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December 2011 Archives

"New Year," The Go Find (Morr Music)

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Discovered this Belgian band via the Facebook page Cool Christmas Songs. This is from their 2007 album Stars on the Wall, which you can download from Amazon. They appear to be a power-pop ensemble, and while this sounds a little dour, the lyrics are a bit on the optimistic side. Don't know what eventually happened to the girl who keeled over after biting into the enchanted pizza, though....

"Auld Lang Syne," Sci-Fi Romance (self-issued)

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scifirom.jpgLots and lots of folks record this New Year's anthem, but hardly anybody makes it the linchpin of a single release. Well, this band did, complete with multiple verses from the original Robert Burns, rather than singing the same one over and over again. It starts out all slow and ballady, but then swings into a nice rootsy rock 'n roll groove. It's free, download it from here.

It's that time once again

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Once again we hit the target date of the season, or we will in a few hours from when I'm typing this, anyway. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to Mistletunes' readers, correspondents, friends and relatives everywhere. Hope you're turning up the stereo, or the earbuds, the better to enjoy a rockin' holiday. Keep coming back, though, 'cause I'm planning to keep posting throughout the year (just not on Christmas day). Take it away, Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns....

garageband3.jpgIt's the third go-round for this series of rock Christmas collections -- actually the fourth if you count the fact that Volume 1 had to be reissued with a different track listing after a couple of songs flunked the rights clearance dance. As mentioned before, the "Garage Band" of the title is misleading, as there's not much of what we identify today as the garage sound. But as long as you're aware of the difference, this 2011 compilation isn't a bad collection. "Xxxxmas" by Harley Fine, the cover of "Father Christmas" by Garrigan and "Christmas In July" by Darling Czar are the songs that most live up to the album title, with Fine's tune a funny reference to X-rated entertainments on the holiday. The Human Beinz with Miss Angie contribute a power-poppy "Christmas Story," that band's Sal Crisafi offers a straight cover of John Mellencamp's version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," and the band returns with Booker T's "Time Is Tight (Christmas version)," which appears to be accomplished with the aid of a bell solo near the end of the song. Paul James McHenry also goes a bit poppy with "Snap Your Fingers (If You Like Christmas)." Pat Horgan & Thunder Road offers the self-explanatory "Garage Band Christmas Blues," and Blue Road with Jimy Rogers also go to the blues with their version of "White Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby." If you liked the earlier entries in this series, you'll probably enjoy this one as well.

Some more holiday goodies

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  • With Christmas coming, I'm trying to post as many things at once as I can that haven't made it to the site this year yet. Apologies to anybody I've overlooked. Oh, and I'm a little late posting the liner notes to this year's Christmas mix, Occupy 34th Street. They're in the mix disc listing in the left column.
  • We haven't done much for the Francophone audience, but we heard from "Meb," a Montreal singer-songwriter alias Marie-Eve Bouchard, who has performed and posted "Noels D'avant," her own original holiday ballad, kind of a cheap electronic backing with fake drums and keyboards but strong singing from Meb, and yes, it's in French. It's not bad, and you can put the lyrics through Google Translate if you must know what she's singing about. (It's definitely Christmas.)
  • The Flashcats, a long-standing Pittsburgh band, have a history of creating original Christmas songs; they even hit the national spotlight briefly with "December Twenty 5," a parody of the Lou Bega smash "Mambo #5" that found its way onto the Rhino compilation Mambo Santa Mambo. This year they've posted some of their originals at Soundcloud, including the newest, "When the North Wind Blows," a nice Christmas ballad. Stop by and grab some Steel City goodness. (Disclosure: I know these folks from when I lived in Pittsburgh.)
  • Rachel Platten is trying to get us to notice her recent non-holiday song "1000 Ships" by pairing it with "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" for a free download. It worked, they're both pretty good.
  • Check out TImPermanent and his synth-pop take on "Joy to the World" at ReverbNation. I think you'll like it. 
  • The Union Jackals sing about a "Jackal Christmas" on their Soundcloud page, a stately indie rock/pop ballad that has, in the band's words, "equal parts misery and joy." Download it for yourself.
  • Primal Sky has a Christmas surf instrumental called "Riding Christmas Waves." Depending on your mood, it may not sound very Christmasy to you, but that's why CDBaby, iTunes and Amazon have preview buttons, right? Our pal Stubby liked it, so go check it out.
  • The Tell Alls have a free EP, Bright Lights of Christmas, you might want to check out. More indie-pop, the title song has a gentle lilt granted, no doubt, by the prominent ukelele. "My Favorite Holiday" is a little more uptempo and a little more power pop, and "Season of Joy" is a sweet ballad. Very nice.
  • I didn't get much in the way of details about the artist or anything else about this video, but the faux-retro soundtrack to this "Two Minute Tour of New York," titled "A New York City Christmas," is not bad in a contemporary hit radio-friendly sort of way.
santastic6.jpgHard to believe it's the sixth edition of this new Christmas tradition featuring this bunch of like-minded deejays working their turntable-computer-beatbox skills on the Christmas repertoire. And like always, it's free to download. Highlights from this year's compilation include "Santatage," with Divide & Kreate mashing Otis Redding, the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC together; "Party Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Dj McFly bringing LMFAO together with Brenda Lee; A Plus D vs RIAA brings us the genius "Crimson & Chanukkah," which brings Joan Jett's cover of Tommy James and the Shondells together with a cover of Adam Sandler's holiday hit; Voicedude puts his 2012 prediction on the line with his version of "You're a Loser, Newt Gingrich," and also does "Let's Get Our Fa La La On," in which Marvin Gaye meets the Osmonds, Boyz II Men and The Beeb; ATOM brings Fats Domino, Peggy Lee and Bjork together on "Wonderland Walker"; DJ Flack's "Marshmallow Vanilla Fudge World" combines the band in the title with Brenda Lee over a reggae beat; and Mojochronic, he of the "Yuletide Zeppelin" mashups, gets Andy Williams to "Pump Up the Holiday" with Technotronic. I mentioned last year that the Jackson 5ive "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" gets a bit too much mashup love; well, it's here again, I'll let you find it after you download the latest collection.

Snow Globe, Matt Wertz (Handwritten)

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Matt's a singer-songwriter of nearly a decade's standing and this 2011 collection is his first Christmas album. "Singer-songwriter" tends to create a mental picture of a scruffy guy or gal with an acoustic guitar, but Matt's the crown prince of pop, at least if this album fairly reflects his previous work. The title song from this collection is a perfect example of a perfect pop-rock Christmas record, heavy on the radio-friendly sheen. Unfortunately, a big chunk of the album is old-school pop of the Michael Buble-chasing kind, big-orchestra renditions of "Winter Wonderland," "White Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." "Sleigh Ride" and "Christmas Time Is Here" are instrumentals, the former for orchestra, the latter for solo piano. He also takes a solid crack at Amy Grant's "Tennessee Christmas," no lounge music here. Matt's on stronger ground with his originals, which include the excellent title song, "Wake Up Wake Up," and the ballads "Christmas in the City" and "Christmas Just Does This To Me." The song "Snow Globe" is absolute radio ear candy, the other originals are not bad, and the rest is pretty much interchangeable with the majority of pop Christmas music out there.

Thanks to Bridgett Mills for tipping us to King Washington, a cool-sounding band with a Christmas video about chilling in Cali for the holidays. No standalone audio, at least none I could track down. Watch this:

A podcast for you all to enjoy

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Gareth's Indie Grotto has a Christmas-themed indie-rock-pop podcast the readership might want to listen to. It originates over in Old Blighty, so if you're listening after 6 in the evening, don't turn it up too loud, it's 11 p.m. over there. (Kidding.) If you listen real close-like around the 26-minute mark or so, you'll hear the voice of Rudolph answering a few questions about this very website. Check it out.

My Favorite Gifts, various artists (Ramseur)

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favgifts.jpgThis is a charity compilation produced by Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers to raise money for the Vickie Honeycutt Foundation, a cancer-fighting organization. Bob's daughter Hallie is being treated for leukemia at St Jude's, which no doubt led to this benefit disc. It's a fairly mellow affair, featuring mostly covers like Nick and the Babes' "Christmas Time Is Here," Paleface's "Fairytale of New York" and the Wood Brothers' take on "Rebel Jesus." The Brothers themselves do "I Thank God," from a Sam Cooke album of spirituals but not a particularly holiday-oriented tune, and Jessica Lea Mayfield takes on Roger Miller's "Little Toy Trains." David Mayfield does John Hartford's "On Christmas Eve" and David Wax Museum (great band name) offers the traditional "La Rama." Originals include "Rambling Door to Door" by the Overmountain Men, Jim Avett's "The Brightest Star," and Mark Crozer's "Next Christmas." A nice array of Americana acts, though the whole project is more country than rock.

thatband3.jpgOnce again our Dutch friends have posted an EP for the holidays, their third. The 2011 collection finds the band getting some help from The Left-Handed Orchestra, who are credited with three of the eight songs on here -- "Snowman," a kind of sinister creature in their telling; "Sunshine For Xmas," a rather downbeat synth-popper for the sunny title; and "Thomas Ulrich Reginal Key," the latter a parable of sustainability more than a holiday song. That Band contributes the instrumental "Snowflake," the winter warning to our avian friends "Don't Forget the Birds," the ode to companionship "Long Time No See," the harmonica-led year-end summary "Waste of Time," and "Where Can I Buy a White Christmas," an indictment of materialistic desires during the holidays. They've got an indie-pop sound, sometimes sparse and this year sometimes augmented with horns, and this will remind you of such folks as The Very Most or Low. When you go to the Bandcamp page to grab this, you'll also have the opportunity to download the previous two collections as well. (The "name your price" feature can be 0.00 euros, or you can cut the guys a little slack.)

Christmas Together, Jamie Grace (Gotee)

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jamiegrace.jpgFor 2011, Christian singer Jamie gives us this four-song EP featuring the title song, which is a textbook solid modern pop-rock Christmas song about getting all your friends and family together for the holidays. "O Come O Come Emanuel" gets an interesting hot-off-the-dance-floor arrangement, rather a departure from the usual reverent renditions this song usually gets, especially from Christian artists.  Then comes a sweet cover of "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" followed by "What Child Is This," with the help of Abandon Kansas, a big production number climax to this short but satisfying collection.
lloyd.jpgThe soul singer channels Michael Jackson on this 2011 song, a modern r'nb fast number that will get everybody on the holiday dance floor. It actually has a taste of that 80s-90s sound, which goes with the singer's style very well.

More free Christmas albums

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  • Alternate Root, the online Americana magazine, has issued another free Christmas collection featuring such folks as Rhinannon Giddens, Over The Rhine, Michael Martin Murphey, Scott Miller, Eric Brace & Last Train Home, Lizanne Knott, The Del-Lords, Winterbloom and many more.
  • The folks at KDHX-FM in St. Louis may have noticed our plug for fellow alt-rock public station WXPN, as they tipped us to their very own collection featuring Gateway Arch artists and a couple of national acts doing Christmas songs. Only some of the songs are downloadable, the rest are streaming-only, and all were recorded live in performances for KDHX. It's getting so close to Christmas I don't have time to issue full reviews of these, but I wanted to be sure you folks could grab them.

Ruin Christmas, Proper Animals (self-issued)

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properruin.jpgUPDATE: The album formerly known as Too Much Christmas is now called Ruin Christmas, with a much tighter playlist consisting of the best 14 songs already mentioned in the below review and the Life Without Chairs entry. Click the album art to grab it from iTunes. End update. Hey, remember last year when we hipped you to an all-original Christmas album by a band called Life Without Chairs? Good times, a strong power-pop outing with snarky holiday lyrics. Since then, things have changed around quite a bit, and Life Without Chairs is now known as Proper Animals. Recording fresh Christmas tunes appears not to have been held up in the transition, for now we have the above-mentioned album for 2010 containing 25 songs, still all originals, although five of the original album's songs -- "Song For a Christmas Party," "Santa," "It's Christmas Again," "Christmas Ain't For Crying," and "A Gift As Nice as You" -- are carried over to the new collection. The newer songs are more hard rock-thrashy than the Life Without Chairs songs, with that double-time drumming featuring frequently. Among the new songs are "Lonely Hearts In the Snow," a holiday dating song; "In Herod's Wake," a double-time thrash through the back story of the Nativity; "More Christmas Please," in which too much of a good thing isn't enough; "Another December Day," in which stalking a girlfriend doesn't result in good news; "Christmas Is Here," in which the celebratory competes with the snark; "Lovely Is This Day/42nd Street," in which "lovely" segues to "lonely" in the vicinity of the street in question, a tune that almost qualifies as musical theatre; and "Ruining Christmas," a hard rock take on doing what the title suggests. Overall, the wit of the original album remains, and the performances of the new songs are strong. Whether it's "too much Christmas" I will leave to the reader, but, well, this is not a site where that proposition comes up much, is it?

cashing3.jpgLike the previous edition, this is 18 hard rock/punk takes on the holiday for your 2011 delectation and playlisting. Among the familiar songs are the Chosen Ones' "White Christmas," in which a few unscheduled expletives and stimulants appear; The USM makes "The Little Drummer Boy" hammer out a boogie shuffle; The F.U.s' "Father Christmas" is a noisier but otherwise faithful cover of the Kinks; and Al and the Black Cats get thrashy with Elton John's "Step Into Christmas." Most of the tunes heard here are originals, kicking off with Evacuate's "Holidays With You," a fairly mainstream companionship song; the Keefs rail against lengthy Christmas preparations with "Christmas Crock," and Last Seen Laughing cover similar ground in "The Great Christmas Plot"; Cracks and Scars take aim at Santa with "Fake Beard Bastard"; and the Slotcars hijack surf music with their punkish "Surfin' For Christmas." Alcohol gets its holiday due via the Fisticuffs' "Santa Smells Like Whisky," Whisky Business' "A Whiskey Christmas," the Gestalts' "Cookies and Beer," Seek Revenge's "Kegnog," Red Alert's "Having a Drunken Christmas," and Angry Snowmans' "Drinkin' Rum & Egg Nog." That latter song, along with Missile Toads' "Reindeer In the Night," are billed as CD/download bonus tracks, which means if you go for the "splattered candycane vinyl," you'll have to download those last two tracks somehow. For the hard rockers and the punks out there, not to mention the vinyl fetishists (180-gram variety, of course).

"Winter Canon," Sofia Talvik (self-issued)

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sofia4.jpgWe lost track of Sofia after a couple of interesting free download songs a few years back, but it turns out she's been continuing to put out a fresh song every holiday. For 2011 the free download is this song, a mid-tempo meditation on angels singing in the winter season. For 2009, she released "Snowy White River," a dark ballad describing the place "where the angels drown." And 2010 brought us "Santa," an atypical (for her Christmas songs, anyway) bit of uptempo synth-dance-pop about a lost lover, a situation she hopes the jolly elf will rectify. All are free downloads and are still available, though the new one requires liking a Scandinavian aid society's page on Facebook.
ingridm.jpgIngrid has flirted with Christmas themes before. "Men of Snow," from 2007's Everybody, uses a snowman as a metaphor for lovers' separation. Her 2009 album Girls and Boys has two entries, the rocker "The Hat," a sweet rocker whose downtempo lyrics depict a Christmastime breakup, and "December Baby," a little more morose version of the same plotline. She also had the singles "Snowfall" and "When the Leaves." And of course, she duetted on "Winter Song" with Sara Barielles for the Hotel Cafe disc. For 2011, she does away with the ambiguity and gives us a slow acoustic take of the popular song mentioned in the headline. A good change of pace single, and notice I make no references to "Grey's Anatomy" in this post. (Except that one.) This song is on iTunes and Amazon, but there's also an EP at her site with this song, "Snowfall," "When the Leaves" and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm."

Quick hits

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  • Fika Recordings has an Advent Calendar of new music, free downloads. I've only had time to listen to a couple and there's some good rockers on there, so go here and get your free music.
  • Speaking of free music, Paste Magazine has a double-download of 40 songs, a number of which have been reviewed here already. Get it here.
  • And sorry for not sooner calling atttention to Atlas Eets Christmas, a Flaming Lips site that streams 24/7, mainly the "Imagene Peice" secret Christmas album of 2007 but also the website's title song which was redone in 2011 with Flaming Lips, Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band. That collection of artists will perform at the Lips' New Year's Eve "freakout" in Oklahoma City, by the way. The new song is only streamable for now.
  • Thanks to Howard Cogswell, who pointed this out to me weeks ago and I keep forgetting to mention it. Brian Wilson's Songs in the Key of Disney has an exclusive Amazon version, and there's a song that's only on the downloadable edition, "Peace On Earth," a Christmas-themed song from "Lady and the Tramp." It's free to download by itself from Amazon. The whole album is a discounted $4.99 from Amazon as well.
  • Almost forgot to mention WXPN-FM in Philadelphia is giving away an elpee's worth of holiday toonz all done by indie rock performers from Philly. Grab it here
  • We gave a middling review to Little Red Ambulance's song "Maybe This Christmas" earlier in the season, so the band contacted us with a newer, and more uptempo, song, "Christmas In the Morning." No Amazon link yet, but here's the link to Bandcamp, and a video:

"St. Nick," Danny Newport (self-issued)

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Danny's a Philly boy, in case you don't recognize the background sights from the 2011 Running of the Santas. This nicely snarky DIY tribute to Santa is downloadable from this site, or you can just enjoy the video here.

hifivol3.jpgWe reviewed the previous two collections under this name favorably for their great assemblage of power pop Christmas tuneage, and 2011's addition to the series is solidly in the tradition. (Disclosure: this author made a small financial contribution to get the album to the pressing plant.) Lisa Mychols makes her third appearance in a row to kick off the album with "Joy Is In the Giving," a song I can't track to her previous discography; it's not on her classic Lost Winter's Dream Christmas album. Mistletunes regulars may recognize some of the songs on here; the Click Beetles' "Wonderful Christmas," Jim Babjak's Buzzed Meg's "It's Love on Christmas Day," Yule Logs' "Christmas Lights" and Jigsaw Seen's "What About Christmas" have all been mentioned here before. Sketch Middle rocks out on "Very Very Merry Merry," Jamie & Steve do a very Beatlesque "What Am I Gonna Get," the Sun Kings mine similar territory on "Santa's Calling," October Elsewhere gets introspective on the ballad "Bright New Day," as does 89 Mojo on "Wish," and Jeremy goes for the jangly guitars on "Now It's Christmas." Although these folks are mostly of the power pop realm, there are some left turns -- blues in the case of Tinsley Ellis' cover of "Santa Claus Wants Some Loving" and Ash Can School's "Christmas List Boogie," and antique pop-jazz in the "Winchester Cathedral" vein from The Brothers Figaro on "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." And Mari Pavelich, the reason for this seasonal tradition -- it was her case of Von Willebrand syndrome that led her dad, Dan, to produce this series of albums to benefit The Blood Center in Milwaukee -- provides us with a dramatic reading of "The Meaning of Christmas." A good album for a good cause, currently only available at Jam Records but hopefully will be in wider release soon.

iTunes Session, My Morning Jacket (ATO)

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mornjack2.jpgThis is the band's second Christmas effort, following 2000's Do Xmas Fiasco Style. This is a live collection with assistance from 2011 tour mates The Head and the Heart on two songs, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "When the Bells Start Ringing." "Welcome Home" and "Wonderful" are band originals, the latter from their most recent album Circuital, but with the lyrics tinseled up a bit. They also do "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Christmas Must Be Tonight" and a quiet but rather authentic sounding take on "Please Come Home For Christmas." A nice present from the band, but a bit on the mellow side; I was hoping for a little of that "Holdin' On For Black Metal" vibe myself. Needless to say, only on iTunes.

The holiday crush has slowed my posting -- believe me, there's stuff on my desk and in my iTunes queue to post -- and I need one more night to finish my annual mix disc. (Thanks to the folks who have sent me theirs; they know who they are.) To tide you over, our old pals the Philco Brothers have knocked out another video. Hope to have some fresh posts in the next couple of days.

I wasn't aware of Jonathan Coulton before, but he's apparently a prolific writer and performer of humorous songs, and he hangs around with such folks as They Might Be Giants and John Hodgman, so a cracked world view is definitely part of the scenery at Jon's house. I couldn't find this song in his discography, but he does have "Podsafe Christmas Song," a parody of the Chipmunks, and "Christmas Is Interesting." As for this, well, don't listen to it while watching the news, as I noticed a disturbing parallel or two, just enjoy the sci-fi satire. Hat tip to AMERICAblog for pointing me to this.

revelate.jpgOld-school soul music never goes away, does it? This 2008 single by this great ensemble from Brooklyn could have been on the original Atlantic Soul Christmas album from the 60s -- it would certainly fit better than say, Luther Vandross did on the CD-era reissue. A nice mid-tempo ballad about the joys of the holiday, and Tre sings the heck out of it. UPDATE: The single becomes an EP for 2011 and remains free to download. Add to the above classic the slow ballad "It's Christmas Time," a tough rock take on Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," and a straight cover of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas."
amoebalog.jpgThese wacky folks have given us holiday novelties before, and for 2011 they're pushing this EP with four cool novelties, although the first song, "Uncle Pat," is more about the elderly relative telling war stories than anything to do with Christmas (except they drink eggnog while listening to him). Hanukkah Alert to "Eight Nights of Bowling," which may be the most original approach to the Festival of Lights I've yet heard. The title song depicts a fight between the Yule Log and the Eggnog, and "Omaha" considers the holiday in that Midwestern city as the singers really stress those long O's. High whimsy content here, which I strongly recommend. It's at Bandcamp and iTunes.

F*ck That, Erin McKeown (self-issued)

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mckeown.jpgYou know how "Wicked" is "The Wizard of Oz" told from the point of view of the WIcked Witch? This 2011 collection is sort of the unrepentant Scrooge's view of Christmas, if Scrooge was a gay 21st century singer-songwriter with a sense of humor. Really, this is as anti-Christmas as it gets, and is pretty entertaining for all that. The undeleted expletives start with "Christmas Waltz," where Erin plays it straight while the background chorus mocks her and swears in answer verses. Erin then goes into the many reasons why "Santa Is an Asshole," from being a pervert with kids in his lap to being an anti-Semite because he's only for Christian children. Those two songs also get "Kleen mixes," though it seems unnecessary to bother. "Go Tell It" reimagines the old hymn by superimposing pop culture personalities on the chorus in place of the usual Jesus. "Fa La La" provides a litany of tragedies, real and imagined, in place of the usual "Deck the Halls" lyrics, over guitar and ukelele. "Visions I've Had" is a humorous take on druggy experiences set to "Angels We Have Heard On High." Obnoxious family reactions to one's gay partner are the subject of "It's a Very Queer Christmas" and "Frozen Smiles." "Christmas Love It or Leave It" is a poke in the eye to cultural conservatives who equate patriotism and Christianity, and "You Wish Us a Happy Holiday" is a witty reposte to the people who complain about having to say Happy Holidays. I'm guessing Erin is deadly serious about the sentiments on display here, but there's enough humor that broad-minded folks will find it listenable, not to mention worthy of a space on your holiday playlists. Stop by her site to learn more about her Dec. 18 webcast based on this album.

indiefree.jpgThe indie-pop label has done three paid compilations in past years but for 2011 is giving away this four-song collection featuring the previously mentioned "Wombling Merry Christmas" by The Very Most; J. Catala's "Hey It's Christmas," in which the Andrews Sisters go indie; Adam and Darcie's gentle and lush take on "Silver Bells"; and Fotoshop's noise-poppy "Don't Beat Me Up, It's Christmas." To get it, you have to go to Indiecater's site and leave a comment on the proper thread, after which they'll send you a link.
schwartz.jpgGary is the former drummer for Jigsaw Seen and the United States of Existence, and for 2011 he's got this song, a folk-rock-pop number that is so far as I know the only holiday song that directly addresses the clergy-pedophilia scandal. It does so in a cheeky way with a singalong chorus and, just to rub things in, a kiddie chorus at one point. For those who don't mind a darker shade of the holiday, give it a listen at Bandcamp, also sold at the usual download suspects.
This duo has been doing a free Christmas song every year for more than a decade, and for 2011 this stutter-stop rocker led by piano and reverb guitar is an impressionistic take on the holiday that worms its way into the old brainpan. It's free from their site, along with every other Christmas song they've ever recorded.

"White Christmas," Lady Gaga (Interscope)

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gagawhite.jpgHer previous Christmas concoction was a sexy electro-dance number about a Christmas tree, but for 2011 she's horning in on Michael Buble's turf with this straight jazz-pop reading of the popular carol. It's on an EP with three other non-Christmas songs from her Thanksgiving special, all performed the same way. This is mainly for her little monsters, though folks with the collected holiday works of Sinatra, Dino and Der Bingle will be right at home here too. For the rock crowd, not a likely sale.
The giant rock 'n roll orchestra and glee club actually recorded this little number back in 2003, but according to its press materials the song got "lost in the shuffle" until recently. Now they're using it to herald their return to the scene, and to call attention to their big Christmas benefit. It's a strong rocker with that community choir thing happening over top of the rhythm, and it's available directly from their record label. The group previously did "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" for the Maybe This Christmas Tree compilation. Check out the video:

verymost2.jpgBoise, Idaho's finest indie-pop-rock band has been covered here before, and for 2011 they're pushing a four-song EP, each number an apparent band favorite by other artists. Now check out the roster, in descending order of familiarity: The Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick," the Wombles' "Wombling Merry Christmas," Vashti Bunyan's "Coldest Night of the Year" and Gorky's Zygotic Minci's "Christmas Eve." This tells you that these folks are poppy, precious and obscure, but it's the music that tells the real story -- it's warm and intimate, yet energetic at the same time. Their non-ironic "Wombling Merry Christmas" is alone worth the price of admission, especially if you don't remember the original of this kids-music classic. "Little Saint Nick" is simultaneously familiar and obscure, with only its surf-and-cars lyrics left intact from the original. I've never heard the other two songs before this, and I suspect they may suffer in comparison now that I've heard this very capable combo (and a few of its friends) perform them first. Grab it from iTunes (click the cover) or Amazon, you'll be very happy and the Idaho Foodbank will thank you as well.

futheads.jpgThis actually snuck out a few days before Christmas 2010 and I missed it entirely, so here it is now. I haven't been following these guys, but I probably should based on this song alone. I was expecting the song to be some kind of tribute to 80s music, especially given the 8-bit cover artwork, but based on my reading of the lyrics, Christmas was better in the 80s for these guys because they were kids back then. The song definitely has a bit of 80s British new wave feel to it, and that's a feature, not a bug. Still at iTunes, so grab it.
civilwars.jpgCritics' faves The Civil Wars are a folky duo whose simul-bellum name suggests they might just fit in as guest musicians in such films as "Cold Mountain" and "O Brother Where Art Thou." And they would, judging by the foreboding sound of the two holiday songs on this 2011 single, the A-side an original about reaching out to a lover in the snow and the B-side a traditional version of "O Come O Come Emanuel." (Yes, these are the same songs I mentioned in the Record Store Day post.) Definitely downtempo, but muy simpatico with the playlists of alt-rockers and Americana fans.

gripweed2.jpgThis album was possibly the most eagerly awaited of rock Christmas albums in 2011, based on my unscientific observation of prerelease buzz, and it was worth the wait. (You have to wait until next week to get it from conventional stores, but the band is already shipping it from their website as a download, CD or vinyl.) For those not familiar, the band, named for John Lennon's character in his only non-Beatles movie appearance, is equally planted in the nouveau-garage scene and as an old-school British Invasion ensemble -- much like their New Jersey neighbors the Smithereens, two of whom guest on the Grip Weeds' cover of "2000 Miles." The band's own "Christmas Dream," which opens the album, also has a bit of the 'Reens sound as well. An unexpected guest on lead vocals is Mark Lindsay, who sings the band's original "Santa Make Me Good," a cool bluesy romp with a catchy harmonica break. "For the Holidays" is a nice minor key original, keying off the intro from XTC's "Dear God" and building into a baroque arrangement with harpsichord, flute and strings. Their previously released original "Christmas, Bring Us" is also here, a fine tune as we've previously mentioned. They get a little psychedelic on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and turn "Welcome Christmas" into an outtake from "Tommy." The 70s get more love from their cover of Jethro Tull's "A Christmas Song," a fairly faithful take on ELP's "I Believe in Father Christmas," and I don't think I've previously come across a rock band cover of "Merry Christmas All," a song from the famous (and compulsively repackaged every few years) Salsoul Orchestra disco Christmas album of the 1970s. The Grip Weeds pulled out all the stops to make this a distinctive, original, rock 'n roll take on Christmas, and a just world would reward them richly for having done so.

fitztant.jpgThis squadron of blue-eyed soulsters caps off a strong 2011 with this holiday single, whose premise is easy to discern from the title alone. It's got a nice midtempo 60s soul feel and you can dance to it. The flip, "Darkest Street," is non-holiday and is a bit slower and, yes, darker, but still listenable for all that. Streamable at their website, downloadable from Amazon (click at right) or iTunes. There's 7-inch vinyl of this as well.
blackswans.jpgA deceptively upbeat song about preparing for Christmas but secretly wishing to be alone on the holiday. The Columbus, Ohio band enlists a guest vocalist for this poppy little number from 2011 who absolutely makes the record what it is, though the band itself gets credit for the clever lyrics and tasty arrangement. Stream it or grab it from Bandcamp. Or download from Amazon (click art), which benefits this site.
augred.jpgThe Christian metal band from Lancaster, Pa. has done Christmas songs before, and they're back for 2011 shredding this antique carol, which they do as an instrumental. I can't stop thinking "Spinal Tap" when I hear metal no matter how well done, but that's just me.
vegasrand.jpgA tip of the Mistletunes pine-tree guitar to the Power Pop blog for hipping me to what may be the best power pop band since Fountains of Wayne. This holiday toast was originally out in 2009 but is on the Fairfax, Va. band's most recent album, 2011's Above the Blue. This quick uptempo rocker travels from wishes of toys and world peace to a desire for single-malt Scotch from the UK in less than a full verse. Clearly these guys' taste for hootch is as refined as their musical taste, though you would need to hear the entire, otherwise non-holiday, album before you debate me on this.

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