Heist or Hit
Sometimes I can’t do Vaporwave. It gets too hardcore early-90s muzak synthy, but Liverpool’s pizzagirl, who is neither pizza, nor a girl, has found that sweet spot. His other work is not Vaporwive either – listening to an earlier track “Blossom at My Feet, Flower,” is ridiculously good indiepop, so perhaps he only takes quick tokes of the vapor. “Pizza For Christmas” has a pulsing beat, and a classic premise – his baby is gone for Christmas. He’s going to sit there and eat pizza for Christmas, alone. But all is not lost… and suddenly that pizza of resignation is pizza of celebration! It is a fun one, for fun folks. Enjoy.
Bottom Line: Vaporwave-adjacent indiepop fun!
Joyful Noise Recordings
Buy: 7″ Lathes | Bandcamp
Joyful Noise has done it again! Those delicious little lathe-cuts are back for a second season – only 100 of each song. You buy a snowflake, you get all the tunes! Or, you can pay $10 and just get the songs. Some highlights from this year are the Netherlands-based Eerie Wanda‘s cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow is Falling” and the Low Anthem‘s original “Fairy on Top of The Christmas Tree.” The crazy part about this whole project is that these songs are all tracked in one hour! They roll them in, figure out their parts (the bands also bleed over into each other’s tracks), and lay it down. In addition, 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to Second Helpings, a non-profit that rescues perishable food, to feed people in need, all while providing culinary job training for disadvantaged adults. Now that sounds like a plan!
Bottom Line: These snowflakes are for a good cause, and with a lineup like Kishi Bashi, Danielson, No Joy amongst many other notable purveyors of indie rock, it is certainly worth checking out.
Buy: Bandcamp | 7Digital (soon) | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
The Heathen and the Holy, the seasonal project of classically-trained violinist Tom Hobden and musician/writer/producer Fred Abbott, who once recorded together in the much-missed folk/rock band Noah and the Whale, are back once again! The Heathen and the Holy are one of those Christmas treats that you hope for each year, as their songs always bring a bit of levity to what can become a very serious and earnest season. Not saying that these guys can’t be both serious and earnest, but there is always humor that helps take the edge off. So let this song be your snowy day, afternoon gin and tonic, and let’s premiere this great new Heathen and the Holy track together.
“It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It)” is about having to be apart for Christmas, and how that separation casts a pall over the entire holiday. Heavy! What was I just saying about levity? Well, no worries there – upbeat orchestration, along with Fred Abbott’s interjections keep you smiling through the pain. There are some truly fantastic parts; my favorite being when Tom and Fred begin trading lines toward the end of the song, culminating in a crescendo where they both sing “They take me back to Regent street to the Christmas lights tonightttttttt.” It is a theatrical moment, which if you have seen any of their previous videos, is no surprise. I love this band equally for their music, as well as for the brilliant videos that they have put together in the past. It is hard not to think of Tom and Fred, dressed in their holiday best with a drink in-hand… somehow still playing instrument… you know, because of the magic of Christmas. The Heathen and the Holy are truly the mulled wine of Christmas bands – a warm, cozy, delicious treat that somehow always seems to present itself at the exact right time. Cheers.
Bottom Line: The Heathen and the Holy have kept their Christmas flame burning bright with “It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It).”
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Someday I’ll finish my mix… but in the meantime, maybe I’ll help you finish yours. Ariane Zita, an indie folk singer/songwriter from Montreal, has a Christmas advent calendar that is turning out to be quite lovely, Un Noël à Botch. The first track, “Christmas Can’t be Far Away,” is an Eddy Arnold cover, and TBH, not a song I was familiar with. Ariane’s voice is is beautiful, and her arrangement makes the song feel particularly intimate. The calendar continues in a similar fashion, each song building a soundtrack to that first snow.
Bottom Line: This is truly the season of beautiful songs, and Ariane Zita could very well put out more than everyone else combined…
Oh those seasonal bands. Those spectacular seasonal bands. There are a few, a few bands who come together for explicitly Christmas music, the obvious ones (for my readers being Christmas Aguilera and Sunturns), and now Forest Creatures are making their claim for elite status. Not only do they only release Christmas music, and not only have they released something for the past three years in a row, but they have released FULL ALBUMS three years in a row. There are some bands that have matched this feat… but Forest Creatures are really taking this to another level. A healthy mix of originals and covers, all performed beautifully – so beautifully that you find yourself wondering where they find the time? This year’s entry is Noble Fir, which follows in last year’s beautiful Was That Christmas? in brilliant fashion. The title track is a standout for sure. Their interesting arrangement for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was pretty damn great and unexpected. The calming bliss of the other two originals, “Silent Morn” and “Christmas at the Cabin,” combined with this coffee I’m drinking has put me in a serene, blissful mood that this bitter, overworked Christmas blogger kinda, really, truly, definitely needs. This record is fantastic, for those who like that sort of thing…
EDIT: Woah. Mind. Blown. All three originals have EXACTLY the same running time… 2:37. That is crazy.
