Delicious Christmas Vol​.​3 – Return of the Christmas (2018)

Delicious Clam Records
Buy: Bandcamp

THEY ARE BACK! Sheffield’s Delicious Clam Records is back with Vol. 3, and while it is a brisk 2-track affair, wow are they fantastic! The first track by Thee Mightees, “Christmas Song,” is a stone-cold mix-worthy indie rock classic. The groove is infections, and the lyrics are brilliant: “I hate Christmas rock n roll / Shane MacGowan and Kristy MacColl / I hate Jesus / I hate Chuck Berry / I hate Santa and his big fat belly.” HA! Wizzard, Slade, Paul McCartney, Band Aid amongst others, also get a serving of shade. It is a TON of fun.

The second track by Five Leaf Nettles, “Moonwalk in the Snow,” is a gorgeous, simple guitar and vocals song. The lyrics are nostalgic, touching, and the perfect foil to the wonderfully bitter lead track. “If I can’t walk backwards, then I don’t wanna go.”

All proceeds go towards HARC (Homeless and Rootless at Christmas). So, while you are donating to help the homeless in Norman, Oklahoma, why not keep your wallet open and help out the needy in Sheffield?

Bottom Line: This is so so so so so so so so so so good. What a pair. WHAT a pair.

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Modern Studies “It’s Winter” (2018)

Fire Records
Buy: Bandcamp

On occasion, folks have thought this might be a Scottish blog. I take that as a great compliment, and I fully understand why one might assume this. I LOVE SCOTTISH BANDS. Well, tack Modern Studies up on the ol’ evidence board, but keep them at the edge, because they are technically from Scotland-via-Lancashire. Now, Modern Studies latest LP “Welcome Strangers” contains a stunning winter-themed song, appropriately titled “It’s Winter.” With orchestration and vocal harmonies that make me feel like they dig the Dirty Projectors, Modern Studies has crafted an atmosphere that evokes winter. The strings often flutter in and out, as if gusts of snow across your windows. I am sucker for winter songs, as they are a break from Christmas… an aperitif to cleanse the palate, and “It’s Winter” does so beautifully. And as for me being Scottish, I should probably take my address off the site to add to the mystery…

Bottom Line: I’d snuggle up by the fire with this song.

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John Mark Nelson “The One Time Of Year” (2018)

GNDWIRE Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

John Mark Nelson is a songwriter and producer working in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and believe it or not, he released this track 2 weeks ago. Thankfully Christmas A Go Go found it and DM’ed it to me… as he must have figured I’d dig it. Now, here we are! “The One Time of Year” highlights what is becoming a common theme this year – as the need for the quite calm of Christmas, highlighting the simple bonds between us, is more needed in this time of tumult than in years past. The production is warm, sparse, and very evocative of Sufjan Stevens’ more contemplative work, such as the original recording (not the one you can buy) of “Christmas in the Room.” In a year of unexpectedly beautiful, hopeful, thoughtful songs, this one fits in quite nicely.

Bottom Line: Another tender song for a brutal year. Keep feeding me this medicine, and I might just get better.

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The Ornaments “Give Me All the Christmas You Got” (2018)

The Ornaments "Give Me All the Christmas You Got"

Folkmonger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Mike Behrends and Lance Owens’ seasonal project, The Ornaments, has entered its fifth, fascinating year. The Ornaments can not write a normal Christmas song. 2016’s “Flying Home for Christmas,” had the narrator thinking about Christmas songs as his plane went down – just try to find another band who will go down that road! 2018’s “Give Me All the Christmas You Got,” is much brighter in content (there is no imminent death), but Mike Behrends’ lyrics cannot help but be evocative. For most of the past year, Mike has been living in Turkey, a predominantly muslim country with a very different climate from his Wisconsin roots. His detachment from the Christmas he knows and loves leads to equal parts longing and loving, as Mike pinpoints and appreciates these small details of Christmas that often get lost in the buzz of the holidays – yet he can’t have them. Recorded into an iPhone and sent 9 hours back in time to Wisconsin, his partner Lance Owens has beautifully mixed Mike’s vocals, at first setting them far away, but bringing them close as the imagery begins to flow. The music compliments the lyrical tone, soft nostalgia with a hint of anxiety, and with that, another Ornaments’ classic. Word is that they might be planning something fun when they hit a decade – and that is great to hear, as The Ornaments are one of the distinctive pleasures of the alternative Christmas season.

