The Heart Of - Winter Song

Premiere: The Heart Of “Winter Song” (2017)

Brooklyn Basement Records
Buy:Stream on Spotify (Release Date Sat. Dec. 23)

Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song” is slowly becoming a modern classic, as more and more high-profile artists have begun to cover it in recent years. The song has a signature emotional quality that has landed frequent appearance in television and movies as well, further entrenching it in our consciousness. NYC’s The Heart Of is the latest to tackle the song, as he found kinship with the emotional core of the song:

“For lots of people, the winter can be a difficult time to face alone, calling into question whether love is waiting for them at all, hiding in the cold. I identified with those sentiments and felt moved by their manifestations in my own life. Not everyone is rocking around the Christmas tree, and I thought it was nice that there’s a song for those people who aren’t. Of course, the arrangement and performance in the original is really beautiful, so I just tried to do it justice.”

The Heart Of certainly does the song justice, and IMHO, improves upon it. The subtle changes in instrumentation, the addition of banjo as a featured instrument, as well as further developing the percussive possibilities of the song wonderfully fleshes out what is a generally sparse, piano-centric original. These choices highlight the excellent taste level of The Heart Of, and their ability to create a modern, interesting approach to a burgeoning classic bodes well for spring 2018, when we’ll get to check out their debut EP.

Bottom Line: The Heart Of find a subtle, new approach that breathes new possibilities into an increasingly high-profile modern classic.

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Anni Rossi - Yuletide X Rossi

Anni Rossi – YULETIDE X ROSSI (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

New York-based multi-instrumentalist Anni Rossi returned to recording in March 2017, after a 6 year recording hiatus, with a new single and the following mixtape, HER. The mixtape was expansive, spanning 18 tracks and signaling that she was back to stay. Come December, Anni Rossi has now released a second mixtape, the wonderfully eclectic YULETIDE X ROSSI. The album contains some sparse covers (“The Christmas Song”, “Mele Kalikimaka”), some fascinating interpretations (“Silent Night”), and wonderful originals (“Even on Christmas Day”). The only track that I believe may have been previously released is Rossi’s fantastic cover of “Last Christmas,” which she released a version of on Soundcloud back in 2014. Believe me, the slow jam treatment of “Last Christmas” is absolutely worth your time and attention; Rossi’s version is unique and refreshing. Simply said, there are some wonderful songs on here, and even where a track might not be your cup of tea, Rossi still keeps it interesting. Hat tip to fellow underground Christmas aficionado No Love for Ned for the heads up!

Bottom Line: Anni Rossi’s return yields wonderful results, with an eclectic Christmas record that happily keeps you guessing.

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Sam and Julia "Catching up with Christmas"

Sam & Julia “Catching Up With Christmas” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: iTunes

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.

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Lullabier - 2512

Lullabier featuring Faro “Natale A Ceneda (Just Like Christmas)” (2017)

Silber Records / VeniVersus
Buy: Bandcamp

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.

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Young Mister "Christmas, Please Come Early"

Young Mister “Christmas, Come Early This Year” (2017)

Refresh Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Steven Fiore (aka Young Mister) has spent the past few years songwriting for the Universal Music Publishing Group and as a guest vocalist in Jeff Goldblum’s jazz band (yes!). He has struck out on his own, recording under the name Young Mister, and releasing his self-titled debut album back in January 2016. This year, he’s released two singles… the latest being a lovely Christmas single, “Christmas, Come Early This Year.” It’s a simple song, from a father to a son, one that in my third listen has me a little shook. It progresses from hanging lights with his young son holding the ladder, to having him all grown up, and clutching to the feeling of those early Christmases. The song is just beautiful, and conveys powerful emotions without resorting to schmaltz.

Bottom Line: Simple and beautiful, Young Mister has written a song that deftly highlights those feelings that parents hold at Christmas.

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The Ornaments - Christmas Movie Marathon

The Ornaments “Christmas Movie Marathon” (2017)

Folkmonger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

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.

