The Pats Pats “Christmas” (2020)

Self Released?
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When I crash, I crash hard. Christmas 2020 was like a brick wall. After an exhausting 2020, the deluge of songs and records that hit in those last 2-3 days before Christmas was overwhelming. I have so many tabs open that they haunt my dreams. I didn’t know when I was going to feel motivated enough to dip my toes back in, but I’ve been driving my wife’s car the past few days (which has a CD player) and popped in my latest Christmas mix… I really love those songs. So now I need to find good Christmas and Christmas-adjacent tunes once more…

I don’t speak Japanese, but I do speak fun (…sometimes). The Pats Pats are a “girl band from Tokyo” (I don’t believe you need to qualify what the sex of a band is, but they specifically do), and their particular brand of upbeat DIY-pop is an absolute pleasure. I have so little more to say about this perfect little pop nugget, which may be why this song is exactly what I needed to get back to this gig. Zero pressure, all fun.

Bottom Line: Japanese-DIY-pop perfection for anxiety-riddled, demanding jerks like me.

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The Ornaments “A Coca-Cola Classic Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

This Christmas band began as a reason for its two members, Mike Behrends and Lance Owens, to spend some time together. Their hang sessions have resulted in some of the most dark, poignant and interesting Christmas music I’ve ever encountered. Mike tipped me off that The Ornaments were indeed on track to release a song in 2020, which had me spinning with possibilities. In a normal year they’ve written about plane crashes… so what will an extremely fucked up waste of a year bring? Like all of the Ornaments songs, “A Coca​-​Cola Classic Christmas” paints a simple, yet vivid portrait from the fringes of the holiday. The song is a holiday card, written to someone the narrator would like to see, but hasn’t in a good number of years. Personally, this feels like an estranged parent, with lines like, “filled it with ornaments from your childhood Happy Meals,” hinting at the more-than-Facebook relationship they once had. That final entreaty is so simple and heartbreaking, “If this sounds nice, I’ll be in room 104 just left of the coke machine.” This short vignette of a holiday apart conveys so much awkward love in so few words, that I find it tough to decide whether the song is terribly sad, or oddly sweet. The Ornaments always leave me with questions… so I keep coming back.

The Ornaments have big plans for 2021, as we all do, and have plans for a 2-song 7-inch, so be sure to follow them on Bandcamp if you want a shot at that . I believe that first 7-inch only had about 8 copies or so pressed…

Bottom Line: The Ornaments are a rare treat, though perhaps an acquired taste. However, once you got it… you’re in it for the long haul.

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Big Society – Big (Christmas) (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

The last few days leading up to Christmas are really nuts. Nearly everybody releases their Christmas song or HUGE Christmas compilation, and my inbox explodes. My family has a bit less tolerance for late nights of searching and writing – because the mix is done! So… you might see my posts slow. All that said, I am saving a TON of links in the hopes that I’ll be able to get to them later. The lucky few… I’ll get to right now.

Manchester’s Big Society has dropped a very nice 4-track EP of really, really solid Christmas tunes. With touches of Cheap Trick and Queen, a dash of banjo and bossa nova, and a healthy heaping of indie rock, every single one of these songs is pretty great. I’m not quite sure which song is my favorite yet, as I am kinda tempted to grab a set of headphones and go for a walk with record. So… maybe I’ll get back to you, but feel free to let me know if one grabs you.

Bottom Line: Well dammit! These Christmas originals are quite worthy of your money (and mine). All proceeds go to The Booth Centre, community centre run with and for people affected by homelessness.

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

Self Released
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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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Oihana & Tamu “Una noche más” (2020)

El Nébula Recordings
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Bandcamp

I sit here a broken man. After weather reports promised 5-8 inches of snow, I gaze out upon our lawn and its slushy, icy mess, and a single tear ran down my cheek… only to freeze before it falls. Then, a DM comes in, announcing a new track by some of my favorite indiepop Christmas folks, and things begin to turn around. Following the triumph that was last year’s Christmas single, Oihana and Tamu return with “Una noche más ,” yet another shimmering Christmas present. The pulsing beat propels their dreamy vocals, as more synths swirl in to season this lullaby for the year that has passed. I was graciously provided an English translation of the lyrics, and they are simply gorgeous.

One more night the year’s over
And we, together, say goodbye
One more night you’ll come with me
Looking -both of us- for a little love

And the light will guide us to the manger, again
And the snow will cover the road as we walk
One more night One more night we’re peaceful
I see you shine in the dark
And the light will guide us to the manger, again
And the snow will cover the road as we walk
One more night.

