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December 2015 Archives

"Auld Lang Syne," Eleanor Friedberger (YouTube)

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Yeah, I know, it's an ad. But Eleanor, formerly of Fiery Furnaces and currently solo, has a way with a glass and a stick, and I needed to give you something in the way of a New Year's wish, so dig it.

They waited until Boxing Day 2015 to roll this one out, and if you're expecting electronic dance music, this one will surprise you. It's more of a ballad, discussing the many ways the holiday disappoints and distresses people. For all that, it's a solidly heartfelt number.
I'm always happy to throw the floor open to folks doing Christmas-themed parodies of popular songs, and that appears to be the whole reason for this 2012 album that I just discovered the other week. (Except for a straight cover of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," anyway.) As the name of the act suggests, these parodies are based on well-liked rock singles from the 60s, and the only glitch in the formula is that there's a faint smell of lounge band about the performances. Fortunately, that only becomes apparent when you play the whole album in one sitting. When you hit shuffle on your device, or hand-curate your own playlist from scratch, the better tunes from this collection hold their own quite well. The title song is based on "Incense & Peppermints," "Santa, Santa" plays off "Louie Louie," "Mom Won't Let Me" is a tinseled version of the Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me," and I think my favorite of the group is "Sleigh Full of Toys," based on "Heart Full of Soul." The Rolling Stones get parodied twice on here, "Santa With a Red Suit" takes off on Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, "Dirty Water" becomes "I Love to Go to Grandma's," and "Wooly Bully" becomes "Merry Christmas." Check 'em out.

"Xmas Has Been X'ed," NOFX (Fat Wreck Chords)

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NOFX.jpgHere's another one that slipped through my grasp; it's from 2012 and it's a great, if profane, skate-punk anti-anthem about the worst aspects of the holiday. Party on with them as they hammer out the additional tunes "New Year's Revolution" and a different version of "Wore Out the Soles of my Party Boots" than was on two of their other collections.

The reclusive solo star and ex-Fugee dropped an admittedly unfinished cover of Nat King Cole on Soundcloud this week, so have at it, folks.

Somehow I never knew this existed. Ray Davies did an album covering some of his great Kinks hits with the help of the Crouch End Festival Chorus in 2009, but he included this original, which he had intended to duet with British singing icon Vera Lynn. Instead, ex-girlfriend Chrissie Hynde got the nod after being approached by their daughter Natalie. That the two of them did not maintain contact after the birth of their daughter, and in fact did not appear in the studio together for the recording, puts an interesting edge on the story behind this downbeat holiday tale.

"Feliz Navidad," Walk Off The Earth (YouTube)

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We had these guys' album on the site last year, and here they are doing what they did with the Gotye song on "Feliz Navidad." This is a part of a much longer movie they made that's also on YouTube, or at their website.

Another one from The Onion's Holiday Underground series, this is a more roots-countrified version of Greg Lake's much-loved classic.

"Xmas Time of the Year," Green Day (Reprise)

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No sooner do I put up my Christmas Eve post than I stumble on this, a fine Christmas song from pop-punk superstars Green Day. No independent audio yet, so click on through and listen, it's only 2:17. There's a segment of the audience that always reacts badly when a group goes from secret fetish to household word, but this is exactly what you would want and expect in a rock 'n roll Christmas song.

Merry Christmas to one and all

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And so we've come to Christmas Eve, where I traditionally deliver a holiday benediction to the readership. Thanks everybody for reading the site, writing in with tips, providing actual music, and all the stuff that serves to remind me that the mission here is appreciated and even needed. Also as part of the tradition, here's something completely off the wall -- an entire album of goats singing Christmas carols. Apparently this is being sponsored by Swedish human services non-profit ActionAid, which currently is campaigning for contributions to buy goats for families in the Third World to help the families feed themselves. A worthy cause, and a few giggles besides. Who could object? (Yes, I know it's in Swedish; use Google Translate, OK?) Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Stumbled over this at Stereogum, a band I hadn't heard of previously, but I like what I hear. The sound is old-school 70s punk-new wave, sort of Undertones/Buzzcocks, and catchy as hell. For streaming only at this time.

This New Jersey artist has appeared on Mistletunes before with Christmas songs, usually rootsy rockers. His 2015 entry puts a bit more pop sheen on the rock 'n roll and it almost has the flavor of those early-70s British rock Christmas singles from such folks as Slade, Elton John, Mud, Roy Wood's Wizzard, etc. No independent audio so far, but feel free to play it right here.

