wejzak – Four Christmas Songs (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

These curious December 24th releases… I don’t get em. All the Christmas blogs are nearly tucked in for the holiday, snug in our beds awaiting a brief day or so rest before tackling the New Years’ songs. So when a band or singer I really like sneaks one under the door, it drives me a little mad. I want to yell about the music I like, and there isn’t time to yell! So here I am hollering, deep into 2020 and nearly upon this treacherous holiday season (it’ll be here tomorrow, and that’ll oddly feel like a fucking year and half), and I’m only now getting a chance to tell you about this stellar followup to wejzak’s 2016 Christmas EP. Will Ejzak (wejzak) has created a fantastic new collection of Christmas songs (appropriately titled Four Christmas Songs), which crackle with life, beauty and the occasional “don’t give a fuck.” Everything is there that I loved on Merry Christmas!, the sparse instrumentation and the layered vocals, but there is a (dare I say) a sexiness to “Wrap Your Presents” that I wasn’t quite anticipating. There are funny moments, sweet lines, and moving imagery throughout this brief, but beautiful, EP, and I’ll leave it to you to seek out your own favorite moments.

Bottom Line: An extremely solid Christmas EP, and worthy successor to wejzak’s brilliant 2016 Christmas EP.

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Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017/2020)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2020 Addition: This COVID/anxiety-riddled/dumpster fire of a year has brought few bright moments. Today is an exception (for the moment), as one of my favorite Christmas records of the past few years is reintroduced to the world on beautiful, red-marbled vinyl. Zach Malm‘s The Darkest time of Year has been released in a limited pressing of 100 copies, and I strongly suggest that one of those copies should be yours. Heck, there is even a bonus song that wasn’t on the original release! This is your chance to have a fantastic private-press Christmas record that future generations of weirdo Christmas music fans will be alllllll about. Let us take a moment to look back upon my 2018 review of this beautiful record that completely floored me.

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December can overwhelm a tired Christmas-music blogger. Often, the casualties of a lack of time and a wealth of music, are the large compilation and the full album. Singles are so much quicker to consume and write about. Seattle’s Zach Malm was a casualty of last year, as he put out a very interesting experimental, electronic pop record that I did not get to, and most certainly deserves our 2018 ears. There are some damn interesting songs on here, many of which are awash in a Novation Bass Station II synth. Zach’s cover of “Walking in the Air” has a fantastic buzzing bassline powered by that synth, as well as these great fluttering melodies interspersed throughout; It is truly beautiful. Zach’s wonderful original “Magical Night,” is much less electro, bringing in guitars while crafting a beautifully sweet song about a child’s anticipation of Christmas. It is simple, poignant and wholly mix-worthy. Zach’s other originals, “Christmastime is Always,” “The Darkest Time of the Year,” and “Half the Fruit” all reflect the album’s title in a way the sweet “Magical Night” did not. They are dark, but with these brilliant moments of light, such as this line in “Half the Fruit:”

If nothing else, we still have Christmas
If nothing else, we still have Jesus
And even though the meaning changes
If nothing else, we still have Christmas

Zach has created a true album – the “Kid Conversation” tracks are great on their own, but not really “songs” – but they work beautifully, stitching together this wonderful collection of largely original, both in content and approach, Christmas tunes. Zach has nailed it with this one, and you should check it out (as well as forgive me for not getting to this fantastic record last year).

Bottom Line: Zach Malm has created a wonderfully cohesive record – a true Christmas album – beautiful to listen to in its entirety.

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Night Flowers “Snowfall” (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

London’s Night Flowers are known for dropping excellent Christmas singles every year or so, and last year was no different. Hey, I should have written about it! But that is the problem with running a Christmas music blog – everything comes out all at once. “Snowfall,” Night Flowers’ first original Christmas song since 2016, is an absolute joy of a song. Their jangly guitars light the spark, as the bass and drums feed the flames surrounding these beautiful harmonies, creating a warm feeling of nostalgia that is only heightened by the holiday season. This song is a pure winner, and a total layup had I had the sense to write about it last year.

Bottom Line: Night Flowers return with perhaps their greatest holiday track yet. There truly is something in the indiepop water over there in London… you gotta export that shit.

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The Fisherman and his Soul “Christmas Tree Bright As A Lighthouse” (2019)

The Fisherman and his Soul - A Christmas Tree Bright as a Lighthouse

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I love pretty things. I hate pretty things. I find no contradiction in this. I can be both blown away by an amazing voice, and find another one boring as fuck. There is no rhyme or reason to what captures my ear, and Münster, Germany’s The Fisherman and his Soul are proof-positive of that. I am delighted by this song. I find his voice both unimpressive and perfect. “Christmas Tree Bright as a Lighthouse” is glorious indiepop, paired with dense lyrics that require the steady hands of a surgeon to dissect; A fascinating nut of a song that entices you to take a crack at it. But truly, I also love the visual of that title. I can picture that tree… and it makes me smile.

Bottom Line: I honestly don’t know who I would recommend this track to, but I’m pretty positive that some of you will feel the same way.

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The Romantidote “(Have Yourself) A Very Maudlin Christmas​!​!” (2019)

The Romantidote " community (Have Yourself) A Very Maudlin Christmas​!​!"

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Well, hi. It has been a while.

Someone has managed the previously unimaginable… gotten me off my ass to write about Christmas music. Berlin’s The Romantidote drew me in with that clever-as-fuck name, then kept me listening with those clever-as-fuck lyrics. He hears the same old trite music, observes the fascist bloviating of his uncle and the drunkenness of his dad, and yet still finds that moment of hope and cheer.

