The Wild Raspberries

The Wild Raspberries “Together On Christmas Day” (2016) and “A Christmas Song” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

First off… big, big shout out to The Christmas Chaos Radio Show for hipping me to this fantastic new Dutch band, The Wild Raspberries. How they snuck past the Christmas music radar that I have eternally pointed at northern Europe, I have no clue. Their 2016 track, “Together on Christmas Day,” isn’t even their first seasonal rodeo; They are now two years into this seasonal tradition! And yes, I’m going to say tradition in the hopes that they will continue putting out these gorgeous songs. To describe these songs is to close your eyes and imagine what an amazing Mojave 3 Christmas album might sound like. I consider this a huge compliment, because I own every single Mojave 3 record, and to remind me of them… specifically the best moments of them… is huge. On both these tracks, the Wild Raspberries’ ethereal vocals and the ringing guitar lines lead to some beautiful fingerpicked lyrical imagery:

From Together on Christmas Day: “Cause it’s a long way home and I miss you / It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed you / but all the roads lead to be with you / so it’s all ok / we’ll be together on Christmas day.”

From A Christmas Song: “On Christmas day / I fell asleep next to the fire / In my dreams you called my name / You never changed / you held my hand and I believed you / when you said ‘all is ok'”

Each song has its own moment that made me sit up and marvel. There is the moment in “A Christmas Song” when Keez’s vocals join Hannah’s (goosebumps), and then there’s that initial guitar line that joins the opening synth in “Together on Christmas Day” (beautiful) – each solidifying these songs as essentials in my seasonal repertoire. Perhaps you will find your own, different moments… because there are many more to choose from. The Wild Raspberries are worth your time, and hopefully in the future, your money. You can support them by listening on Spotify as we all await whatever they have in store.

Bottom Line: The Wild Raspberries have created some spectacular Dutch dream folk Christmas tunes that you really need to listen to.

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Kristin Kontrol - Last Christmas

Kristin Kontrol “Last Christmas” (2013/2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Soundcloud | Download

I first came across this synth-heavy (not that the original wasn’t) version of “Last Christmas” via Kurt Feldman, the producer of this track and the driving force behind the equally synth-heavy Ice Choir. Of course, I grabbed it and filed it away. Jump-cut to this past week, as I began to get back in the swing of things, and I came across the Minneapolis-based blog WeHeartMusic (who also did the great graphic above), and their feature about this song (including a download!). Kristin Kontrol (AKA Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls) recorded this classic Wham! song back in 2013 as a sort of a b-side to the spectacular Dum Dum Girls’ “On Christmas.” At the time they weren’t allowed to release it, but after the death of George Michael, KK said:

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(Here is a twitter moment that I’ve created showing the progression of tweets – including the reference to “On Christmas” being proto-KK”)

Thus, we have this cool, very Kurt Feldman + Kristin Kontrol version of “Last Christmas.”The beats are slightly amped up throughout the song, and it gives a perfect pacing to a song that I sometimes find just a hair slow. My favorite part about this track comes in at around 3:20, when they bring in these subtle little bits of percussion; They sound like synth bongos or something of the sort. Spot on KK & KF.

Bottom Line: Truly a killer version of THE Christmas pop song of the 80s.

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Gotta go to Soundcloud for this. They won’t let me embed it!

 

Faye and the Scrooges "It's Christmas Time"

Faye and the Scrooges “Time for Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I walk in from wassailing at our local pub, and find I’ve been tweeted at! Faye and the Scrooges have released their 2016 Christmas song in 2016! I usually get their song well into the next year, but to my delight, here it is! I believe this is the first time that they’ve tackled what I’d consider to be a dance track, as “Time for Christmas” is meant to move your fucking ass. There is the humor you expect from a F&TS Christmas song, which I absolutely love. Between the verses of cheeky holiday observations and frustrations, the chorus swings in with a full embrace of the season. It’s how many of us feel about the holiday – nothing is quite perfect, but you can still fucking love it. In closing, as Faye and the Scrooges say, “It’s Christmas time / lets all get wasted.” I certainly took a page from that book last night…

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges have my ass moving and grooving with this Christmas jam. Now, you might wonder why I’m swearing so much in this review… it’s to make up for the “Where the f***’s that f***in Sellotape?” that F&TS dropped. Hey Faye! Release a parental-advisory version too! I love a good ‘ol profane Christmas song!