Bottom Line: The Ornaments are like no other Christmas band, as they continue to make fascinating, wholly unique Christmas songs.

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Ariane Zita “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” (2018)

Self Released
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…

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Annika Norlin “CORRESPONDENCE: Silent Night” (2018)

Razzia Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide) set off on their Correspondence project at the beginning of this year, writing each other letters though song in an alternating fashion. I don’t recall specifically hoping that there would be a Christmas song, but that hope is my default position. My default hope has been fulfilled, and I am ecstatic that one has emerged in this, the final month of the project. It is Annika Norlin’s turn for a song, and boy does she deliver a finale. “CORRESPONDENCE: Silent Night” has Annika musing on the the two composers of the original “Silent Night,” and how they must have felt to create it, then for those around them to experience it for that first time. What a brilliant approach for a song – I’m already in and I might not have heard a note yet. Annika’s simple guitar melody propels her delicate voice through a series of vignettes, from the birth of the song, to its first performance, finally culminating in the famous Christmas truce of 1914. And while there are powerful moments such as that truce, there are also some moments of levity, as she wonders if that first crowd might have thought: “Well I like the older stuff better 
/ They should do more upbeat tunes.” So terribly clever and moving in both approach and execution, this song has it all. Thanks to Jeremi for the tip!

Bottom Line: What a stunner.

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Forest Creatures – Noble Fir (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

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.

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The Staves “Home Alone, Too” (2018)

Nonesuch Records
Buy: Nonesuch FLAC/MP3 |iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3

Well shit. I lied. Here I am again. I worked so much last night, I’m taking a few more minutes for myself… and I suppose, for you. This track by London’s The Staves is phenomenal. Like NUTS good. I’ll add to this post later. (I now see I am quite late to this game – of course Stereogum had it yesterday.)

Bottom Line: Stone-cold mixworthy. And yes, I just bought Home Alone on Blu-Ray on Black Friday…

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Denison Witmer “For the Beauty of the Earth” (2018)

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.

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Oh hey – Denison has this other Christmas track from his The 80’s EP.

And Rosie, Sufjan and Denison…

Chad Thomas Johnston – Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul (2018)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I will see how this week goes, but it is gearing up to be a challenging holiday season, time-wise. Thus, you may find my reviews becoming much more short & sweet; I am going to have a much shorter missive from me to you about this excellent record by artist/writer/singer Chad Thomas Johnston (CTJ as I will now call him). CTJ resides in Lawrence, Kansas, where he day-jobs as a writer, having pieces in many publications you might know such as Spin and In Touch Magazine. Come to find out, he also releases some damn fine Christmas records! Back in 2004, CTJ released a 10-track holiday album, All is Calm, All is Bright, and added tracks to the digital version again in 2005 and 2007. For 2018, CTJ has compiled all of his holiday tracks (all 30 of them) into this beautiful collection, wonderfully titled Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul. I prefer the secular stuff, as usual, but even the religious material is treated well. It is CTJ’s subtle orchestration choices (the heartbeat in “Joy to the World”) which really made we sit up straight and say “dammmn, that’s good.” The lo-fi crackling of “Oh Christmas Tree” was the track that initially got me – it established CTJ as having a certain taste-level that I knew I was going to get into. The record also includes CTJ’s entry into Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas song contest back in 2007, “Bethlehem (The 51st State).” It is no surprise that CTJ entered this contest, as I feel he and Sufjan would pair well as a Christmas-music double feature. That said, what makes this song fun is that he actually brings Sufjan directly into the song, which is a fantastically fun and interesting approach. In summary, CTJ has promised you coal, but he’s giving you much, much more with Stalking Stuffers.

Bottom Line: RIYL Sufjan Stevens, or if you ARE Sufjan Stevens. This expansive collection of beautifully-orchestrated Christmas songs is wholly worth your time.

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