"Christmas In Space," Loop Line (self-issued)

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This Minneapolis group was on the Christmas tip last year with "Lights on the Tree," and for 2015, a remixed version of that song is the B-side of this pop-rocker that seems to be about aliens arguing with Earthlings about the nature of Santa Claus. A great number, grab it from Bandcamp or Amazon. And check out the lyric video.
Rudolph gets shot down over Georgia and this is the last Christmas ever, according to these British rockers, and they set these sentiments to an almost anthem-like rock backing that belies the darker sentiments. Nevertheless, this is a hot single for 2015. Only on iTunes for now. Oh, and check their website for their Advent calendar.

"Never Felt Like Christmas," Lizzo (YouTube)

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Never heard of this young lady before, but she's got some music up on Soundcloud similar to this pop-R'nB number, and this one's a hopping little holiday love song, as you can tell by clicking play. So far, it's only on YouTube, and ESPN has a basketball-themed version of it cued up to play during holiday games, according to Paste magazine. I'll update if independent audio turns up.

A little something for the holiday grumps among us, but it's for a good cause, as it's opposed to excessive commercialism on the holiday. It's a sprightly little number, and it makes a good soundtrack for this video filled with Christmas fails. It's on Amazon and iTunes.

"Christmas Time Is Cruel," The Bayonets (Robo)

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bayonets.jpgHere's a solid power pop-rock Christmas song for 2015 from the side project of Brian Ray, Paul McCartney's guitarist/bassist in his road band. There's actually more Bruce Springsteen in this one, not surprising since Little Steven had a hand in recording it. So it's probably even less surprising that it's the Underground Garage's Coolest Song in the World this week. Nepotism aside, this is a pretty cool Christmas song.

Well, here's another long-running rumor put to bed. A Christmas album by Pat has been the subject of speculation for many years, and for 2015 we get this single, billed to the singer and her musical director/hubby. Looks like this is a harbinger of a 2016 holiday album credited mainly to Geraldo, which jives with what we've reported previously over most of this very website. Meanwhile, we have this, and it's not bad -- 70s crunch-rock backing Pat's excellent pipes on a holiday love song with just enough chimes to bring out the holiday mood.
Once again we get a holiday tune from this group, keeping a 20-year string intact. For 2015, the song has the "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" strum but the vocal recalls Lou Reed. As always, it's free, and you'll be able to browse all the previous years' songs while you're there.

Notebook scribbles

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  • Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit got into the holiday spirit with this video of "Have Yourself a Merry Lil Christmas," which you can check out here.
  • I guess I'm the last to point out that not only did Bruce Springsteen perform "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" on "Saturday Night Live," but Paul McCartney crashed the stage to sing along.
  • Just stumbled across Seal doing "This Christmas," released in 2015. Nothing really remarkable given the thousands of covers, but if you dig Seal, you'll want this.
  • And finally, this year's Mistletunes mix disc has been added to the sidebar. 
This Seattle indie label has been on the Christmas tip for years, as the number in the album title indicates. It's also where the fabulous "No Lou This Christmas" by Tom Dyer originated a couple years ago, so expectations are a little higher for this label's compilations. Burnseer gets the prize for political awareness with their "The Little Refugee Boy," who in other Christmas seasons would be the drummer. "Here He Comes" by Cassandra Sky manages to evoke the middle-period Beach Boys even without the choral harmonies, Fur For Fairies goes all antique music on us with "Cherry Tree Carol," Glamourpuss breaks out the toy piano to accent their lo-fi poppy "Christmas For Everyone," Jeff Kelly digs out an ode for two teenage girlfriends circa "Christmas 1995," Kat Dyer solos on "I Heard the Bells," Pleasure Island features the surf guitar sound on the instrumental of "Merry Gentlemen," God rest them, and Sheila Powers confesses "Santa Left Me (On Our Last Date)" in an original ballad. The Elf-Tones throw the garage door open so everyone can hear "I See Reindeer in the Clouds," and then the Navins grab the instruments to rock out on "Jesus Under My Tree." Tom Nook's "Best Darn Christmas Ever" is fun, amateur thrash rock, Tom's New Pagan Choraliers tell the story of "Little Blair's Unpleasant Christmas," Toxic Socket hammers out the bluesy "Santy Claws," Zelda Starfire breaks out the ukelele to promise she'll be home for Christmas "Next Year," and 3 Ninjas get all profane about the holiday in "It's an Agonizingly Slow Death," retelling the "Wonderful Life" story in more depressing terms. Couldn't get behind "A Saucy Holiday Indeed!" by The GMR Chamber Ensemble, though I predict somebody might roll this out during a wintertime Renaissance Faire. All told, another great collection from the rainy city. Get it from Bandcamp.
Another in the growing trend of indie boy-girl duos, this is Boulder, CO's Latifah Phillips and Aaron Strumpel, both veterans of other bands before this, doing the chamber-pop thing minus rhythm section on five familiar holiday classics. According to their Facebook page, they raced through the recording of this 2015 EP in five days, but it doesn't sound like it was rushed. They also relied on as few electric instruments as they could and recorded everything on old-school ribbon microphones. This is very plain-spoken and mellow retro-Americana, with arrangements that are no surprise for such songs as "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Silent Night," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "O Holy Night." This won't get the holiday partiers out of their seats. But it's at least sincere and spontaneous, and that counts for a lot during holiday season.

