Elliot Maginot “Christmas On My Mind” (2022)

Audiogram
Buy:
Bandcamp

I bet you thought I’d keep posting French-language songs… so here’s the latest from Montréal, the English-language romantic with the French last name, Elliot Maginot. This singer-songwriter has been writing original Christmas songs for a few years now, each one with a different tone, but always with crisp pop production and big emotions. Elliot’s journey begins with 2018’s “Christmas Ain’t Enough,” with its familiar rhythms and retro feel, as well as some unexpected, beautiful lyrical moments. Take a listen below.

2019’s “I’ll Know My Savior (Christmas All Around),” takes the previous year’s retro pop production and turns the knob to the 1980s, with a shimmering, romantic 1980s pallet. I’m talking precise synths, a saxophone solo or two, big vocals, and even the 80s staple, chimes – the whole deal. It can feel a bit over-the-top, and it is wonderfully so.

Elliot’s 2020 release, “The Ballad of Mrs. Claus,” also has those 80s chimes and sax solos, yet somehow feels the most contemporary of his earlier tracks. The concept of the song – Mrs. Claus singing to Santa, worrying over him and this whole enterprise – is a concept that could easily have been made into a joke, but it is treated with such thoughtfulness that it is easy to forget that it is about Santa Claus.

After a year hiatus, Elliot returns once more with the beautiful “Christmas on My Mind.” This is his most lush production yet, as his voice turns into a choir singing out over a string section, and perhaps a soprano saxophone or two. However, it is the lyrics that steal the show. That first verse is a thing of beauty:

I never claimed to be a modern man/guess it just wasn’t in my bones
I know I used to be so stubborn then/just wandering like a rolling stone
Between my endless need for love/And everything I thought I knew
I should have known it wouldn’t really feel like Christmas without you.

In each of these songs, Elliot proves to have a wonderful, direct pipeline into some deep, emotional worlds… he must have a wonderful therapist. Please give me the number.

Honestly, there was something about Elliot’s aesthetic that initially made me suspect him and the pop sensibilities he gravitates toward. This is very much not a pop Christmas blog. But there is always something a little askew with him… like in “I’ll Know my Savior,” when he goes pop, he leans in so hard that you start to imagine how big and fantastic it might sound on stage in your local venue. He drove right through my suspicions and busted out the other side. It has truly been a journey listening to these songs by Elliot Maginot.

Bottom Line: These songs feel devotional, without being specifically religious – very much the qualities I enjoy in a Sufjan Stevens Christmas song, just with vastly different production. Somewhat of a revelation, I’m 100% on board with Elliot’s unique, emotional Christmas catalog.

Julie Aubé “Ça c’est No​ë​l” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

As I continue to sift through my tabs and tabs and tabs of Christmas tunes I’ve been meaning to check out for about a year, I will continue to highlight the best of the bunch as we settle in and wait for the deluge of 2022 Christmas tracks. Now, you may know that I don’t know French, but I would imagine you agree that it sounds lovely in Christmas music. “Ça, c’est Noël” by Moncton, New Brunswick’s Julie Aubé is the latest addition to that beautiful playlist where I have no idea what they are singing about. Julie’s vocal delivery, along with this classic, French pop (with garage-rock edges) instrumentation gives the song a timeless vibe that is essential to a great Christmas song. Folks will be Googling this song, expecting to find it released on 45 in 1966… mark my words.

You’ll also likely love her non-Christmas offerings, as I’m also getting into her 2022 release, Contentment. Lots to love here.

Bottom Line: Just sing Christmas songs to me in French, Julie Aubé. I’ll bring enough eggnog for everyone.

