Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Sometimes I do feel like I’m writing about the same bands, year after year. Well, that is a great problem to have, as so many of the bands I dig keep on putting out great Christmas music! I haven’t hit Mike Nevin’s The Aux releases every single year, but I am on a pretty good, every-two-year schedule. The latest EP, Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems, is Mike’s most personal release. After years of hilarious, dark and often bitter Christmas songs, he has found himself in a spot of sincerity. Mike presents these songs as such:
“this year was both the least creative and most solitary year of my life so far. so this is what has come out of it. i hope you enjoy these genuine christmas songs that i mean from the bottom of my heart. sorry that they’re not as funny as they used to be!”
He is indeed right – these songs are not as funny as they used to be. But that humor has been replaced by a true candor, best felt in his autotuned confessional, “A Real Santa,” where Mike owns up for being a bad friend at times. The ending is genuinely touching:
“cuz santa just wants to feel like he exists
and i know that i could be more like him if i gave a shit
if i’ve treated you like santa
i promise i’ll start acting less like the grinch
and fulfill your christmas wish
i will be a real santa that exists”
Mike goes pretty deep on these songs, and while the subject matter highlights his perceived faults and battles with loneliness and depression, it is refreshing to hear someone so connected to his feelings. These are deeply personal Christmas songs, thrown into a sea of seasonal cheer. You hear these things and the sugary-sweet artifice of the season begins to make your teeth hurt. Sometimes a little pain feels good.
Bottom Line: This year’s brutal honesty (and hope) is quite refreshing, while still remaining true to The Aux’s trademark bitter charm.
I do not know to what I owe the honor. Brutalligators gave me a yell earlier in the week and let me hear their spectacular new Christmas track. Recorded last week in Norway with Sjur Lyseid from Sunturns, “Christmas in July” is a lamentation on the differences between Christmas in the UK compared to Christmas in Australia. The writer of this beautiful song is an Aussie ex-pat, Luke Murphy-Wearmouth, and wow, this song is vivid. The smell of fake snow and sunscreen. Drinking mulled wine in July, as the sun sets at 3:30. This is a pitch to his love, culminating in a simple refrain, “Just move / back home / with me.” This song feels authentic, from the lyrics, to the vocals, down to the beautiful melody that supports the song. So. Damn. Good.
Bottom line: Brutalligators got on my radar after Sunturns began promoting a show they were going to play with them, and then I immediately saw they had a version of Frightened Rabbit’s “My Backwards Walk” on their Bandcamp. This band was out of the gate, 2-for-2 with me. I absolutely adored Frightened Rabbit, and the Sunturns are one of the greatest Christmas bands ever. These guys have great taste, and it shows in their music – this song is phenomenal.
I have been waiting for this moment. It is officially Christmas, as my favorite Christmas band is back. Christmas Aguilera return with their funkiest jam yet. Featuring members of the fantastic Hero & Leander, this band has CHRISTMAS MUSIC PERFECTED. They have been writing these amazing, oddly touching songs in the years since their somewhat naughty and brilliant self-titled debut, and “Christmas on Mars” definitely breaks the mold. You can dance to this thing! Fluttering synths, flickering guitar lines, and a bobbing bass – I can’t stop moving in my seat! The music is what grabs you, but these lyrics are so damn fun and just as clever as always:
“Leaving home for Christmas
Packed my old guitar
The cat’s in her space suit
We’ve stocked up on dry fruit
The ice caps have melted
And everybody’s gone
There was no place like home
But buckle up our time has come”
In a year of gorgeous, touching, slow songs, I’m on board with funky Christmas Aguilera, and am looking to forward to our future in space. Especially if they have packed enough of those Trader Joe’s dried mango slices…
Bottom Line: I can’t say enough good things about Christmas Aguilera. I contact them every year in the hopes that the tradition continues… and thankfully it has. As with all their releases, this song benefits Shelter, who believes everyone should have a home. Sounds like a good deal. You should probably buy ALL their songs right now, if you haven’t already.
