Lola Kirke “Cross You Off My List” (2018)

lola Kirke

Downtown Records
Buy: Soon? Streaming on Youtube

Lola Kirke, best known as an actress in projects such as Mozart in the Jungle and Gone Girl, is also a talented musician in her own right. Having released her first LP, Heart Head West, earlier this year, she has quickly followed it up with two seasonal tracks which debuted today. The first, “Little Drummer Girl,” flips the gender within the traditional song… but any reader will know how I feel about that song – so we will move on. “Cross You Off My List” is her first original Christmas song, and what a start! Originally written following the 2016 election, she tells PAPER Magazine, “It was a much more somber sounding song that set out to question how to celebrate Christmas in such a fraught environment. While we’re still conflicted about how to invoke the “spirit of Christmas” in today’s political climate, we decided to revise the song—set it to a more a upbeat chord progression and dash it with a bit more hope.”

There are some just killer lyrics too:

“There must be another day / to spend this holy holiday. / Maybe I should run away / or find a better way to stay.

All I want for Christmas / is to dance. / Forget romance, / I’ve made new plans / Maybe cause it’s Christmas, / I should take a stand, / and give my hand / to a better land.

All I want for Christmas / is to be less complicit / and love all those who need it. / You can take your kisses / and cross them off of my list.”

The song was co-written and beautifully produced by her partner Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and together they have made one of the strongest songs of the season. I can’t wait to find out where you can pick it up – because right now, I got nothing!

Bottom Line: Great production with absolutely killer lyrics, this song deserves your ears.

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Adam Arcuragi “The Belgian” (2008)

High Two Records
Buy: Bandcamp (Vinyl) | Label (Vinyl/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

As the world commemorated WW1 this past week (there was rain – eek!), I began to think about this fantastic song that Adam Arcuragi included on his wonderful mini-album Soldiers for Feet back in 2008. “The Belgian” references that famous 1914 Christmas armistice, where soldiers along the western front ceased fighting and celebrated Christmas. It is a truly beautiful song – one that I have mentioned before, but never featured. I always imagined it was one that was meant to be discovered… but you know… let this be your point of discovery.

Bottom Line: Adam Arcuragi is three-for-three when it comes to Christmas songs. Just saying – I’d buy whatever he’s selling.

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Richard Walters “The First Snow in Years” (2017)

Richard Walters - The First Snow in Years

Pilotlights Music
Buy: Bandcamp

My friend Kurt over at Festive! wrote a great post about the search for “Christmas (Not Christmas)” songs the other day, and not only did I immediately see myself in those paragraphs, but it got me thinking much more about those gems of the past that skirt around the edges of Christmas. One of particular note is the spectacular “Snow” by Sweet Tempest. Those chilly, not-quite-Christmas tunes always find a way into my heart, and this standout by Richard Walters, “The First Snow in Years,” has done so as well. The synth brass lines create an interesting ground for the fingerpicked melody to float over. Richard’s voice is beautiful, as is the imagery: “Midnight / standing still / streetlight / paints my shadow onto the white ground / the whole world is white. / See how it covers everything. / See how it covers everything. / The first snow in years. / The first snow in years.” Gorgeous.

Bottom Line: I write this as the election results trickle in… and this song has calmed me. No small feat. Let’s all wake up to a better tomorrow.

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Jeremy Neale “Christmas (Turn This Around)” (2017)

Dot Dash / Remote Control Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Aussie Jeremy Neale LOVES Christmas. His first Christmas single, 2016’s “Christmas Time (Is My Favourite Time Of The Year)” pretty much sums up his holiday attitude. (That track is great too, maybe I’ll need another post.) His 2017 Christmas single, “Christmas (Turn This Around),” finds Jeremy giving a holiday humbugger a pep talk – they have never found happiness in Christmas, but he is going to turn their holiday around. The driving power-pop rhythm culminates in a flurry of brass and congas that will not be denied, making this perhaps the happiest Christmas song that I can possibility stand at the moment. I mean, can’t you tell I’m falling apart here? I am writing about HAPPY MUSIC. I’m desperately trying to be positive. GO VOTE.

Bottom Line: This song is so happy it could turn a grinch into a Who! GO VOTE. *smooches*

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Traveller “Christmas Eve at Kroger” (2018)

Traveller - Western Movies

Refuge Foundation for the Arts
Buy: Vinyl & CD | iTunes | Google Play MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Traveller, the Americana supergroup comprised of Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel and Jonny Fritz, may have taken three years to follow up the release of their first track, “Western Movies,” but I would contend… this is most certainly worth the wait. Robert Ellis has released four solo records, including his latest self-titled album, Robert Ellis, in 2016. Cory Chisel has toured for years with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, releasing seven records since 2004. Jonny Fritz (AKA Jonny Corndawg) first came to my attention with a gift from a friend, a glow-in-the-dark LP copy of the endlessly entertaining Dad Country. So when you put all three of these already-accomplished alt.country/country/Americana artists together for a proper full-length (also called Western Movies), you are likely going to get something pretty special. And to my surprise, there is the added bonus of an absolutely stellar Christmas song on there – “Christmas Eve at Kroger.” I’ve been listening to this track for a few months now, and the first time my wife heard it – she began to tear up. I certainly wasn’t surprised; This song has a bunch of these little, deceptively-powerful moments. The lyrics are so simple and real, that they feel as though they could have come right out of your own mind. I was hooked upon hearing them name-check Cracklin’ Oat Bran and “watching Die Hard with my mom.” While I would not have watched Die Hard, I most certainly ate that cereal and snuggled with my mom as a kid on many, many occasions. Cracklin’ Oat Bran was that little indulgence that my mom would give herself back when my family was young, and I remember those days like it was yesterday. I may be a bit of a humbug at times, and I know I find interest in the bitterness of the holiday, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t also secretly (and sometimes openly) love Christmas – and you can tell these guys do too.