LISTEN

The Martial Arts – Christmas With The Martial Arts (2020/2022)

wiaiwya
Buy:
Bandcamp (digital/lathe-cut vinyl)

Look at me… now I am REALLY just copying Christmas A Go Go as I essentially update and repost an older post with exciting new information (rather than have to write a whole new post… which is WORK!) The wonderful Where It’s At is Where You Are (wiaiwya) label has just dropped 50 lathe-cut, 10″ copies of The Martial Arts’ excellent Christmas EP, Christmas with the Martial Arts. And hey – it’s Bandcamp Friday, so Bandcamp isn’t even taking their cut! Go buy it now! And now, my original review:

I’m in a mood tonight. I want to just yell and swear (in a good way) about every record I find. You have no idea what I’ve already written and deleted for this review, but let your mind go crazy. Glasgow’s The Martial Arts is a project of Paul Kelly, whose CV is a murderers row of great bands (BMX Bandits / Carla J Easton / The Primary 5 / Ette / Radiophonic / Tuckshop / How to Swim / The Hector Collectors) has put together this just FUCKING FUN AND WONDERFUL Christmas EP, recorded over eight years and finished over lockdown. The first two bouncing, beautiful tracks, “Stockings” and “Snow Flakes,” just take off like a rocket and shoot sparklers out of their ass for four minutes a piece. I devoured every second, with a giant grin on my face. “My Christmas was in June” is a cover of a Ze Malibu (feat. members of Redd Kross and that dog) song, and while the tempo slows to a stroll, the scenery is gorgeous. The final track and the only one actually fully-recorded in 2020, “Blinded by the Night” takes me back to the 80’s, to an emotional moment in a movie with lots of driving in the rain and staring out the window. “Stare into my bright disco eyes,” god I love that line. Go buy this record, but wait a few hours for #Bandcampfriday, why don’t ya?

Bottom Line: This is an indie/power/retro pop mixture that, like the unholy concoction the Long Island iced tea, will fuck you up real good.

LISTEN

Coach Party “Wonderful Christmastime” (2020)

Chess Club
Buy:
Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

There are some songs that I really, really don’t enjoy… and Macca’s “Wonderful Christmastime” is most certainly on that list. For a guy who genuinely enjoys synths, one would think that I might be more fond of this modern classic, but those sugary-sweet synths rub me the wrong way. Thankfully, Coach Party has flown in from the Isle of Wight and saved the day, scrubbing those cloying synths with as many fuzzed-out guitars as humanly possible. Granted, they didn’t have quite the same hill to climb as anybody who tackles “Little Drummer Boy” might, but I tip my hat to Coach Party for making this terrible song pretty damn awesome.

Bottom Line: There is still a pop sensibility here, but Coach Party has frayed the edges enough to make me a fan.

LISTEN

Lucie,Too “Winter Song” (2020)

Thistime Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

I must say, I’m much less familiar with the Japanese indiepop scene than I probably should be. I more than dabble in indiepop, I seek it out… yet somehow I’m only now learning about what appears to be a very popular band from Utsunomiya, Japan, Lucie,Too. Their excellent Christmas single from 2020 is the kind of song that requires no further understanding of what is being said, as you’re going to be tapping your foot too much to care. However, I take comfort in the fact that it follows that tried and true indiepop formula of upbeat music with sad lyrics; the song is about the “worst Christmas for a lonely girl who went on a date with (a) taken guy.” There were cassettes of this available back in the day – but again – this band appears to be quite popular (based on the Bandcamp collections/Youtube views/etc), so those are long gone. Too bad for physical music fetishists like me…

Bottom Line: Extremely good indiepop destined for any mixes that have missed it over the past two years.

LISTEN

Boat Water “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

There are a number of songs out there that just seem to get covered the same ways… and boy is it refreshing to hear something new. Baltimore’s Boat Water has taken the excellent Ramones’ Christmas classic, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” and found a new way inside that is truly engaging. The keyboard lines, the pacing, the phrasing – I don’t believe I’ve heard it done quite like this, and thank goodness I now have. There are so many small changes that are unexpected and just fucking delightful. There’s also a cover of a Blink 182 Christmas song… but I am both unfamiliar with it, and don’t really care. They’re not my jam, but maybe they are yours! Art is subjective! I have terrible taste!

Bottom Line: An absolutely stellar cover of a Christmas classic (and one that I’m not already sick of!)

