Everyone needs a layup here and there, and this faithful cover of Sufjan Stevens’ modern classic “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” affords me that luxury. Yes, the Irish folk band Geese’s approach is much more of a parallel line rather than a perpendicular explosion, but there are some subtleties that I very much enjoyed. Their keyboard atmospherics give the song an etherial feel, while the original trades in the warmth of an occasional piano. Their notes also tend to linger longer than the original, a shimmer to Sufjan’s soft crackle. These changes in approach haven’t changed the heart of the song – it still very feels like the song we all love, just a bit grander in scope.
Bottom Line: Another excellent cover of a great song. I swear I’m not getting lazy – just catching up on some deserving songs! Also, who the heck are Geese? I can ONLY find them on Soundcloud so far…
Yes, I do have more Australian Christmas/Holiday/New Years songs ready… but I think we can all agree that was getting ridiculous. So lets take a quick break and head back to the OG colonizer, England! Last year, London’s Gold Baby put out an extremely nice Bing Crosby cover, which of course was not technically written by Bing – but lets not get too far into the weeds here. The harmony and instrumentation feel just as cozy and warm as the lyrics, which on this first day of sub-40 degree weather in Virginia, has been most appreciated. I also like that this isn’t one of the Bing classics that get extremely overplayed, though perhaps that’s my experience, not yours. Either way – and extremely nice cover by a truly lovely band.
Let’s kick up the season… with something beautiful and sad! What else can you expect from this blog?? Melbourne’s Maple Glider, aka Tori Zietsch, has penned this absolutely heartbreaking, fragile finger-picked beauty to close her debut album, To Enjoy is the Only Thing. Zietsch’s background is incredibly interesting, being brought up in a religious sect that she only refers to as “The Religion” (referred to in this song), which kept her from much interaction with the outside world until she and her mother left at 15. She formed a band, fell in love, broke up and moved to Brighton, England after Googling “places to live.” There she began writing what became Only Thing. Zietsch’s creative reemergence came shortly after moving back to Melbourne in 2019, when she played a few songs for friends, including the new song “Mama It’s Christmas.” This deeply personal song sung to her brother has emotional tentacles that may very well leave you tearing up with empathy. In these tumultuous times, many find themselves either struggling themselves, or caring for those for which the pain persists… mental, physical, spiritual pain. It is in the air, and Maple Glider has captured this perfectly.
You called me that night Said babe don’t you worry now All I could manage was I love you
But I should have reached through the phone Slapped you hard on the cheek So that you could know pain like I do when you leave
Edit: In perhaps one of the craziest coincidences I’ve had recently, this afternoon I found a note from July from a reader (Hi Christian!) recommending this exact song to me. So, Christian, thanks for the tip – it was most obviously a good one. Also – I promise to be better checking my various forms of communications now that I’m making an earnest attempt to get back on the site for the season. BUT, hot tip… Twitter is your best bet. This is NOT the first time that I’ve missed a message on Facebook recommending something that I then write about…
This Christmas band began as a reason for its two members, Mike Behrends and Lance Owens, to spend some time together. Their hang sessions have resulted in some of the most dark, poignant and interesting Christmas music I’ve ever encountered. Mike tipped me off that The Ornaments were indeed on track to release a song in 2020, which had me spinning with possibilities. In a normal year they’ve written about plane crashes… so what will an extremely fucked up waste of a year bring? Like all of the Ornaments songs, “A Coca-Cola Classic Christmas” paints a simple, yet vivid portrait from the fringes of the holiday. The song is a holiday card, written to someone the narrator would like to see, but hasn’t in a good number of years. Personally, this feels like an estranged parent, with lines like, “filled it with ornaments from your childhood Happy Meals,” hinting at the more-than-Facebook relationship they once had. That final entreaty is so simple and heartbreaking, “If this sounds nice, I’ll be in room 104 just left of the coke machine.” This short vignette of a holiday apart conveys so much awkward love in so few words, that I find it tough to decide whether the song is terribly sad, or oddly sweet. The Ornaments always leave me with questions… so I keep coming back.
The Ornaments have big plans for 2021, as we all do, and have plans for a 2-song 7-inch, so be sure to follow them on Bandcamp if you want a shot at that . I believe that first 7-inch only had about 8 copies or so pressed…
Bottom Line: The Ornaments are a rare treat, though perhaps an acquired taste. However, once you got it… you’re in it for the long haul.
