There are some years when a single country looms large over my blog… and this may be the year of Australia. Here we have yet another excellent Melbourne-based artist (though this is certainly more on the pop side) with a debut album and an excellent Christmas single. While Maple Glider’s was a complicated emotional story of love and pain, Gretta Ray in both lyric and tone is a 180-degree flip of healing and optimism. The anticipation of Christmas in Philadelphia while helping a friend get over a broken heart, you feel that incredible warmth inside the tour van despite its mechanical issues. Perhaps a bit more radio-pop that I normally skew on this site (I do love an extremely poppy indiepop of course), but something about it hooked and stuck. Sad songs often make me feel better… but sometimes you just want a hug.
Bottom Line: Gretta Ray brings a warmth that I am happy to bask in.
Our friends in Austin have been BUSY during this, the oddest of years. In years past, the Grapes and Friends have created a swanky jam to add to their already substantial Christmas repertoire, and to be performed at their annual Christmas Extravaganza! Of course, the usual extravaganzas are on hold this year, but that has not stopped this juicy crew from planning a big, virtual party! There will be singalongs, cocktails and shenanigans! Hell, I might even be able to finally tick one of those bucket-list Christmas parties off my list! This year’s song keeps in the recent Grapes’ style, mixing equal parts Beck’s Midnight Vultures, the Bee Gees and Prince. Move this song onto that playlist of hopeful, happy songs that have come out of this lockdown year. Next Christmas is going to be amazing, and the Grapes will be there to woo you with their falsetto seductions and slinky basslines.
• Live performances by the Grapes & Friends • Updates on Boy Christmas’ journey to finally see The Grapes & Friends live in Austin • Exclusive preview of Jack Frost’s latest thriller feature length film • Special guest appearances by some of our celebrity friends • Debut of this year’s Christmas Single music video • Singalongs, audience participation and more!
Bottom Line: The Grapes and Friends are pure, uncut fun. That bridge is gonna get you off your damn ass, no doubt.
Self Esteem is Rebecca Lucy Taylor, previously known as half of indie-Christmas royalty Slow Club (RIP Slow Club). Her solo work is certainly more pop-forward than Slow Club ever was. While I don’t normally gravitate to pop, please be rest-assured, Self Esteem is not your normal pop project – the term experimental pop has been thrown around and I might be on board for that description. “All I Want for Christmas is a Work Email” doesn’t sound like anything else on my Christmas playlist, with a sparsely adorned mix of bitterness, self-loathing, and big pop vocals. Somehow I didn’t write about this last year, and since there is no expiration on good music or Twinkies, eat up.
Bottom Line: Here’s a pop Christmas tune for folks who don’t like pop Christmas.
Faye and the Scrooges are one of those hidden gems that only our little community of weirdo Christmas music will ever know about. Why? Well, the band exists only in the context of these delicious, one-off Christmas singles, hopefully to be finished before the big day. 2019’s offering is classic Faye and the Scrooges, blending poppy melodies and profane language with equal parts of the bitterness and sugary sweetness found in the holiday season. I only wish I could have given them the last-minute PR bump “Christmas Is Lit” deserved… but alas, 2019 ended as a portent of things to come… with me quite sick and exhausted. Perhaps this little gem will help you claw your way out of the funk of 2020, as it has certainly helped me.
Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges don’t come out to play every year, but when they do, you know the song will certainly make it onto your playlist.
Someone has managed the previously unimaginable… gotten me off my ass to write about Christmas music. Berlin’s The Romantidote drew me in with that clever-as-fuck name, then kept me listening with those clever-as-fuck lyrics. He hears the same old trite music, observes the fascist bloviating of his uncle and the drunkenness of his dad, and yet still finds that moment of hope and cheer.
“Change the channel over to a choir of children
Their voices singing faces smiling ear to ear
No that’s a snowflake melting just below my eye dear
It’s not a yearly drop of sentimental seasonal good cheer
See your drunken family round the dinner table
Look out through the window as the snowfall starts
There are so many other days to be a humbug
So maybe just for this one you could show the world a bit of heart”
The music is big, full of color and momentum. It is not like I don’t like the treatment, but I would love to hear a stripped-down version as well. After hearing his voice on some other tracks (check out his Soundcloud!), I feel like the sugary-sweet instrumentation can make his voice sound almost too sweet at times. I dunno… just a thought. This song could go from really good to fucking great with a tweak or two.
