Pop Etc Records
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POP ETC have been thinking about recording a Christmas songs for years, but kept getting too busy around the holidays and would eventually let the idea fall away. That was then, and this is now… when POP ETC is releasing not one, but three Christmas songs! The EP contains two covers, which bookend the release, leading off with the classic Vince Guaraldi classic “Christmas Time is Here.” Their version is very faithful to the original in most aspects – pacing, emphasis, etc. – with Christopher’s vocals floating on top of their minimal orchestration. This leadoff is quite nice, and nicely tees up their original tune, “All I Want for Xmas (Just My Baby).” The pace picks up a bit as Christopher kicks into the song that he’s been singing around the house since the day after Thanksgiving; This is not surprising, as the track is a subtle earworm. It’s a classic “I just want you for Christmas” jam, wrapped wonderfully with POP ETC’s excellent pop taste. Finally, POP ETC tackle the McCartney classic, “Wonderful Christmastime,” and their drummer Julian takes over vocal duties. Thankfully, they don’t go full Macca, and tone down those sugary-sweet moments to create a perfectly nice version. Believe me, that last sentence was a high compliment. In fact, there are some excellent vocals, as well as backing vocal harmonies on this track, and the ending is genuinely beautiful. Had I not heard Slow Dancer’s dramatic reinterpretation from the Amazon Indie for the Holidays playlist, I would likely be adding in even more flowery language in trying to describe this strong cover of a (IMHO) bad song. With three strong tracks on this EP, POP ETC’s first foray into Christmas tunes was worth the wait.
Bottom Line: POP ETC’s Christmas EP is strong throughout, with touches of true brilliance and beauty, and most certainly worth your time.
Silber Records / VeniVersus
Did you wake up, as I did, wanting a super chill version of Low’s “Just Like Christmas,” sung in Italian? You did? Well, that works out well for all of us, as Vittorio Veneto’s Lullabier has realized our dream with the leadoff track on his wonderful new EP, 2512. The novelty of hearing this classic song in Italian is not the only draw to the song – the laid-back indiepop orchestration is absolutely beautiful. However, it is the small, but significant, addition of the cabasa (at least that’s what I think they are using – the hand percussion), that evokes a crackling fire and draws out a warmth in this song that I don’t think I have heard before. The other tracks are also excellent – I enjoy the layered spoken word of “Natale A Serravalle (Silent Night),” and the English-language “White Dizziness” is understated and gorgeous. Lullabier has made some wonderful choices, and is very much on my radar now, and I hope yours as well.
Bottom Line: Italy is on the board with this stellar cover by Lullabier, whose warm, beautiful orchestration and production has extracted new qualities from an already beloved song.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Charlie’s Hand Movements are so good at writing wonderful Christmas tunes, that sometimes I’ll find myself sitting here in July, antsy and wanting December to arrive if only for another CHM track. This year’s latest, “Always a Dream” does not disappoint. In a similar fashion to last year’s drop-dead gorgeous “Until the 25th,” “Always a Dream” moves through a number of musical movements, each beautiful in their own right. The song perfectly conveys the rise and fall, the aching feelings of anticipation and release, of being with someone you love at Christmas and having to let them go again. I think my favorite part of the song is when they are trying to deny reality and what the future holds to stay in the moment (with a little liquid forgettin’ juice).
“Well I guess the year is ending
& pretty soon we’ll stop pretending
That life Is one long holiday
With no more work or bills to pay
So drink up & drink all night
Pour yourself another glass of wine
& when you reach the end
fill it to the top again
For out of the haze we’ll go our separate way
Like snowflakes on Christmas Day”
It is in these complex, emotional scenes that CHM are at their best. They excel at finding that nugget of truth, a truth that doesn’t necessarily require direct personal experience as much as a shared, flawed humanity. Charlie’s Hand Movements’ are a truly special band, and I give thanks for the years they have given us such wonderful music, and hope for many more to come.
Bottom Line: Charlie’s Hand Movements continue their spectacular run of emotional, compelling Christmas songs.
The classic, retro sounds from Brooklyn duo Fascinations Grand Chorus will no doubt be a favorite of my fellow xmas bloggers-in-arms (We all seem to like that sound). The three-track EP features two extremely strong originals, as well as a faithful cover of “Christmas Waltz.” My favorite of the the two originals is “This Christmas (Underneath The Christmas Tree),” whose girl-group harmonies and twangy guitar truly create a timeless feel. A hat tip to alternative Christmas music impresario Gareth Jones, one of the masterminds behind the A Very Cherry Christmas series, as it was his ears that sent me here. So, why not thank him by picking up Vol. 12 while you’ve got this tasty little EP in your cart as well?
Bottom Line: Fascinations Grand Chorus’ time capsule is a beautiful addition to an increasingly stellar Christmas season.
Slumberland / Alcopop! Records
Glasgow’s The Spook School have a new record coming out, Could it Be Different, which is news in itself… but to add a fantastic Christmas single to the mix too??? That is when ol’ Jim here starts getting a bit loopy. “Someone to Spend Christmas With” is yet another great, new Christmas song that takes a wholly new approach to the season. The Spook School describes it as “A song about figuring out how you want to conduct your own relationships when it feels like the world is full of conflicting advice about the “best” way to do it. Whether that be monogamy, polyamory or something else. The refrain relates to the ideal of having one important person in your life with whom you’ll always spend your special occasions.” We don’t have all the answers – We have to figure it out for ourselves, lean on those who care about us, and rock out to some sweet, sweet indiepop. (They’ve got another one on their Bandcamp too, “Bah Humbug” from 2011, for those who want to delve deeper.)
