The Weary Band “Christmas Mourning” (2011/2014)

The Weary Band - Christmas Mourning

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Years ago, I found the track “Christmas Mourning” while doing research into whether a different band’s “Christmas Mourning” was an original song – and while theirs turned out to be Julian Cope cover, the Bristol-based Weary Band‘s original stayed with me. They have re-recorded it for 2014, with all sales going to the Bristol-based charity Survive. It’s a melancholy song, with lyrics like “We’re older now / Old and blue. / How many wishes of yours came true?.” It’s grounded in a reality that gives it power, and perhaps if you take a listen, you’ll feel the same.

Bottom Line: There is something beautiful here. 4.8/5

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Pdxmas 2014 (2014)

PDXMAS 2014

PDXMAS
Buy: Bandcamp

PDXMAS is back for its third installment since its debut in 2009. Those old tracks from 2009 & 2010 can also be found on their revitalized Bandcamp page. As I recall, when I originally hunted the PDXMAS comps down, they had a full, standalone website. They then disappeared, then reappeared on Bandcamp with a very incomplete tracklist – but everything appears back now. The third installment benefits a charity, as most of these local comps do, specifically Mercy Corps NW. This fact leads me to want to talk up the compilation a bit more than I likely would. Honestly, I find most Christmas comps so hit-and-miss, that I would equate baseball batting averages as comparable (as in .300+ batting average is stellar). PDXMAS 2014 however, just can’t get above that Mendoza line. There are some notable names on here, Typhoon being perhaps the most recognizable outside the Portland, OR area. Their take on “Silent Night” is just fine, but certainly nothing to write home about. The lone standouts (for me) are Ben Darwish‘s soulful “All I Need,” and Timmy Straw‘s mournful “Hard Times.” There are certainly other songs that were fine, just not many that spoke to me. I am most certainly not the final word on taste, so please judge for yourself. I have been known to be wrong… I remember when I didn’t quite get Father John Misty. Then, one day I did, and my world became better for it. Perhaps a song lives on PDXMAS that I’ll come back to, and truly love.

Bottom Line: There are a few special tunes on here, and its for a good cause. Listen for yourself and support some local Portland communities. 3/5

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Mark Kozelek – Sings Christmas Carols (2014)

Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols Cover

Caldo Verde
Buy: 7Digital FLAC/MP3 |Caldo Verde CD | Discogs LPs | Amazon UK

Mark Kozelek took his classical guitar into the studio in November/December 2013 and recorded a (largely) classical guitar, classic Christmas record. Classic, you say? Yes, but I mean it more in the terms of the subject matter than the execution. The whole tone doesn’t exude the warmth that most classic Christmas records do – I don’t know if Mark Kozelek could do warm & fuzzy, it’s not in his (performing) character. Don’t get me wrong though, the record is lovely. So, if melancholy classical guitar Christmas loveliness is what you’d like, then this LP is for you. This record will fit the bill if you have left-of-center tastes (as in, you love that Low Christmas record) and have a soft spot for very traditional Christmas tunes.

Mark excels in the early traditional songs on this record, such as “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Away in a Manger.” There are moments that you can imagine one of those songs being played over a melancholy scene in a Christmas movie. The more contemporary you get, the more hit-and-miss it can become. “Christmas Time is Here” is a standout track; the classical guitar approach is refreshing on a song that has been covered more often than it should, and the spoken word section adds a bit of humor that is very much appreciated. “O Christmas Tree” is a misstep if only for the song selection. Do you know anybody who really loves that song? It’s Christmas white noise, one of those songs that you hear, don’t hate, but truly… never love. Mark’s stab at the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” while pretty straightforward, is also excellent (though its ending feels quite abrupt). It’s simple, and quite lovely. I very much admit my bias here, as I lean toward new Christmas, rather than classic Christmas, when it comes to my Christmas mix. There is nothing on this record that I completely disliked, probably because I enjoy Mark Kozelek’s voice too much. However, it did leave me slightly underwhelmed. I appreciate Mark for taking a stab at the Christmas genre that he has flirted with for years, but the Christmas genre is one I am way too familiar with to find full satisfaction with a release with not one original song on it.

Bottom Line: Having a dinner party or scoring an indie Christmas film, add a full point to this score. Otherwise, a missed opportunity by one of our greatest living songwriters to have penned an original song. 3.7/5

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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Listen via Stereogum)
Christmas Time Is Here (Listen via Stereogum)

Sing a Song of Christmas: Three New Tunes Exclusive to the Guardian (2013)

The Guardian Christmas

The Guardian
Buy: Stream

Last year, The Guardian newspaper asked three singer/songwriters to write an original Christmas song, with the only rule to include five provided phrases they felt “sum up the spirit of the holiday:”

“Do I have to wear this paper crown all day?”, “No really, sprouts do make me sick”, “The trains are pathetic on Boxing Day”, “I think you threw away the gift vouchers” and “Will someone turn the heating down?”

Their website provides the whole background on the songs, including interviews with the performers. I like the concept, and very much hope they do it again.

