Wake Up And Smell The Sun – Electric Snow (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Philadelphia’s Wake Up and Smell the Sun have expanded on 2019’s excellent 2-track Christmas single, Holiday Hymns for People, and created one of the best Christmas records I have heard in years with Electric Snow. This record, with its thumping drums, woozy guitars and big vocals make you sit back and ponder if Spiritualized or the Verve would be fucking jealous of this record. The instrumentation and production on this record is just so damn good that it can both sound so BIG, like the slowly built epic “Gingerbread,” and small and intimate on “Country Western Holiday Meltdown,” with both feeling like sonic siblings, wonderfully at home on the same record. This cohesive feel truly comes across on this 7-track release even more than their initial 2-track single – you really get a feel for the sound as a whole.

As you might imagine, I would be recommending this record based on the stellar music/production/vibe even if they gave up on lyrics entirely and sang nonsense words… but if you’ve come for the dinner, why not have a glorious fucking show too? Once you get into the music (and you will), you may find that you actually love this record for the lyrics. There were moments that I just began shaking my head and smiling, like during the title track “Electric Snow:” “Beneath the minor keys, the majorettes, and bells,  / Sweet little girls with missing teeth seek inner peace within themselves (WHAT A LINE) / I’d like to share my Christmas Story, come on over / I once was haunted by a ghost, it mostly taught me how to coast / And when I tried to kick the habit, it gently pushed me in to traffic (AGAIN!) / Let it snow, electric snow, electric snow.” WHAT!?! There are so many incredibly interesting and clever lyrics on this record that I’ve been genuinely stressing out about how much I want to feature. I keep discovering new lines, and feel this absurd need to give every single lyric some sort of context. SO, with deep apologies to Wake Up And Smell The Sun for not writing this epic review delving into every single track… I am just too excited to share it with everyone, and I have an itchy publish finger.

If you are not already onboard, just press play. Problem solved.

Bottom Line: Frankly, I can’t wait to put this record on with some good headphones, because those guitars are going to surround me, and I’m going to happily surf the jet stream with this fantastic record.

LISTEN

I am going to post every song individually, as I cannot choose a favorite, and I want the Hype Machine to index every… single… song.

Marcos y Molduras “La de Navidad” (2018/2019)

Discos de Kirlian
Buy:
Bandcamp

Madrid’s Marcos y Molduras decided to revisit “La de Navidad,” which featured on their first single in 2018, and give it a full makeover… which as you know, can go either way…

facebook has reminded us that ‘a day like today …’ a year ago we published for the first time “worse would be to kill”, which included this anti-Christmas carol that, at these dates, we cannot continue to ignore.

so we have re-done it, this time with a little more affection and with less uncertainty about what our friends will think about it. We already know they like it, we hope you do too 🙂

Marcos y Molduras, Bandcamp

Well, as you might assume, the procedure was a smashing success. Sometimes I am all about lyrics, sometimes I’m all about FEELING. This song just FEELS SO GOOD. I do not speak Spanish (I took German in high school), but that has certianly never stopped me from jamming to some incredible spanish-language Christmas songs. I did some Google translate, and I’m even down for the anti-Christmas message. The food is too expensive, the families are loud and the businessmen are obnoxious. Christmas in the big city can be pretty shitty, especially without you.

So with that, Merry Christmas and try not to smile… even though you know the gist of the lyrics. I dare ya… Just feels too good eh? This is a stone-cold Christmas-mix hit.

Bottom Line: “La de Navidad” is bound to lead to involuntary movement of your feet, legs, head and mouth. Buy it, listen to it four times, and tweet at me in the morning.

LISTEN

UPCOMING: Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box (2020)

Memphis Industries
Buy:
Bandcamp | Banquet Records | Norman Records | Piccadilly Records | Jumbo Records | Rough Trade UK

Last year I found myself stressing out, trying to get a shot at one of those Field Music Christmas 7-inches that were at the Independent Label Fair in London. Tweeting back and forth, seeing what connections I could muster… but alas… it was not to be. They hinted that it would have a proper release this year, so…. I waited, and Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box will be waiting under the tree for me (once I buy it). I haven’t heard much off this record, with exception of the Francis Lung track which I reviewed last year. A track or two has been previously out there in some fashion (Field Music and Cornshed Sisters) from off the top of my head), but there do appear to be some new tracks here for sure. If you are really, really curious, you can go digging on each band’s twitter feed, and you are bound to bump in to some 15 second samples of these songs. That Rachael Dadd track sounds bbbeeeeauuuuttttiiiifffuuullll.

Lost Christmas: A Memphis Industries Festive Selection Box (Release Date: December 4)
1. Field Music – Home For Christmas
2. Haley – Like Ice and Cold
3. Warm Digits – Good Enough For You This Christmas
4. Rachael Dadd (with Rozi Plain and Kate Stables) – We Build Our Houses Well
5. Stats – Christmas Without You
6. The Phoenix Foundation – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
7. Francis Lung – To Make Angels In Snow
8. Jesca Hoop – White Winter Hymnal
9. The Go! Team – Look Outside (A New Year’s Coming)
10. The Cornshed Sisters – Have a Good Christmas Time

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Lagniappe Kernow Records’ Home 4 Xmas E​.​P. (2019)

Lagniappe Kernow Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

What a happy accident. I stumbled upon this little Home for Xmas E.P., and found it to be an absolute delight. Four songs (five if you consider a version without the swears a truly additional song), each with its own charm. The leadoff, titular track, “Home 4 Xmas” by The Winona Project, has this oddly captivating, descending melody that ties the song together beautifully. Klaus!’s cover of “Good King Wenceslas” is a very solid version, with these great spoken-word pieces sprinkled in. You might think that this would be too cheesy, and while I do not deny a dash of cheese, it most certainly works. Speaking of spoken-word, Lumpkin Judkins & The Nom De Plumes’ “An Xmoose Tale,” is most definitely spoken-word, and who would have guessed… IT IS FANTASTIC. The music underneath the story sets the mood perfectly, and the text has these moments of humor that even after multiple listens, would still make me smile. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a spoken-word “Christmas song” like this before, but I know for certain haven’t heard one that I liked this much… that is for damn sure. Finally, The Charles Bronson Quintet’s “Merry Lil’ Christmas” is at its core, a very pleasant instrumental cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but they overlay some captured audio that makes this delicate Christmas classic just that little bit… profane; A pleasant dash of “fuck you” sprinkles on top of your Christmas cookie. What a delicious, unexpected treat from Lagniappe Kernow Records. *Chef’s kiss*

Bottom Line: I rather think that folks will find their own favorite from this handful of tunes, as each has a unique charm that could appeal to you, my weirdo Christmas music friends.

Richard Edwards and the Velvet Ocean “Happy Christmas (the whole world has changed)” (2020)

Profound Discomfort
Buy:
Bandcamp | 7Digital | Apple Music | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play

Richard Edwards, known in a previous life as the lead singer and songwriter for Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, has been releasing some pretty beautiful records for the past few years (largely on Joyful Noise), and his latest, The Soft Ache and the Moon” is no exception. He has teased us with a Christmas-ish song in the past with a cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” on the Joyful Noise Snowflathe series, but never quite so explicit as “Happy Christmas (the whole world has changed.” This song is raw emotion. The lyrics are vivid, brutal, and deeply personal. You can take it from me, or from Richard himself:

“Maybe my favorite song on the album and the most difficult to write in certain ways. It was a little too raw and painful for me, but Dave Palmer, the brilliant piano player got me to do it. And I’m glad he did, even if it hurts a little.”

Richard Edwards

This song is full of dream imagery, scenes filled with fog on the edges – suffering, atonement and just squeaking by. It is not your normal Christmas song, but this is not your normal Christmas site. Settle in.

Bottom Line: Some songs make you both wish the writer never had to write this song, while appreciating the beauty of what they created; This is one of those songs.

LISTEN

Alex the Astronaut “Christmas In July” (2020)

Nettwerk/Minkowski Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play | Spotify

I was driving the other day listening to WNRN (one of our local nonprofit radio stations), and this track came on that I really liked. Honestly, I can’t tell you what song it was now… but I recall the DJ coming on saying “That was Alex the Astronaut giving us some really big Courtney Barnett vibes.” I wholly agreed, and found myself making a mental note of the singer so that I might later see if there was a vaguely Christmas song I could mine for my mix (and my blog). WHAT DO YOU KNOW? Not only is there a song, but it is a single as well. I don’t get the same Barnett vibes from “Christmas in July,” and I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate her folktronic sensibilities to be lumped in with Courtney’s wordy indie guitar rock simply because they are both Australian. Initially, I expected the song to be more about celebrating Christmas in July, as many folks in the southern hemisphere wish to have a pop-culture-approved Christmas celebration during their winter. However, this is quite specifically a love song, and the reference to “Christmas in July” is very much in the “traditional” vein. Alex uses Christmas imagery to express how exuberant and lucky she feels to be with her love – as if she is getting a wonderful and unexpected gift outside of the holiday of Christmas. Alex’s voice brilliantly expresses emotion, fragile and powerful in equal parts. The simple piano lines build anticipation, leading us to drums that burst open the song like a brilliant flower. There is an energy, a physical and emotional motion to this song that I greatly appreciate. And yes, this is not specifically a Christmas song, but I have bent the rules for less. So… enjoy this bit of Christmas in September.

