Follies "Grave Matters"

Follies “Christmas Day” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Random strokes of luck, that is often what Soundcloud feels like to me. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE SOUNDCLOUD, and would be lost without it. But anyone who has ever done a keyword search knows my pain. Thankfully, every so often you strike silver and gold (Christmas pun!). Kate Siefker, also known as Follies, has fought her perfectionist tendencies and released a bunch of tracks that she was working on in 2013-14 under the title Grave Matters (2013-2014). Included amongst these beautifully layered tracks is, yes, a Christmas song! “Christmas Day” is a beautifully raw track, with ukulele, (maybe guitar too?), beats and handclaps circling each other for just over two minutes. It is certainly not your usual ukulele fare, so those expecting the expected… you may be pleasantly surprised.

Bottom Line: Short, raw and beautiful. Best of luck with your move Kate (if you see this.)

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Bitter's Kiss & Blue Stone - These Bells Will Ring

Bitter’s Kiss and Blue Stone “These Bells Will Ring” (2015/2016)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC)Amazon MP3 | Amazon.UK MP3 | Amazon.DE MP3 | Amazon.FR MP3 | iTunes

Weehawken NJ’s Chole Grace, formerly known as Bitter’s Kiss and now professionally known as Baker Grace (and apparently signed to Republic Records), collaborated with electro-pop group Blue Stone with “These Bells Will Ring.” It’s a call for peace in the holiday season; You can’t get much simpler than that. It is short, poignant and beautiful. I have a version from 2015 that is 30 seconds shorter and with MUCH less production value than the slightly celtic version that adorns this video… and I prefer the stripped-down version a bit more. Still dig the new one, just not as much.

Bottom Line: Short, thoughtful and beautiful. Make the original version available again and I’ll be a happy, happy blogger. It’s back!

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HEY! Look! The original version!

The Wild Raspberries

The Wild Raspberries “Together On Christmas Day” (2016) and “A Christmas Song” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

First off… big, big shout out to The Christmas Chaos Radio Show for hipping me to this fantastic new Dutch band, The Wild Raspberries. How they snuck past the Christmas music radar that I have eternally pointed at northern Europe, I have no clue. Their 2016 track, “Together on Christmas Day,” isn’t even their first seasonal rodeo; They are now two years into this seasonal tradition! And yes, I’m going to say tradition in the hopes that they will continue putting out these gorgeous songs. To describe these songs is to close your eyes and imagine what an amazing Mojave 3 Christmas album might sound like. I consider this a huge compliment, because I own every single Mojave 3 record, and to remind me of them… specifically the best moments of them… is huge. On both these tracks, the Wild Raspberries’ ethereal vocals and the ringing guitar lines lead to some beautiful fingerpicked lyrical imagery:

From Together on Christmas Day: “Cause it’s a long way home and I miss you / It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed you / but all the roads lead to be with you / so it’s all ok / we’ll be together on Christmas day.”

From A Christmas Song: “On Christmas day / I fell asleep next to the fire / In my dreams you called my name / You never changed / you held my hand and I believed you / when you said ‘all is ok'”

Each song has its own moment that made me sit up and marvel. There is the moment in “A Christmas Song” when Keez’s vocals join Hannah’s (goosebumps), and then there’s that initial guitar line that joins the opening synth in “Together on Christmas Day” (beautiful) – each solidifying these songs as essentials in my seasonal repertoire. Perhaps you will find your own, different moments… because there are many more to choose from. The Wild Raspberries are worth your time, and hopefully in the future, your money. You can support them by listening on Spotify as we all await whatever they have in store.

Bottom Line: The Wild Raspberries have created some spectacular Dutch dream folk Christmas tunes that you really need to listen to.

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Four Eyes "Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber"

Four Eyes “Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber”

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2016 quite the year for Die Hard-inspired Christmas tunes, and while the Irish have had their shot, it’s time to see what our stateside talent had up their sleeve. Athens, Georgia’s Four Eyes released the absolutely captivating “Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber.” Written from the perspective of Hans Gruber being a man and not only an evil villain, it makes you oddly sympathetic through quiet finger picking and layered vocals that recall those quiet Sufjan Stevens classics of the past. The oddly nostalgic atmosphere is only broken by the “motherfuckers” that pepper the ending; The dichotomy between the subject and the treatment was just a blast.  Fantastic.

Bottom Line: Four Eyes… you are just too good to be a one-off indie Christmas classic (cause you have more!). I’ll be seeing you again for sure.

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Zefereli "Oh Christmas" (2016)

Zefereli “Oh Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: iTunes

Brisbane, Australia’s Zefereli are a wonderful indiepop duo who… despite my best efforts, alluded me this past Christmas season. “Oh Christmas” is a beautiful, simple folk Christmas song in the vein of early, more acoustic Slow Club. There are no bells and whistles, just beautifully delivered harmonies and warm sentiment. “I won’t be asking for much this Christmas / I’ll just be asking for you.”

Bottom Line: I’m going to take this opportunity to ask Alistar and Clea to record another Christmas song this year because “Oh Christmas” was just too good, and I’m much more demanding than the song’s narrator.

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The Ornaments - Flying Home For Christmas

The Ornaments “Flying Home for Christmas” (2016)

Folkmonger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Mike and Lance (The Ornaments) are back… and dammmmn. This shit is dark. Funny, and dark. The song is a story about crashing in a plane on Christmas Day. The sweet guitar picking doesn’t lull you to comfort for very long, shit gets dark quick. The cabin fills with smoke, he buys inflight wifi to tell his love goodbye. However, there is a nice balance, as with the gallows humor found in the line: “meanwhile i thumbed through my phone to find a song, a christmas song, a burl ives song / that’s good to die to.” The narrator goes through the entire crash, in a slow motion mix of bemusement and wry observations. I would love to know more about how this song came about…

Bottom Line: The Ornaments’ dark humor is a welcome break from the sugary sweet songs that dominate the holiday.

