Ingeborg von Agassiz – Coventry Carols (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I exist to help the modern Christmas mixer populate or finish a Christmas mix. That is largely the goal when I set out looking for something to write about. However, every so often a record crosses my path, that might not be the kind of thing you would chop up or extract a track or two from. Duluth, Minnesota’s Ingeborg von Agassiz has put together one of these records, one that feels like each song needs the song before it as much as the one that follows to feel truly at home. The songs are connected through their sparse instrumentation, a base of electronic tones and beats with a few choice colors to compliment her wonderful voice. But don’t let you think that every song sounds the same; There are so many unique moments – From the heartbeat rhythm of “St. Children’s Choir,” to the suggestion of a music box on gorgeous “We Are Not Tired,” these arrangement choices are just so spot on. In a genre that often rewards the “more is better” ethos, it is downright refreshing to hear something so complete, yet with so much open space. I recommend a full listen, headphones on, perhaps while walking through a city if you are so fortunate.

Bottom Line: A truly original Christmas record that is most certainly worth your time.

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The Grapes & Friends “One More Christmas” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

It is that time of year when our sexiest Christmas heroes emerge with a sexy, sexy jam to lip-sync awkwardly at your significant other. Yes, the Grapes & Friends are back, slinking around the room with “One More Christmas.” This song has everything: wrapped human Christmas presents, crescent rolls, bearskin rugs, fax machines, promenades… what else can you want? Normally I’m also plugging their live show, but it has already past! Which is both terrible and wonderful… terrible if you could have gone and missed it, and wonderful in that it actually happened this year! Though I must say, it was quite fun to attend virtually last year. Perhaps normal life is returning, one funky, sexy, hilarious Christmas song at a time.

H/T to Randall Anthony, for hipping me to their new song!

Bottom Line: If you like what the Grapes are cooking up, you’re gonna to like this steamy pot of Christmas a whole damn lot.

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Andy Clockwise “Collect Call to My Baby” (Merry Christmas) (2012)

Self Released
Buy:
Soundcloud (FREE!) Apparently no longer downloadable…

Australian ex-pat Andy Clockwise (aka Andy Kelly) is a recent discovery for me, but most certainly a welcome one. Andy’s very excellent Christmas song “Collect Call to My Baby (Merry Christmas)” evaded me for 9 years… which is quite a feat for such a great song. From the very first moment, the groove will get you handclapping along – that is unless you’ve been drinking too much to keep the rhythm, as this song has a heavy pour of booze and would fit perfectly in with Christmas A Go Go’s recent “Drunken Christmas” series. “Collect Call” sounds both retro and modern at the same time – sharing production choices with the 60’s classics while being lyrically more playful than anything that would have been pressed to wax back then. I wouldn’t change a note in this song, and there isn’t much room to tinker when it comes in at about 3:20 – most certainly in the sweet spot for Christmas tunes. Hell… I loved this thing enough to have it feature on this year’s Christmas mix!

Be sure to check out Andy Clockwise’s regular music as well, it is extremely good. When I was listening to this song a bunch a while back, I would catch myself happily listening down his Soundcloud feed. So, please partake, as you are encouraged to get a little drunk on Andy Clockwise too.

Bottom Line: You never know what you are going to find when you are digging around Soundcloud… sometimes you find gold.

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AWALK “O Holy Night” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I bet your Christmas music bingo didn’t have a classical guitar over a hip-hop beat on a traditional Christmas carol. Los Angeles’ AWALK has taken a song that, as a purposefully secular blog, I would not normally be looking to feature, and made it both interesting and extremely enjoyable. You would think that those qualities would always go together… but they don’t! “O Holy Night” kicks in and immediately you know you are in for something different… and 15 seconds in you’ve got a beat and a whole mess of stuff going on. Give me all the mess.

Bottom Line: Unexpected and appreciated, AWALK’s approach is just damn refreshing.

