I often say that if you can record a fantastic Christmas song, then your “regular” songs are likely going to be amazing. Writing an interesting Christmas song – with all of their seductive cliches – requires a fresh prospective that eludes even the best of bands. So when I find an artist whose Christmas song catches my ear, I smash that follow button. Philadelphia’s Brittany Ann Tranbaugh is the latest to score a follow, and is one more artist to watch in what is becoming an absolutely incredible queer folk/country scene. Over the past few years, that scene has become by far the most interesting collective within the genre. Folks writing from a different point-of-view than we’ve all be programmed to expect… that sounds fucking fantastic to me. Brittany Ann began working on her new Christmas song, “Christmas Flannel Song,” back in 2021 (well, at least she released her demo then), and in that simple vocal and guitar arrangement, you really get to appreciate the quality of her voice.
The lyrics tell the story of a Christmas present never given, and while the song is certainly one rooted in certain sadness, there is a cleverness to the her wordplay that shimmers with silver linings.
I’m holding onto this one thing You won’t find it under your tree It’s the shirt that I got you for Christmas Cuz it looks pretty good on me Fa la la la la la la la la la la la la la, fa la la la la la la
Guess it’s more like a dirge than a carol That I sing while the fireplace burns And I’m donning my new gay apparel Cuz it’s final sale no returns
This season, Brittany Ann has fleshed out the production, as the song has reached a spectacular final form adding percussion, banjo, piano, bass and perfect vocal harmonies to give the song a welcome warmth. This song alone is most certainly worth a follow, a purchase, and a place on your mix.
Bottom Line: I don’t shy away from a dirge, especially when it is this good.
How about a bit of fun? Such a descriptive band name as One Member of Loose Articles & One Member of Hallan deserves an equally straightforward Christmas song. Want to know what this song is about… well, it appears that it is about wanting to spend “Christmas in Hulme.” But you know what? I can get behind this silliness. You can taste the joy, the pure fun they had putting this together. Nothing deeper than that – just a song recorded across from a pub by two friends, which sounds vaguely like a cheeky Eddie Argos, speak-sing single.
Bottom Line: Just a bit of fun that made me smile. Hope this is the first of many!
Australian ex-pat Andy Clockwise (aka Andy Kelly) is a recent discovery for me, but most certainly a welcome one. Andy’s very excellent Christmas song “Collect Call to My Baby (Merry Christmas)” evaded me for 9 years… which is quite a feat for such a great song. From the very first moment, the groove will get you handclapping along – that is unless you’ve been drinking too much to keep the rhythm, as this song has a heavy pour of booze and would fit perfectly in with Christmas A Go Go’s recent “Drunken Christmas” series. “Collect Call” sounds both retro and modern at the same time – sharing production choices with the 60’s classics while being lyrically more playful than anything that would have been pressed to wax back then. I wouldn’t change a note in this song, and there isn’t much room to tinker when it comes in at about 3:20 – most certainly in the sweet spot for Christmas tunes. Hell… I loved this thing enough to have it feature on this year’s Christmas mix!
Be sure to check out Andy Clockwise’s regular music as well, it is extremely good. When I was listening to this song a bunch a while back, I would catch myself happily listening down his Soundcloud feed. So, please partake, as you are encouraged to get a little drunk on Andy Clockwise too.
Bottom Line: You never know what you are going to find when you are digging around Soundcloud… sometimes you find gold.
Ah, to tell the story of discoveirng this song. Annie Booth posted this song on Soundcloud back in 2018, but only for a brief period, as it was gone when I first looked. I had been running down random threads on Facebook, stumbled upon Annie and evidence of past Christmas singles (she’s also done some covers!), and immediately messaged her. I must say… it is rare that a band will ever respond to me, let alone send me to the song I’m asking about. However, Annie Booth most certainly did, and I absolutely flipped out. I have been wanting to write about this for two years now, always hoping that Annie would release it properly so that I could encourage you all to pay her money for her wonderful efforts… but alas, it is back on Soundcloud and Annie has made it free for you all to download. So, enjoy the absolutely beautiful, shimmering emotion that is “Christmas Time (Keep It Together),” but please consider buying some of her other incredible music. Musicians are just like you, they don’t sleep in a bed or eat for free. Please remember that.
