Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Someday I’ll finish my mix… but in the meantime, maybe I’ll help you finish yours. Ariane Zita, an indie folk singer/songwriter from Montreal, has a Christmas advent calendar that is turning out to be quite lovely, Un Noël à Botch. The first track, “Christmas Can’t be Far Away,” is an Eddy Arnold cover, and TBH, not a song I was familiar with. Ariane’s voice is is beautiful, and her arrangement makes the song feel particularly intimate. The calendar continues in a similar fashion, each song building a soundtrack to that first snow.
Bottom Line: This is truly the season of beautiful songs, and Ariane Zita could very well put out more than everyone else combined…
Oh those seasonal bands. Those spectacular seasonal bands. There are a few, a few bands who come together for explicitly Christmas music, the obvious ones (for my readers being Christmas Aguilera and Sunturns), and now Forest Creatures are making their claim for elite status. Not only do they only release Christmas music, and not only have they released something for the past three years in a row, but they have released FULL ALBUMS three years in a row. There are some bands that have matched this feat… but Forest Creatures are really taking this to another level. A healthy mix of originals and covers, all performed beautifully – so beautifully that you find yourself wondering where they find the time? This year’s entry is Noble Fir, which follows in last year’s beautiful Was That Christmas? in brilliant fashion. The title track is a standout for sure. Their interesting arrangement for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was pretty damn great and unexpected. The calming bliss of the other two originals, “Silent Morn” and “Christmas at the Cabin,” combined with this coffee I’m drinking has put me in a serene, blissful mood that this bitter, overworked Christmas blogger kinda, really, truly, definitely needs. This record is fantastic, for those who like that sort of thing…
EDIT: Woah. Mind. Blown. All three originals have EXACTLY the same running time… 2:37. That is crazy.
Bottom Line: Forest Creatures have maintained an incredible track record of fantastic, FULL-LENGTH Christmas records – a nearly unmatched feat.
Asthmatic Kitty Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Denison Witmer is a great songwriter. This I know is a fact. I remember being in college, watching a friend of a friend open for Denison, and this guy had a pretty big crowd. Filled with fraternity brothers and such, they were there for their boy. Passable strumming ensued, and when he was done, those guys pretty much all left. A smaller, but much more dedicated crew was left, and we all realized that THAT is how you write a good song. The difference was truly astounding; I was shook. Well, it is now over 15 years later, and my man Denison is releasing a Christmas EP under his own name. He has popped up on others’ works, Sufjan and Rosie Thomas, but I don’t believe he has ever done his own. Now all we have to do is have him write some originals… The EP sports a traditional instrumental, a song who-shall-not-be-named, as well as an old hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” It is a touching song, simple in its arrangement, but full of fragile emotion; the imperfections in Denison’s voice emote more than any singer from The Voice could ever muster. This is certainly more on the religious side that I would normally write about, but the fact that it was Denison (a good guy), since it was so damn pretty, and that it is only available until Jan. 1 has put me over the top. If you want this, get it now. Hat tip to Christian for making me aware of this!
Bottom Line: This is also a charity release, with all proceeds going to a friend and fan who is battling Leukemia. So… count your blessings and spread the love.
Oh hey – Denison has this other Christmas track from his The 80’s EP.
And Rosie, Sufjan and Denison…
Buy: 7Digital | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
Lola Kirke, best known as an actress in projects such as Mozart in the Jungle and Gone Girl, is also a talented musician in her own right. Having released her first LP, Heart Head West, earlier this year, she has quickly followed it up with two seasonal tracks which debuted today. The first, “Little Drummer Girl,” flips the gender within the traditional song… but any reader will know how I feel about that song – so we will move on. “Cross You Off My List” is her first original Christmas song, and what a start! Originally written following the 2016 election, she tells PAPER Magazine, “It was a much more somber sounding song that set out to question how to celebrate Christmas in such a fraught environment. While we’re still conflicted about how to invoke the “spirit of Christmas” in today’s political climate, we decided to revise the song—set it to a more a upbeat chord progression and dash it with a bit more hope.”
There are some just killer lyrics too:
“There must be another day / to spend this holy holiday. / Maybe I should run away / or find a better way to stay.
All I want for Christmas / is to dance. / Forget romance, / I’ve made new plans / Maybe cause it’s Christmas, / I should take a stand, / and give my hand / to a better land.
All I want for Christmas / is to be less complicit / and love all those who need it. / You can take your kisses / and cross them off of my list.”
The song was co-written and beautifully produced by her partner Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and together they have made one of the strongest songs of the season. I can’t wait to find out where you can pick it up – because right now, I got nothing!
Bottom Line: Great production with absolutely killer lyrics, this song deserves your ears.
