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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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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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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Happy New Year (Prince Can't Die Again)

Mac McCaughan “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)” (2016)

Merge Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Holy shit. Just holy shit. Thank you Mac McCaughan, scion of Merge Records and Superchunk (amongst other bands). A highlight of the end of the season, with a sentiment that I can fully subscribe to. This song is a miracle of modern technology. Likely at no other time in our world can a song be written, recorded and released with such quality. As stated on Mac’s Bandcamp, “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)” was “Written and recorded Dec 24, 2016 in a moment of trying to look at any possible bright side of the coming new year after the disaster that was this one.” I give you just the first bit here, as it gets less oblique and more acutely political as the song goes on… and I feel it best to be discovered, as you are just smelling the orange in the first verse, now you need to peel it back and taste if for yourself.

It was a year when everybody died
and it was a year when the adults and children cried
for the loss of their hope, for the loss of their youth
and next year might be better, but I don’t see any proof.

and this year it seemed like nothing really mattered
you could say any horrible thing, and rise to the top of this shitheap
So if you still have friends, raise a glass with them
Say it “Happy New Year, Prince can’t die again.”

I am not moving on to New Years songs… I don’t separate them anyways, they all can make a Christmas mix in my book. However, this New Years’ song is so poignant and of-the-moment, that it may never end up on a mix. “Happy New Year” might burn brightly for the next month, only to be extinguished by the suffocating shitstorm of 2017. But for now, let it burn. Let it burn.

Bottom Line: Mac McCaughan, damn.

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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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Faye and the Scrooges "It's Christmas Time"

Faye and the Scrooges “Time for Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I walk in from wassailing at our local pub, and find I’ve been tweeted at! Faye and the Scrooges have released their 2016 Christmas song in 2016! I usually get their song well into the next year, but to my delight, here it is! I believe this is the first time that they’ve tackled what I’d consider to be a dance track, as “Time for Christmas” is meant to move your fucking ass. There is the humor you expect from a F&TS Christmas song, which I absolutely love. Between the verses of cheeky holiday observations and frustrations, the chorus swings in with a full embrace of the season. It’s how many of us feel about the holiday – nothing is quite perfect, but you can still fucking love it. In closing, as Faye and the Scrooges say, “It’s Christmas time / lets all get wasted.” I certainly took a page from that book last night…

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges have my ass moving and grooving with this Christmas jam. Now, you might wonder why I’m swearing so much in this review… it’s to make up for the “Where the f***’s that f***in Sellotape?” that F&TS dropped. Hey Faye! Release a parental-advisory version too! I love a good ‘ol profane Christmas song!

EDIT: Look below! 2 versions, one with all the 4-letter words you could want!

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Daniel Woolhouse "Fairytale of New York" (2016)

Daniel Woolhouse “Fairytale of New York” (2016)

37 Adventures
Buy: Stream (for now)

The Line of Best Fit hipped me to this fantastic new cover of the holiday classic (well, in the UK), “Fairytale of New York.” Daniel Woolhouse, AKA Deptford Goth, begins this classic Pogues’ track with an ethereal a cappella intro, and eases it into a beautiful, electro-pop room. Daniel also makes some refreshing choices in where he adds weight to the lyrics; he accents words where you would not expect it. I truly appreciate that, by every metric, this is far from a straightforward cover. This includes Daniel’s choice to exclude that one, problematic part of the song. He doesn’t change the lyrics, as some do, he just doesn’t even walk down that street. I’m cool with that, and I’m loving this song.

Bottom Line: Finally, a fresh version of “Fairytale of New York” that I feel 100% fine adding to a mix, minus that particular shitty word.

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POLVO DE ESTRELLAS (Un disco navideño compilado por Polvo Bureau)

Polvo de Estrellas (Stardust) (2016)

Polvo Bureau
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I’m going to do my best to use Google Translate and not make a complete ass of myself. Following the fantastic find that Lie in the Sound had with Jägermeister’s Merry Jäger Christmas, I bring you Argentina’s Polvo Bureau and their new Christmas compilation, POLVO DE ESTRELLAS (Un disco navideño compilado por Polvo Bureau). From the chillwave, Wild Nothing-esque Mi Nave with “Ojos Cuadrados,” to the indie rock Camaleón’s “Fuegos Artificiales,” there are some great-sounding tunes on here. Again, I don’t speak Spanish, but I know great sounding music when I hear it. The dream-pop of Queridas’ “Brillen” is ethereal and spectacular. I just want to put headphones on and walk down a snowy street with my eyes closed. The Spanish language version of Joni Mitchell’s “River” is not just fantastic because it’s the first time I’ve heard it in Spanish, but Superflan’s version shines because of the electro-pop touches they put on it. The lead out on Yuliett’s “Tanto Fuego!” Beautiful! This release is damn special, and I’m so very happy to have happened upon it tonight.

Bottom Line: I might lack the language skills to fully understand these songs, but our common language of music has sweet talked me tonight.

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