An added bonus to this track – all proceeds go to Tiny Changes, the mental health charity started in the memory of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson, who I miss terribly.
Bottom Line: Isn’t it amazing that we live in a time where we are acknowledging the creep of fascism in Christmas songs? Crazy times. The Romantidote has crafted a really good track for your mix, which will lighten the sonic mood, as well as make a jab at any of your relatives who might have strayed from the path of our shared humanity.
It is quite possible that Kristian Noel Pedersen has written more original Christmas songs than anyone, ever. (Well…. maybe Make Like Monkeys has given him a run for his money…) Kristian is headling into his 11th year producing a Christmas album of all originals, which should make bands who struggle to write one new Christmas song… feel a little inadequate. So why am I writing about Kristian recording a COVER song? Well, because when Kristian decides to record a cover, he goes big. To my knowledge, I can’t recall a full reimagining of an entire Christmas album until Kristian took on the challenge (I’m sure some of my fellow Christmas-music aficionados will correct me). His target? Hanson’s Snowed In, an album that I am not familiar with, despite my dedication to Christmas music. But that leaves me to ponder, what album should/would you need to cover to truly make this a worthwhile endeavor? You have to cover a record that is known because especially within Christmas music, there are only a few that maintain catalog sales (and this one is one of them). Then, you also have to choose an album with originals, otherwise, it is as if you are just covering a sequence of tracks, rather than a specific artist’s album. So, I really think Kristian made a great choice targeting the Hanson LP. The first two singles are up, but the original is where the interest truly lies. “Everybody Knows the Claus” does NOT sound like Hanson. I’m going to have to agree with Kristian in his correspondence with me, his version has turned the song into a “weirdly fucked punk thing.” With dramatic vocals and a driving, fuzzy bassline, I can’t imagine Hanson ever sounding like this. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the rest of this record sounds like and I will not forget the donuts.
Yet another album to look forward to, A Kristian Kinda Christmas XI is coming to an internet near you in the next few weeks. Luckily you have a new Hanson LP and TEN previous records to tide you over. Tune in and listen as Kristian adds to his likely world-record worthy Christmas music legacy.
Bottom Line: Kristian’s Christmas-music ambition is boundless and inspiring. I love this effort, which only looks even more impressive with every new boring cover of “Blue Christmas.”
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).”
Readers into Swedish indiepop are likely familiar with the underground indiepop legend Nixon. However, those only familiar with Pitchfork-famous indiepop likely don’t, but you may know Sally Shapiro’s “Anorak Christmas,” the main single off their excellent Disco Romance. Well… that is a Nixon cover. Nixon has been around since the 90s, when Roger Gunnarsson set up his home recording studio, and is largely considered Roger’s first major musical project. However… one band predates Nixon, Roders, though it does not get mentioned in Roger’s Swedish-language Wikipedia entry. Roger and his cousin Anders Nilsson started Roders back in 1982 when they were eight, and it also appears to be the only Roger Gunnarsson project that is presently active (despite any Nixon releases you might see coming out of the Nixon Archives). Roger recently (well, this has been a draft for a while, so not quite so recently) released this lovely, Swedish-language indiepop tune on his Nixon Archives Soundcloud feed, and while the production is more traditional pop than the lo-fi indiepop I expect from a Nixon track, the qualities of the vocals maintain the indiepop roots. Snippets of the video that inspired the song combine with a wistful melody, as this song beautifully invokes the Christmas of these two eighteen-year-olds, celebrating a Christmas on the border of childhood and adulthood. This is just the tip of the Nixon/Roders/Garlands/etc Christmas iceburg… so feel free to dig into the feed, or just wait for me to stumble through my reviews.
Bottom Line: Roger Gunnarsson has a long history if quality indiepop Christmas tunes, and the sweet “Julen 92” is a welcome addition.
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.
I don’t normally do straight-up pop, but Tokyo’s Give Me Wallets have released this fantastic, groovy song and I thought it best to share it with you all. “On this Christmas Night” has a nostalgic feel, strictly based on the chord changes amongst the fluttering synths. The lyrics are a bit tougher for me to pin down… “she wanna post some stuff now / that everyone can see freely / are you happy to receive as a gift / you were supposed to be fine / but the world’s not the same now / what can anyone do for you” There may be something lost in translation here… but what is not lost, is that I’m boogieing in my seat.
Bottom Line: I hope you enjoy this piece of Japanese Christmas candy.