Should you find yourself wanting even more Oihana and Tamu, and you will, there is much more to enjoy. Oihana leads the band Melenas, whose last fantastic LP, Días Raros (which I am listening to and fucking loving as I type this), came out in May on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind. You can look for Tamu’s band Exnovios, to have a new record in 2021, but in the meantime, you can rock out to their 2020 EP, Exnovious (Apache), which is also available as a 7″. So much good music to spend your Christmas money on…

Bottom Line: There are few bands I can rely on to send me absolutely anything, and I can be rest assured I will love it. Oihana & Tamu have officially joined this club, as they continue their streak of incredible indiepop/garage/dream pop Christmas tunes.

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Stephan & Johnny “Too Broke for Presents” (2016)

The Flowershop
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Bandcamp (NYOP)

Santapalooza noted this release on twitter a week or so ago, noting that while it was from 2016, it was “new to us.” Indeed, it was new to us. I’m not sure it was on Bandcamp before, but I could easily be mistaken. What got me was the cover… It was terrible but fantastic. The band is composed of members of two Chicago punk bands, Stephan (Nervous Passenger) and Johnny (Rat Hammer). Their unholy alliance produced three songs – two covers and an original, “Too Broke for Presents.” The covers… let’s just pretend they don’t exist. They are fine, but they are songs that are so over-covered that need to be amazing to be even acknowledged. The original, “Too Broke for Presents,” is another story altogether. The sound is what you’d expect from these guys – it has attitude, humor and a chorus that demands crowd participation – shout out that shit! “Yeah, I’m to broke for presents and I’ve got nothing for you/ I’m too broke for presents and I hope that we’re still cool. / Cause I don’t have a job to buy you anything / but I hope we’re still cool / I totally think you rule.” Yesssss.

Bottom Line: Their energy is infectious, and in a pandemic year, let’s hope that this song is the only thing you catch.

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Joseph Bradshaw – Xmas (2020)

Self Released
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That name. I I know that name. I had lost track of Joseph Bradshaw for a few years, but I won’t do that again. Joseph Bradshaw’s “Christmas is Always” off his 2015 release with Kyle Cox remains one of my favorite folk-Christmas tunes, and it appears he has not lost a step. Recorded last week at the kitchen table “while the family slept and studied,” these songs exude the warmth of that kitchen. The writing is exquisite on the two originals on the EP, “Santa Claus Can Keep His Bag” (written with Sandra McCracken) and “Mercy for All.” (I can give-or-take a “Silver and Gold” cover, so please pardon me for spending time on the rest of the EP.) Each song tells a story, with lines of beauty and humor that leave you searching for your favorite. However, I found myself uncharacteristically more impressed by Joseph’s voice than anything else on the record, as I’m normally a sucker for lyrics. The moments at the edges of his voice where he maintains a quiet control, convey an emotion and warmth that brought me even deeper in. Joseph doesn’t have a big voice, but it has great character and he knows how to use it beautifully. I’m so on board should he ever consider a full Christmas record. (Sending that into the world!)

Bottom Line: They might only be a few songs, but these songs born at a dinner table, have left me full and happy.

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The BV’s “I Hope There’s No Snow” (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp (NYOP)

Likely used to the challenges of socially-distanced recording, the BV’s hail from both Falmouth in Cornwall and Ausburg, Germany. This year, they found some time to scratch that itch – you know, the one when you want a little Joy Division mixed into your indiepop Christmas mix! I’m sure I should be able to think of a couple other touchstones, but man… really feeling that Joy Division sound, and it is just what I needed. Between the steady beat, those glimmering guitar lines, to those talk-singing lyrics of woe, this is the prettiest dirge I’ve heard this year.

Bottom Line: This downer is fucking fun!

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Rusty Spork – Christmas Down Home (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp (NYOP)

Gainesville’s Rusty Spork has created this DIY folk Christmas EP that, in its simplicity and its subtle phrasing choices has made some very trite songs (Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) sound fresh and easy. The recordings are intimate, letting you hear the setup and the fuck-up, and it helps to draw you in, to maybe pull up a chair. A cover of the Jason Mraz & Justin Bieber mashup, “Mistletoe (I’m Yours),” is far less cloying than the saccharine sweet originals, rounding out a record that might not knock your socks off, but might certainly cause you to put on your most comfortable pair.

Bottom Line: There aren’t many ornaments on this tree, but it makes the room feel pretty damn cozy.

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Porlolo “Christmas in Hollis” (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

WHAT THE WHAT? I’m amazed that I’ve never quite encountered an approach to Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” like this before! Denver’s Porlolo have scored a SOLID Christmas hit, with this saxophone-heavy rendition of the classic tune. I am so DOWN with that wind section! They do such a great job with it, that what might have been a joke song ends up feeling perfectly inevitable. Of course this song works as a strolling indie folk song… how could I have ever doubted it? Love love love.

Bottom Line: This song might just be the most unexpected delight of the season.

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