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Marika Hackman - Wonderland EP

Marika Hackman – Wonderland EP (2016)

Transgressive
Buy: Vinyl | iTunesAmazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Marika Hackman is no stranger to Christmas tunes – she’s been featured on Daisy Digital’s past two Christmas compilations, covering “O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” The Christmas bug must have really caught her, as her new EP does not just gather together her previous efforts (it doesn’t in fact), but it has her recording a bunch of new covers, as well as some originals. The first track that has been teased out is an absolutely incredible original song, the synth sprinkled “Driving Under Stars.” I’m such a fan of this track. The vibe is perfection – just what I needed today. This is a stone-cold mixworthy track… I can’t even bring myself to get beyond it to talk about the other selections. One exception… “O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel” is a new version, different from the charity comp version previously available, so all-new material! ALSO, vinyl vinyl vinyl! 300 copies are available via Transgressive, coming out on December 1st. So… pony up. In a related note… care to buy me one? 🙂 You can find my address in the Submissions section. Hehe.

Bottom Line: 30 seconds is all I need to fall in love. No joke. Likely you too!

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Christmas for Cowboys

Christmas for Cowboys (2016)

Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP)
Buy: Stream | Amazon.de MP3

How about some country music from Norway? Because that makes total sense right? Everything makes sense right now! Well, actually Norway, Sweden and the like have long had a healthy Americana/Country scene. The folks over at Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP) gathered four Norwegian country bands (The Brigade, Helldorado, Flying Shoes and the Tramps), and each band chose two songs by prominent country and americana bands and songwriters. Songs featured on this release were originally recorded by the Handsome Family, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Jackson Browne, John Prine, The Band, Buck Owens, Chris Hillman and Glen Campbell. Those are some big names indeed, though my favorite is perhaps the smallest name (Handsome Family). That said, I am having a tough time singling out specific tracks to feature, because truly, the quality level is high enough on each of these tracks. The entire release is certainly worth your time. For extra credit, check out The Brigade’s Beyond Christmas Day EP from 2014.

Bottom Line: These Norwegians really love this country music, and it comes through.

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My Bubba "Champagne Drops"

My Bubba “Champagne Drops” (2016)

Cash Only / Tone Tree Music
Buy: iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The duo of My Bubba, previously known as the trio My Bubba and Mi, hail from those crazy Nordic states (Sweden and Iceland to be specific), which any reader will know are a particular hotbed of music that Christmas Underground both covers, and loves. To my pleasant surprise, their most recent single… is a one-off Christmas original! “Champagne Drops” is both fresh and new, as well as completely familiar, as it has suggestions of both “Unchained Melody” and “What a Wonderful World” in the cadence and melody that drives the song. This feeling of familiarity helps bring the song into an even more intimate experience. The vocals accentuate this intimacy, hushed but not whispered, as if spoken in a room so that others might not be bothered by their intrusion. “Feels like home when you dance me around / much crackling under the soles of our feet / a Christmas sound.” This cozy song demands a fire… and a bit of champagne.

Bottom Line: Sometimes I don’t go for the extremely pretty stuff… but the intimacy that My Bubba achieve in this song is undeniable.

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This is the Kit - Christmas Time Is Here b​/​w La Peregrinación

This is the Kit – Christmas Time Is Here b​/​w La Peregrinación (2016)

Brassland
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

I’ve had my eye on this release ever since Brassland prompted me with a new release on Bandcamp. That was many, many moons ago… like a week or so. Weeks are LONG these days. So… are you familiar with This is the Kit? No? Well, let me introduce you. This is the Kit is Kate Stables, a originally from England, now primarily based in Paris. I credit the gateway drug of The National to my introduction to Kate; Bryce Dessner (of the National) produced her last record, and Brassland also happens to by Bryce & Co’s own label. Thus, when I hear of a National connection, I’m compelled to find out more.

This is the Kit’s earlier work would fall along the lines of some of the earlier “freak folk” bands such as early Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, and the like, and her sound has expanded beyond that initial entrance point, as with many of her early contemporaries. This last record, Bashed Out finds a fuller sound that fills in the gaps that freak folk often left open.

This new, 2-track digital Christmas finds its home somewhere in the middle of these two approaches. The first track, “Christmas Time is Here” has been previously available on Amazon’s All is Bright playlist, and it is a very lovely version of this Christmas classic. The atmospherics sprinkled throughout create a lovely bed for the simple acoustic guitar and vocals to lay upon. I normally like my covers to dramatically reinterpret the source material, but This is the Kit claim their own unique and beautiful space, without having to reinvent it.

The second track, “La Peregrinación,” is the most intriguing one to me, as it is the only “new” track, and I’m wholly unfamiliar with the original. The original was performed in Spanish by Ariel Ramirez, and Kate found a loose translation to base her version upon. It is quite lovely, almost a Dirty Projectors-do-xmas-bossanova-lite approach. If that isn’t a questionable and crazy description, I don’t know what is. I mean come on, this is a lovely Christmas tune and I just made up that crazy sentence. But does it make you want to find out more? I sure hope so!

Bottom Line: Are you looking for a beautifully crafted Christmas single? This 2-song set will scratch that itch. Oh, you have to wait until Friday 🙂

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