Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

LISTEN:

Don’t Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape (2012)

Don't Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape

Select Music
Buy: Free!

One of my most recent finds, this free compilation from Sydney-based Select Music is an extremely solid compilation that is wholly listenable; A fine effort that I hope they continue to pursue in the future.

Step-Panther‘s version of “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight tonight)” begins and ends with a skit, which I’m sure you could edit out quite easily. The delivery of the actual song makes me think of a bunch of 16-17 year olds rolling through this classic Ramones tune, which could be exactly the vibe you’re looking for… I, however, don’t feel like this song is good enough (as in, the song, not the performance) for simply a serviceable cover. Asobi Seksu’s version is different enough to enjoy over multiple listens, but Step-Panther’s, while not bad, just doesn’t quite break the mold of the original.

Wax Witches‘ “Forgot Me” is a solid indie-rock Christmas tune. I am always partial to originals, and the Wax Witches effort is certainly in the upper 10% of the pack. It actually grows on me a bit with each listen… not quite sure if its going to get to the level where it will be mix-worthy, but a great effort no matter.

The Cairos rendition of “Sleigh Ride” is about as good as it can be. I would never consider this song for my mixes to begin with, but if I HAD to find a version to play for someone, this would certainly be an option. They do their best with what they’re working with.

Millions take a stab at the modern-classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and they do it admirably. Its kind of a fusion of indie rock with an alt-country beat and the twangy guitar of an earlier time. Their arrangement really makes the song their own, and thus it is immensely listenable. This is one of the songs that you need this compilation for… and hey, its free.

The Preatures take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and they follow the Millions lead-in with a similarly unique take on a classic tune. They lighten the mood, add some dirty edges, and throw their version onto the top of the pile. Short, sweet, and spot on.

Finally, Jonti‘s “Christmas Worm” makes an appearance at the end of this short compilation. If you read my blog, you are well aware of how much I enjoy this song. I will no doubt be writing more about this song as the season develops, as I have also found a cover from a few years ago as well. So… enjoy this release and the FREE FLAC that it offers.

Bottom Line: There are three great songs, and three good songs. If every other Christmas compilation could be so fortunate. 4.5/5

LISTEN:

The Love Language “White Christmas,” “Gsus,” “Christmas in Toyland” (2008-2011)

The Love Language

Bladen County Records/Merge Records/Self-Released
Buy:
Bandcamp! (well, for 2 of them)

The Love Language make some fine indie rock in Raleigh, NC… and in the proud tradition of their fellow Raleigh-ites, The Rosebuds, have some incredible Christmas tunes.

In 2008, the Love Language released “White Christmas” on a (now long-lost) download-only comp put out by Bladen County Records. However, this is not your parents’ “White Christmas.” You can’t get much darker than “Santa bring my baby to me / I’m gonna hang myself from a Christmas Tree / But all the ones that I’ve bought / They’re only six feet tall.” So… be prepared… and also be ready for some fantastic music. This song sounds amazing. — EDIT: This was also released as “White Christmas/Black Fetus” by the Light Language, a meeting of the Love Language and the Light Pines! I don’t know how I just discovered this link!!

2010 saw the Love Language move on from Bladen County Records, and head for the bright lights of indie-rock powerhouse Merge. It also marks the first year of (what I really hope is) a yearly tradition of last-minute Christmas songs released to the Raleigh-centric (duh) blog NewRaleigh.com. “Gsus” is a fantastic groove, one that made its way onto my 2011 mix and remains a personal favorite. It was recorded by Stu and BJ, with voicemails from the band members who were out of town – which sounds odd, but totally works. YOU NEED THIS.

The Love Language released “Christmas in Toyland” to NewRaleigh.com last year… also in the nick of time (Dec. 23). Another great song… a bit of a slow-burner, but very well worth it. Check it out.

My fingers are crossed… and I’ve been checking The Love Language’s FB and NewRaleigh.com for the past few days, hoping for another late Christmas gift from one of the great composers of indie rock Christmas classics.

Bottom Line: Free downloads of fantastic original songs. 5/5 

LISTEN

Download 2011’s “Christmas in Toyland

 

Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records (2010)

Christmas Hits from Adventure Club Records cover

Adventure Club Records
Buy: Bandcamp

This compilation from Adventure Club Records used to cost a few bucks… but for the moment, it is FREE! How about that??!! Well, first off, you can’t beat free. Secondly, there is some great stuff on here.