Hey, we all know that I like the dark stuff. I like a nice downer of a holiday tune, a political rant, even a solid anti-Christmas screed. I also like sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. The Bridges, an (apparently) now-defunct 5-piece folk-pop band from Nashville created this charming 3-song EP as their second (and last) release back in 2012. Each song has its own feel, with the leadoff track “I’m Gonna Lasso Santa Claus” is a cover of a 1956 Brenda Lee track which is a nice skiffle novelty track that you won’t hear too often. The second track is the most radio-ready, and if I’m not mistaken, their only original; “First Christmas” has some infectious hooks, and the folk-pop charmer doesn’t wear out its welcome at only 2:37. “Rock N Roll Santa” is their take on a Little Joey Farr tune from 1961. Not only did they pull up a song from the 45 bin under the counter, but they perform it with genuine affection. Too bad that the band’s Facebook page stopped updating in 2013, as they did appear to have something here…
Bottom Line: My inner grinch has to take a Friday off every so often, and perhaps this little EP will find some room on your digital shelf too.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
I know I have been strolling down the dark alleys of Christmas music of late, but I happened to stumble upon a brief ray of sunlight (despite the news’ best efforts). Will Ejzak released a short Christmas EP back on December 30, 2016, which through unfortunate timing, got lost in the shuffle. But then again… this release wasn’t really for us; Will wrote and recorded these songs as a Christmas gift for a very lucky Lauren. Three tracks of tender guitar, each accented sparsely with violin, provide a lovely bed for Will’s layered vocal harmonies. I can’t help to think that this is how Anohni’s Christmas demos might sound… which is high praise in my book. Bravo.
Bottom Line: These songs are simply adorned, yet perfectly dressed for the occasion.
Sam & Julia are a folk/americana duo from Amsterdam, whose love of old June and Johnny duets can be felt in this wonderful country-Christmas song. “Catching up with Christmas” starts off with a music box melody, but quickly transitions to slide guitar, upright bass and that easy country rhythm. The song was almost too pretty for me to get into, and on first listen, didn’t know how I felt. However, the ending of the song veers slightly towards some psych-rock inspired vocals, and it completely works! Subsequent listens have endeared me even more to this song – so if it sounds a bit too pretty for you at first, give it another shot and you may be surprised. Of note, they also made a great Wham! inspired video, so check that out too!
Bottom Line: Sam and Julia have crafted a beautiful country-Christmas duet that certainly grows on you.
Silber Records / VeniVersus
Did you wake up, as I did, wanting a super chill version of Low’s “Just Like Christmas,” sung in Italian? You did? Well, that works out well for all of us, as Vittorio Veneto’s Lullabier has realized our dream with the leadoff track on his wonderful new EP, 2512. The novelty of hearing this classic song in Italian is not the only draw to the song – the laid-back indiepop orchestration is absolutely beautiful. However, it is the small, but significant, addition of the cabasa (at least that’s what I think they are using – the hand percussion), that evokes a crackling fire and draws out a warmth in this song that I don’t think I have heard before. The other tracks are also excellent – I enjoy the layered spoken word of “Natale A Serravalle (Silent Night),” and the English-language “White Dizziness” is understated and gorgeous. Lullabier has made some wonderful choices, and is very much on my radar now, and I hope yours as well.
Bottom Line: Italy is on the board with this stellar cover by Lullabier, whose warm, beautiful orchestration and production has extracted new qualities from an already beloved song.
Last year’s track from the seasonal folk band The Ornaments, featured a passenger searching for Christmas music to listen to as his plane was going down. This year’s track, despite reassurances that both Mike and Lance (the Ornaments) are totally in the spirit this season, is even darker! The track is simply arranged, just guitar and Mike’s thoughtful vocals. The song follows a father and daughter as they watch some Christmas classics, each of which sparks either impossible, or uncomfortable questions.
What am I gonna tell my little one
when she says she wants a White Christmas?
“Not tonight. Go to sleep.”
What am I supposed to say when she asks my way,
“Why’d his parents leave him Home Alone? Do they not love him?”
“You’re good. You’re fine. I’ll never leave you behind.”
What’s a man to do as her tears roll down
as Frosty’s face melts into the ground?
“Why don’t we turn off the TV?”
What am I gonna tell my baby girl when she asks,
“Is Mom coming back?”
“How about we watch a Christmas movie.”
“Christmas Movie Marathon” is a brutal, evocative poem put to music, one which spares no expense when it comes to tearing at your heartstrings.
Bottom Line: The Ornaments continue to mine the darker side of Christmas with yet another fascinating approach to seasonal music.
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
Sitting outside on a winter night, trying to forget a lover… this is where we find the narrator in Rosie Carney‘s “Winter.” The imagery is gorgeous, the simple guitar-picked melody is lovely and Rosie’s voice is truly genuine. She has the ability to put you there with her – her voice is not singing a song, but living it. This track was recently featured on NPR, and thankfully alerted me to the beauty that is Rosie Carney’s work. An Irish singer-songwriter, she is also an advocate for mental illness, having written quite openly about her battles with depression, sexual assault and eating disorders on her blog. Rosie is a story of survival – beautiful, wonderful survival. So, in this time when we give thanks, think of those who could use even more support, and lend an ear, lend a hand, and give some love.
Bottom Line: While not a Christmas song, this song certainly has a place on your winter/Christmas-themed mixes, as it is truly beautiful. Listen to all her songs… they are all spectacular.