Allo Darlin’ “Only Dust Behind” (2012)

allo-darlin-7777777

WIAIWYA
Buy: Bandcamp

Allo Darlin’ have a long history of Christmas tunes. In fact their first-ever release was a Christmas EP. I may review that one day soon as well; we’ll just see how it shakes out. I am not hear to talk about the distant past, but the ever-so-recent release from 2012, their WIAIWYA 7″ from last December. The Christmas song that resides on the A-side is one of my absolute favorite of the past few years, “Only Dust Behind.” This is one of those tracks that I just always come back to. My only regret… that I was unable to get my act together to buy a vinyl copy. However, as consolation, a lovely FLAC waits for you at the link above. I will not bloviate any more, you really just need to listen to it.

Bottom Line: Simply said, wonderful. 5/5

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Parenthetical Girls – Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls (2012)

Parenthetical Girls - Good Christian Men Rejoice, It's Parenthetical Girls

Slender Means Society
Buy: Bandcamp

Parenthetical Girls never disappoint when it comes to Christmas tunes; They are ALWAYS interesting.  2012’s edition, Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls, does not have any of the sure-fire xmas singles that some of their early releases had, but the entire release is uniquely fantastic. This release is a fully-formed group of songs meant to be listened to as a set. After some basic research, I am led to believe that all these songs may very well be originals, but I just await that clarification from my better educated readers. For example, there are a bunch of “Christmas Mourning” tunes out there, but the Parenthetical Girls’ version rings original to me. My favorite track would have to be the gorgeous “The Salvation Army Bell.” Parenthetical Girls can be wonderfully abrasive, but this track is like a warm hug… at least, as warm as the Parenthetical Girls can be. The lyrics set such a vivid scene and very much suggest the short story that comes in the final 12-minute track, with lines like: “A cold day, the end of December / those bright bells chimed. / In a twin bed, we swore to each other / you’d show me yours, if I showed you mine.” Parenthetical Girls, please continue this tradition. You are in the top tier of Christmas songsmiths, and each release is a welcome addition to the underground Christmas canon.

Bottom Line: This release stands beautifully as a fully realized piece of art. Would be a perfect 5/5 if I could have just squeezed on single off it, which I am well aware, is antithetical to why I loved this record. 4.6/5

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Lisa Bouvier – Live From Hendon Cathedral (2011)

Lisa Bouvier

Cath ‘N’ Dad Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Lisa Bouvier is presently the bassist in the excellent indiepop band The Proctors, but that does not stop her from releasing her own solo material. This simple, two track Christmas single, is released on Cath ‘N’ Dad Records, which allows you to name your own price on all their releases. The catch? All the proceeds go to the charity of the band’s own choosing. Lisa chose Popkollo, a Swedish (yes, she is Swedish – I’m such a sucker for the Swedes) charity best described by Lisa:

Popkollo started as a music summer camp for girls, and is now a nationwide collaboration of incredible female musicians who support girls all over Sweden in their musical endeavours.

As for the songs, they are short, sweet, and performed beautifully. Not quite sure they are the kind of vibe that I look for in my Christmas mix, but certainly would fit the bill for some of you. To the best of my knowledge, “Christmas Rain” appears to be Lisa’s own song. There are other songs with the same title, but not a match when I compared the lyrics. It is an excellent song, and the production value is of equal quality. The second and final song is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Covered by a million other singers, Lisa’s version does nothing to rewrite the script. However, she does it quite nicely.

Bottom Line: Lisa Bouvier’s Christmas single is short, sweet, well performed and produced, and all the proceeds go to charity. I think you’ll be quite pleased with your purchase. 4.3/5

LISTEN

 

And for good measure, be sure to check out The Proctors, the band Lisa is presently touring the world with.

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

Radiant
Buy: Free!

Hailing from New South Wales, all these songs were performed live on Radiant Radio, and thus, you can expect a bit less of a stretch when it comes to overall performance and product.

It starts with a deep-voiced gentleman, Kirin J. Callinan, working through “Merry Christmas,” a song he just wrote. Tough to get through, but to be expected for a song he’s only worked through on his way there.

Packwood’s “Oh Holy Night” is a ramshackle folk performance that comes in and out of tune and key, but that rawness directed to a song that you normally heard sung by a huge voice and soaring orchestra might just be what the doctor ordered.

The Maple Trail and A Casual End Mile & R. Somerset each do covers of traditional songs as well, and none of them are notable enough to highlight. They are both perfectly fine, but the song and the performance just don’t lend themselves to comment.

The Preachers “Run Run Rudolph” is notable for the single fact that you’ve got a woman covering a Chuck Berry tune that is most often covered by dudes. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, you got a twist. Otherwise, nothing too crazy. Excellent guitar playing, but not exactly what I’m looking for.

