If you follow me on Twitter, you know this is a tough week for bloggin. So, I’m going to be brief! Said Fantasy is Ronnie Martin, and he knows his way around a MOOG. “Chorus Noel” is a fantastic experimental synth-pop song that I wish could be replicated 5 times on one record… because I’d buy that shit on vinyl. “Chorus Noel” comes as the lead, title track of their 5-track Christmas EP, out now on CDr (100 copies), as well as digital download on Chicago’s Plastiq Musiq. I’m not as down with the traditional covers, but it is totally worth it for that lead track. So… let that be your bit for the day. Best of luck you all in your mixin’ endeavors, and send me stuff you think I’d like – @xmasunderground!
Bottom Line: Some awesome synth-pop for your ear-holes. I do wish you could buy a single track though….
Asthmatic Kitty Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Denison Witmer is a great songwriter. This I know is a fact. I remember being in college, watching a friend of a friend open for Denison, and this guy had a pretty big crowd. Filled with fraternity brothers and such, they were there for their boy. Passable strumming ensued, and when he was done, those guys pretty much all left. A smaller, but much more dedicated crew was left, and we all realized that THAT is how you write a good song. The difference was truly astounding; I was shook. Well, it is now over 15 years later, and my man Denison is releasing a Christmas EP under his own name. He has popped up on others’ works, Sufjan and Rosie Thomas, but I don’t believe he has ever done his own. Now all we have to do is have him write some originals… The EP sports a traditional instrumental, a song who-shall-not-be-named, as well as an old hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” It is a touching song, simple in its arrangement, but full of fragile emotion; the imperfections in Denison’s voice emote more than any singer from The Voice could ever muster. This is certainly more on the religious side that I would normally write about, but the fact that it was Denison (a good guy), since it was so damn pretty, and that it is only available until Jan. 1 has put me over the top. If you want this, get it now. Hat tip to Christian for making me aware of this!
Bottom Line: This is also a charity release, with all proceeds going to a friend and fan who is battling Leukemia. So… count your blessings and spread the love.
Oh hey – Denison has this other Christmas track from his The 80’s EP.
And Rosie, Sufjan and Denison…
Moshi Moshi Records
Buy: Moshi Moshi | Bandcamp
Legends of Country/Boy Least Likely To impresario Jof Owen and Girl Ray‘s Poppy are both no strangers to fantastic Christmas tunes, so of course they decided to record one together!! I most certainly enjoy the way they describe it:
From Moshi Moshi:
Sweet and impossibly romantic, with a little nod to Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett and a cheeky wink to Nancy And Lee, the Christmas Stick is a misty eyed slacker pop masterpiece. It retells the story of a chance encounter on a lonely winter night between two strangers whose eyes meet across a bustling broadway before they’re both struck by a mysterious festive talisman and end up spending the rest of the holidays together and writing a Christmas love song all about it.
Bottom Line: This thing is silly and sweet.
I love a bratty, angsty, anti-Christmas song as much as the next Joe, and this one is quite as fine as they come. Mud On My Bra are a two-piece punk band from Seattle, and they have an attitude and a sound that I can get behind.
oh ’tis the season again
an exaggerated holiday when
we’re burned out by 10 am
like melting snow-men
shopping! consumerism thrives
commercials go into overdrive
with the music invading all our lives
i’m only here to buy toothpaste
my package! never will arrive
the fir tree! gives me hives
and my chapped lips never will survive
i guess i’m allergic to christmas
i guess i’m allergic to christmas
i must be allergic to christmas
or maybe i’m allergic to you
YES. I’ve been writing about too much pretty stuff lately. Let’s break shit.
Bottom Line: Mud On My Bra have found a nice little slice of bitterness for us all to share.
Lisbon Lux Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Le Couleur are an electro pop band from Montreal, and while I truly don’t speak a lick of French, I’m presenting considering it, among three other french-language tracks for my mix this year. “Le Dernier Noel,” if Google translate has not led me astray, is a song about a Christmas party with romantic intrigue, booze, and if I’m not mistaken, cocaine. You know, some real Bing Crosby shit. So, if you find yourself like me, in the (hopefully) last 2 days of wrapping up your Christmas mix and need something to liven things up, this might just do it.
Bottom Line: Le Couleur have a fantastic groove, one that makes you forget you have no real foreign-language skills.
Buy: iTunes | Google Play | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
Wow. British singer/songwriter Tom Rosenthal has crafted an epic Christmas song, “The Only Time I’m Home,” and you should probably grab a set of headphones. From the haunting, fluttering synths, to the lines “You know the drill / mom buys you socks / so she loves you still. / you’re lying if you can say / your heart is not home / you’re trying to slide out of view / but Christmas is you.” Truly a beautiful song, one that will make many a mix I’d imagine. Enjoy.
Bottom Line: “The Only Time I’m Home” slowly builds into one of the most beautiful songs of the season.