Dan Croll‘s “A Guardian Christmas,” is my favorite of the bunch. The sparse beats and R&B vocals are very much a sound-of-the-moment (and a sound which I like), and he does it well. I would certainly edit out the “Ho, ho, hos,” and everything after the second set of jolly laughs – and that 1:30 running time would be easy to squeeze into any mix. I really like the feeling of the final bit – that’s what sold me.

Gabrielle Alpin‘s “Untitled Christmas Song” also has some of the elements I like to look for – a sense of the melancholy of Christmas, and a bit of humor. She has a lovely voice, and the song is well done and quite short (bonus!). I suppose the only thing that would make it better would be a more fleshed-out production. Otherwise, really quite good.

Lewis Watson‘s “Home Alone (at, or before, Christmas) here” is my least favorite of the three, but it most certainly has some redeeming factors. The song is an ode the the McCallister family of the Home Alone movies – and tickles the bit in me that associates my own Christmas experience with Christmas TV and movies. However, it remains the least satisfying by having a low production value, and a part where he throws as many lyrics in as possible. Still good enough to be listenable, no doubt.

Bottom Line: All these songs are enjoyable enough to play in the background at a party – so perhaps consider adding them to your Soundcloud playlist, or use one of those fancy websites to download the MP3s. Most certainly an above-average collection, and had they offered easy, free downloads, may have scored higher. 3.8/5

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Comfort and Joy: A Holiday Comp for the Kids (2013)

Comfort and Joy

Analog Ghost Records
Buy: Vinyl/MP3 from label | Vinyl from JigsawCassette

What a lineup. Quasi. Rob Crow (of Pinback). The Music Tapes. Wooden Wand. Ida. Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy). Mike Watt (of the Minutemen/etc/etc). Certainly some indie heavy-hitters on this compilation, thus I would have expected this record to make more waves last year. I found it rather late in the season, too late for my mix no doubt, but don’t recall really coming across it very many other places either. I don’t know whether it was the rather generic title (Comfort and Joy) that pushed it down in Google results, or what might have happened, but this release deserves your attention! Limited to 500 copies on vinyl (and likely much fewer on cassette), proceeds from this release benefit the Covenant House, a charity that helps homeless youth across the country. Check out Analog Ghost’s Facebook page to see a pic of the nice letter that they got back after their first donation of proceeds.

I don’t normally provide tracklists, but I think you would benefit from this:

  1. Quasi – “Christmas on Credit”
  2. Rob Crow (Pinback) – ”Wasail Among Us”
  3. Joe Jack Talcum (Dead Milkmen) – ”Christmas Waltz”
  4. Human Hearts (Franklin Bruno) – “June is as Cold as December”
  5. David Ivar aka Black Yaya (Herman Dune) – ”I Fought the Lord”
  6. Golden Boots – “Mele Kalikimaka”
  7. Wckr Spgt – “The Ballad of Snowy Brown”
  8. Refrigerator – “Christmas in the Sun”
  9. The Music Tapes – “Let it Snow”
  10. Ida – “Heard it from Heaven Today”
  11. Nima Kazerouni ft Maston – “Dear Santa, This World is Strange”
  12. Wooden Wand – “Silver Bells”
  13. Outravez (Monotonix) – ”Banu Hoshech Legaresh”
  14. Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) – “Piano Fell Asleep In The Bushes”
  15. Mike Watt – ”The First Noel”
  16. Terry Riley – ”God Rest Ye”

I don’t want to get bogged down in a track-by-track rundown, so here are some personal highlights. Quasi‘s “Christmas on Credit” is one of those snarky Christmas tunes that I love. Rob Crow‘s “Wasail Among Us” dips more into the territory his hard-rocking side projects and really shakes up the record. David Ivar (AKA Black YaYa)’s “I Fought the Lord” is a great take on “I Fought the Law” and has some welcome harmonica. Even Golden Boots‘ “Mele Kalikimaka” is 100% enjoyable and their fuzzy baseline really does it for me – It may even be my favorite tune on the record. Nima Kazerouni ft. Maston’s “Dear Santa, This World is Strange,” has the echoey vocals, jangling bells, and general mood that you expect from a Christmas tune. While the pace is slow, it may find a place on your mix if your sequencing fits. I love the title & the general concept of the song.

There are really only a few tunes that I would skip by – the Mike Watt bass-only cover of  “First Noel” would be one. Something about the entire song being played ONLY on a bass… just not for me. With minimal clunkers, Comfort and Joy is a very welcome compilation that, certainly for the price, you should feel great exchanging your hard-earned money for.

If I am not mistaken, there is also a download card in the package as well. I ordered from the label last year, and they actually dropboxed me the tunes immediately. But I’m pretttttty sure there’s some sort of card in there too. Let me know if there isn’t…

EDIT: I’ve updated the “Buy” section – the record label has some more copies!

