Free Music – A Carpark Record (2011)

Free Music - A Carpark Record (cover)

Carpark Records
Buy: LP

Class Actress. Dan Deacon. Cloud Nothings. Three Christmas songs on a free record (from select indie stores last year) that had me on the edge of my seat.

Too bad I don’t like any of them. The Cloud Nothings track is purely instrumental… not something I normally look for with a Christmas tune, though if it were compelling enough, not something I’d rule out. The Dan Deacon tune samples animal noises… which makes it (in my estimation) unlistenable. The Class Actress cover of “Silent Night” is acceptable… but I just don’t like that song on a mix. If it ever makes the cut, it will be because someone did something truly unique with the song that makes me enjoy it.

The non-holiday songs are generally great. Shortest review ever.

Bottom Line: If you create a Christmas mix based strictly on the hipness of the band and not the song, this LP is for you. The following number score is holiday-song specific and does not reflect the generally excellent non-holiday tunes. 1.3/5

LISTEN:

Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight? (2010)

Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight cover

Cloudberry Records
Buy: Good Luck!

Not technically a Christmas release, the 3″ CDR Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight falls in the winter/snow category that I open up my mix to. The vibe is much more varied than the previous Cloudberry release, adding a bit more of an indie rock tone at times. The first track, “Catch Your Cold,” is the best example of this. Evans the Death have created a rocking song with a great feel, and some very silly lyrics – “I’m afraid of getting a job / I’m afraid of Snoopy Doggy Dog…,” but it works.

Seapony‘s “Dreaming” is a lovely piece of 80’s inspired chillwave that will find favor with kids who listen to Wild Nothing. It later appeared on their 2011 record, Go With Me, and is certainly good enough to be mix-worthy BUT – is not winter-related enough for me (or at all!).

The Sweater Girls follow with “Sweater Weather,” which has a much more indie-pop feel than its predecessors. It could use a bit more a hook, with the lead singer’s spoken vocals over a buzzy guitar that is going in circles that would benefit from some variation of tone. Still, not a bad song – it gets bonus points for being the second song whose subject matter qualifies for Christmas mixes.

Floridian indie-poppers Cassolette weigh in with “Not Just Anyone,” the longest song on the record… a little over 3 minutes (a definite plus for this record if I may say so), but it is not a winter song! The only nod to the season is the lyric “You turn my winter into spring.” Too bad – it is a wonderful piece of indie-pop!

Finally, the Christmas-y named The Garlands finish out the album with a song that could be off a Sarah record of old, “Throw Away This Day.” My personal taste leads me to say this is the least strong song on the record, though if you love the indie pop sound of the 1980 & 90s, you’ll absolutely love it. Though, this is not a winter song either! (They did release a rather good Christmas tune two years prior that you should check out.)

Bottom Line: Not enough winter-themed songs hurts its rating, but some strong stuff. 3.3/5

LISTEN

Avalanche Records’ Alternative Christmas (2009)

Avalanche Records (Edinburgh)
Buy: Good luck!

One of the biggest challenges with reviewing Christmas records, is that so many are released to benefit charities. I certainly don’t want to crap all over a record that benefits sick kids, and thankfully, I don’t have to.

Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland released a very DIY Christmas record back in 2009. Simply titled Alternative Christmas, this compilation features mainly Scottish artists each submitting an original song, with only a few exceptions. So, for those out there who love originals (like me), this is a good start.

I originally purchased this to have an audio master for There Will Be Fireworks‘ “In Excelsis Deo,” which is a dramatic, and fantastic song; a perfect ending to my 2010 Christmas Mix. This used to be the only place you could buy this track, and of course it has since been released elsewhere. Fellow dramatic Scots Frightened Rabbit also lend their (by now) classic track, “Its Christmas So We’ll Stop.” I think this may be the only official CD release of the track, beyond a promo that they sent to radio stations back in 2008.

A large chunk of this record is terribly sad. The Savings and Loan contribute a serviceable cover of the Palace Brothers’ lament “Christmastime in the Mountains,” but it does not improve upon the original – which is a must if you are going to perform it in a similar style. Withered Hand gives us an emotional “Its a Wonderful Lie,” and while it certainly has its moments, it is just too dreary for me. Really, this one could be you favorite tune on the record if you really love a Christmas dirge. Another rather brutal, but well-done song is the Phil Ochs tune, “No Christmas in Kentucky”, retitled “Christmas in Kirkcaldy,” and performed by Meursault. Scots singing about the Southeast United States… and the poverty that is Appalachia. I have heard it all.

Two final tracks that are certainly worth a listen are Emily Scott‘s “Holy,” and X-Lion Tamer‘s stab at Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy.” Both are done well, and “Holy” is an extremely pretty, sparse folk song with excellent vocal layers.

Bottom Line: Can be quite sad, but has a higher percentage of good songs than most comps out there. 3.8/5

LISTEN:


The Starside Eight – Kiss for Christmas EP (2002)

Kiss for Christmas EP cover

Electric Frog Recordings
Buy: iTunes

The Starside Eight existed for what looks to be one full length (which I haven’t heard, but will certainly hunt down), and a rather excellent Christmas EP. There are a number of other songs out there called “Kiss for Christmas,” but this is not a cover, and Starside Eight’s song is better than the rest. While released back in 2002, it sounds as thought it could have come out today. Their production falls smack in hard-scrabble indie rock vein, and the sad tale they spin is done with cleverness and a great ear for a hook. The percussions is of particular note – it really keeps this track going. This song alone would make this VERY affordable release worthwhile, and I’m happy to say that the rest of the record is quite commendable too. “Yuki Ya Kon Kon” is a Japanese snow song, and while its not something terribly up my alley, it is done well. “November Fights December Blues” is the second of two Starside Eight originals, and while it shares its predecessor’s melancholy, it does not do so with the driving beat that “Kiss for Christmas.” Later in the song, the guitar work gives it the kick that you wish it had earlier on in the song, but too late in my opinion. Its very good, but not quite up to mixworthy status. The final track is a cover of Lou Reed’s “Jesus,” and while they don’t reinvent the song, they do it very, very well.

Bottom Line: The whole thing is quite listenable, with one particularly strong original song. 4.5/5

The Mynabirds – All I Want is Truth (For Christmas) (2010)

All I Want is Truth (For Christmas) cover

Saddle Creek
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | Saddle Creek MP3 | Amazon UK MP3

The Mynabirds‘ Christmas release, All I Want is Truth (for Christmas), is the perfect Christmas release. A Christmas protest song! A Zombies cover! The title track is lyrically interesting, musically engaging, and should be considered an indie-classic. The Zombies’ cover of “This Year will Be Our Year” sets the stage for future female voices (Memoryhouse) to cover this fantastic song.

For the collector out there, there are 200 on white vinyl, 300 on black vinyl.

I wish the Mynabirds would release a Christmas single every year.

Bottom Line: Both songs are FANTASTIC. 5/5

LISTEN

Mojo’s Festive Fifteen (2010)

Mojo Festive Fifteen cover

Mojo, January 2011
Buy: CD

I don’t know how “Alternative” Mary Chapin Carpenter is considered… but there is some real traditional fare on this disc. There’s some great stuff here, which makes it a worthwhile collection to hunt down, but the boring stuff is mind-meltingly boring. Use this more as grist for your Christmas mix, rather than giving it a place in your holiday rotation.

There is a span of four tracks which create the powerhouse of the record, beginning with Superchunk‘s John Cale cover of “Child’s Christmas in Wales.” This track is exclusive to the release, and truly wonderful. The song fits Superchunk perfectly, and had this been the only song I liked on the disc, I would have been pleased with purchasing it.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings‘ “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” gets a CD release here – for those who want a physical copy beyond the 7″ that they released earlier in 2009. Great piece of R&B/Soul that can find its place on any interesting Christmas mix.

Hannah Peel & Tunng give us “Hey Santa!,” the second of three exclusive tracks. This is an indie pop gem – truly out of left field with its lyrical content, and a groove you can get in to.

Sea of Bees‘ “Feliz Navidad” is also exclusive to this collection. Most certainly the best surprise on this disc, they take a Christmas classic (which I usually find a bit annoying) and made it something enjoyable! The music creates a warm atmosphere, and the slight variations on the vocal phrasing keeps you interested. Well done.

Bottom Line: The good stuff is certainly enough to pick this up for a few bucks. 3.4/5

LISTEN