Minor Miracles - Christmas All Over Again

Minor Miracles “Christmas All Over Again” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (might come back) | Stream

Tom Petty’s death is a bigger blow to me than George Michael, Prince, David Bowie or any of the other legends that have passed in recent memory. I likely have listened to more Petty than all three of those legends combined over the years… not to take away from how much I loved them, just that Tom Petty was with me for a long time, and in heavy doses at different moments in my life. That said… I’ve never been the biggest fan of his modern (mini) classic, “Christmas All Over Again.” So, I began poking around for an interesting version, one that takes slightly different directions to get to the same place. Athens’ Minor Miracles have achieved this, covering Petty back in 2014 and releasing it on Bandcamp (presently gone) and Soundcloud. Normally a really upbeat song, lending itself to garage rock/lo-fi treatments, Minor Miracles have toned it down, added a drum machine, layered some lead vocals, sprinkled some synths, and made it their own. The chorus leadout with dueling keys is truly fantastic, and well worth the wait. I hope you dig it too.

Bottom Line: Minor Miracles dim the garage rock down to reveal a cool synth version of the Tom Petty classic. Of course… Stubby knew all about this back in 2014.

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Diane Coffee - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Diane Coffee “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” (2015)

Western Vinyl
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

Take a song that feels rather formulaic, one where 1 + 1 obviously equals two… and to throw a wrench (and maybe a tab of acid) in the works. Diane Coffee‘s rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is just this… it nudges the classic formula gently off the cliff and all of a sudden you are in the middle of this amazing fuzzed-out guitar, and you’ve forgotten how to count. For those unfamiliar with Diane Coffee, he has released two fascinating art-pop records on Western Vinyl (most notably the original home of Dirty Projectors), as well as being the initial drummer for friends (and sonic brothers) Foxygen. This one-off track was released in 2015, and is still available for free on Soundcloud, which is extremely generous. This track is good enough to be released on its own… perhaps Diane Coffee should record another xmas tune this year and release a 7″? I’d buy it, no doubt. For now, we’ll have to settle for a non-holiday 7″, as his new release Peel will be out on Polyvinyl on October 20th.

Bottom Line: It’s beginning to look a lot like art-pop Christmas, Diane Coffee, and I’m totally cool with it. Let’s get freaky.

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Follies "Grave Matters"

Follies “Christmas Day” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Random strokes of luck, that is often what Soundcloud feels like to me. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE SOUNDCLOUD, and would be lost without it. But anyone who has ever done a keyword search knows my pain. Thankfully, every so often you strike silver and gold (Christmas pun!). Kate Siefker, also known as Follies, has fought her perfectionist tendencies and released a bunch of tracks that she was working on in 2013-14 under the title Grave Matters (2013-2014). Included amongst these beautifully layered tracks is, yes, a Christmas song! “Christmas Day” is a beautifully raw track, with ukulele, (maybe guitar too?), beats and handclaps circling each other for just over two minutes. It is certainly not your usual ukulele fare, so those expecting the expected… you may be pleasantly surprised.

Bottom Line: Short, raw and beautiful. Best of luck with your move Kate (if you see this.)

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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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