The Holy Soul’s “Six White Boomers” is a original, normally a bonus a cover (Stubby has corrected me, it is apparently a Rolf Harris tune)… and the production value (e.g., the sound… not everyone is mic’d well) torpedos it. I can’t say that I think the song is very good either. If you are an Aussie, you might enjoy it a bit more; I doubt I get the humor, especially when it sounds like they are having sex in the middle of a song.

Side Note: This is the second review where I have missed a cover version and assumed it was an original. I either have to take more time doing research (which I likely will not have time for) or you will just have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: Overall, not something you need to take the time with unless something I described above sounds particularly appealing. 1.5/5

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Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

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Don’t Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape (2012)

Don't Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape

Select Music
Buy: Free!

One of my most recent finds, this free compilation from Sydney-based Select Music is an extremely solid compilation that is wholly listenable; A fine effort that I hope they continue to pursue in the future.

Step-Panther‘s version of “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight tonight)” begins and ends with a skit, which I’m sure you could edit out quite easily. The delivery of the actual song makes me think of a bunch of 16-17 year olds rolling through this classic Ramones tune, which could be exactly the vibe you’re looking for… I, however, don’t feel like this song is good enough (as in, the song, not the performance) for simply a serviceable cover. Asobi Seksu’s version is different enough to enjoy over multiple listens, but Step-Panther’s, while not bad, just doesn’t quite break the mold of the original.

Wax Witches‘ “Forgot Me” is a solid indie-rock Christmas tune. I am always partial to originals, and the Wax Witches effort is certainly in the upper 10% of the pack. It actually grows on me a bit with each listen… not quite sure if its going to get to the level where it will be mix-worthy, but a great effort no matter.

The Cairos rendition of “Sleigh Ride” is about as good as it can be. I would never consider this song for my mixes to begin with, but if I HAD to find a version to play for someone, this would certainly be an option. They do their best with what they’re working with.

Millions take a stab at the modern-classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and they do it admirably. Its kind of a fusion of indie rock with an alt-country beat and the twangy guitar of an earlier time. Their arrangement really makes the song their own, and thus it is immensely listenable. This is one of the songs that you need this compilation for… and hey, its free.

The Preatures take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and they follow the Millions lead-in with a similarly unique take on a classic tune. They lighten the mood, add some dirty edges, and throw their version onto the top of the pile. Short, sweet, and spot on.

Finally, Jonti‘s “Christmas Worm” makes an appearance at the end of this short compilation. If you read my blog, you are well aware of how much I enjoy this song. I will no doubt be writing more about this song as the season develops, as I have also found a cover from a few years ago as well. So… enjoy this release and the FREE FLAC that it offers.

Bottom Line: There are three great songs, and three good songs. If every other Christmas compilation could be so fortunate. 4.5/5

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Bandcamp

I just wanted to take a moment and say how much I love Bandcamp. Bandcamp is the first digital provider that I don’t feel ripped off by – giving me the opportunity to download lossless audio, as well as, at times, buy a physical object (which I often do!). I like the simple layout, the relatively-new collection feature that shows what you and others have bought (great for going down that rabbit hole), and the ever-expanding ability to surf through the entire Bandcamp library with greater ease. I would like to encourage every band I know to get onto Bandcamp, to take advantage of their better percentages (10-15% vs. the 30% iTunes takes!) and lack of any startup or maintenance fees. Please… if you have released a fantastic Christmas tune and offered it up for free on your website, continue doing so. But for those of us who would love a FLAC… we will pay for that. Throw it on there – what do you have to lose?? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was happy to pay for music again, even when they are paying for downloads?

Duover – Christmas Volume 1 (2010)

Christmas Vol. 1 cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Portland’s Duover recorded one of the best original Christmas tunes (Grandma’s House) I’ve heard in years. For that fact alone, you should buy this record. And when I say buy this record, I mean it. Send them some money. Presently, Christmas Volume 1 is name-your-price, but come on… throw AT LEAST a buck or two their way.

Originals!!! ORIGINALS!! Yes, you heard it right… there are a whole bunch of originals on this one. 8/9 tracks if I count correctly… beginning with the absolutely stellar “Grandma’s House,” which really highlight Duover’s ear for a hook and subtle groove. This is followed by my second favorite track, “Trivial Pursuit,” which brings their harmonies to the front, while spinning a tale with some wonderfully clever wordplay (Nerds, this one’s for you).

“Home for the Holidays” slows things down a bit, and while still a solid song (I normally love a good Christmas dirge), Duover really excel when employing a faster tempo. Though… I must say, this may be the first song that name-checks “The Bud Bowl.” Certainly, bonus points for that one.

