Sing a Song of Christmas: Three New Tunes Exclusive to the Guardian (2013)

The Guardian Christmas

The Guardian
Buy: Stream

Last year, The Guardian newspaper asked three singer/songwriters to write an original Christmas song, with the only rule to include five provided phrases they felt “sum up the spirit of the holiday:”

“Do I have to wear this paper crown all day?”, “No really, sprouts do make me sick”, “The trains are pathetic on Boxing Day”, “I think you threw away the gift vouchers” and “Will someone turn the heating down?”

Their website provides the whole background on the songs, including interviews with the performers. I like the concept, and very much hope they do it again.

Dan Croll‘s “A Guardian Christmas,” is my favorite of the bunch. The sparse beats and R&B vocals are very much a sound-of-the-moment (and a sound which I like), and he does it well. I would certainly edit out the “Ho, ho, hos,” and everything after the second set of jolly laughs – and that 1:30 running time would be easy to squeeze into any mix. I really like the feeling of the final bit – that’s what sold me.

Gabrielle Alpin‘s “Untitled Christmas Song” also has some of the elements I like to look for – a sense of the melancholy of Christmas, and a bit of humor. She has a lovely voice, and the song is well done and quite short (bonus!). I suppose the only thing that would make it better would be a more fleshed-out production. Otherwise, really quite good.

Lewis Watson‘s “Home Alone (at, or before, Christmas) here” is my least favorite of the three, but it most certainly has some redeeming factors. The song is an ode the the McCallister family of the Home Alone movies – and tickles the bit in me that associates my own Christmas experience with Christmas TV and movies. However, it remains the least satisfying by having a low production value, and a part where he throws as many lyrics in as possible. Still good enough to be listenable, no doubt.

Bottom Line: All these songs are enjoyable enough to play in the background at a party – so perhaps consider adding them to your Soundcloud playlist, or use one of those fancy websites to download the MP3s. Most certainly an above-average collection, and had they offered easy, free downloads, may have scored higher. 3.8/5

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Noise to the World: Converse Rubber Tracks Holiday Music (2013)

Converse Noise to the World

Converse Rubber Tracks
Buy: Free!

How did this thing slip by me? And how did this slip by my fellow Christmas bloggers? This would be like missing the Target comp of years ago, in that it is packed with “indie” bands with a  large corporate backer – so how did it make a noise in a few music publications but never come across my googling? Noise to the World is seven tracks of varying styles, but all with a certain level of quality where I don’t hate anything – it’s truly listenable. As an added bonus – there appear to be vinyl copies of this out there somewhere.

We’ll run down the release track-by-track, as it is a short release and each one is worth a note. Roxy Roca offers a funky original that elicits the imagery of a picturesque Christmas, but not without you. Warm Soda (the band that really made me excited to hear this) mines the same fertile ground of Roxy Roca, and many bands before, with their “Without You By My Side.” Their power-pop delivery takes the melancholy lyrics and lifts it up enough with the music to not feel like a dirge. The two songs are so similar in their main thesis, yet so very different in the approach, tone, lyrics and delivery that the only thing that ties them together is “without you.”

Fresh Daily and Black Spade contribute a surprisingly strong Christmas rap song with “Holiday ’93.” I don’t normally get into a hip-hop holiday, but this track is not only enjoyable and is perhaps the best song on the record. They don’t make it a joke, like so many other Christmas rap songs, and their attitude and lyrics strike me as very much in genuine & nostalgic vein of Ahmad’s “Back in the Day,” which is very welcome.

Mother Merey & the Black Dirt take the holiday staple, “Run Run Rudolph,” and deliver a wonderful, country-noir song that is just downright refreshing. They make it their own.

Workout’s “Jingle Bells” is the most-skippable track on the release for me, for two reasons. First, Jingle Bells. Second, pop-punk is just not my bag. However, they become very listenable by exuding a sense of humor about the whole thing, and being so damn short. Kudos.

The She’s “December Tide” is another in a recent wave (pun!) of surfin’ tunes. I can’t recall such a melancholy surfing Christmas (well, winter) tune in a very long time. This song is the kind of indie-pop that I’m quite receptive to, and would gnaw at any pop-punk fan… we are just different species, you and I. I especially like the end of the song, with the layering of the vocals… if you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know how much I love a good ending.

Finally, Low Fat Getting High’s “Deck the Halls” will please the headbanger in you. They do “Deck the Halls” hardcore and fully commit. Not normally my thing, but oddly, not unlistenable. Had it ended at 1:40, I would have liked it a bit more.

