Phoebe Bridgers Christmas

Phoebe Bridgers “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (2017)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

I have loved Phoebe Bridgers from the moment I picked up her Killer 7″, and her new album Stranger in the Alps is on my list of “gotta pick up” albums. So, when The Line of Best Fit premiered her haunting rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” I knew I would have to say SOMETHING about it, rather than just retweet it. The ringing guitar notes and soft percussion frame her voice beautifully, as she takes a well-known, sentimental song and makes it personal. Beautiful.

Bottom Line: Phoebe makes this song her own, and that is really all you can ask from a cover. Wouldn’t change a thing.

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Blackwatch Christmas VII

UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 7 (2017)

Fowler VW/Blackwatch Studios
Buy: Coming Soon!

It is that time of year… and Fowler VW has been hinting about their upcoming Christmas record on Twitter, much to my delight. There are few Christmas releases that have such a high level of quality, and each year that they keep the tradition alive, is a year that the entire alternative Christmas music community can give thanks. Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Breakup are given the honor of being the first track out to the public, and it is fantastic. The electro-pop jam about being together at Christmas has the kind of slinky groove that just might take your office Christmas party off the rails. Eyes meeting over the punchbowl, we all knew Jim and Pam were meant to be together, they just needed “Be With You” to seal the deal. Want to know the rest of the tracklist? Go to NewsOK and give them the clicks!

The entire album will be available for stream/download on Black Friday, or better yet, #BlackwatchFriday, and for those lucky enough to live in the Norman, OK area, there is a big, free party on Dec. 8 at Stash, where the first 200 attendees get a free copy of it on VINYL. Yes, there are copies out there on vinyl… I am the proud owner of 2014’s “The Naughty List,” but these things are tough to come by. They have never sold them online – you gotta grab them from local Norman, OK venues like Fowler Volkswagen, Guestroom Records, The Social Club, STASH, and Tree & Leaf Clothing.

Finally, isn’t it great that these albums are free? And if the generosity of Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studios makes you so very happy… then, as you download this year’s new record, why not throw them a few bucks toward Norman Public Schools elementary music programs, because that is where 100% of donations go!

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Laurence Made Me Cry

Laurence Made Me Cry “It’s Not You, It’s Christmas” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Laurence Made Me Cry (aka Jo Whitby) bought some sleigh bells, and now we all have a great new Christmas song! Which gives me an idea… who should I send sleigh bells to? I’m creating a list… OK, back to the review. This track is a “song for when you’d rather be alone at Christmas,” which I think we can all relate to at some points during the season. The music somehow tickles my late 90s-early 2000’s indie rock funny bone, as the lyrical guitar lines suggest Pavement-meets-Pinkerton-era Weezer? Am I crazy? But truly, it’s Jo’s voice that seals the deal for me. Love it. If you need any more convincing, all proceeds go to Community Christmas, “who believe that no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be.”

Bottom Line: I’m sure happy Jo bought some sleigh bells, and that she shook them for charity!

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Four Eyes – 3XMAS EP (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Athens’ Four Eyes already has my heart. I mean, come on. Her song from last year was phenomenal, and her songs from 2013… well, they are too. It all comes down to her voice. Four Eyes (Erin Lovett)’s voice is just beautiful. I think she could sing me a phone book and I’d happily sit there eating my Thai leftovers. These tracks from 2013 are stripped down, vocals and acoustic guitar, and they are perfect that way. The first track “Believe (In What Sounds Beautiful)” has her wondering if it is Christmas or family that has her feeling so wonderful… I mean COME ON. That is some damn poignant beautiful stuff. The second song, “I Don’t Remember (Christmas Eve)” has Four Eyes’ apologizing for a drunk Christmas Eve… which, is rather adorable. That, and I love a good Christmas drinking song, and rarely do those contain apologies. The last song, “In a Diner,” is a beautiful story of an interaction in a diner: “Her laugh reminds you of someone / who showed you to believe / in what you cannot see.” This song, when listened to after 2 gimlets on a Tuesday night… makes you nostalgic for an experience you never had.

Bottom line: Simple, short, beautiful songs. What else is there to say?

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Mellow Fellow and Floor Cry - New Year's Eve

Mellow Fellow and Floor Cry “New Year’s Eve” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream | Bandcamp (soon?) |

Mellow Fellow, a bedroom-pop genius from the Philippines (who it appears, Soundcloud was invented for), teamed up with Manitoba’s wonderful Floor Cry for a lush tale of a sad, sad New Year’s Eve. The chill vibe, and the beautifully layered instrumentation nearly lets you forget that this song is pretty devastating. The fractured relationship plays out as both parties have a full realization of their roles – she knows that she loves him, but only shows it when convenient, and he won’t take the emotional strain anymore. A late night call that remains unanswered on New Year’s Eve, dressed up with some beautiful performances and production. Highly recommended.

Of note, Floor Cry is no stranger to holiday tunes – I’ve attached her covers of “White Christmas” and “Wonderful Christmastime” (please, everyone, stop covering this) to a playlist. Both are available on her Bandcamp as well.

Bottom Line: A beautiful downer – right up my alley.

