Phoebe Bridgers Christmas

Phoebe Bridgers “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (2017)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

I have loved Phoebe Bridgers from the moment I picked up her Killer 7″, and her new album Stranger in the Alps is on my list of “gotta pick up” albums. So, when The Line of Best Fit premiered her haunting rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” I knew I would have to say SOMETHING about it, rather than just retweet it. The ringing guitar notes and soft percussion frame her voice beautifully, as she takes a well-known, sentimental song and makes it personal. Beautiful.

Bottom Line: Phoebe makes this song her own, and that is really all you can ask from a cover. Wouldn’t change a thing.

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Blackwatch Christmas VII

UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 7 (2017)

Fowler VW/Blackwatch Studios
Buy: Coming Soon!

It is that time of year… and Fowler VW has been hinting about their upcoming Christmas record on Twitter, much to my delight. There are few Christmas releases that have such a high level of quality, and each year that they keep the tradition alive, is a year that the entire alternative Christmas music community can give thanks. Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Breakup are given the honor of being the first track out to the public, and it is fantastic. The electro-pop jam about being together at Christmas has the kind of slinky groove that just might take your office Christmas party off the rails. Eyes meeting over the punchbowl, we all knew Jim and Pam were meant to be together, they just needed “Be With You” to seal the deal. Want to know the rest of the tracklist? Go to NewsOK and give them the clicks!

The entire album will be available for stream/download on Black Friday, or better yet, #BlackwatchFriday, and for those lucky enough to live in the Norman, OK area, there is a big, free party on Dec. 8 at Stash, where the first 200 attendees get a free copy of it on VINYL. Yes, there are copies out there on vinyl… I am the proud owner of 2014’s “The Naughty List,” but these things are tough to come by. They have never sold them online – you gotta grab them from local Norman, OK venues like Fowler Volkswagen, Guestroom Records, The Social Club, STASH, and Tree & Leaf Clothing.

Finally, isn’t it great that these albums are free? And if the generosity of Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studios makes you so very happy… then, as you download this year’s new record, why not throw them a few bucks toward Norman Public Schools elementary music programs, because that is where 100% of donations go!

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Laurence Made Me Cry

Laurence Made Me Cry “It’s Not You, It’s Christmas” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Laurence Made Me Cry (aka Jo Whitby) bought some sleigh bells, and now we all have a great new Christmas song! Which gives me an idea… who should I send sleigh bells to? I’m creating a list… OK, back to the review. This track is a “song for when you’d rather be alone at Christmas,” which I think we can all relate to at some points during the season. The music somehow tickles my late 90s-early 2000’s indie rock funny bone, as the lyrical guitar lines suggest Pavement-meets-Pinkerton-era Weezer? Am I crazy? But truly, it’s Jo’s voice that seals the deal for me. Love it. If you need any more convincing, all proceeds go to Community Christmas, “who believe that no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be.”

Bottom Line: I’m sure happy Jo bought some sleigh bells, and that she shook them for charity!

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Fast Romantics from 2010

Fast Romantics “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (2010)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Originally released as a Youtube video back in 2010, the Fast Romantics managed to put together a wonderfully upbeat, profane (my mix is gonna have lots of swearin!) version of the classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which I had been trying to hunt down for a good while – even messaging the band at one point. How I never found this Soundcloud stream from Aporia Records, is beyond me. But alas! It is now mine! The Fast Romantics, for those unfamiliar, are a wonderful indie rock/pop band from Toronto. The early lineup you hear in this delightful Christmas song is clearly fantastic – the groove, the keyboard melodies, the driving bass – it is so damn good. The latest lineup retains two original members, and the recent additions (and the new record, American Love) are fantastic. (Also check out FR member Kirty’s self-titled solo record, it is beautiful.) I would love to hear the new version of Fast Romantics tackle a Christmas song… just sayin…

Bottom Line: The Fast Romantics’ version of this classic Grinch tune is the best one I’ve heard – resurrected from the past for your listening pleasure.