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A Very Cherry Christmas 15 (2021)

Cherryade Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

How will you know when the world is back to normal? I rather doubt it ever will be “normal” again, but we’ll move the baseline. Some things will go away (perhaps drinking after each other), while other parts will return… such as this wonderful indiepop tradition, Cherryade RecordsA Very Cherry Christmas. This is the first full-length release since COVID threw a wrench in the gears, and there is a ton here–21 tracks ranging from fantastic Spanish indiepop (“Llega la Navidad” by The Yellow Melodies), to muddy guitars rocking a classic Shakin’ Stevens tune (“Merry Christmas Everyone” by Mouses), uptempo reinterpretations of their own fantastic indiepop classics (“Hey Santa Claus! (Faster Claus Version)” by the Hannah Barberas), and brand-new indiepop Christmas bangers (“This Christmas” by Super 8). There is something for everyone here and an extremely limited supply! As always, only 200 copies are being pressed on CD, and there is NO digital release. If you are just beginning your alternative Christmas collection, or you have been in this game for years, these releases are a consistent source of inspiration, completely worth your time and money.

Bottom Line: The proper, full-length A Very Cherry Christmas is back, and with it returns a wonderful part of our alternative Christmas universe.

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Nicky William – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2021)

Icons Creating Evil Art (ICEA)
Buy:
Bandcamp

There is something about Gothenberg that breeds oddly wonderful, crooning indiepop artists. Of course, there is Jens Lekman (a personal favorite)… and now there is Nicky William, certainly a future favorite of mine. I’ve been listening to Nicky’s new Christmas single for a little bit now (it was on Soundcloud earlier than Bandcamp), and it has most certainly grown on me. My initial reaction was, “Well, this is nice, but it is just another cover.” However, a few listens in, and there is just something about the marriage of this classic song, the simple instrumentation, and Nicky’s deep voice that I’ve really fallen for. I find it quite earnest and beautiful, oddly soothing in its nature. However, this pretty song may very well be a divisive Christmas Rorschach test (or what color was that dress test!), as his intention was quite interesting:

Talking about his new single, Nicky William says: ”We wanted to make a version of a classic but still add something new to it. In this song, we tried to add an uncertainty about whether the message in the song was ironic or not, hoping that the listener would have a different experience hearing the song, depending on how they feel about the holiday.”

There is also an “Alte Glühwein Version” (AKA Old Mulled Wine Version) that adds a touch here and there, such as the crackle at the beginning – either an old recording or a warm fire – you choose. Both are quite lovely… or are they quite sad? Just how jaded are my readers… we shall see.

Bottom Line: A beautiful little Christmas test, tailor-made for this Swedish indiepop loving blogger.

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The Reds, Pinks & Purples – We Won’t Come Home at Christmas Time (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Sometimes you just get attracted to a feeling. This new Christmas single by The Reds, Pinks & Purples have created a beautiful, contemplative and melancholy Christmas single. The single features two originals from the DIY kitchen pop project of Glenn Donaldson from Skygreen Leopards, Art Museums, Thuja, and The Blithe Son, etc, etc. The lead track, “We Won’t Come Home at Christmas Time,” is a rather sad song, but with delicately upbeat music in true indiepop fashion. It somehow reminds me of Morrissey with a dash of Mark Eitzel and another artist that I am just at a loss for. I HATE it when that happens. The B-side is an absolutely gorgeous instrumental that is only the second instrumental that I’ve come across this season that I could see as mix-worthy. There truly is an expert craftsman at work here, no doubt about it.

H/T to No Love for Ned, who is always on the lookout for new Christmas songs for me 🙂

Bottom Line: Simple, beautiful and brief. You can’t ask for much more from an original Christmas song.

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Cherry Ghost “Blue Christmas” (2019)

Heavenly Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS.

Manchester’s Cherry Ghost is back with his first track in five years. Hell, Wikipedia has the entire entry in the past tense, so, apparently, this return is more unexpected than anticipated. Their return is a whopper though, with the cheekily-titled “Blue Christmas.” I know, you and I both thought… this must be another crap cover. NO! This is one of the more explicitly political songs of the season. Written only 24 hours before the announcement of the final results of the UK election, Cherry Ghost (Simon Aldred) lays down a song of sarcastic, fantastical hopes shouted into a bag and doused in jingle bells. Dig this first verse:

I hope that Santa Claus gets you a conscience this Christmas
I hope he leaves a beating heart underneath your tree
I hope you wake up to the taste of your hypocrisy
So when you proudly raise a toast to humanity
You realize you turned a blind eye to the cruelty

We all know that isn’t going to happen. But even as brutal as this song is, there is some hope at the end.

We’re only as strong as the weakest among us
We’ll be alright just as long as we have love
We have love

All proceeds go to Lifeshare, helping homeless and vulnerable people in Manchester and Salford. I’m sure Boris is quite concerned about those folks… (how do I properly express sarcasm in print…. hmmm…)

Bottom Line: A short, sharp, political gem indeed. I doubt it will shame anyone into changing their minds… but it is a cathartic listen nonetheless.

