Kristin Kontrol - Last Christmas

Kristin Kontrol “Last Christmas” (2013/2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Soundcloud | Download

I first came across this synth-heavy (not that the original wasn’t) version of “Last Christmas” via Kurt Feldman, the producer of this track and the driving force behind the equally synth-heavy Ice Choir. Of course, I grabbed it and filed it away. Jump-cut to this past week, as I began to get back in the swing of things, and I came across the Minneapolis-based blog WeHeartMusic (who also did the great graphic above), and their feature about this song (including a download!). Kristin Kontrol (AKA Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls) recorded this classic Wham! song back in 2013 as a sort of a b-side to the spectacular Dum Dum Girls’ “On Christmas.” At the time they weren’t allowed to release it, but after the death of George Michael, KK said:

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(Here is a twitter moment that I’ve created showing the progression of tweets – including the reference to “On Christmas” being proto-KK”)

Thus, we have this cool, very Kurt Feldman + Kristin Kontrol version of “Last Christmas.”The beats are slightly amped up throughout the song, and it gives a perfect pacing to a song that I sometimes find just a hair slow. My favorite part about this track comes in at around 3:20, when they bring in these subtle little bits of percussion; They sound like synth bongos or something of the sort. Spot on KK & KF.

Bottom Line: Truly a killer version of THE Christmas pop song of the 80s.

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Gotta go to Soundcloud for this. They won’t let me embed it!

 

Nicolas Mateo - De crisma song

Nicolas Mateo “De Crisma Song” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

So, Argentina has really made itself known within 2016’s crop of Christmas tunes. First there was Polvo de Estrellas, the terrific indie rock/pop compilation released by Polvo Bureau, and now this interesting tune by Nicolas Mateo, “De Crisma Song.” As usual, I have no idea what they are saying… my ignorance is truly frustrating for everyone I’m sure. This chiptune song has a lot (or one might say, a little) going for it – it’s short! It’s fun! I really enjoy the colors he adds as the song goes on – at its peak, it’s damn cool.

Bottom Line: Short and sweet, “De Crisma Song” leaves you wanting more.

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Faye and the Scrooges "It's Christmas Time"

Faye and the Scrooges “Time for Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I walk in from wassailing at our local pub, and find I’ve been tweeted at! Faye and the Scrooges have released their 2016 Christmas song in 2016! I usually get their song well into the next year, but to my delight, here it is! I believe this is the first time that they’ve tackled what I’d consider to be a dance track, as “Time for Christmas” is meant to move your fucking ass. There is the humor you expect from a F&TS Christmas song, which I absolutely love. Between the verses of cheeky holiday observations and frustrations, the chorus swings in with a full embrace of the season. It’s how many of us feel about the holiday – nothing is quite perfect, but you can still fucking love it. In closing, as Faye and the Scrooges say, “It’s Christmas time / lets all get wasted.” I certainly took a page from that book last night…

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges have my ass moving and grooving with this Christmas jam. Now, you might wonder why I’m swearing so much in this review… it’s to make up for the “Where the f***’s that f***in Sellotape?” that F&TS dropped. Hey Faye! Release a parental-advisory version too! I love a good ‘ol profane Christmas song!

EDIT: Look below! 2 versions, one with all the 4-letter words you could want!

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Shelter Scotland Home for the Holidays

Home For The Holidays: A Christmas Songbook (2016)

Shelter Scotland
Buy: Bandcamp

I’ve been following the progression of this project for a little while now, and it is finally out. This MASSIVE compilation of Scottish/UK bands had their release party just a few days back, and I had no idea as to the extent of this collection. 37 tracks… 37 tracks… some of which you’ll recognize, such as “Cheap Gold” by Frightened Rabbit, or Allo Darlin’s “Will You Please Spend New Years With Me,” but there is still plenty of new stuff to discover here! And hey, I don’t think that Frightened Rabbit track was ever available as something other than a MP3. I seriously can’t take the time to give a full review of the entire collection, it’s just so massive (and so nicely priced!), but who knows… maybe sometime in July? So check out the likes of Broken Records, Kid Canaveral, Withered Hand, Sweet Baboo, This is the Kit, The Spook School, Jonnie Common, De Rosa, and many many many more.

Bottom Line: I’m six tracks in… and there is not a clunker in the bunch so far. And every sale benefits Shelter Scotland, which helps “over half a million people a year struggling with bad housing or homelessness

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Charlie's Hand Movements - Be, Be Together

Charlie’s Hand Movements – Be, Be Together (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (FREE!)

What the what?!?!?! How come Bandcamp didn’t let me know that there was a new Charlie’s Hand Movements release? I had to find it in my Twitter feed?? HUSSAH! The boys are back, and as great as ever with this new 3-track EP, Be, Be Together. The leadoff track “Snow Globe” is a fuzzed-out guitar, flippin’ good time. “We can block the hold world out and be together.” Awesome.

“Until the 25th Came” is one of CHM’s most interesting Christmas songs to date. The musical movements, as well as the lyrics, take a journey that culminates with the some of the most beautiful lyrics they have written. “Forget the jealousy, forget the misery, embrace the melody, take pleasure from the small things like giving more than you get, appreciating friends, tell people that you love that you love them.” The ending is warm, cathartic and gorgeous.