We Wish You Emery Christmas, Emery (BadChristian)

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This "post-hardcore band from Seattle," per Wikipedia, has a new Christmas album for 2015, and they're giving it away free until Dec. 24. (You have to go to their Facebook page to get the offer.) What do you get for your no-nickel? Eight songs, including what appears to be three originals: "The Last Christmas," billed as "live from the bus," a lost-my-love ballad; "(Ho Ho Hey) A Way For Santa's Sleigh," a harder rocker; and "Jesus Gave Us Christmas," a more religious ballad that also was on Tooth & Nail's Happy Christmas Vol. 5. A studio take of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" dispenses with the rhythm section but manages to be upbeat anyway, band member Toby Morrell provides two acoustic guitar takes on "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "Away In a Manger," and Matt Carter, with the help of duet partner Melanie Studley, sings "Oh Come Emmanuel" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Not a lot of rocking going on here, but the originals are worth the whole album.

"Cold Cold Feet," Sofia Talvik (self-issued)

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coldsofia.jpgThe Scandinavian singer-songwriter has been a staple at Mistletunes for several years now, as she always comes up with a holiday-oriented song, usually emphasizing the melancholy side of the holiday. For 2015, she gives us this very American folk music ballad about a poor woman trying to find the Christmas spirit in a materialistic world. Sofia has been touring the USA in recent years, and I associate that factoid with the more straightforward approach of this song compared to her past work. Get it from Bandcamp.

Dino reached out to the website to let us know about this song he posted back in 2014. It's a winner, especially if you like something that has the Cheap Trick influence to it. There's independent audio at Soundcloud, too, though only for streaming.

"Merry Xmas," Fetty Wap featuring Monty (300)

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This guy is apparently the latest and greatest in hip-hop, if you read Pitchfork, anyway, and for 2015 he's put up a Christmas tune on Soundcloud. Appears to be a stream only, so here you go.

Pretty much what you'd expect, but fun nonetheless.

santafunk3.jpgAs much as I'm a sucker for old-school soul records, you'd think I would have known about this series of albums based on flea-market rescues of seriously obscure soul Christmas records before this. So I'm indebted to friend of the site Sean Delany, who broke his skein of painstakingly compiled and art-directed holiday mix discs in 2015 because he was busy curating this third collection in the series for Tramp Records. Sean's detailed liner notes indicate that at least some of these records were vanity releases, on a level with all those indie punk rock singles that never got beyond 1,000 copies and were probably only heard regionally in their day. Cleveland Robinson's "Xmas Time Is Here Again," for example, was released on Nosnibor Records, and you don't need to be a fan of word games to work out how the label got its name. Despite the low-budget origins of these songs and the herculean effort to make decent quality reproductions of these ancient vinyl artifacts, there's enthusiasm and spirit in all these recordings. My favorites are "Dear Santa" by Syng McGowan & the Fanettes, "Sock It To 'Em Santa" by Joe Shinall, "Happy Birthday Jesus" by Sam Sweetsinger Bell, the smoking instrumental "Santa Soul" by Rocki Lane and The Gross Group, the synth-bass-led funk workouts "Black (Soul) Christmas" by Timi Terrific & the Redheads and "Disco Claus" by The Bionic I, and the almost garage-soul "Santa's New Bag" by Rudi and the Rain Dearz. Definitely the best historical collection I've encountered this year, even if the Grammy Award voters haven't seen fit to nominate it.

