Cecilia Ebba & Emma Miller – Winter EP (2019)

Emma Miller and Cecilia Ebba - Winter EP

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Spotify

If you did a quick survey of what I’ve been writing about lately, a lot of the music has been a bit critical, sad, profane and perhaps a bit silly at times. Yeah, I do like that stuff, no doubt about it. Just hook me up and feed it to my veins directly.

But… as I do… I am also a sucker for music that feels wonderfully genuine. 2019’s Winter EP is exactly this – beautiful and genuine. Cecilia Ebba and Emma Miller are two extremely talented writers and vocalists, and they sound so good together that you could easily be mistaken to believe that they do this all the time! But no, London-based Swede Cecilia Ebba and Scotland-based Emma Miller have only collaborated on this one-off Christmas EP! The songs are thoughtful, loving, nostalgic, and fucking beautiful. The leadoff track, “Snowy Roads,” is simple in premise, and brilliant in execution. The vocal lines make turns that you wouldn’t expect, but love, and then the chorus begins and in come these beautiful strings. While I was already taken with the vocals in “Snowy Roads,” we haven’t even seen what these two voices can do together until the second track, “Apple Tree.” This lullaby to an apple tree is a fantastic premise to create a beautiful visual of a calm, snowy winter night, made only more spectacular by their interwoven voices. “December” sounds like a sister to “Snowy Roads,” with its spare piano bed and scaled-back harmonies (in comparison to “Apple Tree”). This one might get you, with its lyrics of lost love, but the holidays are gonna do that to you anyways, and it might as well sound this good. The finale (to me) is actually the next-to-last track, “Winter.” I don’t think there is an instrument on this track, it is all their beautiful layered vocals. This song has some of their best lines as well: “The aches and pains of yesterday unravel in the warmth. / So lay me down in winter snow / and watch it all melt away.” That is some truly gorgeous stuff.

So yeah, they also have a very nice version of “Silent Night” as well. Technically that is the closer… but I’m here for the originals.

If there is justice in the world, this record will be released by a fantastic label on a beautiful 10″ record. I’ve added it to my vision board, now it is up to you, universe.

Bottom Line: Front to back, this record is undeniably good. To have an EP with four original songs that are this strong… this record deserves both your attention and your money because you are going to want to listen to this for years to come.

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I am adding Soundcloud embeds so that they can be indexed by sites like the Hype Machine, but you really need to look up the entire EP on your preferred streaming/buying service. Remember, buying means WAY more than streaming, so go buy.

Lagniappe Kernow Records’ Home 4 Xmas E​.​P. (2019)

Lagniappe Kernow Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

What a happy accident. I stumbled upon this little Home for Xmas E.P., and found it to be an absolute delight. Four songs (five if you consider a version without the swears a truly additional song), each with its own charm. The leadoff, titular track, “Home 4 Xmas” by The Winona Project, has this oddly captivating, descending melody that ties the song together beautifully. Klaus!’s cover of “Good King Wenceslas” is a very solid version, with these great spoken-word pieces sprinkled in. You might think that this would be too cheesy, and while I do not deny a dash of cheese, it most certainly works. Speaking of spoken-word, Lumpkin Judkins & The Nom De Plumes’ “An Xmoose Tale,” is most definitely spoken-word, and who would have guessed… IT IS FANTASTIC. The music underneath the story sets the mood perfectly, and the text has these moments of humor that even after multiple listens, would still make me smile. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a spoken-word “Christmas song” like this before, but I know for certain haven’t heard one that I liked this much… that is for damn sure. Finally, The Charles Bronson Quintet’s “Merry Lil’ Christmas” is at its core, a very pleasant instrumental cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but they overlay some captured audio that makes this delicate Christmas classic just that little bit… profane; A pleasant dash of “fuck you” sprinkles on top of your Christmas cookie. What a delicious, unexpected treat from Lagniappe Kernow Records. *Chef’s kiss*

Bottom Line: I rather think that folks will find their own favorite from this handful of tunes, as each has a unique charm that could appeal to you, my weirdo Christmas music friends.