“Fairy Lights & Cheap Beer” finds CHM pinpointing a simple moment. “Get together every year, fill the room with fairy lights and drink cheap beer. Drink cheap beer. Talk about nothing. So glad you’re here. We don’t need to talk about anything. Our hopes, jobs, or fear. No, we don’t need to talk about anything, just be together. Don’t leave me hanging.” There is something so perfectly human about this moment. There is the warmth of connection that you have with those few people in your life, where you don’t even need to speak, a mere presence is enough. But that final line, “Don’t leave me hanging,” there is something so fragile there that everyone can relate to. Those who we love the most can break us the easiest.

Bottom Line: Charlie’s Hand Movements have given us their most beautiful Christmas record to date. Of note, their past two releases are back up on Bandcamp as well, so I’d grab them while you can.

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Winterval - At Christmas Time

Winterval – At Christmas Time (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

So… lots of folks tweet at me with Christmas tunes. I do appreciate it – please keep doing it! The nature of the beast is that I’m never going to be able to listen to them all, nor give them all the proper time that they may deserve. Why? Because all the music comes out in a span of only 3 weeks… it’s nuts. But damn… I found myself with a little time and listened to one today while walking to my car, picked a random track, and found myself transfixed. Winterval, a home recording project from Moseley, UK, has written a whole album of Christmas originals over the past 7 years… and it is pretty damn fantastic. The production perfectly captures his voice, which has a touching sincerity during the more contemplative songs. The song that I randomly chose was “Hang the Lights on the Tree,” and the way his voice floats amongst the ringing guitars is just perfection. “Hang the lights on the tree / one for every memory.” The simplicity of these captured moments aren’t anything grand, but that is where their power comes from. I honestly haven’t had the time to give this record the deep listen it deserves, though rarely does an entire release reveal itself so quickly to be worthy of attention. I mean… I didn’t even have to dig. Shoot at another song – “Christmas Every Day” – just fantastic. “At Christmas Time” – beautiful. “Puffy’s Song” – even that elf song is great! Truly, this record has been an absolute indiepop pleasure.

Bottom Line: This is a modest, home recording project that is fighting well above its weight class.

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Night Flowers - Christmas

Night Flowers – Christmas (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

London’s Night Flowers have just released a fantastic 2-track indiepop Christmas digital single (of originals!) that continues this year’s trend of beautifully written indiepop Christmas songs. I’m going to jump straight into the lyrics of track 2, “Christmas Eve,” the uptempo stomper that I just adore:

I broke the silence with a beating heart
hoping I wouldn’t break the spell
you whispered softy in my ear
a song I’ve never heard again and disappeared
the seasons pass
slowly my dear
I wonder where you’re gonna be on Christmas eve?

That is some seriously beautiful writing. It leaves enough space for you to put yourself into the song, and thus you feel it more. Just beautiful.

The leadoff track “To Rest” is much more in the classic, slow, chiming sound of treble-heavy indiepop. Certainly beautiful as well, but perhaps without the crossover (from indiepop) appeal that “Christmas Eve” may have. That said, this could be a highlight for your indiepop Christmas mix – which is a mix I’d like you to send me. Because I dig that shit, obviously 🙂

I really have to stop qualifying with “only for those who love indiepop” when dealing with fantastic indiepop singles. I mean… duh. If you like it you’ll like it. Indiepop is the flipside to punk, and punk means to reject mass appeal. Indiepop sort of is too… it’s almost recorded as if it’s meant to be a secret between you and the band. And here I am… spillin’ secrets.

Bottom Line: 2 great indiepop tracks, a name-your-own price on Bandcamp, and all proceeds going to Mind and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Take my money, please.

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A City Without Snow

A City Without Snow (2016)

Middle Class Cigars
Buy: Bandcamp

Singapore’s Middle Class Cigars has released, from front to back, one of the most enjoyable compilations I’ve heard this year. A mixture of Books-esque spoken word folktronica, indiepop, lo-fi folk and downtempo chill-out music, the production value is uniformly excellent, and the taste level is on-point. If I had to pick out a track or two to highlight, for me it would be the lovely “A Song to Sleep to” by Ferry, and the dreamy “0212” by Cosmic Child.  You could put this album on, and not have to skip any horrible tracks… which in the Christmas-music world is a RARITY. Most certainly worth a listen – and for those in the US, it’s only a dash above $10 to have the limited edition cassette (ed. of 50) shipped from Singapore!

I found their description both useful, and endearing.

Music plays an important part in the season of Christmas, as we sing along to the carols written years ago, it still remains as powerful as ever.

With contributions from 9 Singapore-based musicians, A City Without Snow is a Christmas compilation album consisting of seven original songs and two renditions of classics. Born from different emotional perspectives of the season, each composition is a musical vignette of a uniquely Singaporean Christmas.

A City Without Snow is Middle Class Cigars’ proudest release thus far, encapsulating a collective dynamic of warm and intimate sounds of which the label thrives in.