“Change the channel over to a choir of children
Their voices singing faces smiling ear to ear
No that’s a snowflake melting just below my eye dear
It’s not a yearly drop of sentimental seasonal good cheer

See your drunken family round the dinner table
Look out through the window as the snowfall starts
There are so many other days to be a humbug
So maybe just for this one you could show the world a bit of heart”

The music is big, full of color and momentum. It is not like I don’t like the treatment, but I would love to hear a stripped-down version as well. After hearing his voice on some other tracks (check out his Soundcloud!), I feel like the sugary-sweet instrumentation can make his voice sound almost too sweet at times. I dunno… just a thought. This song could go from really good to fucking great with a tweak or two.

An added bonus to this track – all proceeds go to Tiny Changes, the mental health charity started in the memory of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson, who I miss terribly.

Bottom Line: Isn’t it amazing that we live in a time where we are acknowledging the creep of fascism in Christmas songs? Crazy times. The Romantidote has crafted a really good track for your mix, which will lighten the sonic mood, as well as make a jab at any of your relatives who might have strayed from the path of our shared humanity.

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Christmas Aguilera “Icicle Trickle” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I would normally either get their email, flip out, and post the new Christmas Aguilera song within the span of 20 minutes. This year, it came a bit late, when my time is in high demand to go get this out of the attic, to go to the store, to finish up that laundry before everyone gets here. So, while my post comes late, perhaps you’ve found “Icicle Trickle” before I’ve told you about it, and thus you have an extra day to enjoy it during the proper seasonal setting. This seventh release by one of the great Christmas bands working is also their most funky. While the very beginning has the boys channeling Queen, they quickly transition to cheeky Grapes & Friends’ boogie-down territory. The lyrics are a trip:

Be my tinsel
And wrap yourself around my tree
Make me grin so
Let’s keep it going for a week
I love you too much
Your foot’s on my clutch
Though Christmas is beyond my skillset
Stuck in this sweater
It’s scratchy as heck
Jump in that’s better
Gonna stay forever in this pickle
Until the Icicle Trickles

The overt sexual innuendo is nothing new to Christmas Aguilera, as that is part of what made me love them with their first self-titled EP, with the fantastic “I Wanna Give You a Present” setting a great, playful tone. However, then they manage to sneak this beautiful line in amongst the silliness, “Yeah Christmas holidays / Make them every day / And stretch this elastic band of love.” What a line! The production on this latest is a rich as ever, making you wonder how they heck they pull it together at the last minute like this – they only had a CA song meeting a few weeks ago! Be sure to check out their regular gig, Guilt Coins, who also recorded a remarkable cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” this year.

Bottom Line: Bands like Christmas Aguilera are why I write this blog. A true pleasure every year that they bless us with a song.

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Saintseneca “Winter Breaking” (2019)

ANTI
Buy: Bandcamp

Always a joy to find a new Saintseneca song in my mailbox, whether it is a holiday song or not. This Columbus, Ohio band have put out some of the most sonically and lyrically interesting Christmas songs over the past few years, nearly making this a holiday tradition. Unsurprisingly, “Winter Breaking” fits beautifully inside of their bespoke holiday soundtrack. The song takes place as everyone goes their own way for winter break. There are some beautiful passages here: “The night before you get picked up / I stop by your new place / you got a dog and a sawed-off / say they make you feel safe / some old soul song is changing all the air around the room / you say you hear the sadness in the singer’s voice / maybe I do too.” Man… that is a movie in my head. The music is warm, his voice is genuine, and the lyrics are interesting – a perfect Christmas blend.

Bottom Line: Saintseneca are just a fantastic band. I just assumed the song would be great when I saw it was released, and yup, it is.

If you buy this today on Bandcamp, BE SURE to download it. I have learned the hard way recently. Nothing is forever.

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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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Dr. Dog “Ebenezer Scrooge” (2019)

We Buy Gold Records
Buy: Bandcamp | Cassette!

Dr. m*f*ing Dog. Years ago, they released one of the best indie rock Christmas releases I’ve heard, Oh My Christmas Tree. I’m a greedy man. I wanted more. I’ve tweeted at them. I’ve wished upon stars. I’ve taken up voodoo and fashioned a small recording studio for the dolls to demo new songs. All that work has obviously paid off, and today we got Oh My Christmas Tree Vol. 2! I’m two listens in, but it is obvious to me what song has my heart – “Ebenezer Scrooge.” The imagery is vivid, the production is loose and warm, and there are just many moments, both lyrically and sonically, that move you. It is a concise and beautifully human retelling of the story – I don’t think I’ve ever been quite in Scrooge’s mind like this. “Ebenezer Scrooge” is just gorgeous.

Bottom Line: “Ebenezer Scrooge” is six minutes that feels like two. This song is that good.

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Lucky Boy “Marie Te Po!” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

It is rare that a version of “Silent Night” will catch my attention. BUT THIS. This caught my attention. New Zealand indie/lofi artist Lucky Boy began by translating “Silent Night” into Te Reo Maori, which is interesting in itself, but then he goes and makes it SOUND AMAZING. The song builds until all this awesome shit jumps in with a distorted guitar solo bridge. You have to hear this song to believe it… it only gets better as it goes, which for a song I’m generally bored with, is somewhat astounding.

Bottom Line: THIS is how you put your stamp on a classic. Lucky Boy has demolished “Silent Night” and rebuilt it in spectacular fashion.

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