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!
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!
Delicious Clam Records‘ first release is Delicious Christmas, a 6-track (largely) Christmas compilation benefitting the Sheffield homeless teenager charity Roundabout.
Best Friends totally knocked it out of the park last year with their original, “When Christmas Comes.” Hopefully starting a tradition that will continue for many more years, they offer yet another Christmas song, a cover of Macca’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Yes, I know. Truly awful song. So, what does one do with a turd, but dress it up in new clothes and make you believe that its a Baby Ruth. Best Friends have succeeded in convincing me that I just stepped in chocolate – I dig it. They have an attitude that exudes from their music that I enjoy enough for me to probably like a version of Little Drummer Boy, should they attempt that awful song.
Pjaro’s cover of East 17’s “Stay Another Day” isn’t really a Christmas cover… it’s a Christmas #1 cover. So… I’m not really going to talk about it.
Radical Boy‘s cover of Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone” mixes it up enough with a punk rock edge. To start, I do dig this song – and they do make it their own. I would have done without the hardcore cookie monster growl at the end… for me, it makes the song funny, and I suppose I wasn’t looking for funny.
Pet Rock‘s cover of “Walking in the Air” from The Snowman is one of the more rocking versions I’ve heard. I wasn’t expecting to hear any crunchy guitars on this track, and there they were. Certainly the only version of “Walking in the Air” that you might want to put on a more rocking-out Christmas mix.
“Have a Very Misfits Christmas” is a deceptive title for a cover of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Its a solid, punk rock version of the oft-covered classic. The only thing holding it down is the fact that so many people cover this song.
Avida Dollars‘ “I Am The Christmas Ghost” is the only original on this release, and it is quite an interesting tune. What other Christmas song do you know that has “hide all your nazi gold” in the lyrics. It starts slow, then turns into an old school Oi! punk/hardcore song. I wish I could make out more of the lyrics, because what I can make out has me intruiged.
Bottom Line: For a punk rock Christmas release, pretty damn strong. It’s only £2 and benefits homeless kids – I’d say that’s a bargain. 4.2/5
PDXMAS is back for its third installment since its debut in 2009. Those old tracks from 2009 & 2010 can also be found on their revitalized Bandcamp page. As I recall, when I originally hunted the PDXMAS comps down, they had a full, standalone website. They then disappeared, then reappeared on Bandcamp with a very incomplete tracklist – but everything appears back now. The third installment benefits a charity, as most of these local comps do, specifically Mercy Corps NW. This fact leads me to want to talk up the compilation a bit more than I likely would. Honestly, I find most Christmas comps so hit-and-miss, that I would equate baseball batting averages as comparable (as in .300+ batting average is stellar). PDXMAS 2014 however, just can’t get above that Mendoza line. There are some notable names on here, Typhoon being perhaps the most recognizable outside the Portland, OR area. Their take on “Silent Night” is just fine, but certainly nothing to write home about. The lone standouts (for me) are Ben Darwish‘s soulful “All I Need,” and Timmy Straw‘s mournful “Hard Times.” There are certainly other songs that were fine, just not many that spoke to me. I am most certainly not the final word on taste, so please judge for yourself. I have been known to be wrong… I remember when I didn’t quite get Father John Misty. Then, one day I did, and my world became better for it. Perhaps a song lives on PDXMAS that I’ll come back to, and truly love.
Bottom Line: There are a few special tunes on here, and its for a good cause. Listen for yourself and support some local Portland communities. 3/5
The first of two compilations by the much-missed blog, Hard to Find a Friend. Somehow, this blog was able to assemble exclusive songs by some relatively big names (indie big), to benefit Toys for Tots. This is a good-enough release that it would certainly sell, and make more money for Toys for Tots if it were available on Bandcamp. I have made an effort to contact them in the past, but to no avail. So, the link for vol. 1 is still “live,” but I have no idea if the purchase will work. Perhaps they will find my post and remedy the situation…
There are plenty of tracks to highlight from this release… so I’m going to rattle off a few of them quickly, with embedded tracks where available.
The record begins with “Shepherd’s Song” by The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. What a band name! Well, I am led to believe that this track is not exclusive, because they released a Christmas EP years ago which is well out-of-print. Certainly a beautiful tune that is worth your time.
Quiet Company give a rocking rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is not something you tend to hear. A great treatment that doesn’t fit into the traditional mold.
David Karsten Daniels‘ rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter” is as slow and haunting as one would expect, and while it does not reinvent the version that many like to attempt, it may be one of the best of the bunch.
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone‘s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is an instrumental rendition of the song, with a hip-hop beat behind it that adds much more interest than I would expect. Certainly a good version if you’re into the more traditional stuff, with a very nice twist.
The Winston Jazz Routine‘s “Through the Snow” is a gorgeous acoustic song that would fit perfectly in that contemplative section of your mix.
The Long Winters‘ “Sometimes You have to Work on Christmas” is a great indie rock Christmas song, reminding me of when all my friends worked in coffee shops, restaurants and record stores.
Ohtis‘ “American Christians” is a fantastic track… and I can’t find THIS version anywhere. They have 2 other version on their website, free for download. They vary slightly, the one on their proper record, and the one on their demos record. I am particular to this version… but below is the LP version.
Aaron Robinson‘s “End of the Year” completes the trifecta of great year-ending themed songs. This is a fantastic tune, and I do hope that Aaron hunts it down for his Bandcamp site soon (It may have been lost in a hard drive crash!).
Some songs, such as the Chris Walla track, left me undwhelmed, but I have to say, that feels like a MINORITY of tracks. There are still some great tunes I didn’t highlight, but those above are my favorite ones. Certainly the tracks by Via Audio, TW Walsh, and American Music Club are worth checking out (Full tracklist here). If you try to buy it, and are successful, please let me know in the comments.
Bottom Line: One of the top Christmas compilations I have – so many good songs, and for a good cause. Wish it was as easy as a Bandcamp site to purchase though. 4.5/5
A very admirable, and higher quality (than most) charity compilation by Anthologies has come out two years in a row now, and I do hope it becomes a yearly seasonal occurrence. Donation amounts are left up to the giver, and all proceeds go towards supporting the homeless.
While I must admit, there was nothing that I fell in love with, I found it a very listenable compilation. The Birthday Kiss‘ “Sentimental Christmastime” was released outside of this compilation first, but is certainly a welcome addition. I happen to be a fan of The Lodger, so a Lodger side-project (The Birthday Kiss) will always garner a bit more attention from me. Dancing Club’s “Silent Night” brings new phrasing and instrumentation to what I normally find a very boring song. His voice is odd, yet good enough to be interesting – and I do love a banjo. Finally, These Men‘s “How Come You’re Only Nice to Me at Christmas,” is another to check out – great lyrics, nice music and short – always a bonus. The rest of the record is certainly listenable, and your personal song preferences will likely direct you to like songs that I might simply cross off out of my personal prejudices. For example, I hate “Wonderful Christmastime.” HATE it. So, that’s me.
Bottom Line: Good cause and overall very listenable. Keep em coming Anthologies. 3.8/5
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
And for good measure, be sure to check out The Proctors, the band Lisa is presently touring the world with.
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