Our friends in Austin have been BUSY during this, the oddest of years. In years past, the Grapes and Friends have created a swanky jam to add to their already substantial Christmas repertoire, and to be performed at their annual Christmas Extravaganza! Of course, the usual extravaganzas are on hold this year, but that has not stopped this juicy crew from planning a big, virtual party! There will be singalongs, cocktails and shenanigans! Hell, I might even be able to finally tick one of those bucket-list Christmas parties off my list! This year’s song keeps in the recent Grapes’ style, mixing equal parts Beck’s Midnight Vultures, the Bee Gees and Prince. Move this song onto that playlist of hopeful, happy songs that have come out of this lockdown year. Next Christmas is going to be amazing, and the Grapes will be there to woo you with their falsetto seductions and slinky basslines.
• Live performances by the Grapes & Friends • Updates on Boy Christmas’ journey to finally see The Grapes & Friends live in Austin • Exclusive preview of Jack Frost’s latest thriller feature length film • Special guest appearances by some of our celebrity friends • Debut of this year’s Christmas Single music video • Singalongs, audience participation and more!
Bottom Line: The Grapes and Friends are pure, uncut fun. That bridge is gonna get you off your damn ass, no doubt.
There are a few bands who this blog is pretty much wholly devoted to, and Christmas Aguilera is one. I have yet to miss a post on a release, and as long as they continue to record them, I’ll continue to write about them. They can hit you with something that makes you smile, something that make you cry, or fucking both! This year they’ve got a few things up their sleeves, but we’ll concentrate on the new song first. “Why Can’t I Go To Sleep” is actually a song that they wrote around the time of their first EP, the self-titled Christmas Aguilera. Played live but never recorded, the band rediscovered it amongst some bedroom recordings, and decided to give it a go. COVID being what it is, the extra time afforded some more collaboration – a guest drummer, a bass player and a choir of friends joined the effort. The recordings were passed around and each person added their part, until we have this beautiful, choral mantra to open the song, “Go to sleep / Why Can’t I / Go to sleep / Sheep counting / Go to sleep / Why Can’t I / Go to sleep.” Then, the tension of the mantra breaks and the song bursts open. You can feel the joy and love in this song, as the voices raise and the shouts go up. You get the feeling that the collaborative production of the track was a pressure release valve. To participate in this song was to press play on a world that has been perpetually paused… a light at the end of the tunnel. The excitement of Christmas, and of the future, comes through beautifully, and is just what I needed.
Christmas Aguilera have something else up their sleeve this year – they are finally going to be on all those fancy streaming services. I know most of you are on Spotify, and so am I, but I gotta say – I’m seriously considering Tidal because it pays artists more. I’m pretty invested in Spotify, but maybe we’re a two-streaming service family for a bit? I could get the family on board… give Tidal a run… and help all those people whose music I love buy dinner, pay for a kid’s college, etc. You know I don’t post many streaming links here – it takes 1500 streams to equal one song (Billboard) – but the convenience is unavoidable. I encourage you to buy the song. I want you to buy records (I bought 3 today), buy t-shirts and buy livestream tickets. Think about how great it feels to be told you did a good job! That is what buying someone’s record feels like to them – it is validation for their hard work and worth as an artist! SHOW YOU LOVE THEM, don’t just tell them. Oh yeah, I started this paragraph by saying that the entire Christmas Aguilera catalog is going to be on streaming. This is wonderful, and please help spread their music – AFTER you purchase it on Bandcamp and help support Shelter, a UK charity that aids the homeless, because that is who Christmas Aguilera continues to support with all their proceeds. This is a year like no other to think of the less fortunate… so let’s not just think, let’s do.
Bottom Line: Christmas Aguilera pull a treasure out of the closet and wow us once more.
Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song” is slowly becoming a modern classic, as more and more high-profile artists have begun to cover it in recent years. The song has a signature emotional quality that has landed frequent appearance in television and movies as well, further entrenching it in our consciousness. NYC’s The Heart Of is the latest to tackle the song, as he found kinship with the emotional core of the song:
“For lots of people, the winter can be a difficult time to face alone, calling into question whether love is waiting for them at all, hiding in the cold. I identified with those sentiments and felt moved by their manifestations in my own life. Not everyone is rocking around the Christmas tree, and I thought it was nice that there’s a song for those people who aren’t. Of course, the arrangement and performance in the original is really beautiful, so I just tried to do it justice.”
The Heart Of certainly does the song justice, and IMHO, improves upon it. The subtle changes in instrumentation, the addition of banjo as a featured instrument, as well as further developing the percussive possibilities of the song wonderfully fleshes out what is a generally sparse, piano-centric original. These choices highlight the excellent taste level of The Heart Of, and their ability to create a modern, interesting approach to a burgeoning classic bodes well for spring 2018, when we’ll get to check out their debut EP.
Bottom Line: The Heart Of find a subtle, new approach that breathes new possibilities into an increasingly high-profile modern classic.
Rostam (Rostam Batmanglij), the genius behind the production on those early Vampire Weekend records, put out a phenomenal album of his own this year, Half Light. Couple that with him being the main collaborator on the last two Hamilton Leithauser solo records (with equal billing on the last LP, the absolutely stellar I Had a Dream that You Were Mine), and you are pretty much looking at one of my favorite artists of the moment. That said, Rostam does not have a powerful voice, and I feared this song might just need a some more oomph behind it. I was most certainly wrong. The qualities of Rostam’s voice actually bring a new depth to the song. Rostam has a fragility to his delivery that makes this version unique from those I’ve heard before. The orchestration is beautiful, and has some slight variations to the norm, certainly not the re-imagination that was Daniel Woolhouse’s last year. However, there is a lovely part around 2:45 where the guitar lines lead into a what feels the most like a Rostam-like arrangement, which is lovely. Surprising and wonderful, this version just needs the ability to purchase/download/etc to make me one happy camper. (Thanks Larry for the tip!)
Bottom Line: My fears were unfounded – Rostam continues to impress.