Bottom Line: Wow. Pretty excellent all the way through. Free, with super-high-res MP3 download. Quite listenable and at times downright fantastic. Pleasantly surprised, and certainly recommended. 4.4/5

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Aquatic Slime “Milestones (Another Year)” (2013)

Aquatic Slime

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

For a band who is not a band… this is one hell of a song. Hailing form Essex, Aquatic Slime’s only real internet presence is a Soundcloud account, which houses all their tunes for free download. The only place for additional information is Drowned in Sound, where they are a community member of the boards. Thus, in an oddly similar style to Faye and the Scrooges, Aquatic Slime is another yet-to-be-proper band that has snuck a great Christmas tune under the music radar; “Milestones” has 64 plays at the time of this publish, and likely 10 of those were mine. So give this electro-pop a spin, and feel free to let them know if you like it. Wonderful female vocals, excellent lyrics, and a certainly a different Christmas jam than you’re used to.

Note: I contacted the “band” to find out more: “We aim to make a Christmas track every year (past tracks include A Rave in a Manger, God Rest ye Badass Gentlemen, Ding Dong Merrily, I’m High…), but this was the first where we had a bit more originality. It was very fun to make too!” 

Awesome – so be on the lookout for this year’s track!

Bottom Line: Perhaps the best not-a-band out there. 4.8/5

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Wild Nothing “One Christmas Catalogue” (2013)

Wild Nothing - One Christmas Catalogue

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Well thank you so much Bob and the Christmas Chaos Radio Show! I have been buying Wild Nothing records ever since his first Summer Holiday 7″ , and boy am I happy to find this pop into my life. Wild Nothing takes this fantastic Captain Sensible song and really makes it their own. Their Empty Estate-era synth-heavy production definitely works for this tune. Certainly one that I would love to get ahold of someday… how about it Wild Nothing?? Add a download link of a WAV file? Yes… I ask for the moon.

Bottom Line: Wild Nothing needs to cover more Christmas tunes. 5/5

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The Christmas Club “Child’s Christmas In Wales” (2013)

Christmas Club 2013

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

The Christmas Club is back for another year! Sneaking up on me in my Soundcloud feed, The Christmas Club’s most recent release for 2013 (they have already done an… interesting… version of Fairytale of New York) is a cover of Dylan Thomas & John Cale’s “Child’s Christmas in Whales.” The result is an excellent version of a wonderful song. While I may still be partial to the Superchunk version, The Christmas Club have found that grittiness that this song needs to really seal the deal. I’ll be looking forward to whatever else they have instore for us this holiday season. They will likely be setting up a donation for City Harvest again, so if you like it and download it, be sure to check back to see how you can help.

Bottom Line: A well-produced, excellent cover of a wonderful song. 4/4

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Jens Lekman “I Don’t Know What to Do With This Information” (2011)

Jens Lekman

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Its been a whopping week or so since I’ve written about Jens Lekman. What can I say, he’s top-5 all-time for me. However, this may be my last post about Jens for a good while, in that I don’t know of any other Jens’ Christmas tunes. Please feel free to correct me, and subsequently, make me forever in your debt.

“I Don’t Know What to Do With This Information” has only been performed live so far, with a very high quality version coming from a Maida Vale Session back in 2011. Such a sad song, not in the sentimental way that “Christmas Shoes” (BARF) is, but with a realism that brings it a little close to home, even if you haven’t specifically lived through something like that. Its called empathy and Jens brings it out well.

Bottom Line: So, so very sad. I can’t bring it over 4 because I just can’t listen to such a sad song over and over again. 3.9/5

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Faye and The Scrooges “Fancy Postman” (2012) and “Terrible Presents” (2011)

Faye and the Scrooges

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Two excellent little songs from the rather mysterious Faye and The Scrooges have come across my Soundcloud searches of late. Before I inquired, very little could be found about them. Google searches led to nothing. I thought, perhaps, there was an odd Aluna George connection, since that is the only band they followed. They had 2 songs up, and by all measures, were quite obscure with two very modest play counts (as of now, 80/768). I took a moment and asked them who they heck they were, and learned that this is the product of a group of friends who get together and write/record a Christmas song with just enough time to give them to friends at the pub on Christmas eve. Judging by the production value, this group of friends knows their way around a recording – they sound great. Both songs are silly, but not too silly as to be annoying. They are simply quite clever, and extremely enjoyable. Jump on this bandwagon and add to their 4 followers, and while you’re at it, follow Pluto Rise on Facebook and Soundcloud – because two of the members of this trio have started a band, and its bound to be pretty damn good.

Bottom Line: Faye and The Scrooges have my vote. They are one year away from writing an indie classic. Perhaps set up a Bandcamp to allow FLAC downloads? 4/5