LISTEN

Kansas Bible Company “Feliz Navidad” (2020)

Kansas Bible Company - Feliz Navidad

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

A perennial favorite, Kansas Bible Company is one of those bands I always look for around the holiday season. Whatever they touch is going to be a lot of fun, and I can’t believe I didn’t get to writing about this song last year. Wait… I can. The later you put out your Christmas song, the better chance it’ll get drowned out by all the other releases (or I’m completely exhausted). I’m doing my best to make up for missing it… as last year’s cover of “Feliz Navidad” was truly a joyful rendition that deserves to be boogied down to. KBC has a wonderful combination of brass and guitars, and their shared solos in the middle of this song is a perfect example of this musical conversation. Of note – they also properly released “Blue Christmas,” their collaboration with Okey Dokey, which had been previously released under the moniker of The Nashville Country Cowboys in 2016. So add that to your Spotify playlist too… you kids and your streaming….

Bottom Line: KBC can make the telephone book (remember those??) sound fun.

LISTEN

Daði Freyr “Something Magical” (2021) / “Every Moment is Christmas with You” (2020/2018)

Samlist
Buy:
7Digital MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

One of the delights I discovered this year in my random Twitter searches was an announcement a month or so ago from the captivating Icelandic indie popster Daði Freyr. So… I check him out. At first glance, the insane videos make you believe that this might just be a joke, but you quickly realize that the songs are absolutely fantastic. As I awaited the new single to drop, I went down the rabbit hole, with every song (and video) poking that spot in my brain that made me smile really, really big. Kinda an uncomfortable, oversize smile that makes you look crazy as if I was in a Daði Freyr video. I was especially happy to find two Christmas songs in Daði Freyr’s back catalogue, though truly… it was only one song – in two different languages! “Every Moment is Christmas with You/Allir dagar eru jólin með þér” has that schmaltzy, classic Christmas crooner feel with modern-synth instrumentation. Be rest assured though, there is a quality to Daði Freyr’s voice that can make schmaltzy go down quite smoothly. The new track, “Something Magical,” is the polar opposite–a short, boogie-down track that is TOTALLY what Chromeo would do if they had made a Christmas song. It is GLORIOUS. I can’t stop fidgeting as I write this review. Just listen to it. This is a Christmas tradition that I am 100% down for.

Christmas-A-Gogo was equally excited for this new track... and 10,000 (or two) Christmas music blogs can’t be wrong!

Bottom Line: Daði Freyr’s mixture of crooning, synths, nostalgia, and humor is Something Magical. How cheesy was that??? You are welcome.

LISTEN

2020’s “Every Moment is Christmas with You”

2018’s “Allir dagar eru jólin með þér”

Anna Preston “California Eve” (2018/2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Stream

Written in 2018, but released in 2020, Seattle’s Anna Preston has crafted one of the most beautiful and intimate Christmas songs I’ve found this year (a year late!). The edges of her voice crack with emotion as she finds herself jealous that she wasn’t the first kiss, or standing next to the jukebox watching her love in the colored lights. The production is simple – Anna’s delicate voice over a strumming guitar – until the song opens up and backing vocals layer to lift the song gently up, swaying on its toes. The ending is a bit devastating, yet comforting, in that nostalgic way that we look back on lost love and share in the universal experience of it all… Truly excellent.

Of note, Anna also recorded a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which you can check out on her Soundcloud.

Bottom Line: Anna Preston’s perfectly-imperfect delivery is incredibly intimate and rewarding.

LISTEN

Cartalk “Merry Christmas Darlin’ or Happy Holidays” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

It may be 2021, but hell, if I find a great song from 2020, I’m going to write about it. Early last December, Los Angeles’ Cartalk released a sparse holiday song born from the distance of COVID that thankfully doesn’t dwell specifically in 2020 (and thus shorten its shelflife). Written in one night for 2020’s final #bandcampfriday, “Merry Christmas Darlin’ or Happy Holidays” is a simply-produced, guitar and vocals song about missing and loving someone on Christmas. A classic premise performed without any unnecessary decoration, this song is better than 99% of those who are writing from the same exact starting point. Familiar, yet fresh, Cartalk deserves to end up on some of your mixes this year, providing a lovely moment of rest inbetween your wall-of-sound classics.

Bottom Line: Carpark only needed one night to create this beautiful song. Hoping they can find a few spare hours again. Love the “chosen family” reference too – chosen family deserves the same (or one might argue, more) appreciation that family does in many situations.

LISTEN