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Forest Creatures - Was That Christmas?

Forest Creatures – Was That Christmas? (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I don’t have much time, as I have to work this Saturday, and I’ve just got a few minutes to get this down. Forest Creatures are a Vancouver band of folkies who have put together two (yes, TWO) whole records of RIYL Sufjan Stevens Christmas folk music. When I say “RIYL Sufjan Stevens,” it is both a compliment to the taste level, as well as a hint that this record is going to have a dash of Jesus for sure, but not heavy-handedly so. The production is outstanding, warm and layered. They mix it up with covers (“I Heard the Bells”) and excellent originals (“Christmas Like I’ve Never Felt”), each one done beautifully. This is a cohesive, beautiful record that you could put on and enjoy all the way through, which can be VERY hard for a Christmas album to achieve.

Bottom Line: Forest Creatures have come in from the cold, Canadian winter to warm our hearts with lush, indie folk.

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Wyvern Lingo - Snow II

Wyvern Lingo “Snow II” (2017), “Snow” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Well hot damn. This was too good to keep me from writing. Bray, Ireland’s Wyvern Lingo, a trio of singer/instrumentalists has just dropped an indie R&B jam “Snow II,” that is totally worth your attention. Their voices are beautiful, as are the minimal electronic beats and flourishes of color that support them. However, if that groove is not your bag, how about an acoustic version, with no percussion, mainly guitars and keyboards to provide the bassline? (Stubby found this one back in the day, of course) Then their 2014 version, “Snow” is your jam. Either way you slice it, this is a pretty beautiful song, and I think you might dig it too.

Bottom Line: Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Both taste great!

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Bjéar Christmas

Bjéar “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Things are getting weird around these parts. We’re all about to get nuked, and I’m sitting here writing the second post in threee days about an instrumental Christmas song. Adelaide, Australia’s Bjéar has a Soundcloud stream full of solid, RIYL Bon Iver/Sufjan Stevens indie folk/rock. I initially heard his excellent Sufjan-esque “Big Sky” and really loved it; I think it was one of those “Soundcloud chooses another song” situations. So I click through to the profile, and discover these two Christmas songs – “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” These are two songs that rarely make appearances on this, very secular Christmas blog. However, there is a quality to them that leads me to this moment. Bjéar’s arrangements are the obvious strength of these songs. “Joy to the World” has subtle variations on the melodies you’d expect, and yet it sounds fresh to my bitter ears. “Silent Night” is extremely simple – pretty much a solo piano effort for the first minute. Then, more colors enter, and it opens up. Neither track reinvents these classic songs, but Bjéar’s choices have a sensibility that indie rock fans such as myself will certainly appreciate.

Bottom Line: I find myself in uneasy, instrumental and religious Christmas song waters, but Bjéar helps me swim.

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Crying Day Care Choir

Crying Day Care Choir “Cosas Caras” (2017)

Warner Music Sweden
Buy: Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

What a 1-2 punch… first Sunturns, now Crying Day Care Choir! In the past, CDCC has released two stone-cold classics, Christmas Day Care Choir Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and while we are not getting a full EP this year, we are getting an amazing new single, “Cosas Caras.” This translates from Spanish to English as “expensive things,” and the song’s simple premise is that Christmas is about everything but cosas caras. The melody is infectious, and the infusion of Spanish is both unexpected and beautiful. Crying Day Care Choir can pretty much do no wrong in my book… and if you dig their Christmas tunes, you are going to love their non-seasonal faire as well – so please dig further into their discography. This single, as with all their previous Christmas releases, benefits Musikhjälpen, a Swedish radio campaign that raises money for charity. So, purchase the track from the links above and throw it on your mix, because this track is 100% mix-ready. (Hopefully they’ll add their Bandcamp link soon!)

Bottom Line: Crying Day Care Choir continue to amaze with “Cosas Caras.” What a way to start the season.

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