EDIT: Look below! 2 versions, one with all the 4-letter words you could want!

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Daniel Woolhouse "Fairytale of New York" (2016)

Daniel Woolhouse “Fairytale of New York” (2016)

37 Adventures
Buy: Stream (for now)

The Line of Best Fit hipped me to this fantastic new cover of the holiday classic (well, in the UK), “Fairytale of New York.” Daniel Woolhouse, AKA Deptford Goth, begins this classic Pogues’ track with an ethereal a cappella intro, and eases it into a beautiful, electro-pop room. Daniel also makes some refreshing choices in where he adds weight to the lyrics; he accents words where you would not expect it. I truly appreciate that, by every metric, this is far from a straightforward cover. This includes Daniel’s choice to exclude that one, problematic part of the song. He doesn’t change the lyrics, as some do, he just doesn’t even walk down that street. I’m cool with that, and I’m loving this song.

Bottom Line: Finally, a fresh version of “Fairytale of New York” that I feel 100% fine adding to a mix, minus that particular shitty word.

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Nashville Country Cowboys "Blue Christmas"

The Nashville Country Cowboys “Blue Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Well how about that? Two posts on one day for the same exact song. Technically, three versions of the song if you really want to get into the nitty gritty. This version is a hell of a lot more fun though. Perennial Christmas Underground favorites The Kansas Bible Company are back with yet another collaboration, this time with fellow Nashville band Okey Dokey to do a psych-brushed take on “Blue Christmas.” These old standards really benefit from fresh sounds, and this super-combo, renamed The Nashville Country Cowboys has hit on something very cool. Still not my favorite song to begin with, but their psych + mariachi horn combo is damn entertaining. Check it out for yourselves!

Bottom Line: The Nashville Country Cowboys find their own entrance into “Blue Christmas” and make it their own.

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Golden Dregs "Blue Christmas"

The Golden Dregs “Blue Christmas” (2016/2011)

Art is Hard Records
Buy: Free on Soundcloud!

The Golden Dregs are working on a theme here… they began with “White Christmas,” and have now moved on to “Blue Christmas,” I am waiting for “Green Christmas,” or as the title would suggest “Gold Christmas.” Well, as we wait to see if this project is bigger than two songs in the Art Is Hard Advent Calendar, lets take a listen to “Blue Christmas.” So… I’m not as enamored of this version as I was of their take on “White Christmas.” The Golden Dregs excel when they tackle material that is outside their normal aesthetic, and “Blue Christmas'” country roots are just a bit too close. This is actually their second take on “Blue Christmas,” as you can find a version on their Soundcloud from 5 years ago… (EDIT, they took it down) with oddly less listens than this year’s! That one is even more lo-fi, but has essentially the same approach to the material. All this said, “Blue Christmas” is not even close to being a personal favorite in my house… I have never included it on a mix, as I often find it terribly boring. So, The Golden Dregs may have been fighting a losing battle with this song.

Bottom Line: “Blue Christmas” may leave me feeling blue, but I very much enjoy The Golden Dregs holiday efforts and would LOVE to hear their take on some more adventuresome/against-type material.

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Shy Nature - My Christmas Tree is Looking at Me

Shy Nature “My Christmas Tree (Is Looking At Me)” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream (for now)

YES! Shy Nature is back, and thus, a tradition is set in stone, and they will have to do some serious negotiating to get out of this gentlemen’s agreement to put out a Christmas song every year. “My Christmas Tree (Is Looking at Me)” shares some emotional complexity with last year’s “Christmas Lullaby.” It starts out sweet, with excited children wanting to go down to the tree. The food, the fun, the battleground of presents. However, as the song progresses, it gets darker. No one wants to sing, you’re losing your hair, and it’s getting colder. “Those magic times / Won’t be magic forever.” The emotional arc is quick, poignant and most certainly relatable. The magic we have as children never lasts, no matter how much we still love Christmas. It will never be the same.

Hold on to it for as long as you can.