Bottom Line: The Spook School have released a stone-cold Christmas mix lock with this wonderful indiepop jam.
Buy: 7Digital (soon?) | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
The Heathen and the Holy, the seasonal project of Tom Hobden and Fred Abbott of the much-missed folk/rock band Noah and the Whale, are back with their fourth Christmas song in a row! “When Christmas Comes Around” has the same joyful production that you expect from the Heathen and the Holy, without the dash of sorrow that last year’s “Best Christmas Yet” held. There are bits of comedy, a dash of bitterness, but all in the service of celebrating of the season. The chorus sums up the song perfectly: “It’s Christmas, yeah it’s Christmas. / Remember how it feels. / Look around, you’re in it now – / tell me it’s not real. / It’s the gift that keeps on giving, / it never lets you down. / For just one day your troubles fade / when Christmas comes around.” The video is equally joyful, and as always, extremely well made and endearing. The Heathen and the Holy truly love Christmas; you hear it in their music, and see it in their faces. Throw it on, smile, and get in the spirit.
Bottom Line: The Heathen and the Holy’s love of Christmas and pop sensibilities infuse this song with infectious joy.
To what do my indiepop ears hear shuffling through my Soundcloud feed? Could that be a band formed by the members of “indie-pop darlings The Postcards and lo-fi teenage sensations Father?” Why by golly, it is! The Christmas Cards combined these two bands for a South London, basement recording session this past November and ran through 14 indiepop Christmas tunes! For those who love raw indiepop, this will be right up your alley. Being that it is a Saturday, and I have 3 different birthday/Hanukkah/Christmas parties to go to, I’m only going to single out one, “Christmastime is Here.” The Christmas Cards do it well – speeding up this classic in a jovial indiepop fashion. It really was the handclaps that got me over the hump on this one being the track to highlight, as I then noticed that I was sincerely grooving and tapping my foot to their lovely cover. Of note, there are some solid, real deep cut covers in there too – but I think they’ll require multiple listens to really get into… so perhaps in a future post or two!
Bottom Line: A truly enjoyable cover for you indiepoppers out there! Check out the other tracks too if you like – some are great, others are good, and only one or two I wouldn’t press play on again (but Little Drummer Boy is pretty much my least favorite song ever). I threw all of them in a playlist below, for your perusing pleasure.
Let me quickly introduce you to the Grapes and Friends, as there is the slight possibility that some of you have not been reading my blog all year. (FYI, I write about Christmas music all year… because I have problems, obviously). an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of Dangeresque, The Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. TOMORROW NIGHT (Dec. 9) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Wishlist” is exploding with cheeky funk, that special kind that will both get your ass moving and put a big smile on your face. When they bust this out at their xmas party – shit is going down. The song pairs perfectly with last year’s “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” tickling those Midnight Vultures-era-Beck feelings of carefree youth. And those vocals… that delivery suggests something naughty is going down, and you know what? It just might. The day is just beginning… the possibilities are endless, and this is your holiday soundtrack.
Bottom Line: Slam your beer and start jumping around… or start evaluating whether you have any life left inside you – you choose. (Shit got deep there for a second.)
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3)
HOT TAKE: Brighton’s Thyla just dropped (IMHO) a better version of the modern classic “Christmas Wrapping” than the… dare I say, the Waitresses? The song, while still quite faithful to the original, has subtle changes to the groove that pay off beautifully. Walking by a shop playing this version, you might not bat an eye, simply assuming that it is the Waitresses’ original. However, sit down with a pair of headphones, and the variations on phrasing, emphasis and orchestration are just damn refreshing. I’ve even had the pleasure of revisiting this song over the past few days, and it wears even better on multiple listens. Well, well done Thyla.
Bottom Line: Thyla delivers a faithful, yet superior version of the Waitresses’ classic post-punk Christmas single.
Gotta Groove Records
Gotta Groove Records has been sending 7″ records to their customers (they are primarily an indie vinyl pressing plant – check them out!) for the past seven years, and thankfully, Tim Thorton (half of Couples Skate Only and an employee at Gotta Groove Records) has posted a few copies on their Bandcamp for the past few years. Back in 2015, when I discovered this wonderful little tradition through the Couples Skate Only Bandcamp, they still had copies left of their 2013 release, featuring a track by Tim and his wife Cari, who together are known as Couples Skate Only (a wonderful band name, IMHO). This track, “First Christmas,” is absolutely fantastic, and when I saw that 2017 features Couples Skate Only again, I was psyched. I purchased it, song unheard, and sit here ready to plug what I thought, and confirmed, would be a damn fun song. “Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)” follows “First Christmas'” wall-of-synths production, and once again features Cari’s lovely indiepop vocal stylings. The song involves a couple trying to find their way to a winter solstice party, which is of particular note as I’ve been making a mix for 13 years now and this my be the first solstice song I can remember. Please know, I’m sure there are many more, but I can’t honestly peg any at this moment, which makes this song even more interesting. As for Zebra Zebra’s contribution, I’m guessing that the sampled shouts were either Laura and Eileen Thorton, AKA Zebra Zebra. I know that Laura is a toddler/big girl (I have a 4 year old “big boy”), so perhaps Eileen is a baby? This is indeed a family affair, which makes it all the more adorable.
Bottom Line: A synth-drenched indiepop treat indeed. Couples Skate Only have the potential to be one of the indiepop Christmas greats, alongside Christmas Aguilera, Charlies’s Hand Movements, etc, etc.