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UPCOMING: “Indie for the Holidays, An Amazon Original Playlist,” “Acoustic Christmas,” and “Christmas Soul” (2017)

Amazon
Buy: Coming soon

Well, it looks like Amazon is continuing their tradition of providing high-profile indie Christmas tunes to the masses via their popular Indie for the Holidays and Acoustic Christmas playlists. Likely, the new tracks will just be tacked on to the already existing playlist, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find. In addition to these two returning playlists, be on the lookout for Christmas Soul, also being released on Nov. 24 via Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music.

Some highlights to look forward to…

Indie for the Holidays has so far announced contributions by Kevin Morby, Lemon Twigs, Best Coast, JEFF the Brotherhood, Albert Hammond Jr. and Jessica Lea Mayfield.

Acoustic Christmas teased out a song on Brooklyn Vegan today, “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” a cover by Courtney Marie Andrews, as well as listing off a few more contributors: Josh Ritter, Nicki Bluhm, Sera Cahoone and Lori McKenna.

There is much more info out there about Christmas Soul, as a few tracks have been released (linked below), as well as a large roster of participating artists: Tamir, Dawn Richard, JC Brooks, Joey Dosik, Buscabulla, Spacebomb House Band feat. Andy Jenkins, Blu and Exile, Ural Thomas & the Pain, Demo Taped, The Texas Gentlemen, Jacquie, Jungle Fire, Diane Coffee (!), Major, Robert Finley, Nicole Atkins, Marc Broussard, Ruth B, Davie, Open Mike EagleGemma (feat. Adrian Younge), Taliwhoah, Liz Brasher, The Soul Rebels and Don Bryant.

BOTTOM LINE: I’ve got my eyes on a few of those names, but still too early to get this grumpy gus too too excited 🙂 Amazon keeps their stuff so close to the vest (and aren’t my favorite people – I’ve got a history…. ever notice that I push Bandcamp and 7Digital whenever I can?)

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Justin Kennedy Christmas

Justin Kennedy (of Army Navy) “What I Don’t Want for Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Justin Kennedy is the lead singer of the LA indie rock band Army Navy, and while Army Navy have their own solid duo of Christmas tunes, I’m really here to talk about this golden nugget of a song that Justin released under his own name back in 2014, “What I Don’t Want for Christmas.” The song begins by saying all the wonderful things he’d like for Christmas this year… but you realize that things are not quite right. The relationship is strained… they are sitting apart, glaring daggers. But then, “I still you love you, you know its true / and yes we’ve both been so cruel / make a wish on this Christmas night / hold me close and lets never fight.” The turn is made, and the love spills out of it. “Yeah I think that I know what I really want for Christmas this year / just hug me so close and I’ll love you, you know till next Christmas eve.” The story is clever and poignant, the music feels contemporary yet classically Christmas, and the production is top notch. Check out the other Army Navy tracks too, and if you are a glutton for punishment, Justin’s version of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” because, while I truly enjoy Justin and Army Navy, nothing will let me enjoy this song… because I’m not 6 anymore… I also loved poop jokes and morning radio DJ parody songs. Of note – the song is not available for download right now, but it had been in the past… so perhaps that will change?

Bottom Line: Well that review got a little old man shaking his fist at the kids there didn’t it? That ending should not dissuade you from listening to the fantastic Christmas songs of Justin Kennedy and Army Navy. Go. Enjoy. And follow Christmas Chaos on Facebook, because Bob reminded me about these guys!

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Al Riggs - Hell House

Al Riggs “Christmas Parade” (2017)

Bull City Records Presents
Buy: Bandcamp

Durham, North Carolina’s Al Riggs is one of the most prolific singer/songwriters I’ve come across on Bandcamp. You know those links that let you buy entire discographies? I can only imagine how much it would cost… because you would be about 70 releases! The record I want to highlight now is his latest, Hell House. Included on this warm recording of sad songs is the beautiful “Christmas Parade.” The song is a vignette of a moment right before Christmas, where just being with a friend means more than whatever you might be doing with them – “Neither of us like the Christmas parade / but it means a lot. / but it means a lot / ….” Al’s voice is not terribly pretty, it is genuine –  exactly how I like my singers (e.g. David Berman, Mark Eitzel, etc). This really is a beautiful song, the production matches the sentiment perfectly… wouldn’t change a thing. (Again – thanks Ned!)

