This indie band from Raleigh, NC, actually made it as far as a contract with Merge Records before falling back on their own initiative during their decade-long career. In 2012, they recorded this entire album of original Christmas songs, and it's worth hearing; I wish I'd known about it last year, in fact. Solid indie-rock-pop, not quite power pop as it lacks the brashness of that genre, but frequently uptempo and always melodic. "When It's Cold" is a vocal workout on the topic of the weather heralding the holiday, "Xmas In New York" is a mellow shout-out to urban holiday celebrations, "I Hear (Click, Click, Click)" is a bouncy opener about anticipating the holiday, "Thru That Door" is about the arrival of Christmas, "Hold Me Tight" is a romantic holiday ballad, and "Lonely Light" is a soul-inflected slow song treading some of the same ground. "Melt Our Way Out" is the band's way of escaping the snow, "Christmas Dan" is a nicely retro sax-led tune about that quirky local guy who celebrates the holiday by stringing candy canes on his Trans-Am, "Christmas Clown" is a kind of Everly Brothers tribute, "Oh It's Christmas" is self-explanatory, and the toe-tapping instrumental "Journey To Christmas Island" closes things out. Click through to Amazon and grab this.
Another overseas artist with a holiday tradition of new original Christmas music, for 2013 this band (or two bands, judging from the artist credit) gives us more of what they've given us before: mellow alternative pop-rock in short bursts with the occasional contribution of a horn section. None of the nine songs exceeds 2:34 in length, and several are much shorter. They kick off with the sweet "Rainy Christmas," give us two bites at "Christmas Tree" numbered 1 and 2, sing about a toy "Singing Santa," exhort us to visit the "Sleighbell Museum," rock out with "She Must Be Santa," take us on a languid trip to a "Frozen Lake," create a faux antique ballad called "Selaphobia" about outdoor Christmas lights, and sing about the "Siamese Lumberjacks" who cut down Christmas trees. Quirky as always, and available on Bandcamp for a price you can name yourself.
This Swedish singer-songwriter's holiday tradition is turning into an album's worth of tunes, and for 2013 her new Christmas song is a sweet acoustic ballad with melancholy lyrics about being cold and lonely in a big city on the holiday. It's a nice change of pace, and it's free to download.
If you were concerned that you weren't going to get your minimum holiday allotment of mashups, fear not, the eighth annual Santastic compilation is here to make your season. As always, you may debate which cuts are keepers and which are not, but there's no argument that everybody's likely to find something that will speak to them. And as the whole collection is free of charge, you can make that determination at your leisure. In keeping with the collection's cover art, we kick off with "The Christmas Massacre of Charlie Brown" by DJ John, which is a big beat overlaid on "Schroeder and Snoopy" and collaged with the speaking voices from the iconic "Peanuts" special. The collection's curator, djBC, mixes up "Cold Chillin With Stevie," combining Stevie Wonder, Juice Crew, Harry Potter, and Bob & Doug McKenzie, and "Jack Frost vs the Weatherman," using the TV special and snippets of the Mills Brothers. Every year brings us nods to the past year's popular culture, so we get Pimpdaddysupreme's "How KimYe Ruined Christmas" with Kanye West and Patsy Cline, DJ McFly's "The Sugar Plum Wrecking Ball" with Tchaikovsky meeting Miley Cyrus, DJ Schmolli's "Tommy's Royal Christmas" with the Who and Lorde, and Mojochronic's "Lou Christmas (Without You), in which the Velvet Underground meets Straight No Chaser and the Staple Singers. Mojochronic also gives us "Rudolph's Red Nose" with Gene Autry and Sage the Gemini, Voicedude offers "Folsom Prison Christmas" with Johnny Cash, "Last White Christmas" featuring Cream and the "Glee" cast, and "St Nick the Knife" with what is supposed to be Bobby Darin, but sounds more like the Joel Kopische parody. Divide & Kreate created a killer "No Sleep Till Christmas" from the Beastie Boys and Wham, DJ Tripp's "Just Like Rudolph" mashes The Cure with Gene Autry and snippets of "Island of Misfit Toys," ATOM throws in the kitchen sink on "Hark the Snow King's Marshmellows," and G3RSt's "Sleigh Me Like a Pirate" is for those who like to talk like one.
The independent Indiecater label has been offering Christmas compilations annually for several years, and they maintain the streak for 2013. This year's EP is more mellow than in past years, opening on a "Warm and Bright" note with Adam and Darcie. The Photo Ops, unable to travel for Christmas night, offer "Singers and Dancers," Ben Hood pulls out his acoustic guitar to promise "This Year" he'll spend Christmas with his lover, Candy Claws performs "Alp Shades," a breathy pop confection, The Very Most breaks the mold by rocking out with "Stars and Happiness Forever," and Spread the Celebration wraps up with, well, "Spread the Celebration." The Bandcamp page wants to be paid in euros, but don't let that bother you, currency converters are easy to find.
The modern blues-rock guitar star delivers a full-throated jump blues for 2013, complete with horns, piano and Bonamassa's own patented fretwork. Lyrically it's a bit of a throwaway, but it's a dancefloor hit for sure, and it's a free download, so what are you waiting for? (Careful when you hit that download link, the song starts playing immediately and there's no off button.)
A commenter elsewhere on the site blegged a mention of this little number, and while I still maintain it's not really a Christmas song, it looks like the culture has decreed otherwise. This is nice and funky, as you can hear for yourself, and download links are available at the YouTube page.
I said earlier that amateurs on YouTube tend to discourage pros from making good Christmas novelties. Here's a good Christmas novelty, although I don't know what the author's pro status is.
That 70s hard rock sound never dies, and who better to deliver it to us than two-fifths of the Runaways? This 2013 single is mostly Lita Ford's joint, but she offered a role to the otherwise reclusive Cherie, and less than four minutes later, with a request for a beverage over the fade, we have ourselves a Christmas tune. Good stuff, especially for the leather 'n lace crowd.
The long-running late 70s punk band, founded by Glenn Danzig before he went out on his own, is still a going concern in 2013, as evidenced by this EP, or should we call it a double B-side single, as there is a limited vinyl release in exactly that format in colored vinyl. It's downloadable too, which is the format I received. No surprises in sound, this is classic late 70s punk applied to three classics, the A-side "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," "Island of Misfit Toys" and "Blue Christmas." Misfits fans will want the vinyl, punks will be happy to have this and it's quite listenable for the rest of us as well.
The Rocket Summer is essentially just Bryce Avary of Dallas/Fort Worth, who has been making records for a decade now, and just got around to Christmas for 2013 with three original songs and an acoustic guitar cover of "O Holy Night." "Christmas Madness" is a strong opener, a fine power pop holiday anthem. "Elf Creep" is a piano-led number about an elf sneaking up on the object of his affections (you stalker you), and "Grapevine Christmas Eve" appears to be about a ghost returning on the night before the holiday. These are fine original Christmas songs, especially for the power poppers among us.
Hadn't heard at the start of the season whether the Killers would keep their Christmas single streak alive in 2013, well, they did. But they got a lot of help from up-and-coming California folk-rockers Dawes; that band's Taylor Goldsmith co-wrote the song and partly sings the tune, which if not for Brandon Flowers' lead vocals would sound like the Killers guested on a Dawes tune. (Irving Berlin gets a credit too, for the four lines of "White Christmas" that get pilfered on the lead-out.) My take on Dawes is that they frequently sing in the third person about some poor deluded girl who doesn't see the wheels within wheels the way the narrator does (I foresee an Onion headline: "Girl Who All Dawes Songs Are About Goes To Court, Seeks Restraining Order") but on this mellow folk-pop song, the observational aspect hits just the right balance; guess the Killers were in charge after all. Currently it's only on iTunes, no Amazon link available. UPDATE: Forgot to note the song benefits the Global Fund For AIDS. And I just got the YouTube link for the video:
This 2013 rocker is a hysterical number by the long-running indie-rockers, aided by comic Eugene Mirman and NPR stalwart Ira Glass, and it's part of a comedy album, 2776: A Millenium Of American Asskickery, set to be released next summer. Meanwhile, this has been released as a single. It's a riff on "Dance of the Toy Soldiers" transferred to the modern sci-fi blockbuster day, where the toys come to life and enslave humans, all to the not-quite-familiar sound of Yo La Tengo's buzzy, lo-fi accompaniment. "It came down to Toys or Us," the song sadly concludes, and don't worry, there are plenty of other great lines in this song. Destined to become a Christmas classic in the same way that the "WKRP" turkey episode has become a Thanksgiving Day classic. Enjoy, and click through to grab it for yourself.
Citizens are a Seattle-based Christian rock band that just got started a couple of years ago and have one regular album to their name, and now for 2013 they have this collection of Christmas music, four classic carols and one original tune, "Come and Stand Amazed," which fits right in with the worshipful tone of the other songs here. As for the sound, it's a radio-friendly alt-rock collection of mostly upbeat sounds, except for "Silent Night" and "Come and Stand Amazed." "Hark the Herald Angels" even throws a bit of 60s soul into the mix. Good original arrangements of these songs, you won't even notice you're being preached at.
Londoner Leona is a bonafide international star as a result of winning her home country's version of "The X Factor" in 2006 and going on to a string of Brit award/Grammy award winning songs and albums. I tend to steer clear of talent show denizens, particularly "American Idol," especially when the ever-present Simon Cowell is involved, but I have to say I'm not particularly horrified by the results on offer here. Leona's singing does evince a certain hero worship of the late Whitney Houston, the production is assembly-line modern pop, and there aren't any real surprises among the cover songs, but she manages to put some personality into the proceedings nonetheless. Points for using the Otis Redding arrangement of "White Christmas," and perhaps because I'm not English I never get tired of hearing Roy Wood's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," which kicks off with a bit of emoting before heading into a Wizzard-faithful arrangement. She also does spot-on Spector takes of "Winter Wonderland" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Album closers "Ave Maria" and "Silent Night" are a little too reverent for my taste, however, the typical pop album's sincerity while showing off the singer's chops move. Leona co-writes three tunes for this collection, the sprightly album opener "One More Sleep," in which the singer is dreaming of her lover coming home for Christmas, "Mr. Right," an uptempo request for a two-legged Christmas present, and the churchy ballad "Your Hallelujah." Not really a classic, but I'm liking this in spite of myself.
The Seattle-based classic rockers, previously on the Christmas tip with the Lovemongers album, cut a new single for 2013. "All Through the Night" is Nancy Wilson with help from Richard Marx on this pop ballad, while Ann Wilson duets with Aaron Neville on the Charles Brown classic. This is far more pop than rock, but I know the classic rock fans would want to know about this, especially since other classic rockers' promises of holiday music haven't come through this year.
This song, from 2013, manages to live up both to the title and to the band name. It's a ballad that starts with a guy who lost his job and worries about his prospects, but the holiday manages to overcome his concerns for a short time anyway. It picks up from the slow intro to a nice mid-tempo rocker. Good work, pick it up.
Pete's a singer-songwriter and photographer with a number of albums to his credit, and for the time being he's making available this 2013 single free of charge at Bandcamp. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker, a love song in which the singer gets the girl, and that makes it always Christmas. Nice sentiment, nice song, check it out here.
Richard is a long-running power pop maven and sideman extraordinare with 10 albums to his credit, but near as I can tell this lovely rocker is his first Christmas song, released for 2013. Strong, hook-laden music, the only fly in the ointment is that it's not out for sale yet; the only way to hear it is via this YouTube video. If it becomes downloadable at some point I'll update this post. Meanwhile, crank up the volume on those open-air speakers. UPDATE: Commenter grendel322 tips us the download is now on iTunes and, click the cover art at right, Amazon.
Never Shout Never previously did a single for the holidays in 2008 called "30 Days," but that was when it was a one-man band. Now a full touring outfit, the group has cut loose with a Christmas gift for 2013, two originals and two covers, nice semi-acoustic versions of "Winter Wonderland" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." "Everything is Cool" is a ukelele-and-harmonica harmony-vocal tune that combines a major-key melody that belies the minor-key lyrics, and "Under the Mistletoe" is an acoustic duet with Dia Frampton in which the singers agree to meet in the favorite holiday spot in the title. Mellow stuff, but highly listenable.
Don't know much about this act, but the song, originally out in 2008, is a humorous rocker about having a holiday birthday, name-checking numerous celebrities a la Adam Sandler who were born on Christmas day. Although the first verse appears to be factually wrong: "Here's a problem Jesus never had to deal with." Or maybe not. Anyway, it's good fun.
On the one hand, novelty Christmas recordings aren't that hard to find if you frequent YouTube. On the other hand, since any idiot can get on YouTube, amateurs make it difficult for experienced musicians to put together good novelties. I just stumbled across this collection from 2011 the other day, and it's quite nice -- satirical lyrics played with rootsy rock 'n roll charm, in the vein of the Christmas Jug Band and a bunch of other similar folks. "Credit Card Christmas" offers a rocking kickoff to the album about how the festivities are going to be paid for, "My Ex Miss Carol" puns on the girlfriend stolen away by Santa, "Sha La La La (Don't Come Home This Christmas)" puts some girl-group sass (without girls) on a downbeat sentiment, "You Ain't Getting Shit For Chrismtas" is a self-explanatory ballad, "Santa's Getting Bigger" is a bit obvious as to the jolly elf's weight problem, "My Birthday's On Christmas" is a lament about being gypped out of presents, "Santa's Got a Sharkskin Suit" is a cool rockabilly number, and the album closes with the lament "I Can't Believe It's Christmastime Again," a duet with an uncredited female singer. For 2013, the duo is back with "Dos Christmas Ez," a bit of mariachi-flavored musing about divorced parents providing a kid two separate-but-equal Christmases. More thought-provoking than funny, but smart work nevertheless. You can download everything from Amazon.
The popular funkateers from the 70s and 80s are billing this 2013 release as their first-ever Christmas album, with six originals and eight standards on the card. They do a great job with this, creating an album that has their signature funk sound with updated touches. I'm always leery of legacy R'nB bands' Christmas albums, as they tend to fall back on gospel readymades and easy listening, but while these guys don't avoid these things, they also managed to make an album that sounds contemporary as well. (They also avoided covering "This Christmas" and "My Favorite Things.") Their "Home For the Holidays," "Little Drummer Boy," "Winter Wonderland" and "Joy to the World" completely deconstruct these familiar tunes with funky grooves and even rap sections. Other familiar holiday ballads get the typical R'nB/smooth jazz treatment, such as "Christmas Time Is Here," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)." Originals like "Christmas Always," "Let's Rejoice (Christmas Is Here)," "Christmas Tyme (Perfect Time For Love)," "Do Not Be Afraid," "My Prayer" and "Peace" are slow-to-medium tempo performances, the latter an instrumental. They're good originals, they just don't jump out and grab you as must-listens. The uptempo covers are by far the best part of what is overall, a solid R'nB Christmas album. Hard copies appear to be available only through their website, Best Buy and Walmart, but you can download from iTunes and Amazon.
This is from 2012, and there's not much info to be found about this group online. It starts out with several classic carols in a sort of alternative pop-rock vein, with mangled titles like "Sleh Rahd," "Janga Beylz" and "G.N.T.L.M.N." Then there's "Uber Nacht," a medley of "The First Noel," "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" in a more conventional acoustic reading. "The Sneaky Song" is a non-holiday parody of White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Then there are what appear to be originals, like "House Call," an ambiguous story of "a doctor who's also a king," and "Chopstick Drum," an ode to making lunch that is non-holiday. Considering how much of this is non-Christmas, the title falls a bit short. But if you're looking for holiday songs that remind you of playing singles on your portable 45 player in the 60s, the tunes on here will work for you.
Yeah, these guys know on which side their bread is buttered, as they're back with their third pass at the holiday for 2013. This EP comes loaded with guest shots -- Colbie Caillat, Cee Lo Green, Otis Redding and Paul McCartney -- although at least the latter two are simply sampled from the original records, while Caillat appears to be performing live; Cee Lo's performance could have been either, though he sounds very much like he did singing "White Christmas" on his own Christmas album. Elsewhere, Amazon allows you to download free their parody version of "The Nutcracker," and they do a fairly rhythmic, almost streetcorner, version of "Home By Christmas," a poppier "Song For Santa" and a funky, uptempo "Amazing Grace." Other than "Nutcracker," the glee-club-isms are kept to a minimum here, thankfully.
This 2013 single is a charity release for Britain's Big Issue Foundation. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker with a sing-along chorus, and your buck or so supports needy people, so what are you waiting for? Check it out.
This act offers a new Christmas song every year, and for 2013 it's the John and Yoko classic. It's added to the group's Christmas Collection on Noisetrade, which we previously mentioned here. If you haven't grabbed the collection before, grab the updated version with this song added.
The now-online-only music/other arts magazine has a long history of distributing various artists collections of music, including Christmas collections, and this is the 2013 holiday edition, free for download from Noisetrade. (Noisetrade requests "tips" to support the artists, but in this case there's a strictly free download button provided.) This straddles the adult alternative and Americana genres, and nearly all this stuff is previously or currently released. As a result, I'm just going to mention stuff that's on here that hadn't crossed my radar before this. "Christmas Thyme" is by The Olms, the Pete Yorn/J.D. King project from earlier this year, and this original song is a nice 60s pop outing featuring acoustic guitar and trumpet fills. Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors offer the piano-led ballad "Everything's Changed at Christmas But You," Maggie Chapman sings of lost love at the holiday in "Could've Been Summer," J Roddy Walston & the Business take a grungy stab at gospel in "Jesus Gonna Do His Best," the David Mayfield Parade go old-school pop country with "They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose" and The Last Bison lead their version of "Carol of the Bells" with banjo. There are also cuts from Sufjian Stevens, Nick Lowe, Bright Eyes, Otis Redding, Good Old War and Seabird, but they've all been mentioned here before. Can't argue with the price even if you have a lot of these songs.
Before Hanukkah completely passes us by, up-and-comers Haim channel Adam Sandler for us. This is from 2012, a performance for BBC Radio 6.
This is mostly Jewish humor for other Jews, but with Hanukkah bearing down on us I thought I should hurry this onto the site. Rachel Bloom is a comic and actress who cuts lots of short videos for use on YouTube and other sites, and she gathered up a bunch of friends to throw together this short collection of Hanukkah-centric goodies. Highlights include "Chanukah Honey," a parody of "Santa Baby" with a NSFW twist in the very last line; "Happy Epic Chanukah," a heavy metal take on the story of the holiday; "Foreskin Angels," less about the holiday and more about, well, you know; "Judaica," an electro-pop tribute to shopping for Jewish heritage goodies while traveling; "Let Me Be the Cantor In Your Temple," a bit of Wild Man Fischer-inspired ranting (and oh, is that what the kids are calling it this year?); "What Would Hashem Do," a light-hearted look at the extreme punishments described in the Old Testament; and "Think About All the Dead Jews," a klezmer version of "finish your peas, the starving children in India would love them." There are three "Elders of Zion" spoken-word bits that are probably more funny if you're Jewish, as they snark on Jewish stereotypes. Here, check out "Chanukah Honey":