“Christmas Eve / When everything is magical and desperate.” That might be my favorite line of the year. Wollongong, Australia’s Kay Proudlove has written a cracker of a song in “Giftcard.” This one really comes down to the lyrics for me. Not only is that brilliant line featured prominently in this song, but I am loving the sentiment in this verse as well:
We do the same thing every year
And I won’t be caught out this time, I’ll be more prepared
I’ll make something they’ll actually want, they’ll actually use
But I know it’s just a ruse
Cause everybody’s getting giftcards again
Surprise, it’s a giftcard
Just what you wanted
We have all been caught out before, and Kay just has the guts to sing about it.
Bottom Line: A brilliant approach, with equally excellent execution. Kay’s got some serious songwriting chops.
Delicious Clam Records
THEY ARE BACK! Sheffield’s Delicious Clam Records is back with Vol. 3, and while it is a brisk 2-track affair, wow are they fantastic! The first track by Thee Mightees, “Christmas Song,” is a stone-cold mix-worthy indie rock classic. The groove is infections, and the lyrics are brilliant: “I hate Christmas rock n roll / Shane MacGowan and Kristy MacColl / I hate Jesus / I hate Chuck Berry / I hate Santa and his big fat belly.” HA! Wizzard, Slade, Paul McCartney, Band Aid amongst others, also get a serving of shade. It is a TON of fun.
The second track by Five Leaf Nettles, “Moonwalk in the Snow,” is a gorgeous, simple guitar and vocals song. The lyrics are nostalgic, touching, and the perfect foil to the wonderfully bitter lead track. “If I can’t walk backwards, then I don’t wanna go.”
All proceeds go towards HARC (Homeless and Rootless at Christmas). So, while you are donating to help the homeless in Norman, Oklahoma, why not keep your wallet open and help out the needy in Sheffield?
Bottom Line: This is so so so so so so so so so so good. What a pair. WHAT a pair.
On occasion, folks have thought this might be a Scottish blog. I take that as a great compliment, and I fully understand why one might assume this. I LOVE SCOTTISH BANDS. Well, tack Modern Studies up on the ol’ evidence board, but keep them at the edge, because they are technically from Scotland-via-Lancashire. Now, Modern Studies latest LP “Welcome Strangers” contains a stunning winter-themed song, appropriately titled “It’s Winter.” With orchestration and vocal harmonies that make me feel like they dig the Dirty Projectors, Modern Studies has crafted an atmosphere that evokes winter. The strings often flutter in and out, as if gusts of snow across your windows. I am sucker for winter songs, as they are a break from Christmas… an aperitif to cleanse the palate, and “It’s Winter” does so beautifully. And as for me being Scottish, I should probably take my address off the site to add to the mystery…
Bottom Line: I’d snuggle up by the fire with this song.
Brooklyn Vegan hipped me to this song about boozing it up at Christmas, and so I tip my hat to you BV. The Chris Campisi Lifestyle Band is fronted by freelance production designer Chris Campisi – who I can’t find anything beyond a very impressive LinkedIn page, and a Youtube account (which features only one other track, “Marijuana”). I mean, this guy does not seem to have a band to his name, with the exception of the band that has his name! Ha! Well, I know my readers all love some good ol’ drinking Christmas songs, and this one aims to be the biggest. The drinking is bigger (as he is now drinking for two without you), as is the guest list. Featured on this song is Adam Green (Moldy Peaches), Jared Van Fleet (ex-Beirut), Delicate Steve (who has his OWN Christmas album out now), and Michael Tapper (We Are Scientists), who is not only on this track, but also directed the video. There is nothing deep here – the premise floats to the top on tiny bubbles of carbonation: he is getting drunk because you are gone. Classic premise, a great rocking backing track, and a singalong chorus. Swish, 3-points.
