Kristin Kontrol - Last Christmas

Kristin Kontrol “Last Christmas” (2013/2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Soundcloud | Download

I first came across this synth-heavy (not that the original wasn’t) version of “Last Christmas” via Kurt Feldman, the producer of this track and the driving force behind the equally synth-heavy Ice Choir. Of course, I grabbed it and filed it away. Jump-cut to this past week, as I began to get back in the swing of things, and I came across the Minneapolis-based blog WeHeartMusic (who also did the great graphic above), and their feature about this song (including a download!). Kristin Kontrol (AKA Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls) recorded this classic Wham! song back in 2013 as a sort of a b-side to the spectacular Dum Dum Girls’ “On Christmas.” At the time they weren’t allowed to release it, but after the death of George Michael, KK said:

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(Here is a twitter moment that I’ve created showing the progression of tweets – including the reference to “On Christmas” being proto-KK”)

Thus, we have this cool, very Kurt Feldman + Kristin Kontrol version of “Last Christmas.”The beats are slightly amped up throughout the song, and it gives a perfect pacing to a song that I sometimes find just a hair slow. My favorite part about this track comes in at around 3:20, when they bring in these subtle little bits of percussion; They sound like synth bongos or something of the sort. Spot on KK & KF.

Bottom Line: Truly a killer version of THE Christmas pop song of the 80s.

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Gotta go to Soundcloud for this. They won’t let me embed it!

 

Soy Christmas - Tinsel

Soy Christmas “Tinsel” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

It would make sense that a band named Soy Christmas would have a Christmas song on their first EP, and while the dreamy electro-pop tune “Tinsel” is by no means explicitly a Christmas song, it most certainly places itself during the season. “Up at the top / over the sot — right where you want / this time o’ mine / the causeway’s covered in ice — tinsel and lights ”

Lyrically, the song starts off innocently enough, but be aware, it gets significantly darker as it progresses. “keeping it cool / stepping in real close to you — it’s something to do / just kids on a bridge / someone hopped over the edge — you know the rest / i found a photograph of us in the back corner of my house / i thought that we could work this out — i thought we’d work this out”

This track can be found on this Boston band’s debut EP, Spent, and while this may be the only track that can stretch to your 2017 Christmas mix, the whole thing sounds pretty damn great. For those who wish to hear “Tinsel” from a glitchy, EDM perspective, they also have a remix version on their Bandcamp as well.

Bottom Line: “Tinsel” is an absolutely gorgeous electro-pop tune that, for a lack of a better description, shimmers.

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Daniel Woolhouse "Fairytale of New York" (2016)

Daniel Woolhouse “Fairytale of New York” (2016)

37 Adventures
Buy: Stream (for now)

The Line of Best Fit hipped me to this fantastic new cover of the holiday classic (well, in the UK), “Fairytale of New York.” Daniel Woolhouse, AKA Deptford Goth, begins this classic Pogues’ track with an ethereal a cappella intro, and eases it into a beautiful, electro-pop room. Daniel also makes some refreshing choices in where he adds weight to the lyrics; he accents words where you would not expect it. I truly appreciate that, by every metric, this is far from a straightforward cover. This includes Daniel’s choice to exclude that one, problematic part of the song. He doesn’t change the lyrics, as some do, he just doesn’t even walk down that street. I’m cool with that, and I’m loving this song.

Bottom Line: Finally, a fresh version of “Fairytale of New York” that I feel 100% fine adding to a mix, minus that particular shitty word.

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POLVO DE ESTRELLAS (Un disco navideño compilado por Polvo Bureau)

Polvo de Estrellas (Stardust) (2016)

Polvo Bureau
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I’m going to do my best to use Google Translate and not make a complete ass of myself. Following the fantastic find that Lie in the Sound had with Jägermeister’s Merry Jäger Christmas, I bring you Argentina’s Polvo Bureau and their new Christmas compilation, POLVO DE ESTRELLAS (Un disco navideño compilado por Polvo Bureau). From the chillwave, Wild Nothing-esque Mi Nave with “Ojos Cuadrados,” to the indie rock Camaleón’s “Fuegos Artificiales,” there are some great-sounding tunes on here. Again, I don’t speak Spanish, but I know great sounding music when I hear it. The dream-pop of Queridas’ “Brillen” is ethereal and spectacular. I just want to put headphones on and walk down a snowy street with my eyes closed. The Spanish language version of Joni Mitchell’s “River” is not just fantastic because it’s the first time I’ve heard it in Spanish, but Superflan’s version shines because of the electro-pop touches they put on it. The lead out on Yuliett’s “Tanto Fuego!” Beautiful! This release is damn special, and I’m so very happy to have happened upon it tonight.

