The Just Joans – The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet (2010/2016)

WeePOP! Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Way back in 2010, the wonderful Scottish band The Just Joans released The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet, a limited mini CDr Christmas EP, on the wonderfully-titled WeePOP! Records. And it looks like just about every holiday season, they would pop a track out here or there, released on Soundcloud or as a live recording on Youtube. However, it appears that in December 2016, the whole EP became readily-available again via their Bandcamp page! This is a wonderful turn of events, as there are some excellent tunes on here for those who like a melancholy, slow-tempo Christmas. “Card from a Multipack” is (for me) the strongest of the bunch, as the approach is interesting and the delivery feels genuine – there is some pain in this track. My second favorite would be the vaguely indie-folk rendition of the classic “Last Christmas,” where their Scottish brogue and gently strummed banjo give this stale song a fresh feel. Certainly worth your time and money.

Bottom Line: The Just Joans are due for another Christmas EP… just throwing it out there 🙂 But until they do, I’m happy to have “Seasonal Greet” to tide me over.

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Marble Gods “I Remember Xmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Scottish popsters Marble Gods somehow snuck a sweet little indiepop Christmas tune by me last year… and if I ever find out how, there will be hell to pay! They even have it tagged properly! “I Remember Xmas” is a lovely, jangly little indiepop song that is right up my alley. Upbeat guitars with a dash of melancholy in the lyrics… the perfect indiepop blend for your anorak Christmas. “Driving home I remember Christmas / when we were young. / We thought would last forever. / Oh how we were wrong / So it’s Christmas time, / and you’re everything I want. / But my only fear / is that you will break my heart.” Beautiful!

Bottom Line: Marble Gods’ “I Remember Xmas” is some finely chiseled, indiepop perfection.

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Jay Stansfield's "Christmas is..."

UPCOMING: Jay Stansfield & SAY – Christmas is… (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (Preorder)

Popping over to Bandcamp for a second to find something new on the top of the new arrivals list, I don’t normally expect to find something I haven’t seen (there is not a lot of turnover this time of year), let alone something this promising. I often judge Christmas tunes by their covers, and it rarely surprises me. Jay Stansfield‘s Christmas is… sports a simple cover of the decapitated snowman, which was odd enough to get me curious, even as I thought the typography could be a bit more interesting (sorry Jay, I can’t get the graphic design snob out of me). The cover may have gotten me in the door, but it was the description that convinced me to press play.

“Over the years I have written many happy, optimistic Christmas songs featuring death, homelessness, zombies and old people burning alive. This album celebrates those moments along with four miserable tracks from the SAY Archives.”

Well that sounds interesting! Only two tracks are available to preview, and both are solid. The Beach Boys’ harmonies of “Wake up the Children” bloom into some lovely holiday sentiment that could inspire any Grinch to feel optimistic. The second track, “The Man in Red” has moments when you imagine Vampire Weekend has put out a Christmas record, which would no doubt light up any indie-kid’s holiday season. Both these tracks are really strong – from the lyrics, to the music and the production – this may be the Winterval of 2017. (Of note, Jay’s got another from 2014, “Christma$ Twenty Fourteen,” and while it has its moments, it is not quite as strong as these two tracks… but worth a listen too!)

Bottom Line: Two tracks in and I’m willing to call Jay Stansfield’s Christmas is… a winner. Can’t wait to hear more, but we’ll have to wait till Dec. 1.

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Prints Jackson - Reindeer Reindeer

Prints Jackson “Reindeer Reindeer” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Prints Jackson‘s epic task, to write a song every month till he dies, may have ended (is he still alive??) in February, but before the streak ended (36-months in), he did produce three Christmas tunes for your enjoyment. Each has its own indie-rock charm, but my favorite is certainly last year’s “Reindeer Reindeer.” Why you ask? Well, I love how the song builds from the pulsing synth, bringing in indie rock colors of all sorts as it progresses. But what really drew me in are the lyrics. They are clever, funny, and at times political (“Sweet baby Jesus, / what with Brexit? / It’s hard to have faith / when the President’s a sexist. / Do we still pretend he’s a circus clown? / Let liberal kids knock him down and make yellow snow.”). So, check out this excellent original Christmas tune, as well as Prints Jackson’s back catalogue, because it is all pretty damn great.

(Author’s note: Those who have been reading this blog most certainly have a clue as to my political leanings, and if you have just come across it, and find yourself offended by this track… well, just don’t listen to this song, or go somewhere else? Free society is freedom of choice. I certainly wouldn’t be hanging out on a site that was saying any of the million “Trump Train” songs were any good. Also… because none of them are!)

Bottom Line: Prints Jackson may have ended his run of a song a month, but we are most certainly lucky that he was still writing in December 2016.

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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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Shelter Scotland Home for the Holidays

Home For The Holidays: A Christmas Songbook (2016)

Shelter Scotland
Buy: Bandcamp

I’ve been following the progression of this project for a little while now, and it is finally out. This MASSIVE compilation of Scottish/UK bands had their release party just a few days back, and I had no idea as to the extent of this collection. 37 tracks… 37 tracks… some of which you’ll recognize, such as “Cheap Gold” by Frightened Rabbit, or Allo Darlin’s “Will You Please Spend New Years With Me,” but there is still plenty of new stuff to discover here! And hey, I don’t think that Frightened Rabbit track was ever available as something other than a MP3. I seriously can’t take the time to give a full review of the entire collection, it’s just so massive (and so nicely priced!), but who knows… maybe sometime in July? So check out the likes of Broken Records, Kid Canaveral, Withered Hand, Sweet Baboo, This is the Kit, The Spook School, Jonnie Common, De Rosa, and many many many more.

Bottom Line: I’m six tracks in… and there is not a clunker in the bunch so far. And every sale benefits Shelter Scotland, which helps “over half a million people a year struggling with bad housing or homelessness

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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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Charlie's Hand Movements - Be, Be Together

Charlie’s Hand Movements – Be, Be Together (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (FREE!)

What the what?!?!?! How come Bandcamp didn’t let me know that there was a new Charlie’s Hand Movements release? I had to find it in my Twitter feed?? HUSSAH! The boys are back, and as great as ever with this new 3-track EP, Be, Be Together. The leadoff track “Snow Globe” is a fuzzed-out guitar, flippin’ good time. “We can block the whole world out and be together.” Awesome.

“Until the 25th Came” is one of CHM’s most interesting Christmas songs to date. The musical movements, as well as the lyrics, take a journey that culminates with the some of the most beautiful lyrics they have written. “Forget the jealousy, forget the misery, embrace the melody, take pleasure from the small things like giving more than you get, appreciating friends, tell people that you love that you love them.” The ending is warm, cathartic and gorgeous.

“Fairy Lights & Cheap Beer” finds CHM pinpointing a simple moment. “Get together every year, fill the room with fairy lights and drink cheap beer. Drink cheap beer. Talk about nothing. So glad you’re here. We don’t need to talk about anything. Our hopes, jobs, or fear. No, we don’t need to talk about anything, just be together. Don’t leave me hanging.” There is something so perfectly human about this moment. There is the warmth of connection that you have with those few people in your life, where you don’t even need to speak, a mere presence is enough. But that final line, “Don’t leave me hanging,” there is something so fragile there that everyone can relate to. Those who we love the most, can break us so easily.

Bottom Line: Charlie’s Hand Movements have given us their most beautiful Christmas record to date. Of note, their past two releases are back up on Bandcamp as well, so I’d grab them while you can.

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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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