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Oscar Lang “Christmas is Home” (2019)

Dirty Hit
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Spotify

London’s Oscar Lang has been releasing music since before he was born. Being that prolific means that at some point… you take a stab a Christmas song. Thankfully, he was compelled to write an original, not cover Blue Christmas/Last Christmas/White Christmas or some other boring chesnut. “Christmas is Home” is a throwback, synthy, indiepop nugget with a catchy chorus that demands a Wham! worthy video, fully of soft focus and terrible clothes. This song was like a swig of hot chocolate – I’m totally on board.

Bottom Line: Oscar Lang writes and produces so much music, that I’m fully expecting this to be his first (meaning, gimme more!) excellent Christmas song.

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Magne Furuholmen – White Xmas Lies (2019)

Drabant Music
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Drabant Music (CD/Vinyl) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.uk MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.de MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.fr MP3/CD/Vinyl

This record caught me completely off guard. The keyboardist and co-writer for most of the iconic hits from Norway’s pop-powerhouse a-ha, Magne Furuholmen has created one of the most interesting Christmas records I have heard in years. He walks this fine line between the avant-garde and accessible and manages to pull it off incredibly well. An album packed with largely all originals, Magne did not intend to create a normal holiday album; he wanted to make an album that was “an antidote to the ‘schmaltzy Christmas-music which is spewed out every year… a seemingly never-ending stream of cheesy versions of existing Christmas song.'” It was as if Magne was creating a Christmas music for me.

This album can be heartbreakingly beautiful. There are moments, such as in the leadoff track “There Goes Another Year,” where you can find these simple, evocative phrases that just hit you. “In the darkness of December / as the fire turned from spark to ember (<-Wow, what a line) / these are things I will remember / now xmas time is here / there goes another year.” And yet again, later in the song: “What we say but do not mean / every word and in-between / for every manhole in this town / there is someone falling down (<-Damn, loved that line!).” As you can see, Magne is going deep here, not necessarily celebrating the holiday in a fashion one might expect, as he talks about the album as being for those who might not have someone to keep them warm at Christmas.

I wanted to try and make an album which would be meaningful also to those who fall outside our commercial Christmas frenzy – an album which looks at the more melancholic, darker sides to Christmas: broken family ties, things we sweep under the rug, resentment hidden behind fake, jocular smiles – an album for holiday contemplation, not just sentimental decor.’

Magne does not rely on a spectacular voice (I have never been partial to amazing singers, but rather, amazing songwriters), he lets the synths and his lyrics do the heavy lifting. However, every so often his vocal melody just gets me. Like in the hungover “A Punch-up on Boxing Day,” Magne’s voice rises just after that first stanza, “you’re just wasting your time / yyeeaaahhhh,” and it brings this emotion to the song that I wasn’t anticipating. There are other moments where the music makes you sit up and go “shit, that is fantastic,” such as in the final verse of “Caprice Des Dieux,” which is one of the more slow and contemplative tracks on the record, as it explodes with musical color.

There are a few outliers on here as well, songs that does not appear to be connected to Christmas at all. The best example of would be “This is Now America,” a harsh portrait of America from an observer’s perspective – school shootings, border walls, drones and bad loans. “This is now America / oh how little have we learned / This is now America, is there no way to return?” So… not a Christmas song, and damn, quite disheartening to hear how we appear to others.

There are two covers on the record, AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” and The Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” The AC/DC cover appears to be part of the aforementioned outlier collection of songs, songs that aren’t normally connected to Christmas, but Magne is determined to bring them into conversation with the emotions of the season. The treatment itself is pretty damn interesting. Slowed down with synths providing a haunting melody, this is AC/DC much more along the lines of Mark Kozelek’s versions, should Mark have also utilized autotune. The Kinks’ cover is going to be released to the streaming community on a later date… so you’ll have to check back on that one.

This record is a damn interesting listen, one that I’d encourage anyone to experience, and hopefully with multiple listens. I for one, most certainly found new moments that I appreciated the second and third time around. Of note, Magne is also a very accomplished visual artist, and there is a vinyl edition of 200 that he hand-painted. They look to be truly beautiful, and if I had an extra €150… I might grab one. (Wait… they are all gone now!)

Bottom Line: One of the most surprising and satisfying Christmas albums I have heard in a long time.

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