Swampmeat Family Band “A Present For Me” (2019)

PNKSLM Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

Ah yes… one of those songs that I just couldn’t get off my ass to write about. One of the best songs of the year, perhaps? Don’t know what my deal was! “A Present for Me” by Swampmeat Family Band brings beautiful slide guitar with perfect brass accents, which make me want to listen to this song over and over again. The song is short, sweet and lovely… just like this review.

Bottom Line: A wonderful nugget of a song. FYI, I often call my son a nugget. I fucking love nuggets.

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Michael M “Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)” (2020)

Michael M - Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)

Last Night from Glasgow
Buy:
Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Michael M. has written a “quick song about Santa Claus having an existential crisis,” and fuck if it isn’t one of my favorite little ditties of the year. Just bask in these lyrics and smile.

It’s Christmas time and a cold wind appears
The snow isn’t falling down
Because the Earth is misbehaving
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Resurrected annually to highlight wealth inequality
Humans are not worth saving

Merry Christmas, please let me die

The song sounds like it should have been one of those coveted b-sides from Blue Album/Pinkerton-era Weezer, which I consider a high, high compliment. (Side note – It is so unfortunate that you have to designate which Weezer records as to not insult the band you like, because looooorrrrrdddd, they break my heart to this day.) You can’t listen to this thing and not smile – it is infectious (too soon?). Short, sharp perfection.

Bottom Line: The vibe, the lyrics, every damn thing about this song reminds me of why I started this silly blog – to bring weirdo Christmas songs like this to my weirdo friends. Enjoy.

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Night Flowers “Snowfall” (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

London’s Night Flowers are known for dropping excellent Christmas singles every year or so, and last year was no different. Hey, I should have written about it! But that is the problem with running a Christmas music blog – everything comes out all at once. “Snowfall,” Night Flowers’ first original Christmas song since 2016, is an absolute joy of a song. Their jangly guitars light the spark, as the bass and drums feed the flames surrounding these beautiful harmonies, creating a warm feeling of nostalgia that is only heightened by the holiday season. This song is a pure winner, and a total layup had I had the sense to write about it last year.

Bottom Line: Night Flowers return with perhaps their greatest holiday track yet. There truly is something in the indiepop water over there in London… you gotta export that shit.

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Faye and the Scrooges “Christmas is Lit” (2019)

Faye and the Scrooges

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Faye and the Scrooges are one of those hidden gems that only our little community of weirdo Christmas music will ever know about. Why? Well, the band exists only in the context of these delicious, one-off Christmas singles, hopefully to be finished before the big day.  2019’s offering is classic Faye and the Scrooges, blending poppy melodies and profane language with equal parts of the bitterness and sugary sweetness found in the holiday season. I only wish I could have given them the last-minute PR bump “Christmas Is Lit” deserved… but alas, 2019 ended as a portent of things to come… with me quite sick and exhausted. Perhaps this little gem will help you claw your way out of the funk of 2020, as it has certainly helped me.

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges don’t come out to play every year, but when they do, you know the song will certainly make it onto your playlist.

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Christmas Aguilera “Icicle Trickle” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I would normally either get their email, flip out, and post the new Christmas Aguilera song within the span of 20 minutes. This year, it came a bit late, when my time is in high demand to go get this out of the attic, to go to the store, to finish up that laundry before everyone gets here. So, while my post comes late, perhaps you’ve found “Icicle Trickle” before I’ve told you about it, and thus you have an extra day to enjoy it during the proper seasonal setting. This seventh release by one of the great Christmas bands working is also their most funky. While the very beginning has the boys channeling Queen, they quickly transition to cheeky Grapes & Friends’ boogie-down territory. The lyrics are a trip:

Be my tinsel
And wrap yourself around my tree
Make me grin so
Let’s keep it going for a week
I love you too much
Your foot’s on my clutch
Though Christmas is beyond my skillset
Stuck in this sweater
It’s scratchy as heck
Jump in that’s better
Gonna stay forever in this pickle
Until the Icicle Trickles

The overt sexual innuendo is nothing new to Christmas Aguilera, as that is part of what made me love them with their first self-titled EP, with the fantastic “I Wanna Give You a Present” setting a great, playful tone. However, then they manage to sneak this beautiful line in amongst the silliness, “Yeah Christmas holidays / Make them every day / And stretch this elastic band of love.” What a line! The production on this latest is a rich as ever, making you wonder how they heck they pull it together at the last minute like this – they only had a CA song meeting a few weeks ago! Be sure to check out their regular gig, Guilt Coins, who also recorded a remarkable cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” this year.

Bottom Line: Bands like Christmas Aguilera are why I write this blog. A true pleasure every year that they bless us with a song.

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Cherry Ghost “Blue Christmas” (2019)

Heavenly Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS.

Manchester’s Cherry Ghost is back with his first track in five years. Hell, Wikipedia has the entire entry in the past tense, so, apparently, this return is more unexpected than anticipated. Their return is a whopper though, with the cheekily-titled “Blue Christmas.” I know, you and I both thought… this must be another crap cover. NO! This is one of the more explicitly political songs of the season. Written only 24 hours before the announcement of the final results of the UK election, Cherry Ghost (Simon Aldred) lays down a song of sarcastic, fantastical hopes shouted into a bag and doused in jingle bells. Dig this first verse:

I hope that Santa Claus gets you a conscience this Christmas
I hope he leaves a beating heart underneath your tree
I hope you wake up to the taste of your hypocrisy
So when you proudly raise a toast to humanity
You realize you turned a blind eye to the cruelty

We all know that isn’t going to happen. But even as brutal as this song is, there is some hope at the end.

We’re only as strong as the weakest among us
We’ll be alright just as long as we have love
We have love

All proceeds go to Lifeshare, helping homeless and vulnerable people in Manchester and Salford. I’m sure Boris is quite concerned about those folks… (how do I properly express sarcasm in print…. hmmm…)

Bottom Line: A short, sharp, political gem indeed. I doubt it will shame anyone into changing their minds… but it is a cathartic listen nonetheless.

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Death to Slow Music “Like Christmas” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Sometimes, a groove is all I need. Cambridge indiepop band Death to Slow Music dropped a 2-song single over the weekend, and I am finding myself really moving to the b-side, “Like Christmas.” It’s later-Pavement-era indie rock, which is a time that still holds a soft spot in my music criticism heart. There isn’t too much to the lyrics, but in all fairness, they hatched this whole “Christmas song” idea about two weeks ago. The groove works, so I’m digging it. I’ll take an original with great music over a boring cover any day.

Bottom Line: Sometimes I just need that SOUND, and Death to Slow Music deliver it.

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San Scout “Christmas Number One” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3
Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play | Spotify

DIY Magazine hipped me to the excellent London duo San Scout, and this super-chilled out, current-era Bon Iver-esque Christmas song “Christmas Number One.” The song has a very emotional quality, from the slow, buzzing baseline to the line that the song was crafted around “I need to love myself but I don’t know how.” Depression certainly has a place in the holiday season and San Scout has done an excellent job capturing this without being overwhelming. Appropriately, San Scout has teamed with CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity that runs confidential suicide prevention services. Depression and suicide will touch us all, whether through ourselves, our friends and family, or through people we admire and feel like we know (Scott Hutchison would be one I often think of.). Talking can save lives – be there for someone this holiday season, even if they don’t seek you out first. Check in on your friends and family, as well as with yourself.

Bottom Line: A sonically and lyrically beautiful song with its complicated heart in the right place.

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