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 that 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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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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Edit: Well… it looks like Sleepwalkers have joined Charlie’s Hand Movements in the practice of taking down all your seasonal stuff when the season has passed… so GRAB IT WHEN YOU CAN.