Gainesville’s Rusty Spork has created this DIY folk Christmas EP that, in its simplicity and its subtle phrasing choices has made some very trite songs (Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) sound fresh and easy. The recordings are intimate, letting you hear the setup and the fuck-up, and it helps to draw you in, to maybe pull up a chair. A cover of the Jason Mraz & Justin Bieber mashup, “Mistletoe (I’m Yours),” is far less cloying than the saccharine sweet originals, rounding out a record that might not knock your socks off, but might certainly cause you to put on your most comfortable pair.
Bottom Line: There aren’t many ornaments on this tree, but it makes the room feel pretty damn cozy.
WHAT THE WHAT? I’m amazed that I’ve never quite encountered an approach to Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” like this before! Denver’s Porlolo have scored a SOLID Christmas hit, with this saxophone-heavy rendition of the classic tune. I am so DOWN with that wind section! They do such a great job with it, that what might have been a joke song ends up feeling perfectly inevitable. Of course this song works as a strolling indie folk song… how could I have ever doubted it? Love love love.
Bottom Line: This song might just be the most unexpected delight of the season.
Memphis’ Jeff Hulett has popped up on one other excellent Christmas comp that I know of (Oh Holy Crap: A Very Makeshift Christmas – which I may feature at some point too… I mean, that Star and Micey song!), but it but his latest, the original “Know by Now,” that deserves a few inches of solo coverage. “Know by Now” is most certainly my favorite track off the new Small Batch Records’ Spiked Nog: A Small Batch Holiday Compilation. The laid-back stroll of this song paints such peaceful images, both lyrically and in the bits of musical color added to the rhythmic bed of the song. I just want to have a fire on, a great beer in my hand and have this on the radio. Hell, I kinda want the the radio to be just that little bit shitty, to create a bit more ambiance. Yeah…
While I’m not tackling the entire compilation (I am in the midst of Christmas mix production!), there are certainly a few more solid tracks on there. Pick up the whole thing and throw them a few bucks so they make another!
Bottom Line: Just a beautiful tune. There’s even a barking dog in it… oh doggo, you did great.
I would like to call out Chad Thomas Johnston for not releasing another epic, 30-song Christmas record this year. I mean, throw out a record that size once, and you just expect it again (hehe). Unlike 2018’s epic compilation of Christmas tunes, Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul, Chad has recorded a sweet two-track single, with the highlight being an indie rock Christmas original on the A-side. “Let’s Have a Snowball Fight!” is a wonderful song about, well, having snowball fights with his sister when he was a kid! I loved the ringing guitars, the reverb on the vocals and the the rolling baseline. The B-side, “And On That Day” is a Phil Keaggy cover, and religious in nature. Readers will know that this blog is pretty devoted to secular Christmas tunes, but even with my particular bias, the song is done very well. I especially took note of when he layered his vocals in the latter half of the track – it was a gorgeous finish. Overall, two super-solid tracks from a gifted purveyor of Christmas songs (now with 32 to his name!).
Bottom Line: Who knows if we’ll get snow this year, but if not, we can live vicariously through Chad Thomas Johnston.
Hamburg’s Meiko has dipped her toes into the alternative Christmas world before, with the excellent 2018 track, “Merry Christmas Wherever You Are,” and she is back with yet another original! This one is even more to my interest, as I LOVE a good splash of bitters in my Christmas cocktail. The soft vocals and lightly strummed melody stand in beautiful contrast with the obvious message of this wonderful song. “Oh this year can kiss my ass \ So let’s cheers to Christmas past…” Lots of dimes for the swear jar on this one, so listen, then empty the jar, and jam it into your computer to buy the song.
Bottom Line: This is certainly not going to be the last of the “fuck this year” songs, but it is certainly going to be one of the best.
Continuing this season of phenomenal Christmas folk music, London’s Grace Eden has released three songs of exquisite beauty, each one with its own unique approach. There is an original, a poem backed by music, and a cover of her favorite Christmas carol. Her original Christmas song, “Hold You,” introduces us to her beautiful voice, often singing perfectly in harmony with itself. There is a warmth to this song – fuck, it is cozy as hell, and I am feeling it. “Oh, Let’s raid the fridge / Let’s pretend we’re still kids.” YES! I might normally skip over a poetic interlude, but after that first song, I was on board. “Fortune” is quite nice in its own right, adorned by a sparse guitar track, Grace has an unsurprisingly lovely speaking voice which I’m happy to listen to. The final track, “In the Bleak Midwinter” is a simple and lovely cover of a song that I am happy to listen to when done well, and this is most certainly performed and produced beautifully. With a portion going to Mind, a mental health charity, this EP is an easy buy.
Bottom Line: A perfect trio of holiday songs that can each stand on their own, but taste even more wonderfully together.