Ratigan “The Rights to Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

“Santa Claus is sponsored by / Applebees and Light Rock 105. / Coca-Cola bought the rights to Christmas. / Coca-Cola bought the rights to Christmas.”

That… fuckin… chorus. Hook… line… sinker. Boy, I do love some snark in my Christmas pudding.

Providence, Rhode Island’s Ratigan has written this scruffy, barely Christmas-adjacent song that just made me smile. The production and delivery had me thinking of a close neighbor of his, Boston’s wonderful Soltero (who also has at least one xmas gem too), as his clever lyrics and nearly talk-singing style would most certainly hang out in the same circle of friends. This is bedroom pop as I imagine bedroom pop should sound – intimate, clever, and just a little rough around the edges. Hopefully you’ll feel so too.

Bottom Line: Sup. Wanna hang out and listen to some tunes? Want to smile and not think about out impending doom? Niiiiiicccce.

LISTEN

Richard Edwards and the Velvet Ocean “Happy Christmas (the whole world has changed)” (2020)

Profound Discomfort
Buy:
Bandcamp | 7Digital | Apple Music | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play

Richard Edwards, known in a previous life as the lead singer and songwriter for Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, has been releasing some pretty beautiful records for the past few years (largely on Joyful Noise), and his latest, The Soft Ache and the Moon” is no exception. He has teased us with a Christmas-ish song in the past with a cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” on the Joyful Noise Snowflathe series, but never quite so explicit as “Happy Christmas (the whole world has changed.” This song is raw emotion. The lyrics are vivid, brutal, and deeply personal. You can take it from me, or from Richard himself:

“Maybe my favorite song on the album and the most difficult to write in certain ways. It was a little too raw and painful for me, but Dave Palmer, the brilliant piano player got me to do it. And I’m glad he did, even if it hurts a little.”

Richard Edwards

This song is full of dream imagery, scenes filled with fog on the edges – suffering, atonement and just squeaking by. It is not your normal Christmas song, but this is not your normal Christmas site. Settle in.

Bottom Line: Some songs make you both wish the writer never had to write this song, while appreciating the beauty of what they created; This is one of those songs.

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UPCOMING: Murder by Death – Lonesome Holiday (2020)

Murder by Death - Lonesome Holiday

Tentshow Records
Buy:
Vinyl | Bandcamp

Louisville’s Murder by Death released a fantastic, 2-song Christmas single back in 2014 appropriately titled 2014 Christmas Cover Songs. In 2020, they’ve collected those two tracks and added a healthy 9 more release what promises to be a truly fantastic (though melancholy) Christmas record. I’m really looking forward to hearing more, as hopefully they will preview a few more tracks in the coming weeks. Either way, this is one to look out for.

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Alex the Astronaut “Christmas In July” (2020)

Nettwerk/Minkowski Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play | Spotify

I was driving the other day listening to WNRN (one of our local nonprofit radio stations), and this track came on that I really liked. Honestly, I can’t tell you what song it was now… but I recall the DJ coming on saying “That was Alex the Astronaut giving us some really big Courtney Barnett vibes.” I wholly agreed, and found myself making a mental note of the singer so that I might later see if there was a vaguely Christmas song I could mine for my mix (and my blog). WHAT DO YOU KNOW? Not only is there a song, but it is a single as well. I don’t get the same Barnett vibes from “Christmas in July,” and I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate her folktronic sensibilities to be lumped in with Courtney’s wordy indie guitar rock simply because they are both Australian. Initially, I expected the song to be more about celebrating Christmas in July, as many folks in the southern hemisphere wish to have a pop-culture-approved Christmas celebration during their winter. However, this is quite specifically a love song, and the reference to “Christmas in July” is very much in the “traditional” vein. Alex uses Christmas imagery to express how exuberant and lucky she feels to be with her love – as if she is getting a wonderful and unexpected gift outside of the holiday of Christmas. Alex’s voice brilliantly expresses emotion, fragile and powerful in equal parts. The simple piano lines build anticipation, leading us to drums that burst open the song like a brilliant flower. There is an energy, a physical and emotional motion to this song that I greatly appreciate. And yes, this is not specifically a Christmas song, but I have bent the rules for less. So… enjoy this bit of Christmas in September.

Bottom Line: It is a beautiful, emotional song that gets better with multiple listens, so hit that replay button a few times.