Bottom Line: Now let’s just have a little fun and enjoy this song, ok? It’s just a damn good time.
Mike Behrends and Lance Owens’ seasonal project, The Ornaments, has entered its fifth, fascinating year. The Ornaments can not write a normal Christmas song. 2016’s “Flying Home for Christmas,” had the narrator thinking about Christmas songs as his plane went down – just try to find another band who will go down that road! 2018’s “Give Me All the Christmas You Got,” is much brighter in content (there is no imminent death), but Mike Behrends’ lyrics cannot help but be evocative. For most of the past year, Mike has been living in Turkey, a predominantly muslim country with a very different climate from his Wisconsin roots. His detachment from the Christmas he knows and loves leads to equal parts longing and loving, as Mike pinpoints and appreciates these small details of Christmas that often get lost in the buzz of the holidays – yet he can’t have them. Recorded into an iPhone and sent 9 hours back in time to Wisconsin, his partner Lance Owens has beautifully mixed Mike’s vocals, at first setting them far away, but bringing them close as the imagery begins to flow. The music compliments the lyrical tone, soft nostalgia with a hint of anxiety, and with that, another Ornaments’ classic. Word is that they might be planning something fun when they hit a decade – and that is great to hear, as The Ornaments are one of the distinctive pleasures of the alternative Christmas season.
Bottom Line: The Ornaments are like no other Christmas band, as they continue to make fascinating, wholly unique Christmas songs.
December can overwhelm a tired Christmas-music blogger. Often, the casualties of a lack of time and a wealth of music, are the large compilation and the full album. Singles are so much quicker to consume and write about. Seattle’s Zach Malm was a casualty of last year, as he put out a very interesting experimental, electronic pop record that I did not get to, and most certainly deserves our 2018 ears. There are some damn interesting songs on here, many of which are awash in a Novation Bass Station II synth. Zach’s cover of “Walking in the Air” has a fantastic buzzing bassline powered by that synth, as well as these great fluttering melodies interspersed throughout; It is truly beautiful. Zach’s wonderful original “Magical Night,” is much less electro, bringing in guitars while crafting a beautifully sweet song about a child’s anticipation of Christmas. It is simple, poignant and wholly mix-worthy. Zach’s other originals, “Christmastime is Always,” “The Darkest Time of the Year,” and “Half the Fruit” all reflect the album’s title in a way the sweet “Magical Night” did not. They are dark, but with these brilliant moments of light, such as this line in “Half the Fruit:”
If nothing else, we still have Christmas
If nothing else, we still have Jesus
And even though the meaning changes
If nothing else, we still have Christmas
Zach has created a true album – the “Kid Conversation” tracks are great on their own, but not really “songs” – but they work beautifully, stitching together this wonderful collection of largely original, both in content and approach, Christmas tunes. Zach has nailed it with this one, and you should check it out (as well as forgive me for not getting to this fantastic record last year).
Bottom Line: Zach Malm has created a wonderfully cohesive record – a true Christmas album – beautiful to listen to in its entirety.
Joyful Noise Recordings
Buy: 7″ Lathes | Bandcamp
Joyful Noise has done it again! Those delicious little lathe-cuts are back for a second season – only 100 of each song. You buy a snowflake, you get all the tunes! Or, you can pay $10 and just get the songs. Some highlights from this year are the Netherlands-based Eerie Wanda‘s cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow is Falling” and the Low Anthem‘s original “Fairy on Top of The Christmas Tree.” The crazy part about this whole project is that these songs are all tracked in one hour! They roll them in, figure out their parts (the bands also bleed over into each other’s tracks), and lay it down. In addition, 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to Second Helpings, a non-profit that rescues perishable food, to feed people in need, all while providing culinary job training for disadvantaged adults. Now that sounds like a plan!
Bottom Line: These snowflakes are for a good cause, and with a lineup like Kishi Bashi, Danielson, No Joy amongst many other notable purveyors of indie rock, it is certainly worth checking out.