Bottom Line: Forest Creatures have maintained an incredible track record of fantastic, FULL-LENGTH Christmas records – a nearly unmatched feat.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know this is a tough week for bloggin. So, I’m going to be brief! Said Fantasy is Ronnie Martin, and he knows his way around a MOOG. “Chorus Noel” is a fantastic experimental synth-pop song that I wish could be replicated 5 times on one record… because I’d buy that shit on vinyl. “Chorus Noel” comes as the lead, title track of their 5-track Christmas EP, out now on CDr (100 copies), as well as digital download on Chicago’s Plastiq Musiq. I’m not as down with the traditional covers, but it is totally worth it for that lead track. So… let that be your bit for the day. Best of luck you all in your mixin’ endeavors, and send me stuff you think I’d like – @xmasunderground!
Bottom Line: Some awesome synth-pop for your ear-holes. I do wish you could buy a single track though….
Asthmatic Kitty Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Denison Witmer is a great songwriter. This I know is a fact. I remember being in college, watching a friend of a friend open for Denison, and this guy had a pretty big crowd. Filled with fraternity brothers and such, they were there for their boy. Passable strumming ensued, and when he was done, those guys pretty much all left. A smaller, but much more dedicated crew was left, and we all realized that THAT is how you write a good song. The difference was truly astounding; I was shook. Well, it is now over 15 years later, and my man Denison is releasing a Christmas EP under his own name. He has popped up on others’ works, Sufjan and Rosie Thomas, but I don’t believe he has ever done his own. Now all we have to do is have him write some originals… The EP sports a traditional instrumental, a song who-shall-not-be-named, as well as an old hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” It is a touching song, simple in its arrangement, but full of fragile emotion; the imperfections in Denison’s voice emote more than any singer from The Voice could ever muster. This is certainly more on the religious side that I would normally write about, but the fact that it was Denison (a good guy), since it was so damn pretty, and that it is only available until Jan. 1 has put me over the top. If you want this, get it now. Hat tip to Christian for making me aware of this!
Bottom Line: This is also a charity release, with all proceeds going to a friend and fan who is battling Leukemia. So… count your blessings and spread the love.
Oh hey – Denison has this other Christmas track from his The 80’s EP.
And Rosie, Sufjan and Denison…
Well that does it. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t find a version of “Last Christmas” that would be deserving of a mention on these illustrious, digital pages. Well, Soft News has proven me wrong. NYC-based multi-instrumentalist Erik Laroi has been using this moniker to “dramatically reimagining songs from an 80s childhood spent immersed in the alternative music scene of that era.” Well, he does this particularly well, by stripping back the high gloss, bringing in cellos, acoustic bass, soaring violins, choirs of voices and the like, to bring spectacular earnestness to the artifice. “Last Christmas” is a triumph, but only one of 4 tracks on this excellent ep1- Christmas. That said, throw as much lipstick as you like on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” I will still find it troubling, and just don’t want to get into this at the moment. However, the Spanish-style horns in “White Christmas” was just so unexpected that I couldn’t help but smile. That small touch makes a normally trite standard fresh enough to be considered for your holiday party, no doubt. I’d love to find out who else was on this record – as his list of past collaborators was quite impressive: “Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields, Jon DeRosa), Lorraine Lelis (Aarktica, Mahogany), Claudia Chopek (Father John Misty), Margaret White (Sparklehorse), Perry Serpa (TV On The Radio, The Sharp Things), and Mike Levey (Tito Puente, Mos Def).” Such a pleasure – such a pleasure.
Bottom Line: This release was strong enough that you’re going to want to find out how Soft News deals with other tracks… cause damn “Last Christmas” was good.
Moshi Moshi Records
Buy: Moshi Moshi | Bandcamp
Legends of Country/Boy Least Likely To impresario Jof Owen and Girl Ray‘s Poppy are both no strangers to fantastic Christmas tunes, so of course they decided to record one together!! I most certainly enjoy the way they describe it:
From Moshi Moshi:
Sweet and impossibly romantic, with a little nod to Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett and a cheeky wink to Nancy And Lee, the Christmas Stick is a misty eyed slacker pop masterpiece. It retells the story of a chance encounter on a lonely winter night between two strangers whose eyes meet across a bustling broadway before they’re both struck by a mysterious festive talisman and end up spending the rest of the holidays together and writing a Christmas love song all about it.
Bottom Line: This thing is silly and sweet.
I love a bratty, angsty, anti-Christmas song as much as the next Joe, and this one is quite as fine as they come. Mud On My Bra are a two-piece punk band from Seattle, and they have an attitude and a sound that I can get behind.
oh ’tis the season again
an exaggerated holiday when
we’re burned out by 10 am
like melting snow-men
shopping! consumerism thrives
commercials go into overdrive
with the music invading all our lives
i’m only here to buy toothpaste
my package! never will arrive
the fir tree! gives me hives
and my chapped lips never will survive
i guess i’m allergic to christmas
i guess i’m allergic to christmas
i must be allergic to christmas
or maybe i’m allergic to you
YES. I’ve been writing about too much pretty stuff lately. Let’s break shit.
Bottom Line: Mud On My Bra have found a nice little slice of bitterness for us all to share.