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UPCOMING: Mark Lanegan – Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020 (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Rough Trade Exclusive LP

Well well well… this popped up on my radar, either by fate or coincidence…. Mark Lanegan is re-releasing his tour-only Christmas EP, Dark Mark Does Christmas 2012, as a full-length Christmas album – the appropriately titled Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020. Lord knows that 2020 is a year for a dark Christmas record…

From Rough Trade (who have an exclusive version, perhaps THE exclusive version?)

2020 has been a dark year and so to end the year Mark Lanegan returns as Dark Mark and releases a full Christmas album. Five tracks were released as a tour only 12″ in 2012 which is now rare and impossible to find. He has recorded five more tracks recently and turned it into a full length album. Lanegan successfully takes some traditional Christmas songs, some Christmas covers plus some originals and twists them into a dark, melancholic affair. Standouts include Burn The Flames, originally recorded by Roky Erickson and Lanegan makes this sinister song, even more sinister. The Everley Brothers Christmas Eve Can Kill You is stripped back and haunting whilst the Lanegan original A Christmas Song is delicate and heartbreaking. 2020 is going be a dark Christmas.

Rough Trade

LISTEN (to the 2012) version

Michael M “Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)” (2020)

Michael M - Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)

Last Night from Glasgow
Buy:
Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Michael M. has written a “quick song about Santa Claus having an existential crisis,” and fuck if it isn’t one of my favorite little ditties of the year. Just bask in these lyrics and smile.

It’s Christmas time and a cold wind appears
The snow isn’t falling down
Because the Earth is misbehaving
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Resurrected annually to highlight wealth inequality
Humans are not worth saving

Merry Christmas, please let me die

The song sounds like it should have been one of those coveted b-sides from Blue Album/Pinkerton-era Weezer, which I consider a high, high compliment. (Side note – It is so unfortunate that you have to designate which Weezer records as to not insult the band you like, because looooorrrrrdddd, they break my heart to this day.) You can’t listen to this thing and not smile – it is infectious (too soon?). Short, sharp perfection.

Bottom Line: The vibe, the lyrics, every damn thing about this song reminds me of why I started this silly blog – to bring weirdo Christmas songs like this to my weirdo friends. Enjoy.

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Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017/2020)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2020 Addition: This COVID/anxiety-riddled/dumpster fire of a year has brought few bright moments. Today is an exception (for the moment), as one of my favorite Christmas records of the past few years is reintroduced to the world on beautiful, red-marbled vinyl. Zach Malm‘s The Darkest time of Year has been released in a limited pressing of 100 copies, and I strongly suggest that one of those copies should be yours. Heck, there is even a bonus song that wasn’t on the original release! This is your chance to have a fantastic private-press Christmas record that future generations of weirdo Christmas music fans will be alllllll about. Let us take a moment to look back upon my 2018 review of this beautiful record that completely floored me.

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December can overwhelm a tired Christmas-music blogger. Often, the casualties of a lack of time and a wealth of music, are the large compilation and the full album. Singles are so much quicker to consume and write about. Seattle’s Zach Malm was a casualty of last year, as he put out a very interesting experimental, electronic pop record that I did not get to, and most certainly deserves our 2018 ears. There are some damn interesting songs on here, many of which are awash in a Novation Bass Station II synth. Zach’s cover of “Walking in the Air” has a fantastic buzzing bassline powered by that synth, as well as these great fluttering melodies interspersed throughout; It is truly beautiful. Zach’s wonderful original “Magical Night,” is much less electro, bringing in guitars while crafting a beautifully sweet song about a child’s anticipation of Christmas. It is simple, poignant and wholly mix-worthy. Zach’s other originals, “Christmastime is Always,” “The Darkest Time of the Year,” and “Half the Fruit” all reflect the album’s title in a way the sweet “Magical Night” did not. They are dark, but with these brilliant moments of light, such as this line in “Half the Fruit:”

If nothing else, we still have Christmas
If nothing else, we still have Jesus
And even though the meaning changes
If nothing else, we still have Christmas

Zach has created a true album – the “Kid Conversation” tracks are great on their own, but not really “songs” – but they work beautifully, stitching together this wonderful collection of largely original, both in content and approach, Christmas tunes. Zach has nailed it with this one, and you should check it out (as well as forgive me for not getting to this fantastic record last year).

Bottom Line: Zach Malm has created a wonderfully cohesive record – a true Christmas album – beautiful to listen to in its entirety.

LISTEN