This hard rockin' redneck trio does a great country-rock turn on the popular carol for 2015, much as they did a long time ago on their version of "Merry Christmas Baby." Nice greasy reverb guitar leads this fine rendition of the popular classic.
This is singer Arielle Verinis combined with Dave Green of The Filthy Souls, doing  a nice stripped-down take of the familiar carol for 2015. They trade vocals and sing together, backed only by a spare electric guitar in a crunchy rhythm. A great change of pace for your playlists. Grab it from Noisetrade.
Monika Bullette is a singer-songwriter from Wilmington, DE, and she's one half of the duo The Sky Drops. This is a solo tune written by her in 2015, and it's a very nice pop song. If you click through to YouTube, you'll see she calls it a demo, but there is a fair amount of sparkle in the performance, and hopefully by giving her some notice here, she'll be able to do a full-blown studio performance at some later date. For now, go over to Soundcloud and download the independent audio to this, plus five other songs, including two country Christmas covers, "Rootin' Tootin' Santa Claus" and "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy," also demos, but hey, they're free. Whoops, while I was building live links, I discovered the Sky Drops have some Christmas music they did in 2014, the original "Christmas Feels Like Halloween," and a cover of Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here." For now, they're right on the front page and are free to download.

A little backscratching in this spot

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Gareth Jones, British DJ and host of the Radio Radio Podcast, once did ol' Rudolph a solid by including him in one of his special all-singing, all-dancing Christmas podcasts. That was a few years ago, but Gareth's still at it, so make sure you add him to your list of Christmas-music-related things to do this year. He's got some fine Christmas novelties cued up, but even better, he's interviewing Piney Gir, who's been mentioned here a number of times for some fine alt-pop Christmas melodies, and there will be a good sampling of the group's work. Also interviewed is Kid Carpet, described by Gareth as a UK punk-pop comedy artist, sounds like somebody we should know more about. Click through and grab the podcast, hell, subscribe, as Gareth does this more than once a year.
The legendary Ronnie Hawkins, who booked original rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins into his nightclub in the 1950s and then went out on tour as a rocker himself, with The Band as his backing musicians, now covers his old backing group's classic Christmas tune for 2015. Independent audio is at iTunes and Amazon. It's a more countrified cover but not far off the original. He looks pretty good for 80, too.

Seattle's own Dirty Sidewalks include brothers Erik and Evan Foster, the latter also of The Boss Martians, and this 2015 song is a nice crunchy alt-rock ode to the disadvantages of the holiday. Best of all, it's free to download from Soundcloud, so what are you waiting for?

Baby I'm Cold Inside, Stres (self-issued)

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stres.jpgJoshua Bolof of Seattle records as Stres, and this is his 2015 holiday EP, which is free to download at Bandcamp. This is downtempo alternative electronic music, mostly instrumental but with poppy percussion to keep it moving, almost reminiscent of bands like Suicide. "Christmas is Here, But You're Still Gone" features Dirty Sidewalk Erik Foster on a vocal song with lyrics about failing to connect in the holiday season. "Christmas In Belltown" is a slow number with a spoken intro but is otherwise instrumental, as is "Nothing Feels Like Home Anymore" and "Emma Watson." You may want to soundtrack your holiday videos with music like this.

Emanating from Phoenix, this garage-rock combo knocks out a quick but tasty version of what is my favorite Christmas song that originated with Elvis Presley. They made it Coolest Song in the World this week in 2015 on Little Steven's Underground Garage, and it's easy to see why. It's on Bandcamp and iTunes.

This is a strong rock 'n roll number -- rare in 2015 -- in which Santa can't round up his reindeer in time to make the Christmas run in less than 12 parsecs (sorry, got carried away with the hype). Carly's got a mellow tenor and this is a witty rocker. Gotta have. (Carly's got some other Christmas tunes in her quiver, and at some point I'll have to check those out.)

"Stone Cold Santa," Matt Bunsen (self-issued)

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Matt's got a band called the Burners (and you would too, if your last name was Bunsen), but this is a solo piece of his released for 2015. It's a cool spaghetti western-flavored shuffle about how all the gifts were tied up at the post office and there wasn't anybody who could deliver them in time except for, oh, come on, say it with me.... Get it from Amazon or iTunes. It's on an album called Pass It Around.

chaseholfelder.jpgThis has been burning up Facebook lately, with many people marveling and others unmoved. What Chase did here was recast the entire song in a slower tempo and a minor key, which as most Music 101 students know results in a more melancholy mood. A bit of clicking around indicates this is actually Chase's schtick, as he has a whole album of popular songs recast this way. Last year he did "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" this way, and for 2015 Mariah Carey gets the treatment. My take? An imaginative arrangement, though making it the hook for your entire musical career probably won't take you far. Check it out for yourself.

This band from South Wales has been making a Christmas single an annual event for some time now, and here's their latest, in which Santa pines for the soon-to-be Mrs. Claus and a happy ending results. Good uptempo original. No independent audio yet, but the band says it'll be on iTunes soon.

