Okay Kaya "Holiday Song"

Okay Kaya “Holiday Song” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

NJ->Norway->NYC singer/songwriter Okay Kaya (aka Kaya Wilkins) released this little gem on YouTube last season, and it was deservedly touted by my Christmas-music-blogger-in-arms Christmas-A-GoGo. Her voice is beautiful, yet with a mournful quality, and the message, while not your typical cheery Christmas romp, is most certainly relatable. My favorite line is, “I want to talk, I want to talk, I don’t want to talk, I want to talk loud and confidently.” There is something refreshing to the honesty found in the struggle embedded in the lyrics. I don’t think I’m far off-base to say that a quick glance at the central premise of this song might lead a listener to quickly dismiss it (as I think it would be terrible as either the pop-punk or twee song I imagined in my head), the line “All I want for Christmas is therapy,” threatens to be both trite and precious in equal parts, but Okay Kaya does a wonderful job to fully develop this song into a beautiful and complicated view of the other side of Christmas.

Bottom Line: Okay Kaya built upon a concept that I was almost reflexively suspicious of, and made me a believer.

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Deleted Scenes - Birdseed Shirt

Deleted Scenes “Get Your Shit Together for the Holidays” (2009)

What Delicate Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | iTunes

I’ve been considering this track by Washington, DC’s Deleted Scenes for more than 5 years now… and that is by no means a knock against the song that it has yet to make a mix. Mixes are delicate creations, a balance of tempos and moods… all stuff you already know I’m sure. That said, “Get Your Shit Together for the Holidays” is damn heavy.

“get your shit together for the holidays
you can cheer up, take some medication
keep your shit together for a couple days
you can fake whatever it takes. ”

It is moving, explicit, heavy, oddly uplifting and best listened to loud. The music is delicate and epic, moving as the tides through the song. There is very much something here… it just has to have the right neighbors.

Bottom Line: The Deleted Scenes may have deleted themselves back in 2014, but good music knows no expiration.

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

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

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!

Grapes and Friends - Christmas Crush

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

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

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

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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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 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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husbands - xmas

Husbands – Xmas (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

How in the world did HusbandsXmas sneak by me for nearly 3 full years? That’s what will happen when you don’t have “Christmas” in the tags on Bandcamp. (Man, Bandcamp needs to up their search game.) Thanks to the tweets of Jonathan Fowler over at Fowler VW (yes, THAT Fowler VW), this oversight has been remedied, and Husbands’ stellar Christmas record, Xmas, is now mine. This record is so much fun, it is truly ridiculous. I’m going to call out a few of my favorite tracks, one of which might be a bit of a surprise to loyal readers…

Xmas begins with “Little Bummer Boy,” which is, for all intents and purposes, “Little Drummer Boy.” But wait… it is FUCKING GREAT. Yes, a version of “Little Drummer Boy” that is great. I truly enjoy, nay, love this song. Their chillwave styling brings in so many beautiful colors, its groove becomes viral.

“Hey Yew” is the kind of track, that had Animal Collective wrote it, would have been on every indie Christmas mix on 8tracks from now until the end of time. The harmonies and the rhythm are so uplifting and fun, I dare you to not turn it up and groove in your seat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” throws the traditional “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” into a pot of simmering beats and synths that makes my head sway back and forth in absolute pleasure. Throw in some Beach Boys harmonies and this song is ready to eat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” segues perfectly into the “Jingle Back Margaret,” whose upbeat, shimmering melody is perpetually battling it out with “Hey Yew” for my favorite song on the album.

Yeah, my review is pretty front-heavy, as I have a particular attachment to these first few songs. But don’t let that discourage you from the latter half, where you’ll discover the layered sonic landscape of “Slayer Ride,” and the absolutely beautiful meditation of “Midnight.” Simply put, this record is an absolute pleasure. Over the holiday season, I played it for a few different folks, and have yet to find a consensus on a favorite song; Everyone finds a different track that they are drawn to. Which one will be your favorite??? Maybe let me know in the comments!

Bottom Line: Xmas is populated with enough stellar songs to justify every single reader of this blog to buy the whole damn thing. Of note, “Hey Yew” leads off my 2016 mix, and thus, mints this album with stone-cold classic status. This record needs to be spoken about in the same breath as the Parenthetical Girls, Sufjan Stevens, and Low when the seasonal indie rock Christmas blog posts make their way back onto the pages of Stereogum, Pitchfork and the like.

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Lonelyspeck "Happy New Year"

Lonelyspeck “Happy New Year” (2017)

TEEF
Buy: Bandcamp | Vinyl (Edition of 50!)

Adelaide, Australia’s Lonelyspeck has released one of the most beautiful New Years’ tunes I’ve heard in years. A highlight on an already stellar new EP, Lave, “Happy New Year” is a shimmering song of seismic beauty. This song resides on the other side of the new year, as there are no parties or celebrations, but a reflection on the core of his being.  There are a lot of volcanic references, and that is with purpose; Sione Teumohenga (Lonelyspeck) was inspired by volcanoes when developing the Lave EP, and the metaphor works beautifully.

unfold me
there are still things that i am trying to rinse
poke a leak
to let them flow out and in
put a river in me
i feel okay but tired a lot
it’s too quiet with the window shut
i opened it to hear the air caught in the leaves
and then in my breathing
scoop out the core
and lather it onto the mantle
no one has lived here before
i gather it was inhospitable
i feel okay but tired a lot
it’s too quiet with the window shut
i was walking through the park and i thought
i don’t hate myself
i don’t berate myself like i used to

The lyrics are poignant and moving, but the song is truly made in the music that carries it. I can’t imagine changing a thing about it. It begins sparse, and slowly builds… till “scoop out the core,” where the vocal layers appear alongside the bassline… and you may get goosebumps. This song is just beautiful.

Bottom Line: Daaaaaaammmmmmn this is spectacular. Discoveries like this are the reason for doing this gig.

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