Bottom Line: It is a beautiful, emotional song that gets better with multiple listens, so hit that replay button a few times.

LISTEN

UPCOMING: Mark Lanegan – Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020 (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Rough Trade Exclusive LP

Well well well… this popped up on my radar, either by fate or coincidence…. Mark Lanegan is re-releasing his tour-only Christmas EP, Dark Mark Does Christmas 2012, as a full-length Christmas album – the appropriately titled Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020. Lord knows that 2020 is a year for a dark Christmas record…

From Rough Trade (who have an exclusive version, perhaps THE exclusive version?)

2020 has been a dark year and so to end the year Mark Lanegan returns as Dark Mark and releases a full Christmas album. Five tracks were released as a tour only 12″ in 2012 which is now rare and impossible to find. He has recorded five more tracks recently and turned it into a full length album. Lanegan successfully takes some traditional Christmas songs, some Christmas covers plus some originals and twists them into a dark, melancholic affair. Standouts include Burn The Flames, originally recorded by Roky Erickson and Lanegan makes this sinister song, even more sinister. The Everley Brothers Christmas Eve Can Kill You is stripped back and haunting whilst the Lanegan original A Christmas Song is delicate and heartbreaking. 2020 is going be a dark Christmas.

Rough Trade

LISTEN (to the 2012) version

Michael M “Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)” (2020)

Michael M - Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)

Last Night from Glasgow
Buy:
Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Michael M. has written a “quick song about Santa Claus having an existential crisis,” and fuck if it isn’t one of my favorite little ditties of the year. Just bask in these lyrics and smile.

It’s Christmas time and a cold wind appears
The snow isn’t falling down
Because the Earth is misbehaving
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Resurrected annually to highlight wealth inequality
Humans are not worth saving

Merry Christmas, please let me die

The song sounds like it should have been one of those coveted b-sides from Blue Album/Pinkerton-era Weezer, which I consider a high, high compliment. (Side note – It is so unfortunate that you have to designate which Weezer records as to not insult the band you like, because looooorrrrrdddd, they break my heart to this day.) You can’t listen to this thing and not smile – it is infectious (too soon?). Short, sharp perfection.

Bottom Line: The vibe, the lyrics, every damn thing about this song reminds me of why I started this silly blog – to bring weirdo Christmas songs like this to my weirdo friends. Enjoy.

LISTEN

Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017/2020)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2020 Addition: This COVID/anxiety-riddled/dumpster fire of a year has brought few bright moments. Today is an exception (for the moment), as one of my favorite Christmas records of the past few years is reintroduced to the world on beautiful, red-marbled vinyl. Zach Malm‘s The Darkest time of Year has been released in a limited pressing of 100 copies, and I strongly suggest that one of those copies should be yours. Heck, there is even a bonus song that wasn’t on the original release! This is your chance to have a fantastic private-press Christmas record that future generations of weirdo Christmas music fans will be alllllll about. Let us take a moment to look back upon my 2018 review of this beautiful record that completely floored me.

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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.

LISTEN

Night Flowers “Snowfall” (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

London’s Night Flowers are known for dropping excellent Christmas singles every year or so, and last year was no different. Hey, I should have written about it! But that is the problem with running a Christmas music blog – everything comes out all at once. “Snowfall,” Night Flowers’ first original Christmas song since 2016, is an absolute joy of a song. Their jangly guitars light the spark, as the bass and drums feed the flames surrounding these beautiful harmonies, creating a warm feeling of nostalgia that is only heightened by the holiday season. This song is a pure winner, and a total layup had I had the sense to write about it last year.

Bottom Line: Night Flowers return with perhaps their greatest holiday track yet. There truly is something in the indiepop water over there in London… you gotta export that shit.

LISTEN