Bottom Line: Just a pleasure. A pleasure. A pleasure.

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lesbicyclettesdebelsize

Les Bicyclettes De Belsize “Christmas Card 1983” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: BandcampStream

Charlie Darling of Les Bicyclettes De Belsize is what one might call a purveyor of fine indiepop Christmas tunes. He is so adept at it, that I imagine him running a small shop, selling Christmas songs a la carte to his walk-in traffic. His current seasonal project is an Advent calendar, to which he is releasing a song a day on Soundcloud. Did he write 24 new songs?? No, not exactly, but he has 10 and he did re-record his excellent older Christmas releases! So new versions! You may recognize #2, which was featured on Christmas Underground last year. Charlie tipped me off to today’s release, as it was going to be a new one. “Christmas Card 1983” is a wonderful piece of Christmas indiepop, and I love it simply for its dreamy atmosphere groove, and the brass colors are fantastic. However, what left me sitting here listing to this song a few times in a row was personal realization I stumbled into. I often have to fight the urge to throw a bunch of downers on my mix, as I tend to find darker music more complicated and fulfilling. I especially worried about this year, as I am not in the best state when thinking about the future of my country, nor the world. But I don’t think I have to worry about my mix… I am sitting here medicating with glimmering nostalgia, rather than drowning melancholy or anger. “Christmas Card 1983” most certainly scratches that itch, with mixtape Christmas presents, buying records at HMV, and old movies. I can’t wait to hear the rest of Charlie’s project, even if there is a downer in the bunch. I think I can take it, thanks to “Christmas Card 1983.”

Bottom Line: Pure indiepop Christmas wonderfulness. As always with indiepop, it may not be your taste… but those who like it, will very likely love “Christmas Card 1983.”

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Christmas Tape

Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Twaague Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know everyone is all about the NEW NEW NEW songs… throw a “2015” after a song and nobody wants to retweet it. BUT, when nearly all the seasonal releases come out in a month’s time, you are bound to miss some great stuff. Berlin-based Twaague RecordsChristmas Tape was one of those misses… released on December 12 of last year, this release certainly suffered from missing the “christmas” tag on Bandcamp, which made it nearly invisible to my search. (Bandcamp really needs to up their game on search – they limit results and don’t let you combine tags…) This was the tape that led me to Skiing! This was the tape that led me to Hanemoon! And this is the tape that will make you love Milwalkie. Get comfortable, I’m going to cover my personal highlights of this excellent release.

The tape leads off with “26th December,” originally appearing on Skiing’s excellent Generous Fire EP. Its anti-consumerism rhetoric is comfortable terrain for me, and the punk rock aesthetic is invigorating. A very strong start.

Colorado’s Kissing Party is no stranger to Christmas songs – they have 2 featured on their Bandcamp as I type this review. “Merry Christmas Darling (Maybe Next Year Things will Change)” was originally released as their 2014 single, and it remains a great indiepop downer.

Berlin’s Milwalkie contributes one of my favorite tracks on this release with “This Year (All I Want is You).” From what I understand, this begins a string of tracks exclusive to this release. What they might call cheesy (and they do), I call simple and nearly perfect. Playful and nostalgic, this song hits all the marks without getting too sweet; A wonderful, perfectly seasoned (pun!) Christmas tune.

Who would have expected Berlin to be a hotbed of amazing indie Christmas songs? My head has been stuck searching in London for years… should have been looking here! Berlin’s Man Behind Tree channel 90’s-era Merge Records indie rock and blends their jangly guitars, dark lyrics and understated vocals into a fantastic Christmas song, “I Was Santa Claus.”

Hanemoon, who we featured a week or so ago with his 2013 gem, has blessed us with the equally wonderful “My Bell Ride.” This is a driving indie rock Christmas song that I could imagine Yo La Tengo (or my much beloved Mendoza Line) just ripping shit up with; It has the kind of frayed edges that I am such a sucker for.

Strand Child (also from… Berlin!) contribute their dark electro-pop “Yer Feet.” Is this a Christmas song? No idea! But I like it. “I was drunk when I met you / I was drunk when you walked out the door.” It may take place during Christmas… as might the equally non-Christmas specific “F&f” by Berlin’s Mother of the Unicorn. They are a bit less confusing on their Facebook than Strand Child, as they address their song as “not so Christmassy really, but it is a bit sentimental, so that’s the same thing right?” They are tapping into the same deep emotional well as The National… which I consider a high compliment and comparison.

Finally, Farfara’s instrumental “Flying Pan” is also damn good. Again, it suffers by not having an explicit nod to Christmas, but overall a great track that, depending on your own personal mix rules, might still qualify for consideration. At the very least, this track proves them to be an excellent band, worthy of further listening.

Overall this release is extremely strong, and with few exceptions, immensely listenable and wholly enjoyable. I would consider 3-4 of these songs for my own personal mix, which is like scoring a hat trick… very, very hard to do on a Christmas compilation. Tapes are still available via their Bandcamp, as well a digital downloads for a very respectable €5!

Bottom Line: Berlin is just killing it right now. One of the strongest compilations of 2015, easy.

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