Bottom Line: I might lack the language skills to fully understand these songs, but our common language of music has sweet talked me tonight.

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Charles Cave "This Fucking Time of Year"

Charles Cave “This Fucking Time of Year” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Charles Cave, the bassist and lyricist for the British post-punk band White Lies, released a great, 80’s synth Christmas jam last December that is making the rounds again thanks to a new video. This song is dramatic in all the ways you want an 80’s synth Christmas song to be.

If you’re gonna leave,
Go on and leave;
Leave my heart in the cold snow
When you go.
But if I wanna drink,
Well then I’ll drink.
I’ll drink to forget I drink alone.
So alone.

‘Cos I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.
I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.

This is a hot track. It’s just what I needed when I woke up this morning… the montage was epic. There was singing into a hairbrush. There may have even been dramatic turns to a mirror. I put on a great, ill-fitting suit slicked back my hair and got into my Ferrari. My best friend Alf and I took off and headed for our Club Med vacation. We’ll see you all in the new year, 1987.

Bottom Line: Yeah yeah yeah, technically from last year, but I actually HEARD about it THIS year. And I love it. So there.

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A City Without Snow

A City Without Snow (2016)

Middle Class Cigars
Buy: Bandcamp

Singapore’s Middle Class Cigars has released, from front to back, one of the most enjoyable compilations I’ve heard this year. A mixture of Books-esque spoken word folktronica, indiepop, lo-fi folk and downtempo chill-out music, the production value is uniformly excellent, and the taste level is on-point. If I had to pick out a track or two to highlight, for me it would be the lovely “A Song to Sleep to” by Ferry, and the dreamy “0212” by Cosmic Child.  You could put this album on, and not have to skip any horrible tracks… which in the Christmas-music world is a RARITY. Most certainly worth a listen – and for those in the US, it’s only a dash above $10 to have the limited edition cassette (ed. of 50) shipped from Singapore!

I found their description both useful, and endearing.

Music plays an important part in the season of Christmas, as we sing along to the carols written years ago, it still remains as powerful as ever.

With contributions from 9 Singapore-based musicians, A City Without Snow is a Christmas compilation album consisting of seven original songs and two renditions of classics. Born from different emotional perspectives of the season, each composition is a musical vignette of a uniquely Singaporean Christmas.

A City Without Snow is Middle Class Cigars’ proudest release thus far, encapsulating a collective dynamic of warm and intimate sounds of which the label thrives in.

Bottom Line: Just a pleasure. A pleasure. A pleasure.

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Christmas Tape

Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Twaague Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know everyone is all about the NEW NEW NEW songs… throw a “2015” after a song and nobody wants to retweet it. BUT, when nearly all the seasonal releases come out in a month’s time, you are bound to miss some great stuff. Berlin-based Twaague RecordsChristmas Tape was one of those misses… released on December 12 of last year, this release certainly suffered from missing the “christmas” tag on Bandcamp, which made it nearly invisible to my search. (Bandcamp really needs to up their game on search – they limit results and don’t let you combine tags…) This was the tape that led me to Skiing! This was the tape that led me to Hanemoon! And this is the tape that will make you love Milwalkie. Get comfortable, I’m going to cover my personal highlights of this excellent release.

The tape leads off with “26th December,” originally appearing on Skiing’s excellent Generous Fire EP. Its anti-consumerism rhetoric is comfortable terrain for me, and the punk rock aesthetic is invigorating. A very strong start.

Colorado’s Kissing Party is no stranger to Christmas songs – they have 2 featured on their Bandcamp as I type this review. “Merry Christmas Darling (Maybe Next Year Things will Change)” was originally released as their 2014 single, and it remains a great indiepop downer.

Berlin’s Milwalkie contributes one of my favorite tracks on this release with “This Year (All I Want is You).” From what I understand, this begins a string of tracks exclusive to this release. What they might call cheesy (and they do), I call simple and nearly perfect. Playful and nostalgic, this song hits all the marks without getting too sweet; A wonderful, perfectly seasoned (pun!) Christmas tune.

Who would have expected Berlin to be a hotbed of amazing indie Christmas songs? My head has been stuck searching in London for years… should have been looking here! Berlin’s Man Behind Tree channel 90’s-era Merge Records indie rock and blends their jangly guitars, dark lyrics and understated vocals into a fantastic Christmas song, “I Was Santa Claus.”

Hanemoon, who we featured a week or so ago with his 2013 gem, has blessed us with the equally wonderful “My Bell Ride.” This is a driving indie rock Christmas song that I could imagine Yo La Tengo (or my much beloved Mendoza Line) just ripping shit up with; It has the kind of frayed edges that I am such a sucker for.

Strand Child (also from… Berlin!) contribute their dark electro-pop “Yer Feet.” Is this a Christmas song? No idea! But I like it. “I was drunk when I met you / I was drunk when you walked out the door.” It may take place during Christmas… as might the equally non-Christmas specific “F&f” by Berlin’s Mother of the Unicorn. They are a bit less confusing on their Facebook than Strand Child, as they address their song as “not so Christmassy really, but it is a bit sentimental, so that’s the same thing right?” They are tapping into the same deep emotional well as The National… which I consider a high compliment and comparison.

Finally, Farfara’s instrumental “Flying Pan” is also damn good. Again, it suffers by not having an explicit nod to Christmas, but overall a great track that, depending on your own personal mix rules, might still qualify for consideration. At the very least, this track proves them to be an excellent band, worthy of further listening.

Overall this release is extremely strong, and with few exceptions, immensely listenable and wholly enjoyable. I would consider 3-4 of these songs for my own personal mix, which is like scoring a hat trick… very, very hard to do on a Christmas compilation. Tapes are still available via their Bandcamp, as well a digital downloads for a very respectable €5!

Bottom Line: Berlin is just killing it right now. One of the strongest compilations of 2015, easy.

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Blackwatch Christmas 6

UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 6 (2016)

Fowler Volkswagon
Buy: Bandcamp

The time is almost upon us for one of the best compilations out there to be released. The good folks over at Fowler VW and Blackwatch have been hard at work all year, whittling instruments from whole logs and carving black vinyl discs with an exacto knife in a pattern that would create beautiful music. That, or they’ve been recording a bunch of local Oklahoma folks to produce what has become a wonderful holiday tradition. The first track, a electro-pop cover of “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Prettyboy, just debuted on NewsOK, and as usual, it’s a strong start! I don’t want to go into too many details, as I wish to give NewsOK the traffic they deserve, but there is a Flaming Lips connection this year too! CHECK IT OUT!

Bottom Line: Haven’t heard it yet… but I’m pumped! Oh, and they are doing vinyl again this year – hopefully a few copies will end up on Bandcamp??

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aquatic-slime

Aquatic Slime “Winter” (2014/2015)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud

Aquatic Slime have awoke from their winter slumber… and released all the Christmas tracks they’ve had piling up since 2006! There is even this curious track… which they abandoned because it was deemed “too slow/terrible drums.” Well… lets think about this. I do not agree with it being too slow; It’s slower track, but Aquatic Slime have great instincts, and it works quite well. I’ve come to expect a certain sound from Aquatic Slime, and had someone played this track, with the plinking electronic flourishes, organ synths and beautiful female vocals, I probably would have been able to peg it. Granted, there is something that happened in the drums/production that appears to have caused some clipping, but fix that, and you’ve got a winner.

I look forward to checking out all the other tracks that Aquatic Slime dropped too! Some intriguing titles too: “A Rave in a Manger,” “God Rest Ye Badass Gentlemen” – Awesome!

Bottom Line: I hear ya Aquatic Slime, and I understand why you did what you did… but throw a new coat of paint on this baby and you’ve got a new car!

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Memory House Digital Fire Digital Burn

Memoryhouse – Digital Fire, Digital Burn: Holiday Songs 2010​-​2015 (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Memoryhouse has finally done it! They have compiled all the loose Christmas songs from over the years, packaged them together with a new, original tune (!), all for a low-low price that benefits rabbit shelters! I’ve previously many of the older Memoryhouse Christmas songs, so I’ll focus mainly on “Merry Christmas Babe.” The sweet electro-pop frames the scene of a snowy Christmas scene, wasting the day as it snows outside. However, nothing is as idyllic as it seems. There are some complicated feelings toward Christmas floating above these synthesizers.

You always hated christmas both, why do you have to be that way?
Made you wear your mittens and we skated all night on the lake.
There’s no other time of year we try so hard to be OK,
But since the roads are so bad, why don’t we stay in and waste the day?

Bottom Line: Memoryhouse have a great touch when it comes to Christmas songs, and this complicated, beautiful song only solidifies them as one of best out there.

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