the practice of taking down all your seasonal stuff when the season has passed… so GRAB IT WHEN YOU CAN.

The Ornaments - Flying Home For Christmas

The Ornaments “Flying Home for Christmas” (2016)

Folkmonger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Mike and Lance (The Ornaments) are back… and dammmmn. This shit is dark. Funny, and dark. The song is a story about crashing in a plane on Christmas Day. The sweet guitar picking doesn’t lull you to comfort for very long, shit gets dark quick. The cabin fills with smoke, he buys inflight wifi to tell his love goodbye. However, there is a nice balance, as with the gallows humor found in the line: “meanwhile i thumbed through my phone to find a song, a christmas song, a burl ives song / that’s good to die to.” The narrator goes through the entire crash, in a slow motion mix of bemusement and wry observations. I would love to know more about how this song came about…

Bottom Line: The Ornaments’ dark humor is a welcome break from the sugary sweet songs that dominate the holiday.

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