Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Someday I’ll finish my mix… but in the meantime, maybe I’ll help you finish yours. Ariane Zita, an indie folk singer/songwriter from Montreal, has a Christmas advent calendar that is turning out to be quite lovely, Un Noël à Botch. The first track, “Christmas Can’t be Far Away,” is an Eddy Arnold cover, and TBH, not a song I was familiar with. Ariane’s voice is is beautiful, and her arrangement makes the song feel particularly intimate. The calendar continues in a similar fashion, each song building a soundtrack to that first snow.
Bottom Line: This is truly the season of beautiful songs, and Ariane Zita could very well put out more than everyone else combined…
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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.
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Wow. British singer/songwriter Tom Rosenthal has crafted an epic Christmas song, “The Only Time I’m Home,” and you should probably grab a set of headphones. From the haunting, fluttering synths, to the lines “You know the drill / mom buys you socks / so she loves you still. / you’re lying if you can say / your heart is not home / you’re trying to slide out of view / but Christmas is you.” Truly a beautiful song, one that will make many a mix I’d imagine. Enjoy.
Bottom Line: “The Only Time I’m Home” slowly builds into one of the most beautiful songs of the season.
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Phoebe Bridgers dazzled us last year with her beautiful rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” It truly was a highlight of the season, and in what appears to now be a seasonal tradition, Phoebe has returned, this time with Jackson Browne! Phoebe and Jackson have done what I desperately wish more bigger artists would do – cover smaller artists. “Christmas Song” was originally penned by Dan McCarthy of the band McCarthy Trenching. My dream is to help someone put together a Christmas record that, for the general public, would appear to be all originals. But the sneaky thing would be that most of them would be covers, killer, killer covers of amazing songs they had never heard. Phoebe – you are on the right track here.
One more thing – everyone is publishing the bit from the press release (I am much too small a blog to have them send it to me), and if this is your first exposure to the track, you need to read this too.
“McCarthy Trenching is singer/songwriter Dan McCarthy’s band. We played a show together in Omaha this last year. They named the band after the trenching company owned by Dan’s uncle so they could sell those t-shirts instead of having to make their own. The first time I heard this song it hit me like a ton of bricks. A lot of McCarthy Trenching songs do that. It’s not that often that I hear a Christmas song that doesn’t make me want to quit music. I played a show in L.A. around the holidays last year where I covered it for the first time. Jackson Browne was there, and he came up to me after the show to tell me how much he loved the song. A couple days later, Dan got a Bandcamp notification on his desktop computer that someone paid 50 bucks for his record and wrote a nice note and signed it Jackson Browne. He thought someone was fucking with him. So when I decided to record a version of the song, I knew who I wanted to sing on it. Plus, I have wanted to make music with Jackson as long as I’ve wanted to make music.”
How damn cool is that?!
Bottom Line: This song surpasses last year’s, and suggests that we might have many more years of incredible Christmas covers from Phoebe + Crew. Hell, I’m down with her teaming up with Jackson on every single one – they sound spectacular together.
I haven’t given you all much this week. It might be a light season over here at CU, as work is nuts. HOWEVER, I can take 2 minutes to let you know that Richard Walters, who released the spectacular “The First Snow in Years” last year, has just released a true-blue Christmas single, “Lights On.” It is absolutely beautiful. “Oh when I woke / my body spoke of / dreams beyond my thinking.” I could pretty much pick any line and you would would be impressed. You’ll probably want to buy this one.
Bottom Line: Richard Walters’ latest is pure beauty.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
I will see how this week goes, but it is gearing up to be a challenging holiday season, time-wise. Thus, you may find my reviews becoming much more short & sweet; I am going to have a much shorter missive from me to you about this excellent record by artist/writer/singer Chad Thomas Johnston (CTJ as I will now call him). CTJ resides in Lawrence, Kansas, where he day-jobs as a writer, having pieces in many publications you might know such as Spin and In Touch Magazine. Come to find out, he also releases some damn fine Christmas records! Back in 2004, CTJ released a 10-track holiday album, All is Calm, All is Bright, and added tracks to the digital version again in 2005 and 2007. For 2018, CTJ has compiled all of his holiday tracks (all 30 of them) into this beautiful collection, wonderfully titled Stalking Stuffers: Coal for the Stocking in Your Soul. I prefer the secular stuff, as usual, but even the religious material is treated well. It is CTJ’s subtle orchestration choices (the heartbeat in “Joy to the World”) which really made we sit up straight and say “dammmn, that’s good.” The lo-fi crackling of “Oh Christmas Tree” was the track that initially got me – it established CTJ as having a certain taste-level that I knew I was going to get into. The record also includes CTJ’s entry into Sufjan Stevens’ Christmas song contest back in 2007, “Bethlehem (The 51st State).” It is no surprise that CTJ entered this contest, as I feel he and Sufjan would pair well as a Christmas-music double feature. That said, what makes this song fun is that he actually brings Sufjan directly into the song, which is a fantastically fun and interesting approach. In summary, CTJ has promised you coal, but he’s giving you much, much more with Stalking Stuffers.
Bottom Line: RIYL Sufjan Stevens, or if you ARE Sufjan Stevens. This expansive collection of beautifully-orchestrated Christmas songs is wholly worth your time.
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Lola Kirke, best known as an actress in projects such as Mozart in the Jungle and Gone Girl, is also a talented musician in her own right. Having released her first LP, Heart Head West, earlier this year, she has quickly followed it up with two seasonal tracks which debuted today. The first, “Little Drummer Girl,” flips the gender within the traditional song… but any reader will know how I feel about that song – so we will move on. “Cross You Off My List” is her first original Christmas song, and what a start! Originally written following the 2016 election, she tells PAPER Magazine, “It was a much more somber sounding song that set out to question how to celebrate Christmas in such a fraught environment. While we’re still conflicted about how to invoke the “spirit of Christmas” in today’s political climate, we decided to revise the song—set it to a more a upbeat chord progression and dash it with a bit more hope.”
There are some just killer lyrics too:
“There must be another day / to spend this holy holiday. / Maybe I should run away / or find a better way to stay.
All I want for Christmas / is to dance. / Forget romance, / I’ve made new plans / Maybe cause it’s Christmas, / I should take a stand, / and give my hand / to a better land.
All I want for Christmas / is to be less complicit / and love all those who need it. / You can take your kisses / and cross them off of my list.”
The song was co-written and beautifully produced by her partner Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and together they have made one of the strongest songs of the season. I can’t wait to find out where you can pick it up – because right now, I got nothing!
Bottom Line: Great production with absolutely killer lyrics, this song deserves your ears.
My friend Kurt over at Festive! wrote a great post about the search for “Christmas (Not Christmas)” songs the other day, and not only did I immediately see myself in those paragraphs, but it got me thinking much more about those gems of the past that skirt around the edges of Christmas. One of particular note is the spectacular “Snow” by Sweet Tempest. Those chilly, not-quite-Christmas tunes always find a way into my heart, and this standout by Richard Walters, “The First Snow in Years,” has done so as well. The synth brass lines create an interesting ground for the fingerpicked melody to float over. Richard’s voice is beautiful, as is the imagery: “Midnight / standing still / streetlight / paints my shadow onto the white ground / the whole world is white. / See how it covers everything. / See how it covers everything. / The first snow in years. / The first snow in years.” Gorgeous.
Bottom Line: I write this as the election results trickle in… and this song has calmed me. No small feat. Let’s all wake up to a better tomorrow.