Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

LISTEN:

Avalanche Records’ Alternative Christmas (2009)

Avalanche Records (Edinburgh)
Buy: Good luck!

One of the biggest challenges with reviewing Christmas records, is that so many are released to benefit charities. I certainly don’t want to crap all over a record that benefits sick kids, and thankfully, I don’t have to.

Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland released a very DIY Christmas record back in 2009. Simply titled Alternative Christmas, this compilation features mainly Scottish artists each submitting an original song, with only a few exceptions. So, for those out there who love originals (like me), this is a good start.

I originally purchased this to have an audio master for There Will Be Fireworks‘ “In Excelsis Deo,” which is a dramatic, and fantastic song; a perfect ending to my 2010 Christmas Mix. This used to be the only place you could buy this track, and of course it has since been released elsewhere. Fellow dramatic Scots Frightened Rabbit also lend their (by now) classic track, “Its Christmas So We’ll Stop.” I think this may be the only official CD release of the track, beyond a promo that they sent to radio stations back in 2008.

A large chunk of this record is terribly sad. The Savings and Loan contribute a serviceable cover of the Palace Brothers’ lament “Christmastime in the Mountains,” but it does not improve upon the original – which is a must if you are going to perform it in a similar style. Withered Hand gives us an emotional “Its a Wonderful Lie,” and while it certainly has its moments, it is just too dreary for me. Really, this one could be you favorite tune on the record if you really love a Christmas dirge. Another rather brutal, but well-done song is the Phil Ochs tune, “No Christmas in Kentucky”, retitled “Christmas in Kirkcaldy,” and performed by Meursault. Scots singing about the Southeast United States… and the poverty that is Appalachia. I have heard it all.

Two final tracks that are certainly worth a listen are Emily Scott‘s “Holy,” and X-Lion Tamer‘s stab at Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy.” Both are done well, and “Holy” is an extremely pretty, sparse folk song with excellent vocal layers.

Bottom Line: Can be quite sad, but has a higher percentage of good songs than most comps out there. 3.8/5

LISTEN:


12 Days of Christmas (2009)

12 Days of Christmas cover

Bubblewrap Collective
Buy: CD | Bandcamp

The concept is intriguing. 12 bands were selected and given 31 days to write and record a song, each based on a particular day in the “12 Days of Christmas.” It was intriguing enough to compel me to preorder it many moons ago. As with nearly every single Christmas compilation, there is a WIDE variety of quality on this record. The tracks that rise above the rest are all female-fronted indie bands – one might think that I have a type. The first notable track is “Five Golden Rings from the Hi Five Kings” by The Rocky Nest. They have a great musical aesthetic – everything works well together. The second track I would like to highlight is “Silver Swans in NYC” by Allo, Darlin’ (Look them up – they put out a fantastic record this year). This was the one I was anticipating… and perhaps it was that anticipation that raised the expectations a bit too high. Its a lovely little song… but for some reason I wish it was a more fleshed-out production. There are a few other tracks on there that are ok, but largely, I was not a huge fan.

Bottom Line: So much potential, but not enough quality payoff. 2/5

LISTEN:


Glasvegas – A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss) (2008)

Glasvegas - A Snowflake Fell cover

Columbia
Buy: Discogs (CD) | iTunes
icon

So, yes, they are on a major label. However, talk to most people in America, and ask them if they know who Glasvegas are, and you may be asking around a good bit. This is unfortunate – because they put out a very solid debut, and an absolutely stellar Christmas EP, A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss).

I honestly do not have a song that I do not care for on this EP – though I do have some favorites. Standouts are “Fuck You, It’s Over,” “Please Come Back Home,” and the title track, “A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss).” Two of those tracks have made my personal Christmas mixes (not in the same year), and one is always in the running… though likely less so as I will soon have a child in the house.

Available as a second disc in a special edition-version of their debut, it was also given away at indie record stores in the US. Hunt one down for about $10 and you are doing splendidly.

Bottom Line: A fantastic, moody Scottish rock record that I could listen to (and do) outside the holiday season. 5/5

LISTEN:



Kitty Kitten Kristmas (2010)

Kitty Kitten Kristmas

Kingem Records
Buy: CD | iTunes

Tiny Tide’s “Left Alone for Christmas Time” begins with the line “Do I have to wait and cry,” which sums up a lot of indie pop Christmas tunes–Dreary lyrics with a danceable beat. The rest of the disc does not follow quite the same formula, and for that, I am appreciative. The tone is pretty similar though – its all indie pop. “M.I.S.T.L.E.T.O.E.” is a solid song about office-party romance… not quite catchy enough for me to consider for my own mix. Cherry Berry has two songs on this release… which is unfortunate (for my taste). “Berry Xmas” is the weakest track on this record, and its on there twice. The vocals are just distracting, and make it impossible to get into – though their English is no doubt much better than my Indonesian.

Without giving a rundown of EVERY track on this 8-song release, I would like to highlight the two bright spots. Paisley and Charlie offer a beautiful slice of holiday melancholy with “Unhappy New Year.” Perhaps a bit too dreary for my wife to stand, I really enjoy the groove the music creates (and you, oddly, really need to listen to it LOUD). Stars in Coma also have a standout with “The Frozen Spectacle.” With harmonies that are reminiscent of the Fleet Foxes, these Swedes have created a track 2:36 of subtle beauty. Brevity is often an asset when it comes to a good Christmas song… and Stars in Coma do not wear out their welcome.

Bottom Line: Inexpensive, with two very-solid tracks makes this release better than most. 3.7/5

LISTEN

UPDATE! Stars in Coma have re-recorded “The Frozen Spectacle” for their upcoming, Christmas Eve release of You, Me and a Nuance of Arctic Air. This is a slightly different mix, so its all a matter of personal taste as to which one you like. For fun, I’m also posting their demo of this, fantastic track GONE (which is a highlight of my personal mix this year!).