Bottom Line: Certainly enough here to be happy about. 4/5

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The New Mendicants – A Very Sorry Christmas 7″ (2013)

Very Sorry Christmas Front Cover

XPT Records
Buy: Limited 7″ | iTunes | 7Digital MP3

Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers/Scud Mountain Boys), Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) and Mike Belitsky (The Sadies) have created an alt.country/power pop supergroup called The New Mendicants, and are looking to release their first full-length LP on January 28. This would be news in itself, but the fact that they also released a limited, white vinyl 7″ entitled A Very Sorry Christmas Eve is the reason why I write this post! Joe has a history of some Christmas-related songs in the past (see SMB’s “A Ride” and another that I can’t put my finger on), but nothing so explicitly so. Thank goodness it finally happened! “A Very Sorry Christmas” is a fantastic song, the perfect bummer for the humbug in your family (which would be me!). But as with any Joe Pernice project, its a bummer that sounds beautiful while sucking out your soul. As for the B-side, “A Very Sorry New Years,” is the exact same song, just adjusted for New Years Eve. Oddly hilarious to have done so.

Bottom Line: If shipping from Canada wasn’t SO EXPENSIVE, I would rate this higher. I honestly don’t know when I’ll be able to afford it. Why I am telling you about it before I have the chance to own it… I have no idea. Perhaps the world will have some cosmic justice and I’ll get a copy. 4/5

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Duover – Christmas Vol. 1​.​5 (2013)

Duover - Christmas 1.5

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I awoke to a pleasant surprise in my mailbox, a new Christmas record from DUOVER! They had mentioned that there was something in the works… but time was fleeting, and I wasn’t quite sure it was going to be this year. This band is one of those underrated Christmas songsmiths who (while they don’t make a record every year) fill their records with originals, ALWAYS a plus in my book. Their voices work so well together, especially when dealing in nostalgia, as in “The Ghost of Christmas Past.” There are some other standout tracks, such as the uptempo “Wintertime Blues,” and the “subdued “It’s Your Turn,” certainly worth your time and money. I do hope that we get to see the other .5 next year!

Bottom Line: Another excellent addition to their already strong Christmas catalog. Extra points for original tunes. 4.4/5

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The Miserable Rich “Everything You Wanted” (2013)

The Miserable Rich

Snowflakes Singles Club
Buy: Snowflakes SC | Bandcamp

Not breaking any news here, but good songs sometimes need a little cheerleading before someone will listen. One of my favorite tracks from this season has been The Miserable Rich‘s “Everything You Wanted.” It is one of those songs that took me a few listens to absolutely love, but those are the kind of songs that last. I particularly like the chorus, where the music rises and the horns come in. His voice has a great emotional quality to it, which I feel is just something you have – and can’t really learn.

This is just one of four releases from the Snowflakes Singles Club, an excellent new project that I hope we see more of next year. They still have some 7-inches left through the Miserable Rich’s Bandcamp, as well as over at Snowflakes SC (where there are a few sets with the now sold out Smoke Fairies 7″ still available).

Bottom Line: You need to invest a few listens. Then fork over your money. 5/5

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The Hard Ground “Keep Me For Christmas Time” (2013/2014)

The Hard Ground

FIFA Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Well, why not keep the new stuff coming. Cork Ireland’s The Hard Ground (brought to me via 2 U I Bestow) bring another melancholy folk tune to the holiday table with “Keep Me for Christmas Time.” Beautiful female voice + grizzly male vocals + winter + longing = you’ve got a slow-burner that might just tear your heart out. As an added bonus, there are two versions for you to sample! I don’t see a place where you can purchase it yet. But likely, some resourceful reader will let me know where this can be accomplished. Free for download on Soundcloud!

EDIT: The Hard Ground has re-recorded this song for 2014, and put it up on their Bandcamp for €1, with the proceeds benefitting The Irish Cancer Society. Hey… Hard Ground… Why not add the other two recordings of this song you’ve made and make a good ol’ fashioned maxi-single!

Bottom Line: A very beautiful song deserving of your attention. 4/5

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Haus of PINS presents Hymns (2013)

Haus of PINS

Haus of PINS
Buy: For 2014! Green Cassette Repress & Download

Haus of PINS has one of the more intriguing comps this year. I wish I had more funds to pick up the cassette version of the release, but adding in that overseas P&P has me settling for the download. I will ammend this entry at a later date when I have a moment to review it, but for now, here is what they have to say about it.

Reposted from Haus of PINS:

Haus of PINS are proud to present their last release of the year – a hand-crafted, limited edition Christmas complication cassette, titled ‘Hymns’. PINS have contributed their Christmas song, ‘Kiss Me Quickly (It’s Christmas)’ and collaborated with eleven other bands – some Haus of PINS artists, some Manchester bands, and some friends from elsewhere – to create a Christmas compliation tape of completely original material. Faith of PINS says, ‘Some of the bands already had the songs, other bands wrote a song exclusively for it, which I’m honoured by.’ Bands involve include Post War Glamour Girls, September Girls, Brown Brogues and many more.

All of the proceeds from ‘Hymns’ will be given to SWAP, a charity that helps refugees and asylum seekers in the North. Faith explains ‘My grandfather volunteers for the charity, he goes every week – he’s 81 years old and still chooses to spend his time doing this really admirable thing. I think he is an inspiration.’

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