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Al Riggs - Hell House

Al Riggs “Christmas Parade” (2017)

Bull City Records Presents
Buy: Bandcamp

Durham, North Carolina’s Al Riggs is one of the most prolific singer/songwriters I’ve come across on Bandcamp. You know those links that let you buy entire discographies? I can only imagine how much it would cost… because you would be about 70 releases! The record I want to highlight now is his latest, Hell House. Included on this warm recording of sad songs is the beautiful “Christmas Parade.” The song is a vignette of a moment right before Christmas, where just being with a friend means more than whatever you might be doing with them – “Neither of us like the Christmas parade / but it means a lot. / but it means a lot / ….” Al’s voice is not terribly pretty, it is genuine –  exactly how I like my singers (e.g. David Berman, Mark Eitzel, etc). This really is a beautiful song, the production matches the sentiment perfectly… wouldn’t change a thing. (Again – thanks Ned!)

Bottom Line: Al is not a stranger to Christmas tunes (When the Saints Go Stag, Good Reasons to Freeze to Death,Yulemen), and while I have only scratched the surface, I think you may dig what you find underneath.

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The Just Joans – The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet (2010/2016)

WeePOP! Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Way back in 2010, the wonderful Scottish band The Just Joans released The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet, a limited mini CDr Christmas EP, on the wonderfully-titled WeePOP! Records. And it looks like just about every holiday season, they would pop a track out here or there, released on Soundcloud or as a live recording on Youtube. However, it appears that in December 2016, the whole EP became readily-available again via their Bandcamp page! This is a wonderful turn of events, as there are some excellent tunes on here for those who like a melancholy, slow-tempo Christmas. “Card from a Multipack” is (for me) the strongest of the bunch, as the approach is interesting and the delivery feels genuine – there is some pain in this track. My second favorite would be the vaguely indie-folk rendition of the classic “Last Christmas,” where their Scottish brogue and gently strummed banjo give this stale song a fresh feel. Certainly worth your time and money.

Bottom Line: The Just Joans are due for another Christmas EP… just throwing it out there 🙂 But until they do, I’m happy to have “Seasonal Greet” to tide me over.

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Marble Gods “I Remember Xmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Scottish popsters Marble Gods somehow snuck a sweet little indiepop Christmas tune by me last year… and if I ever find out how, there will be hell to pay! They even have it tagged properly! “I Remember Xmas” is a lovely, jangly little indiepop song that is right up my alley. Upbeat guitars with a dash of melancholy in the lyrics… the perfect indiepop blend for your anorak Christmas. “Driving home I remember Christmas / when we were young. / We thought would last forever. / Oh how we were wrong / So it’s Christmas time, / and you’re everything I want. / But my only fear / is that you will break my heart.” Beautiful!

Bottom Line: Marble Gods’ “I Remember Xmas” is some finely chiseled, indiepop perfection.

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UPCOMING: Dude York – Halftime for the Holidays (2017)

Hardly Art
Buy: CD/Digital via Hardly Art | Bandcamp

Seattle’s Dude York is early to the game, premiering their new track “Break Up Holiday” today on Stereogum – the site where every notable indie rock band seems to release Christmas tracks. (Someday, Stereogum, I will beat you to the punch… someday…) Turns out they are actually releasing a whole EP, Halftime for the Holidays! Nine tracks, nearly all of them originals… this looks (and sounds) promising. The first track, “Break Up Holiday,” is a bitter and funny tale of having to see an ex at the holidays. A dash of pop-punk with a healthy dose of Weezer at their poppiest, I’m curious if the rest of the album will sound like this, rather than the less poppy (though not without pop), more indie rock style that I’m used to. I await more tracks!

Bottom Line: Too soon to tell, but promising!

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Jay Stansfield's "Christmas is..."

UPCOMING: Jay Stansfield & SAY – Christmas is… (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (Preorder)

Popping over to Bandcamp for a second to find something new on the top of the new arrivals list, I don’t normally expect to find something I haven’t seen (there is not a lot of turnover this time of year), let alone something this promising. I often judge Christmas tunes by their covers, and it rarely surprises me. Jay Stansfield‘s Christmas is… sports a simple cover of the decapitated snowman, which was odd enough to get me curious, even as I thought the typography could be a bit more interesting (sorry Jay, I can’t get the graphic design snob out of me). The cover may have gotten me in the door, but it was the description that convinced me to press play.

“Over the years I have written many happy, optimistic Christmas songs featuring death, homelessness, zombies and old people burning alive. This album celebrates those moments along with four miserable tracks from the SAY Archives.”

Well that sounds interesting! Only two tracks are available to preview, and both are solid. The Beach Boys’ harmonies of “Wake up the Children” bloom into some lovely holiday sentiment that could inspire any Grinch to feel optimistic. The second track, “The Man in Red” has moments when you imagine Vampire Weekend has put out a Christmas record, which would no doubt light up any indie-kid’s holiday season. Both these tracks are really strong – from the lyrics, to the music and the production – this may be the Winterval of 2017. (Of note, Jay’s got another from 2014, “Christma$ Twenty Fourteen,” and while it has its moments, it is not quite as strong as these two tracks… but worth a listen too!)

Bottom Line: Two tracks in and I’m willing to call Jay Stansfield’s Christmas is… a winner. Can’t wait to hear more, but we’ll have to wait till Dec. 1.

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