Labrador Records/Matinée Recordings
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I am no stranger to stretching the definition of a Christmas song; I fully embrace a good winter song, the imagery of falling snow, the chill in the air, etc. However… this might be the most Van Damme I will get on this blog. Red Sleeping Beauty are the kind of Swedish synth-pop that I can get behind, as all their previous Christmas tunes have found a way onto these digital pages. (If you share members with my beloved Acid House Kings, you will get noticed by me.) So, I was excited to receive a DM from RSB a few weeks ago hipped me to a new single! “The Swedish Winter” certainly tackles the long, cold nights that those in the upper-regions of the northern hemisphere suffer through – but the celebration that bursts from the song is all about summer. This is definitively NOT a Christmas song. Yet somehow… I began to think that this song might be a good finale to a Christmas/winter mix. Christmas (and your mix) is over… so what else do you have to look forward to? Summer. “You lose your faith / and you lose your mind / the Swedish winter / The darkest times / and the darkest thoughts / the Swedish winter/ Then suddenly, a ray of light / to save your soul / Get ready cause here comes the summer / and everything feels right.”
Bottom Line: This is synth pop at its synthiest and popiest, and will most certainly satisfy fans of the genre.
Dream Whale Creative
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Nashville’s Bien have been recording Christmas tunes since back in 2016, but until now, they have all been standards. “Bells, Bells, Bells” however, is particularly excellent in both song choice and performance. This is an original, and that is ALWAYS going to pique my interest more than a dusty old standard. Largely driven by beautiful vocal harmonies, as it progresses the instrumentation builds, and “Bells, Bells, Bells” truly blooms. This song is so pretty that your heart might get 2 sizes too big. I’m going to have to follow Bien on Instagram (@wearebien) to keep an eye out for next year’s track, as they are dangerously close to a tradition. 🙂
Bottom Line: Yet another beautiful, happy Christmas song that I somehow loved. I’m going to have to rebrand from being that miserable old Christmas blogger who posts all these songs about how terrible Christmas is. Well… off to print new business cards.
“Christmas Eve / When everything is magical and desperate.” That might be my favorite line of the year. Wollongong, Australia’s Kay Proudlove has written a cracker of a song in “Giftcard.” This one really comes down to the lyrics for me. Not only is that brilliant line featured prominently in this song, but I am loving the sentiment in this verse as well:
We do the same thing every year
And I won’t be caught out this time, I’ll be more prepared
I’ll make something they’ll actually want, they’ll actually use
But I know it’s just a ruse
Cause everybody’s getting giftcards again
Surprise, it’s a giftcard
Just what you wanted
We have all been caught out before, and Kay just has the guts to sing about it.
Bottom Line: A brilliant approach, with equally excellent execution. Kay’s got some serious songwriting chops.
Heist or Hit
Sometimes I can’t do Vaporwave. It gets too hardcore early-90s muzak synthy, but Liverpool’s pizzagirl, who is neither pizza, nor a girl, has found that sweet spot. His other work is not Vaporwive either – listening to an earlier track “Blossom at My Feet, Flower,” is ridiculously good indiepop, so perhaps he only takes quick tokes of the vapor. “Pizza For Christmas” has a pulsing beat, and a classic premise – his baby is gone for Christmas. He’s going to sit there and eat pizza for Christmas, alone. But all is not lost… and suddenly that pizza of resignation is pizza of celebration! It is a fun one, for fun folks. Enjoy.
Bottom Line: Vaporwave-adjacent indiepop fun!
Buy: Free (til 12/31)
Indiepop legends The Proctors have recorded a nice little indiepop Christmas song and placed it under all of our trees… because it is free! The song begins with a romantic visual of snow falling on an Icelandic town, but it quickly turns, as many sweet indiepop songs do, towards melancholy. The phone lines go down, and they say they’ll talk in a week or so, but then they just drift away, and now it has been a year since they spoke. It is a simple song – but one that you can relate to, even if you aren’t in Iceland. This is a song for those you like, even love, who drift away. I think we’ve all had that – life gets in the way.
Bottom Line: A very nice, snowy song by some of my indiepop heroes.
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The Heathen and the Holy, the seasonal project of classically-trained violinist Tom Hobden and musician/writer/producer Fred Abbott, who once recorded together in the much-missed folk/rock band Noah and the Whale, are back once again! The Heathen and the Holy are one of those Christmas treats that you hope for each year, as their songs always bring a bit of levity to what can become a very serious and earnest season. Not saying that these guys can’t be both serious and earnest, but there is always humor that helps take the edge off. So let this song be your snowy day, afternoon gin and tonic, and let’s premiere this great new Heathen and the Holy track together.