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
Phoebe Bridgers dazzled us last year with her beautiful rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” It truly was a highlight of the season, and in what appears to now be a seasonal tradition, Phoebe has returned, this time with Jackson Browne! Phoebe and Jackson have done what I desperately wish more bigger artists would do – cover smaller artists. “Christmas Song” was originally penned by Dan McCarthy of the band McCarthy Trenching. My dream is to help someone put together a Christmas record that, for the general public, would appear to be all originals. But the sneaky thing would be that most of them would be covers, killer, killer covers of amazing songs they had never heard. Phoebe – you are on the right track here.
One more thing – everyone is publishing the bit from the press release (I am much too small a blog to have them send it to me), and if this is your first exposure to the track, you need to read this too.
“McCarthy Trenching is singer/songwriter Dan McCarthy’s band. We played a show together in Omaha this last year. They named the band after the trenching company owned by Dan’s uncle so they could sell those t-shirts instead of having to make their own. The first time I heard this song it hit me like a ton of bricks. A lot of McCarthy Trenching songs do that. It’s not that often that I hear a Christmas song that doesn’t make me want to quit music. I played a show in L.A. around the holidays last year where I covered it for the first time. Jackson Browne was there, and he came up to me after the show to tell me how much he loved the song. A couple days later, Dan got a Bandcamp notification on his desktop computer that someone paid 50 bucks for his record and wrote a nice note and signed it Jackson Browne. He thought someone was fucking with him. So when I decided to record a version of the song, I knew who I wanted to sing on it. Plus, I have wanted to make music with Jackson as long as I’ve wanted to make music.”
How damn cool is that?!
Bottom Line: This song surpasses last year’s, and suggests that we might have many more years of incredible Christmas covers from Phoebe + Crew. Hell, I’m down with her teaming up with Jackson on every single one – they sound spectacular together.
The latest collection, in a long series of excellent indiepop Christmas releases, finds Charlie Darling’s Les Bicyclettes de Belsize in full-album form; Twelve more songs to add to an already large and excellent catalogue. On “Every Christmas Eve,” Charlie seems to be channeling a Clientele vibe, which is most certainly up my alley. “Bad Christmas Cover Version” and “Andy Partridge (From XTC)” have some of the fantastic band references that I’ve loved in previous LBdB classics like “A Very Indie Christmas.” The shared secrets and upbeat groove of “Under the Mistletoe” nicely blends sweet and saucy to create a warm feeling of nostalgic holiday romance. There truly are a lot of nice moments on The 12 Days of Christmas, which shine even brighter the more you believe in indiepop Santa.
Bottom Line: Les Bicyclettes de Belsize add some indiepop gems to their already substantial chest of Christmas tunes.
I haven’t given you all much this week. It might be a light season over here at CU, as work is nuts. HOWEVER, I can take 2 minutes to let you know that Richard Walters, who released the spectacular “The First Snow in Years” last year, has just released a true-blue Christmas single, “Lights On.” It is absolutely beautiful. “Oh when I woke / my body spoke of / dreams beyond my thinking.” I could pretty much pick any line and you would would be impressed. You’ll probably want to buy this one.
Bottom Line: Richard Walters’ latest is pure beauty.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
I will see how this week goes, but it is gearing up to be a challenging holiday season, time-wise. Thus, you may find my reviews becoming much more short & sweet; I am going to have a much shorter missive from me to you about this excellent record by artist/writer/singer Chad Thomas Johnston (CTJ as I will now call him). CTJ resides in Lawrence, Kansas, where he day-jobs as a writer, having pieces in many publications you might know such as Spin and In Touch Magazine. Come to find out, he also releases some damn fine Christmas records! Back in 2004, CTJ released a 10-track holiday album, All is Calm, All is Bright, and added tracks to the digital version again in 2005 and 2007. For 2018, CTJ has compiled all of his holiday tracks (all 30 of them) into this beautiful collection, wonderfully titled Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul. I prefer the secular stuff, as usual, but even the religious material is treated well. It is CTJ’s subtle orchestration choices (the heartbeat in “Joy to the World”) which really made we sit up straight and say “dammmn, that’s good.” The lo-fi crackling of “Oh Christmas Tree” was the track that initially got me – it established CTJ as having a certain taste-level that I knew I was going to get into. The record also includes CTJ’s entry into Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas song contest back in 2007, “Bethlehem (The 51st State).” It is no surprise that CTJ entered this contest, as I feel he and Sufjan would pair well as a Christmas-music double feature. That said, what makes this song fun is that he actually brings Sufjan directly into the song, which is a fantastically fun and interesting approach. In summary, CTJ has promised you coal, but he’s giving you much, much more with Stalking Stuffers.
Bottom Line: RIYL Sufjan Stevens, or if you ARE Sufjan Stevens. This expansive collection of beautifully-orchestrated Christmas songs is wholly worth your time.