Bottom Line: Al is not a stranger to Christmas tunes (When the Saints Go Stag, Good Reasons to Freeze to Death,Yulemen), and while I have only scratched the surface, I think you may dig what you find underneath.

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UPCOMING: The Minus 5 – Dear December (2017)

Yep Roc
Buy: Record Store Day (LP) | Amazon.fr (LP)?

The Minus 5 is essentially Scott McCaughey and his band of merry, quite famous and somewhat famous friends rocking out and taking names. I presently have his Down with Wilco on my shelf, which, you can imagine, features members of Wilco. My friend Ned just hipped me to the fact that Scott also likes to hang with friends… and record CHRISTMAS SONGS. Dear December features M. Ward, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service), Peter Buck (R.E.M. – duh), Mike Mills (ditto), Colin Meloy (Decemberists), Chuck Prophet, Tammy Ealom (Dressy Bessy), The Posies, Kelly Hogan (The Flat Five/Neko Case), Nora O’Connor (The Flat Five/solo badass) and more. That’s a rather impressive lineup, as most of the Minus 5 albums are… which obviously raises my expectations. The first single, “When Christmas Hurts You This Way,” does not disappoint. It is a downer with a Wilco AM vibe: “When the last one your remember / is the last one you deserve / you look back at all the mistakes you make / that somehow made much worse.” DARK! Love it! This is not a safe leadoff single, and that is what make this a great leadoff single. Hell, I love Nick Lowe, but I’d much rather listen to this than “Christmas in the Airport” – it is just so much darker and interesting to me! (No offense Yep Roc, you continually release Chatham County Line records, so you’ve got my love.) McCaughey can write a great song, and he obviously is respected enough by some stellar artists to lend their name to the project; Thus, if the rest of the songs are as good as this… well hot damn.

Dear December will be a Record Store Day release on vinyl, with an advent calendar-inspired gatefold sleeve on colored vinyl, limited to 1500 copies. It will also be released on December 1 on CD, as well as on your favorite digital retailers (7Digital??? Bandcamp??? They have FLACs!!!)

Bottom Line: Looks damn promising. Yep Roc – hook me up! I want it early! (In a curious twist of fate, most of the stuff I get sent is not Christmas-related at all… not gonna happen.)

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UPCOMING: Dude York – Halftime for the Holidays (2017)

Hardly Art
Buy: CD/Digital via Hardly Art | Bandcamp

Seattle’s Dude York is early to the game, premiering their new track “Break Up Holiday” today on Stereogum – the site where every notable indie rock band seems to release Christmas tracks. (Someday, Stereogum, I will beat you to the punch… someday…) Turns out they are actually releasing a whole EP, Halftime for the Holidays! Nine tracks, nearly all of them originals… this looks (and sounds) promising. The first track, “Break Up Holiday,” is a bitter and funny tale of having to see an ex at the holidays. A dash of pop-punk with a healthy dose of Weezer at their poppiest, I’m curious if the rest of the album will sound like this, rather than the less poppy (though not without pop), more indie rock style that I’m used to. I await more tracks!

Bottom Line: Too soon to tell, but promising!

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Minor Miracles - Christmas All Over Again

Minor Miracles “Christmas All Over Again” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (might come back) | Stream

Tom Petty’s death is a bigger blow to me than George Michael, Prince, David Bowie or any of the other legends that have passed in recent memory. I likely have listened to more Petty than all three of those legends combined over the years… not to take away from how much I loved them, just that Tom Petty was with me for a long time, and in heavy doses at different moments in my life. That said… I’ve never been the biggest fan of his modern (mini) classic, “Christmas All Over Again.” So, I began poking around for an interesting version, one that takes slightly different directions to get to the same place. Athens’ Minor Miracles have achieved this, covering Petty back in 2014 and releasing it on Bandcamp (presently gone) and Soundcloud. Normally a really upbeat song, lending itself to garage rock/lo-fi treatments, Minor Miracles have toned it down, added a drum machine, layered some lead vocals, sprinkled some synths, and made it their own. The chorus leadout with dueling keys is truly fantastic, and well worth the wait. I hope you dig it too.

Bottom Line: Minor Miracles dim the garage rock down to reveal a cool synth version of the Tom Petty classic. Of course… Stubby knew all about this back in 2014.

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