“It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It)” is about having to be apart for Christmas, and how that separation casts a pall over the entire holiday. Heavy! What was I just saying about levity? Well, no worries there – upbeat orchestration, along with Fred Abbott’s interjections keep you smiling through the pain. There are some truly fantastic parts; my favorite being when Tom and Fred begin trading lines toward the end of the song, culminating in a crescendo where they both sing “They take me back to Regent street to the Christmas lights tonightttttttt.” It is a theatrical moment, which if you have seen any of their previous videos, is no surprise. I love this band equally for their music, as well as for the brilliant videos that they have put together in the past. It is hard not to think of Tom and Fred, dressed in their holiday best with a drink in-hand… somehow still playing instrument… you know, because of the magic of Christmas. The Heathen and the Holy are truly the mulled wine of Christmas bands – a warm, cozy, delicious treat that somehow always seems to present itself at the exact right time. Cheers.
Bottom Line: The Heathen and the Holy have kept their Christmas flame burning bright with “It’s Just Not Christmas Without You (In It).”
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Jens Lekman and Annika Norlin (Hello Saferide) set off on their Correspondence project at the beginning of this year, writing each other letters though song in an alternating fashion. I don’t recall specifically hoping that there would be a Christmas song, but that hope is my default position. My default hope has been fulfilled, and I am ecstatic that one has emerged in this, the final month of the project. It is Annika Norlin’s turn for a song, and boy does she deliver a finale. “CORRESPONDENCE: Silent Night” has Annika musing on the the two composers of the original “Silent Night,” and how they must have felt to create it, then for those around them to experience it for that first time. What a brilliant approach for a song – I’m already in and I might not have heard a note yet. Annika’s simple guitar melody propels her delicate voice through a series of vignettes, from the birth of the song, to its first performance, finally culminating in the famous Christmas truce of 1914. And while there are powerful moments such as that truce, there are also some moments of levity, as she wonders if that first crowd might have thought: “Well I like the older stuff better
/ They should do more upbeat tunes.” So terribly clever and moving in both approach and execution, this song has it all. Thanks to Jeremi for the tip!
Bottom Line: What a stunner.
Buy: Nonesuch FLAC/MP3 |iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3
Well shit. I lied. Here I am again. I worked so much last night, I’m taking a few more minutes for myself… and I suppose, for you. This track by London’s The Staves is phenomenal. Like NUTS good. I’ll add to this post later. (I now see I am quite late to this game – of course Stereogum had it yesterday.)
Bottom Line: Stone-cold mixworthy. And yes, I just bought Home Alone on Blu-Ray on Black Friday…
Well that does it. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t find a version of “Last Christmas” that would be deserving of a mention on these illustrious, digital pages. Well, Soft News has proven me wrong. NYC-based multi-instrumentalist Erik Laroi has been using this moniker to “dramatically reimagining songs from an 80s childhood spent immersed in the alternative music scene of that era.” Well, he does this particularly well, by stripping back the high gloss, bringing in cellos, acoustic bass, soaring violins, choirs of voices and the like, to bring spectacular earnestness to the artifice. “Last Christmas” is a triumph, but only one of 4 tracks on this excellent ep1- Christmas. That said, throw as much lipstick as you like on “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” I will still find it troubling, and just don’t want to get into this at the moment. However, the Spanish-style horns in “White Christmas” was just so unexpected that I couldn’t help but smile. That small touch makes a normally trite standard fresh enough to be considered for your holiday party, no doubt. I’d love to find out who else was on this record – as his list of past collaborators was quite impressive: “Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields, Jon DeRosa), Lorraine Lelis (Aarktica, Mahogany), Claudia Chopek (Father John Misty), Margaret White (Sparklehorse), Perry Serpa (TV On The Radio, The Sharp Things), and Mike Levey (Tito Puente, Mos Def).” Such a pleasure – such a pleasure.
Bottom Line: This release was strong enough that you’re going to want to find out how Soft News deals with other tracks… cause damn “Last Christmas” was good.
Moshi Moshi Records
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Legends of Country/Boy Least Likely To impresario Jof Owen and Girl Ray‘s Poppy are both no strangers to fantastic Christmas tunes, so of course they decided to record one together!! I most certainly enjoy the way they describe it:
From Moshi Moshi:
Sweet and impossibly romantic, with a little nod to Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett and a cheeky wink to Nancy And Lee, the Christmas Stick is a misty eyed slacker pop masterpiece. It retells the story of a chance encounter on a lonely winter night between two strangers whose eyes meet across a bustling broadway before they’re both struck by a mysterious festive talisman and end up spending the rest of the holidays together and writing a Christmas love song all about it.
Bottom Line: This thing is silly and sweet.