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December 2012 Archives

A tip of the Mistletunes touk to Cool Christmas Songs on Facebook, which hipped me to this video. The Rescues are a trio of California singer-songwriters who have been around since 2008, and in 2009 they issued a Christmas ballad, "All That I Want For Christmas (Is To Give My Love Away)." Just in time for 2013's New Year celebration, the band gave an early release to this uptempo number, which is off an unreleased album called Blah Blah Love And War. As it's unreleased, independent audio is not yet available, but no doubt it's on the way. Happy new year, everybody!

Double Live! The Yule Logs (self-issued)

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livelogs.jpgSorry I didn't get a mention of this up before the holiday, but Chico, Calif.'s finest all-singing, all-dancing and all-Christmas-plus-Hanukkah band managed to get its fourth new album out for 2012. This one's a live album featuring performances of mostly songs from their first three albums; only the songs "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," "Holiday Road" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" appear to be new to the recorded repertoire. But they're a good performing band and the album works in some humorous stage banter between songs. If you haven't sampled this band's work before, this is not a bad way to become familiar with them. It's at CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes.

Merry Indie Xmas, Adam Horne (self-issued)

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merryindie.jpgWell, this is a hoot. Way too short to be a real album, but Horne, of the band Bear Ceuse, got it into his head that he needed to hear popular Christmas carols as they would sound if done by up-to-the-minute indie rockers, and so he did it himself. Nine tunes, none more than a minute, and all being streamed (only) via Soundcloud. "Rudolph" is done in the style of Interpol, "Joy to the World" as Beach House, "Here Comes Santa Claus" as Bon Iver, "Silent Night" as The xx, "Deck the Halls" as Das Racist, "12 Days of Xmas" as Gorillaz, "Hark! Ye Herald Angels Sing" as The National, "Jingle Bells" as Wavves and "O Christmas, Ye Cold Wind Blows" as Mumford and Sons. This is great, too bad he didn't carry these tunes on to full length. But maybe we heard just enough, in this Twitter era, to enjoy the concept. From 2012. (Maybe the full-length follows in 2013?)

"Here Comes The Holidaze," V.D. King (self-issued)

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The artist, who works both solo and with the Jersey band Better Off Dead (and who was behind the holiday compilation A King Family Christmas), has a history of putting together Christmas videos. This is the 2012 edition, a nice shuffle with a catchy chorus. V.D. tells us this is late because of Hurricane Sandy, but he doesn't give us any details; hope whatever setbacks Sandy caused are now behind him.

Time once again for the annual Mistletunes Christmas Eve post, in which I express my thanks to the readers for stopping by this roadside holly jolly stand every year. (The annual promise to do more work in the off-season is officially disavowed for once; if it happens, it happens.) Love hearing from readers and musicians, even if a lot of the latter don't realize that the major-label holiday releases are finished in June. (Just kidding folks; break out your favorite drummer jokes here.) Here's a little something to send you off; this appears to be a non-professional video effort, but what the heck.

"Jingle Bells," Jimmy Fallon (NBC)

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The song that was left off the Bob Dylan Christmas album from a couple of years ago....

dragonette.jpgThis Toronto band made its biggest splash by recording in England, and this 2012 holiday tune is a great up-to-the-minute commentary on how technology alters our social lives -- and how it doesn't. Explicit and less expicit versions offered, and a "lyric video" is available, see below. Grab it from Amazon or iTunes.

Festivus, various artists (Highline)

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festivus.jpgThe Highline indie-rock label just sneaked this collection onto the market in December 2012, an interesting collection of Highline artists "and their friends," as the website states. And just like the fake holiday of the title, it's a grouping of Christmas songs for the rest of us. Correatown kicks off with the folky-western arrangement of "Christmas Time Is Here," an original, not the "Peanuts" favorite. Skiffle and the Piffles offer a nice acoustic "Just Because It's Christmas," in which doing things because it's the holiday is frowned upon, though with a smile on the singer's face. Piney Gir rocks things up a bit with "Every Day's a Holiday," and she's collecting enough unique tracks for her own Christmas album. The Glam Chops live up to their name with the 70s stomper "Countdown to Christmas," which would fit right in with all those classic British holiday singles of the era. The Baubles go all Raveonettes with "The New Going Out," Alphabet Backwards sends a pop-rock message to "Dearest Santa," The Real Tuesday Weld offer the pensive "Song of December," and Monnone Alone have questions for Santa in "Everywhere At Once." Hunks & Friends consider "The Magic of Christmas," the rockabilly sound comes from The Werewandas on "I Love You Santa Claus," Still Flyin' rock out with "St. Veit," a nod to the Austrian town, Birthday Kiss raise hosannas to a "Sentimental Christmastime," The Little Kicks remind us that "Santa Claus Is Not a Number," Russell (El Disastre) gives us a breakup song, "Christmas Day (Time To Let You Go)," and Alexander's Festival Hall give us a touch of the music hall with "Present and Correct." A highly listenable collection on its own that should also prompt you to investigate Highline's artists during the non-holiday season.
elefant.jpgWell, not exactly a gift, since you have to buy it in hardcopy or download versions from the label, which is based in Spain. UPDATE: Click the album cover to get it from Amazon. This 2012 collection kicks off nicely with Attic Lights' tune "Why Should Christmas Be So Hard," a sentiment increasing numbers of people have been subscribing to lately. It's got a nice production straddling Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, a good opener considering the album title. Guille Milkyway and the Jelly Jamm Sound Orchestra go uptempo with the sprightly "Holding Hands Around the World," The Yearning offer a sweet orchestral ballad, "I Just Wanna Hold Your Hand (On Christmas Day)," The Magic Theatre perform a tribute to "Christmas Lights," The School goes retro with the heavily 60s-sounding "Let Me Be the Fairy On Your Christmas Tree," and they return with another girl-groupy song, "You're Coming Home Tonight." Bells lead the "X-mas Song," an original by Edine Avec Lisle Mitnik Et Son Orchestre, and yes, that's spelled correctly. BMX Bandits sing "Let's Make Christmas Love," which instrumentally recalls Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys but with baritone vocals. The Primitives, which may be that same 80s band I'm thinking of, complain "You Trashed My Christmas," and YouDoMeToo go synth-poppy on "Bells To Ring and Jingle." And since this collection originated via a Spanish label, we have a number of tunes in that language, like "La Luz Del Mundo" by Single, "El Viaje Majico De Santa Claus" by Modular, "Los anillos De Alcyone" by La Casa Azul, "Te Espero En Navidad" by Axolotes Mexicanos, "Donde Todo Sigue Igual" by Band Å Part and, just to throw a spanner in the works, Fitness Forever go Swedish with "Su Sventom Kaledom," although it's an instrumental. It's a great collection, whether hardcopy or download. There may be some vinyl left at the website, but it's supposedly a limited edition. Check out The Yearning's song:

"Find Your Voice," Sarah McLachlan (self-issued)

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findyrvoice.jpgSarah's already got a Christmas album under her belt as well as a couple of stray cuts here and there. This is new for 2012, and it's her with students from the music school she founded. Money raised from the song supports the school. It's a nice mid-tempo Christmas pop song, available from iTunes or the school's website.
bottomchim.jpgThe band Delta Rae made a splash in Americana and alt-rock circles with their song "Bottom of the River" during the summer of 2012, which garnered enough airplay to inspire this parody just in time for Christmas. The artist is a Delaware bunch that started out as a party band in the 70s and now gets together to do, well, this kind of stuff. If you know the original song, the parody is very good and very close. Easily downloaded from their website. They also did "Marching Santa Style" this year. While you're there, check out some parodies from past years.

"Santa Can You Hear Me," Abi Ann (self-issued)

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abiann.jpgThis 15-year-old songstress is being marketed by her management as a country-pop performer, but this 2012 song is all pop and almost no country, other than the slightest bit of Texas in her voice. It's a nice piece of contemporary hit radio pop-rock that she wrote herself, asking for the gift of love. It's on iTunes if you're interested.
yonforest.jpgThis is an interesting piece. It combines surf guitar and drums with vocorder-treated singing of an antique holiday folk song. Impressive work. Grab this 2012 effort from Bandcamp. While you're there, check out this Vermont band's holiday tunes from previous years, like 2011's "I Wonder As I Wander," a more folky treatment, and 2010's "Song For a Winter's Night," a spacy treatment led by organ.
We've had this band on the site a couple of times before for singles, and they just sent this over to us to feature. Nice song, possibly the best of the three we've had up so far. Strong rocker with upbeat lyrics. From 2012. No independent audio yet, near as I can tell, but they do maintain a Bandcamp page.

weeblfred.jpgRight Said Fred is, of course, noted for their one massive hit, "I'm Too Sexy," from 1991. Twenty years on, they remain known for their one massive hit. Don't know if this 2012 collaboration with noted cartoon character Mr Weebl will change anything, but as it's quite the sprightly dash of holiday dance floor synth-pop, why not, eh? Grab it from Amazon.
tinseltwang.jpgSomewhere between rockabilly, surf and 50s pop comes Jason and his axe with this 2012 collection of holiday instrumentals. He also throws a tropical twist into the proceedings with "Hawaiian Sleigh Ride" and "Mele Kalikimaka," the latter featuring xylophone along with the electric guitar. Seven classic tunes in total make up this short EP, adding to the above "Happy Holidays," "Christmas Waltz," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Frosty the Snowman" and "Holly Jolly Winter Wonderland." Nice work, and even the cheesy cover art compliments the concept. Click that art to grab from Amazon.
scifigodrest.jpgThese guys gave us a nicely antique rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" last year, and for 2012 they continue in that vein with this single, an uptempo cello-led rock rendition. For the flip side, they go even more antique with a version of "Silent Night" that includes vinyl record surface noise. Check it out at Bandcamp.

Wish List, Loop Line (self-issued)

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loopline.jpg
This Minneapolis indie rock band gives us a nice pair of modern power-pop songs for 2012. "We Know Santa's Real" is a mid-tempo affirmation of faith in the jolly old elf, and "I Want a Surfboard (For Christmas)" is a suitable homage to the Beach Boys in their 50th anniversary year. It's on Bandcamp, so stream it or download it.

Radio stations offer Christmas compilations

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  • Roy Kasten, the web editor at KDHX in St. Louis, signals us that his station once again has a compilation of artists performing Christmas songs live in their studios. Folks like Deer Tick, Rum Drum Ramblers, Grace Basement, Half Knots, Rough Shop, Letter to Memphis, Rah Rah, Neé and many more provide an array of tunes, many of which appear to be originals, across an eclectic spread of styles and genres. Most, but not all tunes are downloadable via Soundcloud; the rest are streaming-only. Check them out here.
  • And I don't think I mentioned that WXPN-FM in Philadelphia has, for the second year in a row, released a freely downloadable compilation of Philly-area artists performing holiday tunes. Among the performers are Good Old War, Deb Callahan, Shaun Ruymen, Ryan Tennis, Aaron Brown and the York Street Hustler, and a good few others. Like KDHX's collection, it's fairly eclectic; unlike KDHX's, it's all studio versions and no streaming.
  • Speaking of compilations, for those of you who didn't notice it lurking there in the left column, this year's Mistletunes mix disc liner notes have been posted. Check it out at your leisure.
hilarygrist.jpgThis album was out in 2011 but was punched up for 2012 with an additional track, "The First Noel," a nice power-poppy ballad arrangement at that, and turned loose on Bandcamp and Amazon. It's mostly familiar songs, but there are two originals, "Branch's Arms," a ballad that contains the album title and talks about building a nice fire, and "Holy Winter," another ballad with a little bombast to the arrangement. A solo piano version is also included. "Jollly Old St Nicholas" is a sprightly version driven by electric piano, "What Child Is This" is a more intense ballad arrangement, while "Silent Night" and "Auld Lang Syne" are quieter and more reflective. This is gentle indie pop, for those of you seeking a change of pace. Another one that's at Bandcamp.
connection.jpgA very Ramones-inspired band, although a little more poppy, this 2012 single is high-energy power pop about wanting records for Christmas, as opposed to CDs or an iTunes gift card. In fact, the vocalist bears a sonic resemblance to Joey Ramone. Just to underline the point, they cover "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)" on the B-side. Good stuff. Follow the Bandcamp link.
henningohl.jpgThis 2012 single is a nice bit of pop rock aided with banjo, telling a story of enjoying a holiday gathering but ultimately going home alone. It's a bittersweet tale and one that will make a nice change of pace in your holiday playlists. It's on Bandcamp, folks.
dropkick.jpgA nice slice of Irish-influenced folk-rock about drunken revelry in the family home, which is what got the Puritans mad enough to ban Christmas and the rest of us to write hilarious essays and songs like this one. Gotta love lines like "The eye-rolls and whispers come out from the kitchen/I'd come home more often if they'd just quit bitchin'." If these guys are trying to make people forget the Pogues, well, that's a tall order, but they've made a hell of an effort. Maybe a little dark for some, a little too Irish for others, but it rocks out and that's fine with me. Check it out for yourself:

"Home For Christmas," Lemon (self-issued)

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lemonxmas.jpgThese guys, one New Yorker and one Dane, have been around for a number of years but I've never run into them until now. This is from 2011, a very Depeche Mode-sounding ballad about the topic of the title, nicely done. They previously did "What I Want For Christmas" for 2010, in which the desire is to hold a lover closely. It's a little more uptempo. Both songs are worth your attention.
zerbin.jpgThis band from Canada's west coast has a couple albums out and they identify as alternative, but they also appear to have a Christian rock streak, as their current Christmas tour features appearances in churches. I'd say this 2012 EP has more of a modern mainstream rock feel to it, crossing electric and acoustic sounds. They have sprightly takes of "O Come O Come Emanuel" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," a fairly dramatic version of "O Holy Night" and an interesting original, "For All," an acoustic ballad reflecting on the Biblical story of Christmas. This is good enough that you'll want to seek out the band's non-holiday output. Grab this from NoiseTrade.

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We're up to the seventh in the Santastic holiday mashup series, which in my book ranks as a modern-day Christmas tradition, right up there with putting giant bows on Lexuses, setting your outdoor lights to blink in time with Trans-Siberian Orchestra and complaining that there's some spurious War on Christmas going on. This year's collection shows a trend toward more pop consciousness; although dance-floor and hip-hop conventions still rule, there's a number of cuts on here that would blend right into the background if you slipped them into some store's speaker system. Mojochronic's "What Child Too Close" is an example, as it mashes up Alex Clare with, of all people, The Judds. You could almost say the same for that mixmaster's "White Chrismadness," which backs Diana Ross with Muse. Mojochronic's third contribution is more rock-oriented, "I Wanna Be Dentated," in which a Ramones medley backs up The Three Stooges' "All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth" and Ray Conniff's "Rudolph." Another smooth mover is Voicedude, who combines Sublime and Smokey Robinson in "Jingle Bells Are What I Got," and DJ Flack mines similar territory with "Sleigh Ride 2 Hell!" featuring Johnny Mathis, Ciara and AC/DC. DJ Schmolli opens and closes this playlist with "Jingle Bells Pon De Floor," in which Jars of Clay meets up with Major Lazer and Soma. DJ Morsy gives us a "Toxic X-mas" featuring Britney Spears and Jose Feliciano," G3RSt drops Sean Kingston on top of Brian Setzer in "Jingle Girl," Brutal Redneck's "Smells Like Ray Conniff" is just what it sounds like, and the Temptations meet Night Ranger in "Sister Christmas" by Lobsterdust. Gotta love dj BC's "Jingle Pressure," combining Queen, David Bowie and Smokey Robinson, with a cameo by Vanilla Ice, and ATOM's "Santa Brought My Baby Around the World" is so densely packed the only thing I can positively identify is Elvis Presley. Shouldn't leave without mentioning "Riders on the Sugar Plum," DJ McFly's mash of the Doors and Maroon 5 into a classical rendition of "Sugar Plum Fairy." Once again, another great collection of mashups, and like always it's free to download.

skydrops.jpgThis alt-rock duo bestows a kind of clattery shoe-gaze version of the Vince Guaraldi-Peanuts holiday standard on the audience free of charge for 2012. They previously did "Christmas Feels Like Halloween" in 2010, a more acoustic guitar-driven original, which is also very nice and is up on Amazon for you to grab. Check 'em out.

And a Happy New Year, Mikey Wax (self-issued)

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I haven't encountered Mikey before, but this 2012 EP is a nice piece of work, starting from the top with the nice original mid-tempo rocker that is the title song. He also wrote "Catch the Midnight Flight," a ballad calling for a lover to come home for the holidays, and "Perfect Holiday," a bouncy piano-led number whose topic is obvious from the title. "Let It Snow" gets a ballad treatment and "Winter Wonderland" is uptempo with steel guitar and ukelele. That leaves the non-holiday "Across the Universe," the Beatles classic that gets an appropriate performance. Worth your attention.
Pittsburgh's own The Flashcats have been making Christmas records for a very long time. They just posted this live performance video of a holiday song.

 
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In case you thought that Sufjan Stevens, having created a five-CD boxed set of Christmas music for the second time in his career, couldn't possibly have any more Christmas left in him, well, you're bloody wrong. He's made a mixtape of Christmas hip-hop music featuring such folks as Kitty Pryde, Nicky Da B, Busdriver, Heems of Das Racist, DMA and Oreo Jones. I've listened to it once, and, well, it is what it is. It doesn't leap out at me as being something absolutely wonderful, but those of you who are more inclined toward this genre might like it more; have at it in comments. Stream it at Soundcloud via this Pitchfork link, grab it at this link.



mockers.jpgAh, somebody finally took aim at the phony-baloney War on Christmas. For 2012, the Mockers unleash this power-pop brickbat at the cable news and talk radio hucksters who seek to divide us every holiday. The chorus is a fabulous rejoinder to all that cynicism, and the fact that it rocks out makes it even better. And bless 'em for that cover art, too. Flip side is "(What's a Better Present) At Christmas Time," and boy do these guys like wordy titles, but this is another gem, a slightly slower tempo with a taste of "Please Please Me" in the chorus. Grab both of these songs together immediately from Bandcamp, or individually from Amazon or iTunes. Only Bandcamp has the great John & Yoko parody art, however. UPDATE: Seth Mocker of the band informs us that iTunes didn't like the parody art because it didn't clearly show the name of the song and thus might sow confusion. One would have thought the only online outlet for Beatles material might have gotten the joke....
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Another of Stephen Colbert's week of Christmas carols, which are all available on iTunes and benefit Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. In this case, the son of the song's original author joins the Staples Singers star and her most recent producer, the leader of Wilco, in doing a fine homage to the original performance, even including the Harlem Gospel Choir on backups. I previously mentioned Elvis Costello and Diana Krall, and there's also a version of "Good King Wenceslaus" featuring Michael Stipe and Mandy Patinkin. I'd embed the video, but I fell for that once already; Comedy Central clearly doesn't have the embed thing worked out. From 2012.
schuylerfisk.jpgThis is from 2011, but I just stumbled over it. Schuyler is better known as an actress, but she's also serious about her musical side, having released other music besides this EP of six songs featuring three originals. There's not much rock going on here, it's more poppy, but it's a catchy little collection. The slow ballad "Sleep Sleep (Christmas Lullaby)" is self-explanatory, "It's Christmas, So We're Singing" is a little more uptempo, and "More Than I Wished For" is more of a pop-rocker, definitely the breakout cut of this collection. She also does a slowed-down "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and ballad treatments of "Silver Bells" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Maybe a little too poppy for some of you, but this is well done either way.

What Christmas Means, Kem (Motown)

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Kem is a big modern R'nB star recording for the historically hallowed label Motown, and this is his first Christmas album, released in 2012. He offers five original songs, all co-writes, mostly with Melanie Rutherford, but "Be Mine For Christmas" also gets authoring help from soul legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and some vocalizing from Ledisi. The album is almost entirely ballads, with emphasis on the religious aspects of the holiday, as in "Glorify the King" and "Doo Wop Christmas (That's What Christmas Is All About)." The title song, "A Christmas Song for You" and the previously mentioned "Be Mine" are more universal love songs. Kem also covers "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)," "We Three Kings" and Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby," which is a very mellow blues rendition. Not exactly the prescription for a rockin' Christmas, more in the soulful easy listening vein.
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One should not trifle with the progressive rock underground, as they pop up when you least expect it, whether in regard to touring or the occasional new recording project. This is a production of Neal Morse, founder of the band Spock's Beard and currently a solo artist, and he has recruited people like Steve Hackett of Genesis, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theatre, Steve Morse of Stage Right and Pete Trewavas of Marillion to put together this progressive rock ride through the holiday world for 2012. Unfortunately, I can't say a lot for this collection. It's almost all instrumental except for "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and most of it is not particularly adventurous, with long stretches of lead guitar playing the straight melody line for each song. "Shred Ride - Sleigh Ride" goes a little crazier with the guitar, but a lot of this is pretty much in Trans-Siberian Orchestra territory. The one breakout cut from this collection is "Frankincense," a takeoff on Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" with holiday touches, which shows imagination far beyond the rest of the album. Unfortunately, you can only buy the complete CD or download the complete album from Radiant's website. Check out "Frankincense" here.

"Sleigh Ride," Karmin (Coach)

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Yes, that's Coach, as in the fashion house. They've made this song and video the linchpin of a 2012 holiday advertising push. But longtime readers of the site know that we don't hold monetization of one's musical assets against an act, or even blanch at straight-up advertising jingles if they're original and half-decent. This is a great piece of modern-day pop that steals as many musical readymades as it can on the way to polishing up a traditional classic. Check the band out here. Thanks to Howard Cogswell for pointing this out to us, the video anyway; there's no separate audio available as far as I can see. UPDATE: Doh! If you click More Info on the video, it says to download the song from Coach.com. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Here's the correct link.

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Don't know anything about these guys except this 2012 collection is their one and only album. Google pointed me to a page where they were described as former members of Sleigher, a band that appears to have done Christmas songs in the past. Oh, and they stole their name from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." These guys self-define as heavy rock and metal, and they take a cynical view of the holiday, as in the title song, "Xxxmas Time Again ('Round Here)," and the brief "Jingle Bells" in which the singers exchange a couple of expletives. Centerpiece of the album is "Screwj and the Demons," a 12-minute epic based on "A Christmas Carol" that owes a bit of a debt to Tenacious D. "Under the Tree" is an almost romantic rocker, "Oh Holy Road" is a midtempo rocker with lyrics I've been unable to decipher, and "Birth of the Demon Slayer" is a heavy guitar instrumental. They also do an acoustic guitar-led "W3k" (We Three Kings), a driving rock version of "Noel Number One" (The First Noel), and a piano-driven "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." They wrap up with an acoustic reprise of the title song. It's a well-done album, aimed more at fans of harder rock.
Gotee2.jpgThe Christian rock label lets go of its second holiday sampler for 2012. Gotee artists tend to do big-sounding commercial rock-pop productions, and this collection underlines my assessment. Jamie Grace gets two cuts from her previously released EP, "O Come O Come Emanuel" and "What Child Is This," the latter in combination with Abandon Kansas, who also performs without Jamie on "Do You Hear What I Hear." Capital Kings has a synth-pop version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and a wildly deconstructed version of "Carol of the Bells." Stephanie Smith's "O Holy Night" is the typical arrangement led with acoustic guitars, building to a big climax, Finding Favor spiffs up "Silent Night" with a faster tempo and a nice shuffle beat, Johnnyswim does "Baby It's Cold Outside" in the usual arrangement, Harper Still has a semi-country take on "I'll Be Home For Christmas," and House of Heroes has a nice elegiac version of "The Rebel Jesus." Good collection if you're not familiar with these groups and you like pop in your rock.

Christmas EP, Ashes Remain (Fair Trade/Columbia)

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This Midwest-based Christian hard rock band is on the rise, and for 2012 they've entered the Christmas arena with this short collection, featuring two originals, "Gift of Love" and "Room For a King," covering the ultimate gift and the story of the Nativity, respectively. "Joy To the World" is the rocked-up highlight of the collection, "O Holy Night" is a fairly dramatic reading of the carol, and "Christmas Medley" is an instrumental grouping of several familiar carols. Nice work.

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They're back for the third year in a row with another Beach Boys-flavored surf-rock song for 2012. The flying sled, of course, sits in for "Little St. Nick" or your favorite Sixties muscle car, and the vocalists this year are Alyssa and Jo Anna Edmison, 11 and 13 years old respectively, but they've got the era-specific sound this song needs, so no cracks about kid singers this time. Prescott Niles of the "My Sharona" Knack provides the bass work, for you trivia fans out there. Another winner from this group. Click the cover to grab it from Amazon.
midnight86.jpgWe had these guys with a five-song EP back in 2008, and they're back for 2012 with this single, the classic carol done in a heavy hard rock arrangement. Flip side is "Christmas Time Is Here," the "Charlie Brown Christmas" classic in a slow, doomy arrangement, which kind of fits. This is how these guys normally roll, so this is a perfect salute to the holiday coming from them. Just a few more songs and they can roll up all their holiday work into a full album.
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Comer's a member of the Dance Hall Pimps, a "swamp rock" band, but this 2012 solo single is a plainspoken somber ballad about being alone on the holiday. Nice work, but more country than folk-rock. Grab it from Amazon by clicking the art.

Feeling Like a Kid, Lois Mahalia (self-Issued)

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Lois is a modern R'nB singer who likes a little jazz and a lot of island influence in her music, so if you were looking for a tropical-sounding "The First Noel," you've come to the right place. Same for "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night, "Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Auld Lang Syne" and the title song, a nice piece of work about feeling the Christmas spirit. A medley of "Deck the Halls/Joy To the World" is more in the jazz vein and "I'd Like You For Christmas" is a straight ballad. Grab it from Bandcamp.
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This Christian rock band made up of brothers from Flint, Mich. has your basic commercial hard rock sound, and for 2012 they've joined the Christmas fray with this extended EP they intend to use to support Toys For Tots. Seven songs, of which three appear to be their own originals, the uptempo "Christmas Bells" and the more reflective "Love Wears a Crown" and the title song. They also render good rock-oriented versions of "Do You Hear What I Hear," "O Come O Come Emanuel," "Away In a Manger," featuring a guest vocal from Tara Philip, and "Joy To the World." A solid collection of tunes for the holiday.
coplan.jpgRun, don't walk to Noisetrade and grab this free Christmas rocker from this New York-based piano trio. It's a bracing blast of contrarianism about loving the holiday and hating the people. The band sounds like a female-fronted Ben Folds Five, and I can't imagine regular readers not enjoying this. From 2012.

Jingles and Bells, Ben Rector (self-issued)

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Ben's a folky-poppy singer-songwriter from Nashville who pushed out this six-song EP of old favorite carols for 2012 on NoiseTrade. While you can get it free, he asks for a contribution to support the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. Not particularly rock-oriented, it does fine as a contemporary pop outing, consisting of mostly sedate arrangements of "Let It Snow," "White Christmas," "Silent Night, "Away in a Manger" and "Auld Lang Syne," but "Jingle Bells" is a nicely uptempo take with a live-in-the-studio feel. Check it out for yourself at NoiseTrade, or click to grab from Amazon.

Light of Mine, Andrew Ripp (self-issued)

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andyripp.jpgThis six-song collection apparently arrived in 2011, but it stuck to my fingers during a Bandcamp raid. Ripp is a folk-pop-rocker who has taken a fairly original approach to some classic carols, rendering "Jingle Bells" as a rock ballad and "Joy to the World" as a bluesy handclapper. "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" get the slow tempo treatment, "O Holy Night" over a rock rhythm section and "Silent Night" as a folky treatment. The title song is the classic gospel song done in a nice funky treatment, and rounding things out is what appears to be a nice original, "Spark." Click to grab it from Amazon.
"The Colbert Report" is having a Christmas carol a day this week, and this is how they kicked it off. Costello appears content to play around the edges of Christmas, given his past performances, although he's accumulating quite a repertoire. UPDATE: Comedy Central's embed codes don't actually embed anything but a black rectangle. Try checking the link.

The Christmas Album, Scarlet Club (Binester)

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This British synth-pop duo has several albums out, but this is their first Christmas album, released for 2012. Most of the songs here are originals except for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and a very short "In the Bleak Midwinter." "Party Susan" kicks things off nicely in a guitar-driven rocker about a girl the singer only ever sees at Christmas time. "Lists for Santa" is what it sounds like, spoken word over a synth dance loop. "It's Really Christmas" is a mid-tempo pop song, heavy on the celeste and bells in evoking the joy of the season. The heavily vocordered "Robots Need Christmas Too" could have been an outtake from the horrific Star Wars Christmas TV show, but that's not a slam on the song, it's rather cute. It gets reprised as a different version, "Fishes Need Christmas Too," in which the industrial sound is more pastoral and gurgling. "Christmas in Vegas" takes a Pet Shop Boys approach to everyone's favorite Gomorrah in the western desert, "Little Miss Mistletoe" gets a guest vocal from Iuliiana as she spurns a holiday romantic advance, the group sings about a "Christmas Log Competition," and Depeche Mode turned around and said "huh" when they heard "The Bauble at the Bottom of the Tree." "NYE 1999" has the band not exactly partying as though it were the year in the song, and the guitars go to 11 for the song with the best title of the year, "The Advent Calendar Girl." Some of you are allergic to 80s-style sounds, but this collection is recommended without reservation.
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Yet another Beach Boys homage comes from this Copenhagen ensemble via Bandcamp for 2012. No relation to "Help Me Rhonda," the story line is that the girlfriend left in December but Santa brought her back. It's a winner, grab a copy and send out some mad California props to Denmark for these guys.
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This is one of those EP's that owes its life to modern technology. The players on this record punted the album back and forth over the Internet across international borders until it was ready, willing and able to be heard for Christmas 2012. They did everything but tweet it to each other. The result? Well, if you've been unable to track down a copy of the much-maligned Salsoul disco Christmas album from the 1970s, believe me folks, this all-instrumental five-song outing will do. It's extremely well played and it sounds great, but I know a fair number of people out there never go near a music player without their disco-filtering helmet on, so this isn't for those folks. Slap-bass aficionados, on the other hand, will get an early Christmas gift. They give us "Deck the Halls," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "Ding Dong Merrily on High," "We Wish You a Merry Jingle Bells Christmas" and the title song, which keeps the spirit of the more familiar carols alive without sounding like any of them.
bunnysig.jpgBunny is royalty in the Philadelphia soul community, both as a performer ("Let the Good Times Roll and Feel So Good") and as a producer and songwriter. But as often happens, someone with such a long history in the music business goes from being a trendsetter in his youth to adult contemporary in the modern day, and that's the situation here on this 2012 release. There's lots of good performances here in a lightly R'nB-jazz-easy listening mold, and the title song is worth hearing; "Mr. Emotion" hasn't lost any steps from the old days. Still, this isn't the kind of thing Mistletunes readers come here to discover.
bloodwater.jpgBlood:Water Mission is a charity founded by the Christian rock/pop band Jars of Clay to help fight the HIV/AIDS and clean water crises in Africa. This 2012 collection, from Noisetrade, is intended to raise awareness, and hopefully some money, to support the cause. As to the music, this is what you would expect from Nashville-based singer-songwriters, mostly folky and country-style takes on original songs and classic carols. Jars of Clay contribute their previously released "Almost Christmas," Sleeping At Last offer the original "Snow," Phil Keaggy performs a medley of instrumentals, "The Visit and the Song Of Shepherds Medley," Joy Williams of Civil Wars delivers a solo vocal over piano of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella," Charlie Peacock puts a little spark into the proceedings with "Mystic," Rob Gonzales sings that love is "The Answer," Sandra McCracken gives us "This Is the Christ," Elenowen gives a country reading to "Silent Night," Lara Landon sings "The Virgin Mary," Plumb gives us a stately "What Child Is This," and Rhett Walker wraps things up with "O Come O Come Emanuel." A fair number, though not all, of these folks are Christian artists, so there's a lot more religion in the original songs than general Christmas wishes, and it's not a particularly rocking collection, but it is one to highlight a good cause.

helenlove.jpgDamaged Goods is a label that carries on the torch for 1977 punk, and this 2012 song's sound is right in that period, if a bit more pop-punk, with a few orchestral touches to approach the grandeur of the holiday. Lyrically it starts with the singer down in the mouth about her situation, but the sounds of the holiday eventually get to her anyway. It's a double-sided single, the same song twice with a "Disco Mix" straight out of the 80s. Grab it here from Amazon, or if you're a vinyl junkie, the label's site offers 7 inches of heaven in a limited edition.

Time Is Passed, Foxtails Brigade (self-issued)

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This group bills itself as chamber pop, which I would define as being the kind of pop music you could perform in your living room without amplifiers. It's fairly ornate sounding stuff, but it's all very mellow. Still, the songwriting does command attention; the band is pushing "Unfairness Awareness," a short discourse on how everybody's getting what they want for Christmas but the singer. "I'm Not Really in the Christmas Mood This Year" speaks for itself and "Winter's Feat" is an uptempo meditation on the holiday featuring funky rhythms under some Kate Bush-styled harmony. There are a couple of very brief instrumentals, "Detour: Frosty Times Ahead" and "Slowly Melting Silent Snowmen." Other songs like "Saturday's Gone," "The Unloved," "Lost,", "Afterglow" and "Ferguson's Theme" do not appear to be holiday oriented. It's on Bandcamp, so stream it or download it for yourself.

"She Wants It All," Jumbled (self-issued)

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jumbled.jpgJumbled is a Baltimore DJ who threw together this short rap about shopping for Christmas goodies for your significant other. It's pretty cool, building a hip-hop tune that sounds for all the world like it was recorded in the early 60s rather than 2012. The artist says he was going for a Phil Spector sound, and it's not far off. Get it at Bandcamp.

The Holly and the Ivy, Wayfarer (self-issued)

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wayfarer.jpgThis 2012 EP features two versions of the classic carol, one a jangle-pop rendition, the other a live acoustic performance that dismisses drums but otherwise sounds about the same. Rounding things out is the non-holiday Beach Boys cover, "Time To Get Alone." This Seattle band apparently likes to repurpose antique hymns as modern pop music, and you can check them out on Bandcamp.

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Karen's an LA-based singer who has performed on "Mr. Show" and written for Ellen DeGeneres, and she put out an EP, Behind You, in 2011 that includes this absolute holiday barfly anthem. Couplet of the week: "I know that it's the thought that counts/All I want is a 40-ounce." Nice pop-rock backing, slightly reminiscent of Jill Sobule. Grab it from Bandcamp. And watch the video:

dubcrack.jpgWell, here's one to put that whole "Nutcracker" phenomenon in its place -- a dubstep and techno version of the classic ballet, augmented by versions of classic carols and a batch of classical selections given the treatment as well. In addition to seven selections taken from "The Nutcracker," we get "Dubstep of the Bells," a good excuse to drop the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and reprogram your outdoor Christmas lights; "First Noel Dub," "Greensleeves Dub," "Hark The Herald Angels Complex," "I Saw Three Ships Dub" and "Dark Jingle Bells Dub." The classical roster includes "Toccata Fugue D Minor Dub," "Dance of the Nights Dub," "Night on Bald Mountain Dub," "Rite of Spring Dub," "Fantasia Dub," "Passacaglia Dub," "Vivaldi Storm Dub" and a couple others. Not sure anybody would listen all the way through, but I imagine some folks would want to drop a cut into their mix discs, playlists or mix tapes.
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These guys are like clockwork: one brand new rock 'n roll Christmas song a year going back to the 1990s. This year's midtempo rocker is a jaundiced view of Christmas tedium, but is no less catchy for all that. Visit them here and grab the new one, and you can check out their past efforts from the same page.
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Rhonda Thomas is a modern soul singer from Atlanta, Ga., who has worked with Isaac Hayes, Roberta Flack and Luther Vandross among others and has several albums to her credit. This 2012 foray into the Christmas world is more jazz than R'nB, however. The title song, substituting "girl" for "boy" in the famous song, is a fairly imaginative reworking of the holiday favorite, and she turns Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means To Me" into more of a jazz ballad. "My Favorite Things" and "O Come O Come Emanuel" are given a more soulful treatment, and "Mistletoe," a duet with Eric Roberson, and "Baby It's Cold Outside," done with Alex Lattimore, are both slow jam ballads. Rhonda, despite her obvious singing talent, never divas up the proceedings, so that's a count in her favor as well. And she gets points for creating "Kwanzaa," adding another song to what is so far a slim canon. Overall, this is a fairly mellow collection.
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Yes, these guys are exactly who they say they are, and they've brought along the Left-Handed Orchestra for yet another Christmas collection, this time more of a short album than an EP. They're addicted to "Christmas Cards," even if they're missing the one they're really expecting; they go "Sledding" until dawn; they rock out when they find "Santa's Back in Town"; they anticipate winter in the folky "Mountain"; they worry for their pal "Pet Rock Pete" because he might never find a girl; they build a snowman in "6/4," which is also the song's time signature; "Random Things To Do" is pretty much what its title suggests to a bouncy beat; they ask the musical question "Do I Really Have To Wear This Ugly Sweater," an anti-tribute to the ubiquitous Christmas pullover; and they wrap up with "Christmas On the Moon," a ballad in which it sounds like they're literally blasting off for the distant orb. Another off-the-wall collection from the Low Countries; grab it from Bandcamp.

Public Holidaze, Animal Spirit (self-issued)

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Animal Spirit is a side project of Don Cento, a member of the Austin, Texas band El Cento. This is a group of instrumentals led by acoustic guitar but backed by a bit of electronic atmospherics, two versions of "Auld Lang Syne" and one of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." You can listen or grab from Bandcamp.

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Sweden's own Sofia Talvik has graced the musical audience with a free original Christmas song or two for the past several years, and here's 2012's offering, a reflective ballad in which an elderly man remembers the girl who got away and wonders whether his last Christmas wish would be to have another chance with her, keeping in mind he's apparently had a happy life and he's currently surrounded by loved ones. Sofia makes a sweet song out of a nostalgic paradox. Download it from her home page, linked above.

Ornamental, various artists (Projekt)

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You can call it goth, dark wave or dark cabaret -- Projekt Records itself coined two of those three labels. They had a trilogy of Christmas albums back in the 1990s that are still available from the label, featuring the darker side of winter celebrations through their rock specialties. Now they're back two decades later, 2012 to be exact, with this double-disc set of music, nominally divided into "Traditionals" and "Non-Traditionals," but all taking a morose view of the season. The first disc is essentially covers, starting with Paulina Cassidy's ethereal take on "Frosty the Snowman" and Jill Tracy's "Coventry Carol" from her own new Projekt collection. Abney Park does "Steampunk Jingle Bells," which is a minor-key, fiddle-led version of the popular carol that sounds very much like the arrangement done as a comic novelty by The Three Weissmen. Ashkelon Sain with the Dorian Fields take on "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" in an extended version that keeps the slow tempo but embellishes it with rock flourishes. Forrest Fang takes two bites of the apple with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," an organ and strings take that is followed by the "Ambient" version, which plays up the repeating patterns and stretches out to double length. Ericah Hagle does a traditional take of the Hebrew song "Hanerot Halalu," which is about Hanukkah (Alert!), and Nicki Jaine does an almost traditional-sounding "Little Drummer Boy." The Non-Traditionals disc kicks off with Black Tape For a Blue Girl's doleful version of "Forbidden Colors," the David Sylvian-Riuichi Sakamoto song from "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," which seems to have more to do with the Crucifixion than the Nativity. Unto Ashes offers "King of Frost," which has an antique folk feel to it, and Unextraordinary Gentlemen perform "Carriage Driven Horses," a more contemporary sounding piece that alternates brief raps and singing with a violin figure. Lovespiral's "Happy Holidays" is a dolorous ballad that uses its title ironically, while KatzKab may have the best tune on here with "My Sad Wishlist," a synth-poppy outing that almost turns this album's frown upside down. Erki Wollo has two takes of "Crystal Bells" at the end of this second disc, both ambient instrumentals featuring church bell-like melodies over a synthesized backing. Paulina Cassidy adds two more songs to this collection, her own "Snow Queen" and "Angels We Have Heard On High," with more of the echo-y drone treatment she gave to "Frosty the Snowman," and here we should note that this comprises three of the five songs she recorded for her own 2012 Projekt EP "Ice Iris." You can check out samples here. As for Ornamental, two discs at once may be a bit much dark wave/cabaret for the holiday season, but there are some good moments on this collection.
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Lunch at Allen's is a quasi-supergroup of four Canadian singer-songwriters, Murray McLauchlan, Cindy Church, Marc Jordan and Ian Thomas, with three albums to their name before this 2012 collection featuring originals as well as two covers from the North American songbook, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)." Thomas contributes the title song, a tribute to the iconic film "It's a Wonderful Life." McLauchlan offers "Old Tin Star," a nostalgic ode to a tree decoration, and "Spending My Christmas With You," a jazz-pop romance song. Church performs her "It's Christmas," another look back to the past, and makes a bid for more romance with the shuffle "Oh, What a Christmas Eve." Thomas also offers "Six Teams in the NHL," more nostalgia for the old days, but then hockey fans have little to console themselves but nostalgia while the strike continues. The group also takes on Chris Bolton's "Sober Up For Christmas" and "Christmas Day," along with "Count Your Blessings." All told this is pretty sedate, as you might expect from folk singers with long careers under their belts, but the songwriting at least deserves a closer look.
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This grouping of tunes features artists from the Knoxville/Nashville region taking their best shot at the holidays, and this is the second volume from the same curators, which came out late in 2011. Since readers are likely aware of this site's non-engagement with the country scene, it follows that though these folks live in the shadow of The Industry, this is more of an indie-pop collection. Vinyl Thief does a nice sparse big-beat backing on "I'll Be Home For Christmas," the Black Cadillacs do an Americana take on "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day," as does Nic Mingle on "Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy)." Melodime rock up a song called "December" that appears to be an original, John Jackson goes modern R'nB on "What Child Is This," Boys Rule rap for us on "Lil' Hoochie & Pauly's Christmas Party," and John Knight stays in the 80s for a cover of "Last Christmas." "O Holy Night" gets the arrangement you normally expect from Chaz Miles, "Do You Hear What I Hear" by Cody Bennett is an acoustic take and the Inlaws go straight bluegrass on "Go Tell It On the Mountain." Good work from an array of artists who might have a better chance of breaking out in a non-industry town.
Not really familiar with Mint 400, but always happy to welcome another record label willing to compile a Christmas disc. Apparently this label originates from New Jersey. This 2012 entry features a mix of originals and classic holiday songs. The One & Nines acquit themselves well on Brenda Lee's "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus" and the uptempo horn arrangement of Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby." Fairmont takes a strong 60s rock approach to "This Song Is Your Christmas Gift" and an instrumental of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The Duke of Norfolk offers their own "Lovely Winter" and a banjo-led "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Ashes gets three songs, the 60s-sounding "Am I Too Old For Christmas," the country-flavored "Did Ya Hear? (Santa Was Arrested For Burglary)," and the mournful "Does the Mistletoe Know?" Les Trois Chaud tries to opt out of the holiday with "Sorry I'm Broke," Adam N Copeland hangs 10 on his "Season of the Wave" and Reality Suite wrap up with the driving rocker "Deliver By Christmas." A nice rootsy collection of rockin' goodness.

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Coulton, a humorous singer-songwriter whose past work emphasis has been on geekitude (as in the song "Code Monkey"), joined with Roderick, of the band The Long Winters, to create this power-pop infused left-field look at Christmas for 2012. It's right up my alley, and I suspect it will be the same for a lot of the readership. The geek connection shows up in such songs as "2600," as in the Atari game system the singer wants for Christmas, and "Wikipedia Chanukah" (Hanukkah Alert!), which is simply a dramatic reading of the Wikipedia entry for the holiday over a musical bed. They go for a light Johnny Cash impression on "Christmas In Jail," give a funky bed to "Uncle John," the guy who always ruins Christmas, and describes a nearly ruined Christmas in "Christmas Is Interesting," complete with "Wonderful Life" reference. "The Week Between" describes the attempt to keep the celebratory spirit going between Christmas and New Year's Day, the title song is a series of spoken snippets over a rock backing and a chorus of the title, "Christmas In July" puts a jazzy background behind a desire for gift-giving under a summer sun, and "Christmas Is Wunnerful" doesn't have anything to do with Lawrence Welk, despite the spelling of "Wunnerful"; it's just a repeated refrain over guitars and banjos.
sacxmas.jpgStriving Artists is, obviously, a theater company based in Massachusetts that puts on live plays for the public. They have a tradition of doing holiday musical revues, and for 2012 they decided to take the next step and record their holiday work for wider dissemination. They must have been working on this for a long time, as there are 51 separate tunes on this album -- Sufjan Stevens, call your service. Producer Greg Luzitano especially has been a busy guy, as he's also the main artist or co-performer on 13 of these tunes -- enough for his own album, in addition to producing the whole collection. The artistic choices are fairly eclectic, but almost all in the pop-rock realm. The producer calls this "an indie album" with "a lot of energy," but don't confuse it with indie rock; these are theater performers, so there's a lot of live theater technique in regard to the singing, as well as a lot of the kind of piano you hear when people are auditioning for a musical. That said, there's still a fair number of interesting moments in this collection, starting with the choice of the a capella "Our Prayer" from the Beach Boys' Smile as the opening cut and the first attempt I've heard to cover Paul Simon's recent "Getting Ready For Christmas Day," which filters out the sampled preacher of the original in favor of a verse of "Silent Night." My other favorites from the collection include Carol Grossi Smolinsky doing "Do You Hear What I Hear" to the Bo Diddley beat, Johnbarry Green's reimagining of "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" via ZZ Top, Luzitano's cover of Barenaked Ladies' "Elf's Lament" and his sprightly version of "O Come All Ye Faithful," Greg and Stacy Geer's choice to rock up "Baby It's Cold Outside," Ron & Amy Cook's extension of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as done by Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan into a medley of "We 3 Kings" and "Go Tell It On the Mountain," Shannon Baker's choice of Paul McCartney's "Footprints," Jeff Desautels' ukelele rendition of "The First Noel," a nod to the Iz Kamakwiwo'ole version of "Over the Rainbow," Savanah and Abigail Shaughnessy's syncopated "Jingle Bells," and Madeleine Carbonneau's tropical-sounding "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." The length of this collection is probably the worst thing about it, but there's lots of listenable music on here. It's for sale as a double CD or download, and there are previews posted on their website.

killerbones.jpgIf you thought the release of an actual Christmas EP last year would be the demarcation point at which The Killers would take a well-earned break from the holiday wars, well, you were wrong. The band has issued single no. 7 for 2012, once again in support of (RED), which battles AIDS. And once again, the band, with help of former road manager and fellow musician Ryan Pardey, works out their troublesome relationship with Santa Claus, as previously rendered in the 2007 single "Don't Shoot Me Santa." The video depicts the jolly elf as he appears to take on the role of the motorcycling bounty hunter from "Raising Arizona," and well, you can imagine the rest as you listen to the driving, almost 70s-sounding rock backing. Another fine rock Christmas tune, and it looks like The Killers are on the march to a full holiday LP someday. Click the cover to get it from iTunes.
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The artist management company keeps its holiday tradition going for a fifth straight year with this free nine-song collection of indie rock from its band roster. The Winter Sounds kick things off with a rocking tune called "A Mariah and Evin Christmas," which they state is dedicated to Mariah and Evin Hone, whoever they are; the band doesn't say and neither does Google. Blue Skies For Black Hearts offer a 60s rock homage with "Maybe Next Christmas," Magnuson goes all Jesus and Mary Chain on "What Child Is This," Caravan of Thieves sing "I Don't Want Anything For Christmas" to a gypsy jazz backing, Armed With Legs do that angular 80s rock thing angular on "Xmas Wolves," Electric Shepherd offer a 70s-style slow-tempo meditation on "Dovetail," Robert Burnham accompanies himself on acoustic guitar for "White Christmas" until he's overcome by the sound of high winds, Piney Gir name-checks Spider-Man and Superman in "It's Christmas Time Again," and Sophie Barker wraps up the collection with her gentle version of "Winter Wonderland." Another strong set from XO. UPDATE: Mariah Hone checks in from her phone to explain that The Winter Sounds held a Kickstarter fund-raising event and that one of the prizes was that the band would write a song about the donor. When Mariah (and Evin) won, she asked the band to make the new song about Christmas. PS: She's a regular Mistletunes reader. Thanks for the rest of the story, Mariah!
busteduniv.jpgThese guys are so DIY they shot the video on an iPhone 4. This 2012 rendition of this antique carol is fun if only because it starts out sounding like they're going to play Tom Petty's "Breakdown," and having the piano in the foreground kinda suggests Ben Folds in a cover band. Nice job. You can download the audio track from the band's site, and of course the video's on YouTube.
kellyjones.jpgKelly's a power pop diva, having worked with everybody from Daniel Lanois to Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. She got some help from producer Mike Viola creating this fine 60s-flavored pop rocker for 2012, which is about pretty much what you'd expect it to be about and is no less delightful for that. It's in the download stores now.

The Twisted Christmas, TriBeCaStan (self-issued)

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tribecastan.jpgThese guys fancy themselves a world music ensemble without borders, but with the emphasis on party time. They tossed this EP into the fray for 2012, a mostly instrumental bit of genre-hopping, four tunes that mash together many more than that of the holiday canon, as you'll discern for yourself from the titles -- "Joy To The Angels," "Do You Hear the Silent Night?," "Noel Ye Faithful," and "God Rest Ye 3 Kings." Although they namecheck rockers, jazzers and everybody else in their biography, they don't let their eclectic interests get in the way of a good time, so grab this from Amazon as a download or CD. It's on Bandcamp too.

More free Christmas albums and a new site

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Paste magazine is back with another free Christmas collection for 2012. Some of the songs on here have already been featured at Mistletunes this year, a couple in previous years, and some of these I've never heard before. So grab one for yourself.

Meanwhile, I could have sworn I mentioned this before, but apparently I haven't. Yuleplay is a new website that lets you put together your own Christmas playlists. As the youth of America is all about the playlist nowadays, this is an interesting idea, and it lets you build by artist, genre and even song -- you could have your ultimate collection of "Last Christmas" versions, for example. Check it out.

"Rain, Sleet, Snow," Philco Brothers (YouTube)

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The Philco Brothers keep sending us videos of themselves doing Christmas songs every year, and we keep posting them. This heavy, heavy number is a cover of Paul Revere and the Raiders. And before you ask, considering that I have a low tolerance for off-key kids singing Christmas carols, I approve of these kids lip- and guitar-syncing.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, the last thing I expected this year was that Sufjan, who already has a five-CD box set of Christmas music in the racks, would release a second, entirely different five-CD box set of Christmas music for 2012. And yet, here it sits on my desk twixt keyboard and monitor. I've only had the time to listen to the entire thing once, and then only while doing something else, so I couldn't make any specific notes about individual tracks. But my initial impression of the collection is almost identical to what was written here, minus the specific descriptions of songs from the first collection. This time around, we get 58 songs, which, added to the 42 on the previous album, gives Sufjan a nice round 100 Christmas recordings, although there are several songs that appear more than once in different versions. This time around we also get pages of Christmas stickers, a monochrome poster, origami tree ornaments and a booklet featuring lyrics and chords to all the songs plus two extensive essays by Sufjan, one in which he exhaustively chronicles and critiques the tradition of the Christmas tree, and the other in which he decries the commerciality of Christmas and the paradox of copyright applying to traditional holiday celebrations, concluding with a promise that all the songs he wrote for this new collection will be released to the public domain. Ironically, I feel a bit conspicuous going on at length about this sprawling musical and artistic project; at a certain level I feel like this album is almost better appreciated not as a playlist on your iPod but as an exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The various performances range from community chorus-level performances to songs more typical of Sufjan's previous recordings, so I'm clearly not going to give you a complete rundown. I liked "Lumberjack Christmas," "Carol of St Benjamin The Bearded One," "Barcarola (You Must Be a Christmas Tree)," the faintly psychedelic "Christmas Woman," the garage-y sounding "Mr. Frosty Man," the silly "Ding-A-Ling-A-Ring-A-Ling," "Christmas in the Room," which sounds like it's being sung to someone on their death bed, "X-Mas Spirit Catcher," depicting the very start of the Nativity story, "We Need a Little Christmas," which could be an outtake from "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol," and the beatbox-y "Happy Karma Christmas." "Christmas Unicorn" is kind of cool but could be cooler if it weren't 12 minutes long -- the lengthy quote from "Love Will Tear Us Apart" probably could be scoped down for starters, although it's an inspired touch. And I like that Sufjan covered Prince's "Alphabet St." for no reason I can see that relates to the rest of the album. Christmas completists and Sufjan fans probably already have this, and I've linked to Amazon via the cover art as usual, but for the rest of you I'm going to link to a streaming site and to a Noisetrade page that gives you a free 12-tune sampler so you can draw your own conclusions. (Go to the Noisetrade link just to see the "infomercial" Stevens has made for this collection.)
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For those of you who haven't noticed, the group for whom the term "boy band" was coined re-formed a couple years ago and has been touring and recording, and for 2012 they tossed us this nice little confection, a solid hit radio number, that one could almost call rocking. The Boys had been the only one of the 90s boy bands to avoid doing a Christmas album back in the day, although they did previously have a Christmas ballad, "Christmas Time," from 1999. This new song is a little too poppy for rock, but you wouldn't actually be embarrassed to have this on your mix disc.
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These New Jerseyites apparently rose up from being a "school of rock" type cover band in 2008 to becoming a credible contemporary hard rock band, having a recent stint in the Vans Warped tour to their credit. This 2012 album is exactly what you would expect from the description above, delivering a bombastic and anthemic approach to their songs. The title song is a good example of this, building from a gentle intro into a slamming anthem by the middle of the song. If I were picking singles, it would probably be "I Believe It's Christmas Time," a more uptempo number with a slamming chorus. "It's Christmas Time" is a big noisy ballad, "One More" a bit more subdued, and "Santa's On His Way" and "Toys" are more uptempo. Near as I can tell, all those songs above are the band's originals. They take a run at some classics too, with "Jingle Bell Rock" done as you might expect to hear it on the Vans Warped tour, "Run Run Rudolph" getting a 70s glam rock arrangement, and they acquit themselves well on "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." They also swing "Silent Night" way uptempo, do an acoustic rock take on "Jingle Bells" and finish up with a slow take on "O Come O Come Emanuel." This is a solid Christmas rock album you won't mind listening to all the way through.

Christmas Lights Gangnam Style (YouTube)

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Saw this on Americablog and figured folks would like it -- Christmas lights synced to 2012s biggest music video phenomenon.

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