Messi “Charlemagne” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

Continuing from earlier in the month… when we all enjoyed an extremely short song about the end of Halloween… I bring you a beautiful and somewhat disturbing song that takes place around Christmas. Messi is a singer/songwriter from Gent, Belgium, with a beautiful, beautiful folk voice. I say folk voice, because she does not sing songs that stretch her capabilities, as you might find in pop music, but it does contain that one quality that is most necessary: personality. Messi’s voice has a warmth that soothes, even when she’s singing about eyes and dead flies. “Charlemagne” is a fun little folk tale about (IMO) an ex who is going to extreme lengths to get attention. Why did I add that IMO? Because I asked Messi, and she says that the song just wrote itself and was very open to my interpretation. So, don’t assume my opinion is the “right” one – take your own stab at finding meaning in this song. Thus is the subjective beauty of art.

Bottom Line: Messi’s voice draws me in on this one. The song’s imagery is quite odd for something that might end up on a Christmas mix, but isn’t that kind of awesome? Can’t you just picture your friends pausing for a second, wondering if what they heard was correct, then just losing themselves in the chorus anyway? Yeah… I sure can.

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Shadowlark “Christmas Time” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

You might think my Christmas music hunt is scientific – that I have specific terms and techniques that I use. In some ways, you are right. There is most definitely a place for an educated search. However, there is also a place for just clicking and clicking and clicking, going down the rabbit hole to see where it might lead. This time, it somehow lead me to somewhere familiar, and I discovered Shadowlark. The voice behind this band is Ellen Smith, previously of the much more folky Ellen and the Escapades. I would often check back in and see what they were up to, as I loved Ellen and the Escapades (they have been featured on CU before!). Yet somehow, time passed and I had completely missed this new project, the synth-heavy Shadowlark. To my surprise, they even released a Christmas song last year, “Christmas Time.” I listened… and it sounded quite familiar. The song is a rework of one of the final released recordings of Ellen and the Escapades, expanded from its stripped-back original with some more production and additional lyrics. There are qualities to both versions that I really love, and I would leave it to you to decide which one you prefer. They even released a video with an acoustic version, which is also quite good. Three versions to parse, to compare, to enjoy.

Bottom Line: I could listen to Ellen Smith sing Christmas songs all day long. Her originals are exquisite, and her covers are gorgeous. Should anyone ever come across her version of “Silent Night,” please do share.

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Steven Branstrom “Christmas” (2011/2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I really should have posted this on November 1. Frankly, I’ve had this song in my pocket for YEARS. I meant to write about it way back in 2015. That’s at least when I sent Steven Branstrom a note on Soundcloud, in the hopes that he’d give me a bit more info beyond the 3 tracks on his account. (Of note… there is an additional account under the same name, with this song, that was posted way back in 2011!). Enough background, little information as it provided, let’s get into the song. “Christmas” may very well be the shortest song that I’ve ever featured, clocking in at only 40 seconds. BUT, it is a very nice 40 seconds, and with slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics coupled with a beautifully sincere delivery, transitioning us from Halloween to Christmas.

So let’s grab the spider webs and put away the skulls.
Clean up the fake blood that got splattered on the walls
Let’s put everything scary out of our sight
cause Santa’s coming baby in 54 nights.

Streaming-only… but there are ways, should you decide you need this little guy on your mix.

Bottom Line: And that’s it! Short and sweet!

Bossy Love “Christmas Rapping” (2014)

Bossy Love - Christmas Rapping

Something In Construction
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

Back in 2014, the Scottish duo Bossy Love premiered their reinterpretation of the Waitress’ “Christmas Wrapping” on the always-excellent The Line of Best Fit. I somehow missed it… and I thought I was on my game back in 2014! Though featured on their Under the Covers mixtape, the song (and the mixtape) has nearly disappeared in the intervening 5 years. Not on Spotify, not on Soundcloud (well, at least this one song is technically available, but hidden), not on Bandcamp, nor available for purchase on Amazon. This may very well be your last time to find this track. I managed to hunt it down from a direct link still available on their Facebook page, but who knows how long they will keep that alive. Back to the actual song! The track is far more dance-pop than the original, which is to be expected from a Bossy Love-treatment. Well executed, but not something I hadn’t heard before. What DOES make this track stand out is the updated lyrics – a character arc of a fuck-up who gets her shit together for Christmas. The story references blogs, iPhones, DUIs, and Youtube – a “Christmas Wrapping” for a 21st century.

Bottom Line: I’m digging this approach. I would love to see more modern reinterpretations of the classics, rather than just straightforward covers. Universe, make this happen!

Bien “Bells, Bells, Bells” (2018)

Dream Whale Creative
Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

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.

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Grapes & Friends “Mrs. Claus” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Free on Soundcloud!

Now… how many times do I need to introduce these guys? I mean come on… they are awesome!! Grapes & Friends are an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-Christmas supergroup. If you live in the Austin, Texas area (or have the means to trave) – NEXT SATURDAY (Dec. 15) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Mrs. Claus” is ridiculously fun. That 70s R&B groove about grooving on a lady, but she won’t have anything to do with a “Christmas band”… and then that chorus hits! THAT CHORUS! You can’t help but get moving in your seat… but if you insist on sitting still – it’s your loss. This band sounds like SO. MUCH. FUN. I can only imagine what this party is like!!

Bottom Line: Grapes & Friends are the ultimate Christmas party band, and this might be a highlight of the night!

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Tom Rosenthal “The Only Time I’m Home” (2018)

Tinpot Records
Buy: iTunes | Google Play | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

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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Brad Peterson “All is Well” (2017)

Brad Peterson "All is Well"

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Chicago-area’s Brad Peterson has been releasing wonderful, one-off singles for a few years now… he may have even released one already this year! I had originally intended to highlight 2017’s excellent “All is Well” last year, but you know how things go – the holidays can get nuts. Having once shared stages with Radiohead and Jeff Buckley (what a lovely story btw), Brad suffered a spinal injury years ago that kept him for recording or performing. Thankfully, he has healed well enough to get back in the game. Brad writes and records in his little backyard garden shed, concocting these wonderfully written indiepop gems. “All is Well” approaches those memories of loss that can sometimes sneak up at Christmas, and as with an Irish funeral, turns it into an exercise in fond remembrance.

“If we’re fortunate, as we get older, we may recall in wistful reverie -an idyllic Christmas season surrounded by loved ones. For me, that blissful time, before experience and loss, can hurt to contemplate. Rather than the melancholic tendencies I’ve often fallen to, this year I choose to celebrate in fond remembrance, those absent loved ones.”

Truly a lovely sentiment, wrapped in excellent indiepop production.

Bottom Line: Brad’s always one to watch when the holidays come around – and this will no doubt be the first of many mentions on CU.

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Quilt “Blue Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

“Blue Christmas” has never been a favorite of mine, so the source material is already (and unfortunately) placing this track on a slightly lower branch on my Christmas tree. However, there are some qualities to Quilt’s take on this ol’ chestnut that I’d like to chat about. Their casual country-psych rock approach does not reinvent the song, but the small touches they add, such as the woodsy, chirping noises, contrasted by the a buzzing synth melody that appears late in the track, keep things interesting. Brevity is also their friend, keeping the track just barely over two minutes – especially important with such a (IMHO) boring and overplayed song. Simply stated, this is a perfectly fine version of “Blue Christmas,” one that might fit the bill for those folks out there who don’t have such issues with the original.

Bottom Line: Quilt’s subtle choices are solid – imagine what they could do with a better song!

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Roders “Julen 92” (2014/2017)

roders - Julen 92

Self Released
Buy: Stream

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.

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