Bottom Line: The heart found in the lyrics compliment the warmth of the recording, as all three singer-songwriters trade off verses in this beautifully delicious song.

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figure “Christmas Eve of 1992” (2018)

Figure "Parakalien"

Sauna Cool Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Should you break down the content of this entire blog, you would probably find that I’ve written 50% of my posts about indie pop. Well, make it 51%, as this new track from Japan’s figure is a beautiful, early Wild Nothing-esque indie pop groove that deserves your attention. Figure is the indie pop project of Yoshinobu Hasebe, and “Christmas Eve of 1992” is off his first release in four years, Parakalein. The song starts off with that wistful, indie pop lofi production (which I love), but what really hooked me is when the song swells with emotion as drums and bass kick in. The production does bury the lyrics enough to honestly have no real clue what Yoshinobu is singing about (presumably Christmas Eve of 1992) here… but the vibe itself is enough for me to love this song.

Bottom Line: Japan has always been fertile ground for indie pop fandom, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear fantastic Japanese indie pop bands releasing underground Christmas indie pop gems. I suspect figure is only the tip of the iceberg for 2018.

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Dollar Signs – Another Sad Holiday (2017)

Dollar Signs - Another Sad Holiday

No Time Records
Buy: Cassette (3 left as of posting) | Digital

Charlotte, NC’s Dollar Signs have taken a detour from their usual punk rock aesthetic, and channeled the Mountain Goats for the profane and fantastic Christmas EP, “Another Sad Holiday.” Each of the two originals (“Caroler” and “Selfish Christmas”) are chock full of bitterness, but in a bizarre twist, also express a tangible warmth that is undeniable. The third track is a cover of the Tom Waits’ classic “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” which is a song I do very much enjoy. Dollar Signs’ version feels as though it is sung with a smile, which gives it a wholly different feeling than any version I’ve ever heard. Can’t say I prefer this angle, but it is certainly a unique and interesting take. This EP will most certainly find some fans out there. Bonus – If you are quick, you can still grab one of the 30 cassette copies they pressed!

Bottom Line: “Another Sad Holiday,” Dollar Signs’ loving, smirking approach to Christmas was a refreshing palate cleanser for this world-weary Christmas blogger.

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Phosphorescent “Christmas Down Under” (2018)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

The latest “Christmas” tune to make the rounds on all the big boys (Stereogum/Under the Radar/Brooklyn Vegan/etc) is the second track to be released off the new Phosphorescent record, C’Est La Vie, due out Oct. 5 on Dead Oceans. It has been five years since the excellent Muchacho (with that brainworm “Song for Zula“), and this new record promises to be damn interesting. The first track, “New Birth in New England,” strikes as a stellar, upbeat Paul Simon track, while “Christmas Down Under” is an auto-tuned slow burn. Pedal steel and haunting lyrics forge the solemn atmosphere that permeates this song, yet not without revealing its own scuffed beauty.

Bottom Line: Phosphorescent’s end-run around what we expect from a “Christmas song” yields fascinating results.

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DCR Mixtape #3 – A Christmas Compilation (2017)

Dinosaur City Records Christmas Compilation

Dinosaur City Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Dinosaur City Records… what can I say? Why would you release such a great Christmas release only 3 days before Christmas? This record is PACKED with excellent indie pop (naturally), indie rock, electro-pop, as well as some that forcefully eschew categorization. This comp deserves more than 3 days of listening! I am finding myself fighting the urge to get too specific, to single out any tracks I particularly enjoy, and I want to simply highlight the general strength of the whole damn thing. There is likely a song on here for everyone… and I want you to buy the whole thing. Lets to encourage Dinosaur City Records to do this thing again, because this whole release has left me smiling.

Bottom Line: There are few Christmas compilations that make me feel so warm and fuzzy about them… this is one. I wish I had found it before they sold out of cassettes…

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Saintseneca “The Wandering Star” (2017)

ANTI
Buy: Bandcamp

Back in 2016, Saintseneca released one of the best holiday EPs of recent note, with their holiday compilation The Mallwalker EP. This past holiday season, they continued what has been established as a near-yearly tradition of releasing a new holiday song, “The Wandering Star.” Unfortunately, by December 23rd, I am running on 10% power and the final warning window has popped up. Thus… I am only getting to this song now. “The Wandering Star” is immensely interesting and enjoyable, instantly reminding me of one of the more adventurous tracks you might find on a Sufjan Stevens’ holiday opus. There is more religious imagery in this track than I’m used to from Saintseneca, but they dress it up well enough to keep things interesting. (Avid readers know that this blog is here to write mainly about the secular songs of the holiday… read my about page if you are so inclined.) Saintsenica know their way around a song, and the intro’s finger picking and layered vocals set a thoughtful, yet powerful mood. However, when the pace picks up and the bass kicks in, this song truly blooms. This journey they set the listener on culminates with both a feeling of power and serenity – it is truly impressive. Once again, Saintsenica prove that they are in the top tier of underground, original Christmas music.

Bottom Line: Add this track onto the pile of wonderful Saintseneca holiday songs – and check out their new full-length LP, Pillar of Na, only released about a week ago!

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