Bottom Line: A highlight of my 2019 mix (Xmas), this song is a wonderful introduction to Annie Booth, should you not know her already. I trust you will become as big a fan of her as I am.
Written in 2018, but released in 2020, Seattle’s Anna Preston has crafted one of the most beautiful and intimate Christmas songs I’ve found this year (a year late!). The edges of her voice crack with emotion as she finds herself jealous that she wasn’t the first kiss, or standing next to the jukebox watching her love in the colored lights. The production is simple – Anna’s delicate voice over a strumming guitar – until the song opens up and backing vocals layer to lift the song gently up, swaying on its toes. The ending is a bit devastating, yet comforting, in that nostalgic way that we look back on lost love and share in the universal experience of it all… Truly excellent.
Of note, Anna also recorded a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which you can check out on her Soundcloud.
Bottom Line: Anna Preston’s perfectly-imperfect delivery is incredibly intimate and rewarding.
Everyone needs a layup here and there, and this faithful cover of Sufjan Stevens’ modern classic “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” affords me that luxury. Yes, the Irish folk band Geese’s approach is much more of a parallel line rather than a perpendicular explosion, but there are some subtleties that I very much enjoyed. Their keyboard atmospherics give the song an etherial feel, while the original trades in the warmth of an occasional piano. Their notes also tend to linger longer than the original, a shimmer to Sufjan’s soft crackle. These changes in approach haven’t changed the heart of the song – it still very feels like the song we all love, just a bit grander in scope.
Bottom Line: Another excellent cover of a great song. I swear I’m not getting lazy – just catching up on some deserving songs! Also, who the heck are Geese? I can ONLY find them on Soundcloud so far…
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.
After a long absence, Detroit’s The Strange Echo (fka Computer Perfection) have begun making fun noises again. Earlier in the year, they shared 2 tracks they recorded with Camelot Six, including a fantastic cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must be the Place (Naive Melody).” I saw this come through my Soundcloud feed, got very excited, but then saw that they were originally recorded back in 2010. Crestfallen, I sunk back into the Soundcloud black hole… hoping for a light to flicker once more. Then, a few weeks back, some instrumental tracks began showing up on their profile (since deleted). From the title… it really suggested a holiday/Christmas song. Well.. what do you know. The indiepop goodness of “We Can Weather Winter” was released today, and I’m quite happy to have The Strange Echo grace my blog once more. The steady drum beat, the walking keyboard melody, and the slow swing of the bassline evoke the calming slow repetition of falling snow. What a lovely return – may we have many more visits from you.
Bottom Line: In a day of comebacks (Cherry Ghost), The Strange Echo has returned with a beautiful wintery gift.
Manchester’s Young War is three-for-three so far, yet to miss. Tweeting out this morning with the kind of cover that I can seriously get behind, one that sounds nearly nothing like the original. In fact, it sounds so much like a Young War song, that I swear the intros to 2014’s brilliant “I Won’t Come Back for Christmas (I’m Serious),” (GO BUY THAT SONG NOW) and this Ramones cover are damn-near cousins. I’ve heard slowed down versions of this song, ones that attempt to chill-out one of Christmas’ rock classics, and they sometimes go way too dark. Not only has Young War not gone dark, but dammit if this isn’t the sweetest version of this song I’ve heard – from production to delivery, this song feels turned on its head, which is exactly where a Christmas cover should be.
Bottom Line: Make Christmas your own, like Young War does with this fantastic version of The Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”
Now, for the uninitiated, Grapes & Friends come together like Voltron every year, joining 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 Christmas supergroup. “Christmas in My Neighborhood” is the 6th original Christmas song from the Grapes & Friends. Staying true to their mantra of “making Christmas sexy,” the band finds themselves immersed in the genres of 90s boy band R&B and yacht rock-style production. The song is rich with layered harmonies, bells, synths, and more. There’s even a special treat at the end!
The lyrics are all about finding a sense of community and love in a place where you thought you were alone.
From Chris Galis, one of the lyricists: “One of the first times of the year you notice that its really Christmas season is when the lights go up on your street. That’s when you feel it. That’s what we wanted this song to vibe with.”
The Grapes & Friends will be hosting their 11th Annual Christmas Extravaganza in Austin, TX at the Hole in the Wall on Saturday, December 7th. Should you be in walking, driving, train, plane or teleportation distance, the details are below: