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November 2012 Archives

easternsea.jpgThis Austin, Texas band has been getting some buzz for their recent album Plague, and now for 2012 has rushed out a full Christmas album, featuring two originals and 10 classics in a cool alt-pop-rock delivery. The opener, "This Is Christmas," is a nice uptempo celebration of the holiday, and the title song is more of the same in a love song setting, with a brief shout-out to Thanksgiving as well. They goof around with "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," put nice acoustic ballad arrangements together for "Silver Bells" and "O Holy Night," and create a bouncy arrangement for "Walking In the Air," the song from the animated flick "The Snowman." They go a capella for "Carol of the Bells," give the martial drum treatment normally given to "Little Drummer Boy" to "Angels We Have Heard on High," then follow with "Drummer Boy," which gets the surf treatment about halfway through. "First Noel" gets an interesting folky treatment, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is rendered as an almost soul ballad, with a letter to Santa as a spoken interlude and a false ending, and they join the growing list of folks who play "My Favorite Things" as a Christmas song. Great alt-rock holiday music. Click the cover to grab from iTunes.
Music Bed is a licensing company that seeks placements for songs on albums and in TV and movie soundtracks, and to call attention to their roster of artists they've compiled this 2012 collection, which is free from NoiseTrade. For some reason, they've included two versions of "Silent Night," Green River Ordinance's being more of a rock-oriented drone while Katie Herzig takes the acoustic Americana approach. Act As If provides us with "Sleigh Bells & Reindeer," an uptempo original with a contemporary hit radio flavor, as is Saints of Valory's "Winter Lights." Trent Dabbs' "Raise the Tree" is a midtempo pop song, Sugar & the Hi Lows' "Home For the Holiday" is a last-century soul ballad, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors takes a pop-jazz approach with "Christmas For You and Me," and Jules Larson offers "Oh Holiday," a pop-rock crowd pleaser. Another song in a similar vein is Tim Halperin's "Under That Christmas Spell." The Young Internationals and Matthew Mayfield give us acoustic-based power pop with "This Year" and "Christmastime Again," respectively. Amy Stroup's "You Make the Cold Disappear" is a nice piece of 60s-era baroque pop, and wrapping things up is Future of Forestry with "What Child Is This" and A New Normal's "Angels We Have Heard On High." Payment is requested, but you can get it free if you like.
sleddinhill.jpgWe've posted the band's previous Christmas singles here in the past, now for 2012 all three of them are part of this Lancaster, Pa. band's new holiday album. Except for the originals "Flurries" and the title song, the rest of the songs are classic carols and all are instrumentals except "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." For those of you not familiar with the band, these guys play fast thrash metal, and all the songs are in that vein, although some open quietly and build to the big climax, while others are top speed from the start. Their "Carol of the Bells" might sound to some like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but the rapid drumming sets it apart from that version. Other carols getting the treatment are "Frosty the Snowman," "Sleigh Ride," "Jingle Bells," "O Holy Night," "Winter Wonderland," and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," as well as the three previous singles. Metal's not my personal favorite genre, but this is well done and worth your consideration.

Jill's a singer-songwriter in what, to be facile about it, is the "goth" realm, or as she states in her website bio, someone who seeks to unite the sensual with the sinister. This 2012 holiday disc is her fourth album, and her approach is not too far from Tori Amos or Kate Bush. Unfortunately, the effect across a whole album is rather monochromatic, as everything is piano-driven at a moderately slow tempo. Her choices of traditional carols are appropriate for this approach, as she does "O Come O Come Emanuel," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Coventry Carol," "What Child Is This," "We 3 Kings," "Carol of the Bells" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," with "God Rest Ye," "Midwinter" and "Carol" being instrumentals. She provides one original song, "Room 19," a melancholy musing from someone who appears to be held against their will in some sort of facility on Christmas Eve. This appeals to a certain kind of person, and if it's you, go for it.

"A Christmas Song," Mimi Betinis (self-issued)

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Mimi is a guy, and he's also a founder of the late 70s punk-new wave act Pezband, who had the misfortune to have their first album overmarketed to the point that it was a staple of the cutout bins. Nevertheless, they were well liked then and still are among the power pop subculture. This 2011 number is right in the wheelhouse of the singer's former band, a nice poppy ballad with keyboards and even touches of a sitar-like instrument in the breaks. I was able to grab a copy free from Pop Geek Heaven, but now you'll have to go to Amazon for it.
Stumbled over this at Amazon and haven't been able to scare up much information about it, but it's an indie rock collection of original songs by lesser-known artists released in 2012. Mick Clark gets two songs on here, "It's Christmas Party Time" is a nice uptempo opener and "Sing Glory Glory Hallelujah" is a slower, churchy ballad led by cello and bells. Also getting two songs is Nelson King, with two ballads, "Christmas (Light of the World)" and the talk-sung "Love and Understanding." Mike Murray takes the Eighties approach to the synth-poppy "Sleigh Ride," an original instrumental, not the popular carol, and the decade gets another nod from Tim Ambler on his ballad "Xmas Night." Country influences come into play on "It's Christmas (For Everyone But Me)"  by Joe Paxton and "My Baby Gave Herself To Me" by Michael Panasuk, the latter sounding like George Jones backed by Floyd Cramer. David Fisher makes a run at Roy Wood on "Topsy Turvy Xmas," even bringing kids to the microphone by the end. King Layen's "It's Christmas Time" is a nice bit of power pop, The Swag Men take it slow on "Do U Believe in Christmas" and Wendy White gets the last word on the poppy "At Christmas Time." A nice collection from out of left field, good performances of good songs.

Gifted, The Jigsaw Seen (Vibro-phonic)

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gifted.jpgComing off 2011's fab holiday album Winterland, the band had intended to buff it to a nice sheen with some additional cuts for the 2012 Christmas season, but they ended up with enough material for an entirely separate album, which is what this is. Like last year's disc, this shows off the band's evolution from strictly garage to a more late 60s pop rock sound, and while there's plenty of Christmas here, the band is also going for more of a "winter" vibe here, which was also the theme of Winterland. Songs like the ballads "Myth of the Season" and "Hag of the Barren Trees" address some of the pagan heritage of winter celebrations, while the rockers "The More You Change," "Open Up the Box Pandora," and the David Bowie cover "Sell Me a Coat" are not so much about the holiday as they are set in the colder season. Same goes for the instrumental "Couples Skate." "Rise of the Snowflake Children" is a nice psychedelic garage chant, "Christmas Ain't For Christians (Anymore)" is a set of deathbed reflections from a prison and a hospital with exquisite guitar and flute backing, the title song is a cool putdown of a charlatan, and the album closes with "Pretend It's Christmas," an acoustic ballad asking the listener to look on the bright side. Not sure I can pick between last year's and this year's albums, both are equally good to my ears. Here, have a taste of "Open Up the Box Pandora."

This Isn't Christmas EP, Eww Yaboo (Summersteps)

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ewwyaboo.jpgMisnomer on the title of this 2012 two-song collection, an EP is at least three songs and usually no more than six, although there are exceptions. Now that we've gotten the nomenclature straight, stop by Bandcamp and grab these two songs. The title tune laments a missing significant other, building from acoustic guitar to the full rhythm section, and "Lawn Lights" cranks it to 11; use it as the soundtrack to your holiday display. Nice work from this northeast PA indie band.
Summersteps is a northeastern Pennsylvania indie label, and this 2010 collection of alt-rock-pop holiday music is something I stumbled over on the way to something else. It's a free download from Bandcamp, so it won't cost you anything to check it out for yourself. Kicking off the proceedings is Eww Yaboo with a Sir Paul cover, "Wonderful Christmastime," and other notable cuts are Marshmallow Staircase's narration of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," Brother JT's funky "Booty For Christmas," Straws' sort-of Jesus and Mary Chain influenced "2000 Miles," Kid Icarus' ode to 12/26, "On Boxing Day," Cold Coffee's 70s-influenced "Magic Holiday," the reimagining of the "Suffragette City" riff on Das Black Milk's "Everybody Loves a Holiday," and Langor's poppy "Yantsor, the Candy Cane Maker," a fictional holiday personage who appears to be making his debut here. Also of note is Jeeze Louise's ukelele rendition of "Last Christmas," the Dirt Vultures indicate "Christmas Could Be a Bummer" with a long noisy drone to that effect, and My Dad Is a Dinosaur does the "Baby Jesus Blues," for which you should really brace yourself for the first few lines of lyrics about Satan doing a "Saw" on Santa Claus. An interesting indie collection.

fictionfam.jpgThese guys include members of Nickel Creek and Switchfoot, which trips my country alarm, but two things: 1. This 2012 song is more 50s pop than country, even though you can hear plenty of mandolin in it, and it's a good uptempo song about not needing the jolly elf when you've got your baby with you. And 2. It's free from NoiseTrade as part of a six-song EP called Holiday EP, of which this is the only holiday song. You can opt to pay or request a free download link, which will get you on their e-mail list. NoiseTrade offers lots of free music, not infrequently from people you actually may have heard of, so it's not the worst thing ever to be on their list.

Record Store Day returns on Black Friday

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deathsanta.jpgMany folks who come by these parts are hip to this now-twice-yearly musical holiday, but for those who aren't, Record Store Day is a great way to encourage traffic into the still-hangin'-in-there independent record stores with exclusive limited one-time-only issues and first releases of stuff that will be generally available afterward. The fabulousness of the event depends on the inventory budgets of the individual stores, of course, but I'm guessing most of the readership still enjoys an afternoon of pawing through the stacks. Three exclusive releases with holiday connections are the disc shown here, Death May Be Your Santa Claus, a collection of blues holiday tunes from the 20s to the 50s; a vinyl 45 of "This Christmas" with the original Donny Hathaway on one side and CeeLo Green's 2012 version on the other; and King Diamond's "No Presents For Christmas" on a 12-inch picture disc. There's no track listing for Death, so no way of knowing whether there are any rarities on there, but it's on Sony BMG Legacy, so it's likely everything's been previously released. Stop by the website for a list of participating stores and a further list of what those of you who limit your Black Friday sojurns to Kohl's and Best Buy will be paying through the nose for on eBay.
devlingrandma.jpgWell, here's a bit of fun from an unexpected source. "Grandma" is a Christmas perennial, but it's gotten to be a fairly shopworn one. So give this artist props for rocking it up in an instrumental version that covers everything from Brian Setzer to reggae in its fairly short running time. Grab it from Amazon or iTunes, or Bandcamp.

The folks at Cool Christmas Songs on Facebook featured this 2012 Celtic stomp from the Emerald Isle, Donegal if you will, about riding shotgun on Santa's sleigh. Good for a giggle, and they're using it to raise money for the Parkinson's Association of Ireland. Couldn't find any links to purchase, though, but here it is for posterity.

Tinsel and Lights, Tracey Thorn (Merge)

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Formerly one-half of Everything But the Girl, Tracey and bandmate/hubby Ben Watt come together in 2012 to celebrate the season. Their previous work ranged from acoustic pop-rock to jazzy songcraft to dance-floor anthems, but this album isn't very rock-oriented, it's more in the acoustic and pop realms. That said, Tracey is a fine vocalist who doesn't try to diva up the proceedings, she uses her excellent voice to serve the songs she's singing. She contributes two original songs to this set, "Joy," a warm opening ballad of celebration with a hint of foreboding in the new year, and the title song, a traditional-sounding song celebrating, with restraint, a New York Christmas, a sentiment that might resound a bit more in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The rest of the album is 10 well-chosen covers, with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," featuring the original lyrics, being the only traditional selection. Scritti Politti's "Snow In Sun" is one of those covers, and that band's Green Gartside performs on a cover of Low's "Taking Down the Tree." Tracey also performs Stephin Merritt's "Like a Snowman," Randy Newman's "Snow," Ron Sexsmith's "Maybe This Christmas," the White Stripes' "In the Cold, Cold Night," Sufjan Stevens' "Sister Winter," a nicely orchestrated version of Joni Mitchell's "River," and "Hard Candy Christmas," from "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." While I don't recommend it as a rock album, it's a fine collection of alternative Christmas performances, and it refutes the commonly voiced complaint that there aren't any good modern holiday songs. Should add that there's a really elaborate vinyl package being offered only in the UK at this point; the US vinyl version on Merge is, according to the release, a "simpler" version.

Holidays Rule, various artists (Hear/Concord)

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holidayrule.jpgGiven the label, it's a lead-pipe cinch you'll be running into this 2012 collection at Starbucks shortly. It's a reasonably hip collection featuring some familiar faces along with some alt-rock and alt-country up-and-comers. Paul McCartney shows up with "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," from the sessions with Diana Krall that created his Kisses on the Bottom crooner disc, and he gets covered by the Shins in a heavily remade but still cheerful-sounding "Wonderful Christmastime." While we're in the crooner mode, Rufus Wainwright duets with Sharon Van Etten on "Baby It's Cold Outside," and Holly Golightly does a retro "That's What I Want For Christmas." In the Americana vein, Black Prairie, the Decemberists' side project, does a rootsy-sounding "(Everybody's Waiting For) The Man With the Bag," Calexico performs "Green Grows the Holly," the Punch Brothers break out the banjo for "O Come O Come Emanuel," the Heartless Bastards take on "Blue Christmas," Fruit Bats go straight country on "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and Civil Wars gives their dolorous delivery to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Y La Bamba goes bilingual as they turn "Mr. Sandman" into "Senor Santa (Mister Santa)," Irma Thomas takes "May Ev'ry Day Be Christmas" to church, AgesandAges gives us a bit of rock on "We Need a Little Christmas," the band fun. mashes up Spector, old-school pop and modern rock on "Sleigh Ride" and Eleanor Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces turns Elvis Presley's "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me" from a rocker to a jazzy drone about halfway through. The new year gets its due from The Head and the Heart on "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and Andrew Bird on a banjo-and-fiddle "Auld Lang Syne." This is a fairly eclectic collection, although heavy on the alt-country, but the young and hip are likely to go for this based just on the artist roster. UPDATE: Howard Cogswell writes to note that the UK version of this collection is called Christmas Rules. Whether that regional difference is war-on-Christmas worthy I will leave to the readers. My take is that the collection includes two New Year's songs, so the American title is more accurate, although adding a Hanukkah selection would have made that point more obvious.

santathru.jpgEven after wrapping up all their previous holiday tunes in an EP last year, Stratocruiser presses on for 2012 with this crunchy rocker. The band calls this a sort-of sequel to "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," in which the guy whose significant other was snuggy with Santa gets a little perturbed and declares "we're through. Not me and her -- me and YOU!" Great rock track, might remind some of Cheap Trick a little bit. And it's free for you and me -- click the cover art. UPDATE: Link had limited functionality, according to the band; here's an updated link.
If you're not familiar with Fred, he's an Internet phenom, making YouTube videos of his 6-year-old self singing and rapping in Chipmunks-style vocals about his dysfunctional home life. It went viral to the point where he's made three TV movies for Nickelodeon. Fred's a fictional character by the way, portrayed by Lucas Cruikshank. Although this 2009 joint is aimed at kids, I prefer to think of this more as a novelty act for the folks who come to this website, particularly the song "Christmas Is Creepy," where he goes all Notorious A.L.V.I.N. on the holiday. "Christmas Cash" is not bad in the same vein, and the EP is filled out with "Fred's One Squirrel Open Sleigh (Jingle Bells)" and "Fred's 12 Days of Christmas," which are the familiar carols from the Fred character's point of view. As with all novelties, shelf life could be a problem, especially if you have kids who are into this, but one song on a mix disc couldn't be too big a problem, right?

This Christian band offers up an EP of holiday tunes for 2012, and the title song from the collection made the Very Special Christmas collection of Christmas rockers. As I said in that review, it's a nice pop rocker for the holiday. Another original, "Hope Was Born This Night," and a version of "O Holy Night" round out the EP. Both those songs are OK, but not quite to the level of the title song.
Five years after her single "Mistletoe," Colbie extends that previous release into a full album of Christmas goodies for 2012. With help from some journeyman tunesmiths, Colbie does bring us some additional original tunes for the holiday. The title song, as you might expect, takes us to the beach for Christmas, featuring a hint of ukelele in the background and the lyrical image of Santa in a bathing suit hitting the surf. "Everyday Is Christmas" and "Happy Christmas" are pop ballads, and "Mistletoe" wraps up the originals. The rest is covers, with Brad Paisley duetting on "Merry Christmas Baby" and Gavin DeGraw doing the same on "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "The Christmas Song," and serviceable but not remarkable versions of "Santa Baby," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Silver Bells," "Winter Wonderland" and "Auld Lang Syne." It's more pop than rock, and if you have the single you might be tempted to pass the rest of this by. 

The giant orchestra/choir/rock band best known for its song "Light & Day" appeared to have faded away, awaiting their cameo on VH1's eventual "I Love the Aughts" special. But they've lunged back into the spotlight in a big way for 2012, with a tour, plans for a live album and documentary, a Halloween concert of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" songs, and a studio album to come next year. Meanwhile, they've also made a stronger bid for the Christmas audience with this 2012 album, following on from their 2011 single "It's Christmas," an archival release we featured here last year. Sorry to say, the single didn't make the playlist for the new album; this is 11 standards bracketed with a couple of short original instrumentals, "A Working Elf's Theme" and "Holidaydream." The total package is more pop than pop-rock, which might be why the single didn't make the cut. "Winter Wonderland" follows "Working Elf" inauspiciously, as it's a slow, rhythmless drone take on the carol. "Let It Snow" has a similar arrangement. "Silent Night" is a harp and piano instrumental and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" is mostly a flute-led instrumental, with the title sung once about 42 seconds from the end. "Silver Bells" appears twice, once in a dirgy 7-minute version and later in a 4-minute reprise that is a little brighter in tone, picking up the tempo about halfway through. "White Christmas" is a duet with a child vocalist, and I'm on record as not finding that as precious as most people. The remaining songs utilize the Spree's classic sound more successfully, including "Carol of the Bells (Little Drummer Boy)," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," a slightly Eastern-sounding "Do You Hear What I Hear," and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," the latter song being a good homage to the original. My verdict is that it's a mixed bag, best for fans of the band and folks who like a little retro '60s (non-rock division) in their holiday. "It's Christmas" remains their best holiday entry so far, at least until Vol. 2.

Yep, it's been a quarter of a century since this series of rock and pop Christmas compilations supporting Special Olympics kicked off. As you'll read elsewhere on the site, there are two discs for 2012, and this is the one that cuts across the swath of popular music, which means rock, straight pop and country. Train kicks things off with a nicely rocked-up "Joy to the World," Cheap Trick puts some tinsel on their biggest non-holiday hit with "I Want You For Christmas," Dave Matthews Band revisits "Christmas Song" from VSP 3, done by Dave and Tim Reynolds back then, and Jason Mraz offers a sprightly acoustic "Winter Wonderland." That's pretty much it from the rock angle, although Martina McBride does a fairly credible "Please Come Home For Christmas" that has more Memphis than Nashville in it. Of the pop stuff, Francesca Battistelli offers a sweet midtempo "December 25," Jordin Sparks tackles "Do You Hear What I Hear," Christina Aguilera does that Christina diva thing on "O Holy Night," OneRepublic's single from last year "Christmas Without You" contributes to the cause, Grayson Sanders has a good original, "Something In the Air," Wonder Girls do "Best Christmas Ever" and Jewel and Michael Buble do their usual thing on "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," respectively. The rest is from country artists, Rascal Flatts with "Mary Did You Know," Vince Gill with "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" and Amy Grant with her "Tennessee Christmas." Downloaders should note only five songs are available separately; fortunately Cheap Trick's song is one of them, along with Train, Sanders, Sparks and Wonder Girls.
I blew off the last Very Special Christmas album from a couple of years ago because it was nearly all tween artists, and I don't regret that, because, well, tween artists. I've been more tolerant toward Christian artists as long as they are rocking the house while they're testifying. On this, one of two new discs to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first VSP in 2012, Christian artists take the lead in supporting Special Olympics. Of the 16 songs, there are a fair number of rockers, along with ballads and country-tinged numbers, which might make this a tough sell for a rockin' Christmas. Especially since individual song downloads are verboten, you have to buy the disc or download everything. But not all these songs are exclusive to the collection, starting with Sidewalk Prophets' pop-rocker "Because It's Christmas," a fine original that's also on an EP. Same with Francesca Battistelli's "O Come O Come Emmanuel," a typical slow ballad treatment of the carol from her new Christmas disc. Needtobreathe offer a U2-flavored "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and Big Daddy Weave does the same thing with "O Come All Ye Faithful," Jason Castro medleys "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Angels We Have Heard On High" in a standard hard rock arrangement, Jamie Grace gives us the poppy "Christmas Together," and Group 1 Crew puts a little R'nB spin on "O Holy Night." These are the highlights of the disc, and the rest, while competent, is also about what you'd expect on a Christian pop holiday disc.

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