Bottom Line: Shy Nature excel at writing emotional, thoughtful Christmas songs, and “My Christmas Tree (Is Looking at Me)” is a wonderful addition to their Christmas collection.

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Nim Chimpsky "Avocado for Christmas"

Nim Chimpsky “Avocado For Christmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

I just learned something about Nim Chimpsky. I thought that their band name was a clever, chimp-themed play of Noam Chomsky, but alas, Nim Chimpsky is a famous chimpanzee (and yes, also clever play on Noam Chomsky) who took part in language acquisition studies at Columbia for decades, and passed away in 2000. I learned something new because I had to work to find this band’s website, and someday I may need that nugget of information in a conversation. It’s gonna be amazing. Now, back to the music. Our present-day Nim Chimpsky are a wonderful female duo from Coventry, UK, and they have gifted us a fantastic, somewhat cheeky new Christmas song, “Avocado for Christmas.” The song is about calling your grandma at Christmastime. “Grandma didn’t live through the war / but is prepared to tell you nonsense.” Hehehe. As with a good number of songs, I honestly can’t decipher all the lyrics, but I dig the music, dig the attitude, and just plain found it lots of fun. Clocking in at not even a minute, Nim Chimpsky are adhering to the essential Christmas music tenant of “don’t wear out your welcome, and keep them wanting more,” that I am always espousing to whoever will listen. There are way too many songs that would be good if you chopped off a minute or two… and Nim Chimpsky nip that in the bud right away. It’s like a tasty, tasty snack.

Bottom Line: Nim Chimpsky have snuck onto my Soundcloud feed and into my heart with their short burst of Christmas fun, and their free WAV download!

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lesbicyclettesdebelsize

Les Bicyclettes De Belsize “Christmas Card 1983” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: BandcampStream

Charlie Darling of Les Bicyclettes De Belsize is what one might call a purveyor of fine indiepop Christmas tunes. He is so adept at it, that I imagine him running a small shop, selling Christmas songs a la carte to his walk-in traffic. His current seasonal project is an Advent calendar, to which he is releasing a song a day on Soundcloud. Did he write 24 new songs?? No, not exactly, but he has 10 and he did re-record his excellent older Christmas releases! So new versions! You may recognize #2, which was featured on Christmas Underground last year. Charlie tipped me off to today’s release, as it was going to be a new one. “Christmas Card 1983” is a wonderful piece of Christmas indiepop, and I love it simply for its dreamy atmosphere groove, and the brass colors are fantastic. However, what left me sitting here listing to this song a few times in a row was personal realization I stumbled into. I often have to fight the urge to throw a bunch of downers on my mix, as I tend to find darker music more complicated and fulfilling. I especially worried about this year, as I am not in the best state when thinking about the future of my country, nor the world. But I don’t think I have to worry about my mix… I am sitting here medicating with glimmering nostalgia, rather than drowning melancholy or anger. “Christmas Card 1983” most certainly scratches that itch, with mixtape Christmas presents, buying records at HMV, and old movies. I can’t wait to hear the rest of Charlie’s project, even if there is a downer in the bunch. I think I can take it, thanks to “Christmas Card 1983.”

Bottom Line: Pure indiepop Christmas wonderfulness. As always with indiepop, it may not be your taste… but those who like it, will very likely love “Christmas Card 1983.”

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Silas Nello "Chelsea Boots On a Holiday"

Silas Nello “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday” (2016)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Dallas singer/songwriter Silas Nello contributes an excellent new Christmas original to the 2016 holiday season, one certainly worthy of a listen. Silas doesn’t quite fit in the alt.country mold, as the track leans more rock than country, but his voice (both actual and lyrical) most certainly drives toward those Gram Parsons/alt.country fields. “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday” is a wistful tale of someone whose life demands that they stay in the city, as his mind wanders towards the Christmases of home and lost love. “I can hear the sleigh bells / rolling down the street / its my imagination / mixed with drunk and winter dreams. / New Years coming soon, / I hope it’s not too late. / But I can’t forget you, / wearing Chelsea boots on a holiday.”

Bottom Line: For those looking for some excellent, rootsy melancholia, I give you “Chelsea Boots on a Holiday.”

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