The EP starts off with Bear Driver‘s cover of “Walking in the Air” from the classic animated Christmas special, The Snowman. This is truly a wonderful version, floating and beautiful, and I was compelled to add it to my personal mix this year. The mix has not been in my friends’ hands for very long, but so far, 2 of 3 of the mentions of their favorite song have been this one.

Ian Williams and the Dead Flowers‘ cover of “Little Donkey” is actually LISTENABLE. I’m not a big fan of this song, but their slow, dark folk version makes it not only listenable, but genuinely good. This will be on the short list for next year.

Lee Schofield covers “In the Bleak Midwinter,” another song that I have a tough time really getting into – Rue Royale has been the only version I truly enjoyed. Lee Schofield has not surpassed Rue Royale, but he has created a simple, folky version with excellent vocal layers and nice instrumentation… a very solid effort.

Glaciers‘ “Happy Christmas” has this compilation batting 4/4 so far, with this truly wonderful song. Ragged, but beautiful, this song is very very much also on a shortlist for next year. This song has it all – interesting vocals, compelling lyrics, mention of whiskey, great music… knocked it out of the park.

Nir Graham rounds out the release with a (I feel like a broken record) listenable(!) version of Blue Christmas! I normally… really dislike this song. But he has made a messy version, that is pretty damn good. I still don’t like the song enough, but his use of the banjo to, basically, just make noise, makes this ramshackle version of Blue Christmas a compelling listen.

Bottom Line: I find no fault whatsoever with this release. One of the strongest Christmas comps I’ve come across. AND FREE (for a limited time no doubt). 4.9/5

LISTEN:

Parenthetical Girls – Save Christmas (2011)

Parenthetical Girls Save Christmas cover

Slender Means Society
Buy: Bandcamp

So, we are in an off year here in Christmasland. Why an off year you ask? Because the Parenthetical Girls only release a Christmas single/EP every other year, and they blessed us with this 3-track gem last year. So, alas, we will all have to make do with listing to the wealth that is their back catalog (which I shall review on another date). EDIT: They have thrown me for a loop… and are releasing a new EP this year!

Save Christmas is their second Christmas release in a row that is stellar from top to bottom – 3 tracks of gold. I could have put any of these tracks on my personal mix and been completely happy. The leadoff track, “Christmas Past,” sets the tone for the rest of the release with dark lyrics, surrounded by a shimmering bass line and jingle bells. This ending relationship is a tragic and beautiful song, one that finds my soft spot for sad Christmas tunes and pokes it repeatedly.

“Post-Christmas Time”… from what I understand, being that there are no lyrics, and it can be, at times, a little tough to discern, is about a post-apocalyptic time that no longer celebrates Christmas. Lines like: “Run for your life, its post-christmas time,” have led me to that assumption. Its interesting listening, even outside of the season. And the music is fantastic.

It ends with an absolutely lovely “There’s Always Tomorrow,” from the holiday classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Both sad and hopeful at the same time, this version conveys the requisite emotion that the song demands… if you ever wanted a sweet Christmas song out of the Parenthetical Girls, this might just be your dance partner.

Bottom Line: Three great songs, a name-your-own price (pay them!), what have you got to lose?! 4.8/5

LISTEN:

Christmas Aguilera – S/T EP (2012)

Christmas Aguilera cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

So… to post or not to post. Is it truly selfish to want to keep this to myself, so that I might impress my Christmas music loving friends upon receipt of their mix CD? If it were not for the good cause this EP is supporting… I might have kept it in my back pocket.

The mysterious “supergroup” that claims to be the “greatest band since Wizzard,” has put out a truly excellent 4-song Christmas EP that will be one of the highlights of my personal mix. Four original songs that really push my buttons, be it a love of the melancholy, the political, or the secular… this EP has it all.

The leadoff track, “I Wanna Give You a Present,” is… for lack of a better word… dirty. And awesome. Its dirtiness not only comes from the playful lyrics, but specifically from the singer’s voice, which just sounds like he’s got something in mind for you, and you’re going to like it.

The second song is my personal favorite – “I Want a Car” revisits that classic idea of just wanting your significant other for Christmas… and damn I love that chorus. The vocals are a little rough-around-the-edges at points, but perfectly so. This is no way a knock on the performance; he has a way of making the vocals seem more sincere than a pretty voice ever could.

“Lennon, Oh” is the kind of political Christmas song that I knew I could get behind – “Lennon, Oh, where are you when we need you – Cause War’s Not Over.” Fantastic chorus – man this band can swing a chorus.

The final track, “Red Nose, Red Dress,” has a great groove – and would benefit from offering up the lyrics… because I don’t believe I understand it… “One longstanding misunderstanding, I am Rudolph, I am no man?” Who cares if I understand. It’s fantastic.

Really, this thing is so good that you will wish that it was 8 tracks long – because I do believe they have 4 more! The group will be performing 8 originals at the “Jolly Santa Social Club” benefit show on Saturday December 10 at The Victoria in London. All proceeds of both the EP and the show benefit Crisis, the national charity for the homeless.

Bottom Line: Buy it. It’s only ₤3 – its very enjoyable all the way through, and often quite brilliant. 5/5

LISTEN:

The Rosebuds – Christmas Tree Island (2012)

Christmas Tree Island cover

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Few modern bands have had as much success writing enjoyable Christmas tunes as the Rosebuds have. I have hunted down their Christmas offerings on more than one Raleigh-area compilation, and am extremely happy to have a bunch more songs to sink my ears into.

My expectations were high, and they were roundly met. The two tracks I was familiar with, “I Hear (Click, Click, Click)” and “Oh It’s Christmas” are standouts (of course), but so are a good number of the new (at least, to me) cuts. The moody, saxophone-heavy “Xmas in New York” is truly exceptional. The sorrowful “Thru That Door,” also has some fantastic saxophone parts, that if not done so well, would be cheesy. “Melt Our Way Out” may be my new favorite – great music, and wonderful lyrics.

There are only a few tracks that I’m not too into, as I tend to enjoy the Rosebuds the most when the tempo is quicker. Another word of caution – the lyrical content of the record is largely melancholy. So… perhaps not party music – but its probably better than your party music anyway.

Bottom Line: A wonderful effort. I hope this (sort of) compilation does not signal an end to them writing Christmas songs. 4.5/5

LISTEN:

Pelle Carlberg “Soon After Christmas” (2008)

Lilac Time cover

Labrador Records
Buy: CD (You need the CD to get the download!)

Pelle Carlberg is one of my FAVORITE singer/songwriters… I am particularly fond of his two most recent solo records, In a Nutshell and Lilac Time. So, I dutifully bought them, enjoyed the hell out of their witty wordplay and to my amazement… there is a bonus… a hidden bonus to be found.

I encourage you to first look up Pelle Carlberg, or just groove to the songs below. If you like what he’s putting down, then you should go buy a copy of Lilac Time. If you read the liner notes carefully, you’ll find a link that shall lead you to three additional songs. One of those tunes… a wonderful cover of Stina Nordenstam’s “Soon After Christmas.”

You might imagine… when I found this… I jumped out of my seat, punched a waterfall, and smacked a leprechaun. It was damn exciting.

I will not post it here, and I beseech you to not post it anywhere once you hunt it down yourself. Lets actually buy some records. Lets put a few bucks in Pelle’s pocket. He has a family, and he is a full-time musician. The album is 100% worth it… throw in a ultra-rare Christmas tune that you have to search for… and you cannot beat it.

Bottom Line: The album itself is fantastic, and the Christmas song is wonderful. 5/5

LISTEN:

Another Grey Christmas 2 (2008)

Another Grey Christmas 2 cover

Willamette Week
Buy: CD OOP | Stream

The second in a series by Willamette Week’s Local Cut section – this is the first one that I’ve actually held in my hands. Only available in Portland and (briefly) online, the Another Grey Christmas series compiles local Portland bands doing both originals and covers… as so many other cities do. What Portland has in their favor though… is that its Portland. They’ve got a bunch of great bands just chilling out, waiting to record something amazing.

There are some solid tunes on this disc, with the perfectly passible indie folk rendition of “Winter Wonderland” by A Weather, a stripped down “Silver Bells” by Run on Sentence with Mike Midlo, and a delicate “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Laura Gibson. There are some good originals here too – Future Historians‘ “Family Tree” is a darker take on the holiday season, and the lyrics have a wonderful sense of reality to them – something you don’t normally get from a Christmas song.

The best song on the disc is Dolorean’s cover of the Dolly Parton classic, “Hard Candy Christmas.” Slow, sparse and haunting at times – this is not your mother’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” And best of all… they posted it on their website for download.

Definitely check out the rest of the series… but be forewarned, they do not let you BUY anything but vol. 4 & 5. I had to call a boutique in Portland to get ahold of #2… actually purchased their in-store play copy. And I’ve never seen one go up on eBay either.

BOTTOM LINE: Some solid classics are covered, with one strong original. 3.6/5

LISTEN:

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: