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December 2013 Archives

Sad Holiday, various artists (Scaredy Cat)

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sadholiday.jpgThis Charlotte, N.C., record label gathered together some Christmas performances from its artist roster to create this album whose purchase benefits UNICEF. The title suggests some downbeat views of the holiday, and the Nuns' "Blood Red Snow" certainly fits that first impression, as does Mineral Girls' "Merry Christmas, I Hate Your Guts," Victor Anderson's sardonic monologue "Thankful Holidaze," Dollar Signs' "Selfish Christmas," Billy Mack Collector's "Drunk With Marty" and a cover of "River" by Sinai Vessel. Rusty Cotton's "Happy Christmas, Merry New Years" is likewise downbeat lyrically over acoustic guitar and droning organ, and "Happy Birthday Jesus" by Wally Tusk and the Film Club is a fairly drunken and scatological look at the holiday. More conventional fare gets a downbeat twist, as in Radiator Hospital's drone-y "Christmas Island" and a cynical take on "Oh. Christmas. Tree." by Bless These Sounds Under the City. Dollar Signs get a second bite of the apple in the album opener "Caroler," in which the singer describes a semi-sincere outing singing Christmas carols that has a little more whimsy to it (and a bad word in one line). This is indie rock with punk attitude, but whether you like this depends on how much of a sense of humor you have about the dark side of the holiday, as a few of these songs are fairly unrelenting. Many of the songs on this collection snuck out individually in recent weeks, but the actual album download only went live Christmas day on Bandcamp.

In keeping with the earlier item about Christmas parodies of current hit music, here we have a Christmas parody medley, which should interest the young people among us and give the older visitors an idea of what that stuff at the top of the iTunes chart the rest of the year actually is. You can click through to YouTube for the parody lyrics to this piece. If you like it, download it here.

"Dancing in the Snow," The Leopards (Moon)

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leopards.jpgThis is one of those semi-legendary songs that people occasionally ask about, that I've known about for at least a couple of decades, but its impossible rarity tended to confound even The Great And Powerful Google, at least until I stumbled over it again while recovering from a festive holiday dinner. The Leopards were a Kansas City, Kan. band in the 1970s that personally pressed and released their own vinyl LP of their original songs, around about the time that the band Shoes was doing the same thing in Illinois, kicking off the true beginnings of indie rock. Shoes crossed over to the major labels and the Leopards did not, but when you hear this song it's hard to figure why; on this song, at least, they did a more than passible impression of the Kinks doing a holiday song, and before the Kinks themselves did "Father Christmas." This song was the only holiday-themed tune on the album, and it's a keeper. They went on to release a couple more singles and albums, none of which made much of a mark. The original album, Kansas City Slickers, was pressed in an edition of exactly 1,000 copies in 1977; Sing Sing Records of New York put out a limited vinyl reissue in 2011, for which there is a listing on Amazon. Best price at this writing was $99 for a copy of the Sing Sing version; best not to ask about the price of one of the original 1,000 copies. Whether there is an available download of the entire album I will leave to the individual's resourcefulness. Listen here.

"Deck the Halls," Priscilla Ahn (self-issued)

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This is a neat, downbeat and ethereal reading of this popular carol, and at least for the time being it's free to download from Priscilla's website. Check it:

 

"Rudolph," Mod Carousel featuring Leeni (YouTube)

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Really miss those Bob Rivers holiday parodies based on hit rock and pop songs? This is the kind of thing he'd be doing if he was still doing this stuff. Lorde takes one for the team in this one. (Click through to the YouTube page if you want to see the lyrics.)

 

Once again, it's time for a merry Christmas

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Here we are once again at Christmas eve, when it's kind of late to be announcing new Christmas music since everybody's already finished their mix discs and playlists. Nevertheless, we press on, because there's always next year. Thanks to all the readers and tipsters out there who help me make this an interesting place to stop off in your travels along this man's Internet. I leave you, for the moment, with a rare holiday performance from young rising star Lissie, and because we're all about the rock 'n roll Christmases here, I give you this not-exactly-new link to a great story of Christmas cheer starring, of all people, the Sex Pistols.

 
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Keeping the streak going in 2013 is this English indie label, this year getting a little help on the curation front from Gareth Jones, the British podcaster. (Click through Gareth's name for a Christmas podcast featuring Cherryade major domo Rachel Neiman.) Some of the artists have been here in previous years, like the Bobby McGees, Pocket Gods, Piney Gir, Otalgia and Paraffins, but the majority are newcomers. Things kick off with Dressy Bessy's "Hopped Up (On Xmas)," a frenetic punk-pop rush through holiday preparations; John Shuttleworth's "The Christmas Orphan," a holiday story rendered in a very early David Bowie-style delivery; David Leach breaks out the ukelele for "Handmade Christmas"; Sonic the Comic reaches out for companionship with the crunchy lo-fi "Spend Christmas Day With Me"; and Dog Legs play around with surf music on the heavily reverbed and vibratoed "Not Just Fo' Christmas (Christmas Serf)." MJ Hibbett & the Validators' "Thank Goodness For Christmas" gives us a tongue-in-cheek look at things: "It's extremely convenient that you had Baby Jesus at the moment when we needed a party." Chalk & Numbers goes girl-groupy with "Happiness This Time of Year," and I Like the Go Go takes things even farther back to the 50s with "Xmas Song No. 1." No Cars takes us over to Japan for "X'masu de itadkimasu," although I wasn't aware that country had much of a Christmas tradition. The Bobby McGees talk like pirates on "Ho F'n Ho," Otalgia thrash their way through "Empty Boxes," Paraffins' "Band of Snow (Drifted)" is a slow-motion instrumental, Radio Orwell goes all cinematic on a cover of "Last Christmas," and Velodrome 2000 cuts right to the chase with the punked-out "Christmas Sucks." Horses of Instruction mixes Casio keyboards and acoustic guitars on "Godfather Christmas," in which a horse loses his head in the first verse, setting the stage for the rest of the song. Woog Riots goes synth-pop with "Under the Christmas Treeee," Partly Llama goes very quiet on "Fallen Angel," and the closer is Ross & Jones' "Gaudete." Piney Gir's "Christmas Time" and the Pocket Gods' "Silent Night" and "Bernard Matthews Turkey Zombie Revenge" arrive here from other compilations. All told, a pretty good snapshot of modern British indie-rock compiled to celebrate the holiday. Only available from the label.
ohhellos.jpgThe Oh Hellos are Maggie and Tyler Heath, Texas siblings with a musical vision, and this is their 2013 Christmas EP. It's presented in four "movements," which essentially works out to four medleys of popular antique religious carols. It veers back and forth between folk, country, pop and heavy rock, not unlike a certain Trans-Siberian Orchestra I could name, but with a slightly more modern cast to it. Indeed, if I were to tell you this was a collection by Mumford & Sons or the Lumineers, you'd probably believe me. The multiple movements consisting of carol medleys are arranged in a way that suggests the end-of-term musicale at some place like Liberty University. I'm not really sure this kind of thing is what folks come to Mistletunes for, but it's nicely done and it might just be some folks' holiday speed. Grab it from Bandcamp.

From El-P and Killer Mike's 2013 album, also titled Run the Jewels, this is their hip-hop holiday song. NSFW for lyrics, though not for visuals. I felt it was necessary to post this since it features a (gasp! clutch pearls!) black Santa.

 
dgwynne13.jpgOur friends at Dead Gwynne have been doing a new Christmas song every single year since 1995 or thereabouts. This year's entry is a bit on the lo-fi side, in fact it kinda sounds like a demo, but it's a nice slice-of-life look at the mundane part of the holiday. And it's free, as are all the band's tunes -- there's 20 of them now.

Spoke too soon

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A couple of months ago I rendered a heartfelt farewell to Stubby's Christmas, which had announced it was going static back in July. In the course of doing research for a post, I saw a link to a Stubby review of the record I was covering, clicked through and, lo and behold, the review had been written only a couple of weeks ago. Apparently he picked up the thread again in December. So feel free to keep visiting for as long as Stubby keeps posting, and I'll keep my website obituaries to myself for the time being.
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This Seattle-based record label rounded up an elpee's worth of toonz from its label artists and friends to benefit the charity MusiCares for 2013. This is the album that contains that fabulous tune "No Lou For Christmas" by Tom Dyer and His Queen's Pajamas that I posted several days ago, a lovely tribute to the late Lou Reed that affectionately pilfers several Lou/Velvets riffs as well as "The Night Before Christmas." Dyer returns later with "Christmas (It's Just Around the Corner)," a poppier bit with female backing vocals. The OF goes kind of low-budget free-jazzy with its double cover of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus/Snow Miser," and AAIIEE provides the semi-title song, "Krampus Is an Evil Man," in which the story of the malevolent Christmas being gets told in a garage-inspired manner. Opening tune "Here We Are (On Christmas Day)" is by the Elf-Tones, a shambling folk-pop performance with ensemble vocals. Henry Boy Jenkins goes semi-Beatlesque with the piano-led "Love For Christmas," The Goblin Market breaks out the harmonium for "In the Bleak Midwinter," Tom Nook goes all 1977 lo-fi for "One Last Christmas Eve," Toxic Socket do a metal take on "The Greatest Toy in the World," and the Deadlies go more 70s hard rock on "Winter Wonderland." Three Ninjas & The Weird Old Tricks do a kind of Tom Waits arrangement on "Joy and Good Will," Richard & Xander Stuverud break out the toy piano on the ballad "Christmas Tree," Jason Rubin's "Out On Your Motorcycle" is a nice way to see the Christmas lights, assuming it's not too cold and you've got your leathers on, the Queen Annes do a slapdash "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," the Green Monkey Christmas Chorale do a slapdash-snarky choral arrangement of "It's Christmas (And I'm Jolly)," and the King County Queens go all the way back to late 60s psychedelia to present "Drop the Silver Ball," a slice-of-life tribute to New Year's Day. Lots of good stuff on this album, grab it from Bandcamp.
12daysKan.jpgThis is a gang of Kansas City, Mo.- area musicians and the organization that promotes them making a Christmas album. They're involved in a charitable competition from microbrewery KC Pils, which has chosen three organizations to support via donation. The wrinkle is that there's an election of sorts, with the top vote-getter of the three charities getting 60 percent of the donation. And now you know what the title's about. An interesting wrinkle of this collection is that it was recorded live over a couple of days in November 2013 and filmed as well, and the production received help from friend of the site Randall Paske, who has pitched in with essential info over the past history of this site. The vast majority of the playlist is covers, but few obvious ones, starting with Sons of Great Dane's cover of the Eels' "Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas," a slower acoustic take on the song. The Kinks' "Father Christmas" is done by Rev Gusto in the normal rocking version, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" gets a more dirge-like arrangement from Not a Planet, The Dead Girls cover Big Star's "Jesus Christ," Grand Marquis take on Louis Prima with "What Will Santa Claus Say When He Finds Everybody Swingin'?" and Rex Hobart and the Honky Tonk Standards do Buck Owens' "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy." The Grisly Hand's "1,2,3,4 Christmas Time" mashes Mariah Carey and Donny Hathaway, and Donnie's "This Christmas" also gets a jazzy instrumental take from Mark Lowrey and Hermon Mehari. There are three originals here as well, Cadillac Flambe's country ballad "Hear the Bells," The Doo-Dads' 50s-style rocker "Holiday Hop" and Making Movies' Tex-Mex tune "Tormenta." Another one from Bandcamp, where you can sample tunes before grabbing the collection for yourself.

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The Great White North songstress bills this as a new holiday single for 2013, but it's just a straight reading of the title prayer set to a soft, slow melody and performed with students from her music school. It's a free download as well as a come-on to make donations to her school, which brings music education to children, filling in the gaps being left by public schools that are cutting music programs. Good cause, but not much for your mix discs.
Well, I had to put this up, didn't I? This conflates the "literal video" and the "lyric video" with a sprinkle of "Glee," but it's a hoot, so here it is. Download it from Noisetrade.

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This just sneaked out a few days ago on iTunes, appropriately enough, since it's the soundtrack of an Apple commercial. The alt-chanteuse with the bumpy career path does a very tasteful version with just piano and viola, and a very short one at that. Nice work, and as the commercial in question is considered to be a bit of a weeper, the song clearly has a lot to do with that.
langor.jpgFor 2013, this northeast Pennsylvania band returns to the Christmas fray with this solid but not slick slice of power pop in which the singer begs a lover he's outgrown to follow the title's directions, with a hooky chorus of "all I want to do is get over you this year." They had been on the What We Do On Our Holiday(s) compilation from the same label a few years ago with "Yantsor, the Candy Cane Maker." Off to Bandcamp with you all for this one.

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Missed out on this last year, but this 2012 entry from the once and future Go-Go is cute, in the way you would expect the most girly member of that popular band to be. A nice original featuring a Christmas list and backed by music-hall piano, one almost expects Sir Paul to sneak up in the background with a harmony vocal given the style. Points for the label name, too. Only at iTunes, near as I can tell.

A couple one-offs for your holiday

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Arcade Fire did a quite silly "Little Drummer Boy" on Zach Gallifianakis' Funny Or Die talk show, but the embed code left something to be desired, plus you have to scroll to about 3:40 to see Arcade Fire, so I'm just linking to it. On the other hand, NBC has the embed thing down, so here's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" featuring Calexico, Iron and Wine, Glen Hansard and Kathleen Edwards covering "Fairytale Of New York." UPDATE: What NBC gives, it takes away, only in this case they didn't leave anything but an error message, so I had to delete all the code for it as well. UPDATE: Forgot to give props to Stephen Colbert's Christmas Carol Week. Monday night saw Greg Allman and The National combine (with Stephen) to do "Silver Bells," and Tuesday had Cyndi Lauper and Alan Cummings (with Stephen) doing "Let It Snow." FURTHER UPDATE: Wednesday's Colbert featured Aaron Neville with the MusicCorps Wounded Warrior Band doing "Silent Night." FURTHER UPDATE: And finally, Thursday featured the Blind Boys of Alabama with "Go Tell It On the Mountain."

Your semi-random roundup

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This is the point in the Mistletunes publish cycle when I'm pushing out the annual mix disc (watch the left sidebar for the liner notes in a few days now, meanwhile the disc is on its way to the usual suspects). But Christmas music news never stops, so here's a few items to hold you over.
  • Esquire has a pretty neat roundup of what it calls the 30 best alternative Christmas songs. I'm pleased to note just about all of them have been immortalized here in the past. A bonus reason to click through is that every song is accompanied by a video for easy listening.
  • Gareth Jones, whose music podcast has been crossing the Internets from Old Blighty for a number of years now, and who once hosted yours truly on said podcast, takes to the electric Internet post office to tell us his Christmas show is now up for your delectation. Rachel Neiman, label boss of Cherryade Records, maker of nearly a decade's worth of original Christmas compilations, is a guest, along with Slow Club. A previous year's show featuring Shonen Knife is also available via Gareth's archives.
  • WXPN-FM in Philadelphia has been doing the 12 Days of Christmas with a new song by a local Philly artist each day, and they promise the whole kit 'n caboodle will be downloadable shortly. UPDATE: Make that now. Meanwhile, they've got a live stream of Jingle Jams.
  • And finally, I have to tip my hat to old pal Stubby, who found this great song way ahead of me -- it's on his annual compilation and it's not on mine as a result of me not knowing about it until he sent it to me. There's a whole album connected to this fine tribute to a great artist, and I'll have something up on it soon, but meanwhile, enjoy "No Lou This Christmas" by Tom Dyer & His Queen's Pajamas.

"And Anyway It's Christmas," !!!, (Warp)

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anyway!!!.jpgThat's pronounced "chik chik chik" for the uninitiated, and this appears to be their first Christmas song for 2013. It's a cool, funky electronic party record, ready to be paired off with cuts from the new Erasure album on your mix discs and holiday playlists. Good stuff. There's a "dub" version on the "flip side," if you grab the entire single. You're linked for the download from the cover art, but the band is also peddling a vinyl version via their website. Have a taste here.

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Zach's a confederate of singer-songwriter-surfer Jack Johnson, and for 2013 he steps out front for a mini-album of Christmas goodies. If you're a Jack fan, you're all about the relaxed, folk-pop-rock vibe that Zach brings to this collection. The eight songs include seven popular favorites and one new original,  "It's Christmas Time Again (Mawmaw's Figgy Pudding)," a whimsical squeezebox holiday fantasia that fakes tapdancing on the solo and gets in a plug for Ralphie. The almost-title song "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is just Zach backed by piano, "Up On the Housetop" gets a nice funky treatment, Johnson stops in to help out on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Little Drummer Boy" gets an original arrangement that deletes the martial tattoo for something that swings more, and "White Christmas" is rendered with slide guitar and ukelele to complement an arrangement that includes the not-always-used prelude about Los Angeles. In a way, this is almost Jimmy Buffett The Next Generation, but for those of you who have worn that predecessor record out, here's a great candidate for a replacement.

Oh My Christmas Tree EP, Dr. Dog (Anti)

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This Philly band is developing a national profile, and for 2013 they've joined the Christmas fray with four original songs, originally written by band member Scott McMicken for private use. There's a kind of slapdash charm to it, as though they knocked it out as an afterthought, but it's quite listenable for all that. "Christmas Party" is as advertised, a fun song about celebrating on the holiday, the title song is a melancholy reflection on the life and death of a Christmas tree, "I Believe In Santa Claus" is a handclapper that exhorts folks to believe in the jolly elf, and the band breaks out the banjos for "Rejoice." So far only available at iTunes, no Amazon link, but treat yourself to a stream at Stereogum.

XO For the Holidays 6, various artists (XO)

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xocover6.jpgThe artists management company has been compiling its clients onto Christmas albums for years, as the title suggests, and this is the 2013 collection. "Bombay Beach Christmas" by St. Cloud is an electro-pop outing touting the idea of water skiing on the holiday, Magnuson also reaches for the synths on "O Holy Night," but then the guitars come out to crunch things rock-style, and The Hague uses acoustic guitars to paint a dour holiday landscape in "Hey Parker It's Christmas." Paper Tongues takes "O Come O Come Emanuel" uptempo with synths and multiple percussion instruments, Electric Shepherd stretches out with the epic "Angels in the Grove," The Smoking Flowers faintly recall T-Rex while spraying the tree with double entendres in "Ho Ho Ho (A Bow and Nothing More)," and Fred Roth Revue recall early new wave guitar bands with "Reindeer Get Lonely." The always-delightful Piney Gir rocks out with the short but satisfying "Every Day's a Holiday" and Here Comes Everybody upset the calendar by singing about a "Christmas in September." Another fine XO collection, and as always it's free. 


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This indie band from Raleigh, NC, actually made it as far as a contract with Merge Records before falling back on their own initiative during their decade-long career. In 2012, they recorded this entire album of original Christmas songs, and it's worth hearing; I wish I'd known about it last year, in fact. Solid indie-rock-pop, not quite power pop as it lacks the brashness of that genre, but frequently uptempo and always melodic. "When It's Cold" is a vocal workout on the topic of the weather heralding the holiday, "Xmas In New York" is a mellow shout-out to urban holiday celebrations, "I Hear (Click, Click, Click)" is a bouncy opener about anticipating the holiday, "Thru That Door" is about the arrival of Christmas, "Hold Me Tight" is a romantic holiday ballad, and "Lonely Light" is a soul-inflected slow song treading some of the same ground. "Melt Our Way Out" is the band's way of escaping the snow, "Christmas Dan" is a nicely retro sax-led tune about that quirky local guy who celebrates the holiday by stringing candy canes on his Trans-Am, "Christmas Clown" is a kind of Everly Brothers tribute, "Oh It's Christmas" is self-explanatory, and the toe-tapping instrumental "Journey To Christmas Island" closes things out. Click through to Amazon and grab this.
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Another overseas artist with a holiday tradition of new original Christmas music, for 2013 this band (or two bands, judging from the artist credit) gives us more of what they've given us before: mellow alternative pop-rock in short bursts with the occasional contribution of a horn section. None of the nine songs exceeds 2:34 in length, and several are much shorter. They kick off with the sweet "Rainy Christmas," give us two bites at "Christmas Tree" numbered 1 and 2, sing about a toy "Singing Santa," exhort us to visit the "Sleighbell Museum," rock out with "She Must Be Santa," take us on a languid trip to a "Frozen Lake," create a faux antique ballad called "Selaphobia" about outdoor Christmas lights, and sing about the "Siamese Lumberjacks" who cut down Christmas trees. Quirky as always, and available on Bandcamp for a price you can name yourself.
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This Swedish singer-songwriter's holiday tradition is turning into an album's worth of tunes, and for 2013 her new Christmas song is a sweet acoustic ballad with melancholy lyrics about being cold and lonely in a big city on the holiday. It's a nice change of pace, and it's free to download.

Santastic 8, various artists (djBC)

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If you were concerned that you weren't going to get your minimum holiday allotment of mashups, fear not, the eighth annual Santastic compilation is here to make your season. As always, you may debate which cuts are keepers and which are not, but there's no argument that everybody's likely to find something that will speak to them. And as the whole collection is free of charge, you can make that determination at your leisure. In keeping with the collection's cover art, we kick off with "The Christmas Massacre of Charlie Brown" by DJ John, which is a big beat overlaid on "Schroeder and Snoopy" and collaged with the speaking voices from the iconic "Peanuts" special. The collection's curator, djBC, mixes up "Cold Chillin With Stevie," combining Stevie Wonder, Juice Crew, Harry Potter, and Bob & Doug McKenzie, and "Jack Frost vs the Weatherman," using the TV special and snippets of the Mills Brothers. Every year brings us nods to the past year's popular culture, so we get Pimpdaddysupreme's "How KimYe Ruined Christmas" with Kanye West and Patsy Cline, DJ McFly's "The Sugar Plum Wrecking Ball" with Tchaikovsky meeting Miley Cyrus, DJ Schmolli's "Tommy's Royal Christmas" with the Who and Lorde, and Mojochronic's "Lou Christmas (Without You), in which the Velvet Underground meets Straight No Chaser and the Staple Singers. Mojochronic also gives us "Rudolph's Red Nose" with Gene Autry and Sage the Gemini, Voicedude offers "Folsom Prison Christmas" with Johnny Cash, "Last White Christmas" featuring Cream and the "Glee" cast, and "St Nick the Knife" with what is supposed to be Bobby Darin, but sounds more like the Joel Kopische parody. Divide & Kreate created a killer "No Sleep Till Christmas" from the Beastie Boys and Wham, DJ Tripp's "Just Like Rudolph" mashes The Cure with Gene Autry and snippets of "Island of Misfit Toys," ATOM throws in the kitchen sink on "Hark the Snow King's Marshmellows," and G3RSt's "Sleigh Me Like a Pirate" is for those who like to talk like one.

December 24th, various artists (Indiecater)

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The independent Indiecater label has been offering Christmas compilations annually for several years, and they maintain the streak for 2013. This year's EP is more mellow than in past years, opening on a "Warm and Bright" note with Adam and Darcie. The Photo Ops, unable to travel for Christmas night, offer "Singers and Dancers," Ben Hood pulls out his acoustic guitar to promise "This Year" he'll spend Christmas with his lover, Candy Claws performs "Alp Shades," a breathy pop confection, The Very Most breaks the mold by rocking out with "Stars and Happiness Forever," and Spread the Celebration wraps up with, well, "Spread the Celebration." The Bandcamp page wants to be paid in euros, but don't let that bother you, currency converters are easy to find.

bonamassa.jpgThe modern blues-rock guitar star delivers a full-throated jump blues for 2013, complete with horns, piano and Bonamassa's own patented fretwork. Lyrically it's a bit of a throwaway, but it's a dancefloor hit for sure, and it's a free download, so what are you waiting for? (Careful when you hit that download link, the song starts playing immediately and there's no off button.)

A commenter elsewhere on the site blegged a mention of this little number, and while I still maintain it's not really a Christmas song, it looks like the culture has decreed otherwise. This is nice and funky, as you can hear for yourself, and download links are available at the YouTube page.

 
I said earlier that amateurs on YouTube tend to discourage pros from making good Christmas novelties. Here's a good Christmas novelty, although I don't know what the author's pro status is.

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That 70s hard rock sound never dies, and who better to deliver it to us than two-fifths of the Runaways? This 2013 single is mostly Lita Ford's joint, but she offered a role to the otherwise reclusive Cherie, and less than four minutes later, with a request for a beverage over the fade, we have ourselves a Christmas tune. Good stuff, especially for the leather 'n lace crowd.

Horror Xmas, the Misfits (Cyclopians/Misfits)

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The long-running late 70s punk band, founded by Glenn Danzig before he went out on his own, is still a going concern in 2013, as evidenced by this EP, or should we call it a double B-side single, as there is a limited vinyl release in exactly that format in colored vinyl. It's downloadable too, which is the format I received. No surprises in sound, this is classic late 70s punk applied to three classics, the A-side "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," "Island of Misfit Toys" and "Blue Christmas." Misfits fans will want the vinyl, punks will be happy to have this and it's quite listenable for the rest of us as well.

Christmas Madness EP, The Rocket Summer (Aviate)

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The Rocket Summer is essentially just Bryce Avary of Dallas/Fort Worth, who has been making records for a decade now, and just got around to Christmas for 2013 with three original songs and an acoustic guitar cover of "O Holy Night." "Christmas Madness" is a strong opener, a fine power pop holiday anthem. "Elf Creep" is a piano-led number about an elf sneaking up on the object of his affections (you stalker you), and "Grapevine Christmas Eve" appears to be about a ghost returning on the night before the holiday. These are fine original Christmas songs, especially for the power poppers among us.
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Hadn't heard at the start of the season whether the Killers would keep their Christmas single streak alive in 2013, well, they did. But they got a lot of help from up-and-coming California folk-rockers Dawes; that band's Taylor Goldsmith co-wrote the song and partly sings the tune, which if not for Brandon Flowers' lead vocals would sound like the Killers guested on a Dawes tune. (Irving Berlin gets a credit too, for the four lines of "White Christmas" that get pilfered on the lead-out.) My take on Dawes is that they frequently sing in the third person about some poor deluded girl who doesn't see the wheels within wheels the way the narrator does (I foresee an Onion headline: "Girl Who All Dawes Songs Are About Goes To Court, Seeks Restraining Order") but on this mellow folk-pop song, the observational aspect hits just the right balance; guess the Killers were in charge after all. Currently it's only on iTunes, no Amazon link available. UPDATE: Forgot to note the song benefits the Global Fund For AIDS. And I just got the YouTube link for the video:

"Toymageddon," Yo La Tengo (Kutner/Levinson)

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This 2013 rocker is a hysterical number by the long-running indie-rockers, aided by comic Eugene Mirman and NPR stalwart Ira Glass, and it's part of a comedy album, 2776: A Millenium Of American Asskickery, set to be released next summer. Meanwhile, this has been released as a single. It's a riff on "Dance of the Toy Soldiers" transferred to the modern sci-fi blockbuster day, where the toys come to life and enslave humans, all to the not-quite-familiar sound of Yo La Tengo's buzzy, lo-fi accompaniment. "It came down to Toys or Us," the song sadly concludes, and don't worry, there are plenty of other great lines in this song. Destined to become a Christmas classic in the same way that the "WKRP" turkey episode has become a Thanksgiving Day classic. Enjoy, and click through to grab it for yourself.

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Citizens are a Seattle-based Christian rock band that just got started a couple of years ago and have one regular album to their name, and now for 2013 they have this collection of Christmas music, four classic carols and one original tune, "Come and Stand Amazed," which fits right in with the worshipful tone of the other songs here. As for the sound, it's a radio-friendly alt-rock collection of mostly upbeat sounds, except for "Silent Night" and "Come and Stand Amazed." "Hark the Herald Angels" even throws a bit of 60s soul into the mix. Good original arrangements of these songs, you won't even notice you're being preached at.


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Londoner Leona is a bonafide international star as a result of winning her home country's version of "The X Factor" in 2006 and going on to a string of Brit award/Grammy award winning songs and albums. I tend to steer clear of talent show denizens, particularly "American Idol," especially when the ever-present Simon Cowell is involved, but I have to say I'm not particularly horrified by the results on offer here. Leona's singing does evince a certain hero worship of the late Whitney Houston, the production is assembly-line modern pop, and there aren't any real surprises among the cover songs, but she manages to put some personality into the proceedings nonetheless. Points for using the Otis Redding arrangement of "White Christmas," and perhaps because I'm not English I never get tired of hearing Roy Wood's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," which kicks off with a bit of emoting before heading into a Wizzard-faithful arrangement. She also does spot-on Spector takes of "Winter Wonderland" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Album closers "Ave Maria" and "Silent Night" are a little too reverent for my taste, however, the typical pop album's sincerity while showing off the singer's chops move. Leona co-writes three tunes for this collection, the sprightly album opener "One More Sleep," in which the singer is dreaming of her lover coming home for Christmas, "Mr. Right," an uptempo request for a two-legged Christmas present, and the churchy ballad "Your Hallelujah." Not really a classic, but I'm liking this in spite of myself.

heart2013.jpgThe Seattle-based classic rockers, previously on the Christmas tip with the Lovemongers album, cut a new single for 2013. "All Through the Night" is Nancy Wilson with help from Richard Marx on this pop ballad, while Ann Wilson duets with Aaron Neville on the Charles Brown classic. This is far more pop than rock, but I know the classic rock fans would want to know about this, especially since other classic rockers' promises of holiday music haven't come through this year.

disappoint.jpgThis song, from 2013, manages to live up both to the title and to the band name. It's a ballad that starts with a guy who lost his job and worries about his prospects, but the holiday manages to overcome his concerns for a short time anyway. It picks up from the slow intro to a nice mid-tempo rocker. Good work, pick it up.

"Always Christmas," Pete RG (self-issued)

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peterg.jpgPete's a singer-songwriter and photographer with a number of albums to his credit, and for the time being he's making available this 2013 single free of charge at Bandcamp. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker, a love song in which the singer gets the girl, and that makes it always Christmas. Nice sentiment, nice song, check it out here.

cantwait.jpgRichard is a long-running power pop maven and sideman extraordinare with 10 albums to his credit, but near as I can tell this lovely rocker is his first Christmas song, released for 2013. Strong, hook-laden music, the only fly in the ointment is that it's not out for sale yet; the only way to hear it is via this YouTube video. If it becomes downloadable at some point I'll update this post. Meanwhile, crank up the volume on those open-air speakers. UPDATE: Commenter grendel322 tips us the download is now on iTunes and, click the cover art at right, Amazon.

The Xmas EP, Never Shout Never (Loveway)

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Never Shout Never previously did a single for the holidays in 2008 called "30 Days," but that was when it was a one-man band. Now a full touring outfit, the group has cut loose with a Christmas gift for 2013, two originals and two covers, nice semi-acoustic versions of "Winter Wonderland" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." "Everything is Cool" is a ukelele-and-harmonica harmony-vocal tune that combines a major-key melody that belies the minor-key lyrics, and "Under the Mistletoe" is an acoustic duet with Dia Frampton in which the singers agree to meet in the favorite holiday spot in the title. Mellow stuff, but highly listenable.
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Don't know much about this act, but the song, originally out in 2008, is a humorous rocker about having a holiday birthday, name-checking numerous celebrities a la Adam Sandler who were born on Christmas day. Although the first verse appears to be factually wrong: "Here's a problem Jesus never had to deal with." Or maybe not. Anyway, it's good fun.

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