“Under Mistletoe” looks to either be their single, or simply the song that a friend wanted to make a video of. The music really creates a level of drama that I would not expect from a Christmas song. Though this drama is tongue-in-cheek… which makes the rapping much more palatable. Its a lot of fun.

“Coyote Christmas” is a great example of the power of simplicity. The lyrics are short and oft repeated; the vocals are subdued, as is the music. These elements combine into a beautifully constructed song that has no fat left to trim.

“Fruitcake” and “Old Soles” are the two slowest songs on the record, and as I mentioned earlier, Duover are at their best when they up the pace a bit. That said, they are still strong songs. There is not a single song on this album that I dislike, which is saying quite a lot for a Christmas record. The two instrumental tracks, “Ice Cycle” and the lone cover “Auld Lang Syne” are also quite nice and enjoyable. Though I have to wonder… had they not hooked me with that first track, would my lenses still be so rose colored? Yeah, probably.

Bottom Line: A wonderful collection of originals – quite a feat in the Christmas music genre. I look forward to Volume 2 (which they have *somewhat* confirmed in a response on Facebook). 4.7/5

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Under Mistletoe by Duover from Noel Taylor on Vimeo.

Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records (2010)

Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records cover

Adventure Club Records
Buy: Bandcamp

This compilation from Adventure Club Records used to cost a few bucks… but for the moment, it is FREE! How about that??!! Well, first off, you can’t beat free. Secondly, there is some great stuff on here.

The EP starts off with Bear Driver‘s cover of “Walking in the Air” from the classic animated Christmas special, The Snowman. This is truly a wonderful version, floating and beautiful, and I was compelled to add it to my personal mix this year. The mix has not been in my friends’ hands for very long, but so far, 2 of 3 of the mentions of their favorite song have been this one.

Ian Williams and the Dead Flowers‘ cover of “Little Donkey” is actually LISTENABLE. I’m not a big fan of this song, but their slow, dark folk version makes it not only listenable, but genuinely good. This will be on the short list for next year.

Lee Schofield covers “In the Bleak Midwinter,” another song that I have a tough time really getting into – Rue Royale has been the only version I truly enjoyed. Lee Schofield has not surpassed Rue Royale, but he has created a simple, folky version with excellent vocal layers and nice instrumentation… a very solid effort.

Glaciers‘ “Happy Christmas” has this compilation batting 4/4 so far, with this truly wonderful song. Ragged, but beautiful, this song is very very much also on a shortlist for next year. This song has it all – interesting vocals, compelling lyrics, mention of whiskey, great music… knocked it out of the park.

Nir Graham rounds out the release with a (I feel like a broken record) listenable(!) version of Blue Christmas! I normally… really dislike this song. But he has made a messy version, that is pretty damn good. I still don’t like the song enough, but his use of the banjo to, basically, just make noise, makes this ramshackle version of Blue Christmas a compelling listen.

Bottom Line: I find no fault whatsoever with this release. One of the strongest Christmas comps I’ve come across. AND FREE (for a limited time no doubt). 4.9/5

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Parenthetical Girls – Save Christmas (2011)

Parenthetical Girls Save Christmas cover

Slender Means Society
Buy: Bandcamp

So, we are in an off year here in Christmasland. Why an off year you ask? Because the Parenthetical Girls only release a Christmas single/EP every other year, and they blessed us with this 3-track gem last year. So, alas, we will all have to make do with listing to the wealth that is their back catalog (which I shall review on another date). EDIT: They have thrown me for a loop… and are releasing a new EP this year!

Save Christmas is their second Christmas release in a row that is stellar from top to bottom – 3 tracks of gold. I could have put any of these tracks on my personal mix and been completely happy. The leadoff track, “Christmas Past,” sets the tone for the rest of the release with dark lyrics, surrounded by a shimmering bass line and jingle bells. This ending relationship is a tragic and beautiful song, one that finds my soft spot for sad Christmas tunes and pokes it repeatedly.

“Post-Christmas Time”… from what I understand, being that there are no lyrics, and it can be, at times, a little tough to discern, is about a post-apocalyptic time that no longer celebrates Christmas. Lines like: “Run for your life, its post-christmas time,” have led me to that assumption. Its interesting listening, even outside of the season. And the music is fantastic.

It ends with an absolutely lovely “There’s Always Tomorrow,” from the holiday classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Both sad and hopeful at the same time, this version conveys the requisite emotion that the song demands… if you ever wanted a sweet Christmas song out of the Parenthetical Girls, this might just be your dance partner.

Bottom Line: Three great songs, a name-your-own price (pay them!), what have you got to lose?! 4.8/5

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