Brooke Annibale “Christmas, Happy You’re Here” (2021)

Brooke Annibale - Christmas, Happy You're Here

Self Released
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I assume that Providence, RI singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale has been hanging around my house, peering in the windows these past few years. I mean, baking cookies and playing records is pretty much my holiday jam, and I am extraordinarily unique. In “Christmas, Happy You’re Here,” the vignettes Brooke paints of cookies, records, sipping coffee, and spending time with loved ones is what I want to think about when I think about the holidays. I don’t want to think about all those stressful parts that come along, I want to zero in on that wondeful, often unattainable, ideal. I might as well have a beautiful voice with some warm keyboards to guide me there.

Bottom Line: Lovely sentiment lovingly executed.

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Anna Preston “California Eve” (2018/2020)

Self Released
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Written in 2018, but released in 2020, Seattle’s Anna Preston has crafted one of the most beautiful and intimate Christmas songs I’ve found this year (a year late!). The edges of her voice crack with emotion as she finds herself jealous that she wasn’t the first kiss, or standing next to the jukebox watching her love in the colored lights. The production is simple – Anna’s delicate voice over a strumming guitar – until the song opens up and backing vocals layer to lift the song gently up, swaying on its toes. The ending is a bit devastating, yet comforting, in that nostalgic way that we look back on lost love and share in the universal experience of it all… Truly excellent.

Of note, Anna also recorded a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which you can check out on her Soundcloud.

Bottom Line: Anna Preston’s perfectly-imperfect delivery is incredibly intimate and rewarding.

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Cartalk “Merry Christmas Darlin’ or Happy Holidays” (2020)

Self Released
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It may be 2021, but hell, if I find a great song from 2020, I’m going to write about it. Early last December, Los Angeles’ Cartalk released a sparse holiday song born from the distance of COVID that thankfully doesn’t dwell specifically in 2020 (and thus shorten its shelflife). Written in one night for 2020’s final #bandcampfriday, “Merry Christmas Darlin’ or Happy Holidays” is a simply-produced, guitar and vocals song about missing and loving someone on Christmas. A classic premise performed without any unnecessary decoration, this song is better than 99% of those who are writing from the same exact starting point. Familiar, yet fresh, Cartalk deserves to end up on some of your mixes this year, providing a lovely moment of rest inbetween your wall-of-sound classics.

Bottom Line: Carpark only needed one night to create this beautiful song. Hoping they can find a few spare hours again. Love the “chosen family” reference too – chosen family deserves the same (or one might argue, more) appreciation that family does in many situations.

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Geese “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” (2020)

Self Released
Buy: Stream!

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…

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Gold Baby “Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter” (2020)

Self Released
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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.

ALSO, the proceeds benefit the Campaign to End Loneliness, which makes this song choice even more appropriate. Well done.

Bottom Line: Pick a good song and do it well – Is that so hard? Gold Baby sure doesn’t think so!

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Maple Glider “Mama It’s Christmas” (2021)

Partisan Records
Buy: Bandcamp | 7Digital MP3/FLAC | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

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…

Bottom Line: Fragile beauty from down under.

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The Ornaments “A Coca-Cola Classic Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
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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.

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Rusty Spork – Christmas Down Home (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

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.

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Porlolo “Christmas in Hollis” (2020)

Self Released
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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.

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Jeff Hulett “Know by Now” (2020)

Small Batch Records
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

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.

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