"Christmas Night," The Cave SIngers (self-issued)

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This Seattle band has a new album called Banshee out in February 2016, and this fine garage-psych-pop holiday anthem will be part of it. Meanwhile, it's streaming on Soundcloud, and if you pre-order it on Bandcamp, you can have the song for this Christmas season. I like this song a lot.
Audience video in 2015 from the Cleveland House of Blues via Pitchfork and Stereogum.

indieholiday.jpgAs with last year's All Is Bright, this is not actually an album but a playlist curated by Amazon as a come-on to sign up for Amazon Prime, which in addition to giving you free two-day delivery on all purchases also gives you access to their video library and lets you stream all the music you can eat. You can go ahead and buy all the individual tracks, though there's no album package price for doing so. For 2015, the playlist features such known quantities as Robert Pollard, Sondre Lerche, The Leevees & Matisyahu, Reverend Horton Heat, Langhorn Slim and Lisa Loeb, along with a raft of lesser-known indie artists, and most of the songs are fresh originals to boot. Hitting the highlights, we have the funky "Who's Up There?" by Bhi Bhiman, the hip-hoppy "Outside of December" with The Leevees & Matisyahu, a soulful "It's Only Christmas" by Moon Taxi, and Oscar's "It's Christmas Again" crosses lo-fi pop with 80s mopey new wave. Tuxedo goes all 90s R'nB on "Holiday Love," the Rev. Heat does what he does rockabilly style on "Donuts in the Snow," and Yacht (not to be confused with The Yachts or yacht rock), gives us an upbeat synth-pop confection, "Christmas Alone." Esmé Patterson (mentioned several days ago on the blog) has a David Lynch-influenced ballad called "If I," A Silent Film's "Christmas At Our House" is one of the nicer holiday nostalgia songs I've heard lately, and Kill Hannah's "This Is Our December" brings the modern arena rock vibe to the collection. My two favorites from this playlist are Langhorne Slim's garage rock take on "Deck the Halls" and Lisa Loeb's thumping New Year's party song (and who'da thought from her, right?) "Champagne (I'm Ready)." There are no stiffs in this list to my ears, just songs I like better, and that'll probably be how you relate to it as well. Don't feel obliged to buy 'em all if you're not a Prime customer; graze the ones you like. 

I Heart the Holidays, various artists (Palladium)

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Palladium Records appears to be a combination management company and record label featuring modern pop-rock artists, and for 2015 they've prevailed upon members of their artist roster to contribute to a Christmas album. Map the Stars is on here twice, once with a wildly upbeat and deconstructed "12 Days of Christmas" and again with the midtempo original "This Holiday." Tim Meyers contributes four solo songs, an original "Joy to the World" with no relation to the familiar carol, further originals "For the Holidays" and "A Magical Season," and a thumping-beat version of "O Christmas Tree." He's also part of Fm Radio with Schuyler Fisk, and a song from Fisk's previous Christmas EP, "More Than I Wished For," is here too. "Glow" by Mozella is an original based on a poppy version of the Bo Diddley beat, Kathryn Ostenberg gives us a power pop "Count Down To Xmas" and covers "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in a similar vein, Lucy & the Cloud Parade break out the handclaps on "A New Time," and El May goes midtempo and bombastic on "All the Wonder." Serengeti & the Unknown goes for harder rock on "The Wish List," and just The Unknown break out the chimes and cellos for "Winter Night," and Nicole Vaughn resurrects the old Anita Ward disco chestnut "Ring My Bell" as a Christmas song, proving once again that context is everything. This is another collection worth checking out.

This classic American duo, which became the toast of England in the 1970s thanks to such albums as Kimono My House, Whomp That Sucker and Angst In My Pants, is still with us to this day, having just completed the FFS collaboration with Franz Ferdinand (which you should own). This 2015 single is a dramatic ballad with orchestra about loneliness that breaks out into a gospel number about halfway through. I've always loved these guys and this is a good example of their work. They previously sang about the holiday in 1974 with "Thank God It's Not Christmas," a more rocked-out number from their best-known album.
I missed this group's single in 2014, but no worries, it's back for 2015 attached to an entire album of pop-rock goodies, many originals among some familiar Christmas tunes. The group is the brainchild of producer Sam Hollander and Better than Ezra's Kevin Griffin, and they pull together a bunch of fellow artists, writers and producers to create this charity project benefiting MusiCares. The organizers wrote last year's single "Must Be Christmas," a hand-clapping pop-rocker, the album opener "Snow Snow Snow" and the semi-music hall polka "And to All a Good Night." They combine with Natasha Bedingfield for the dance-rock "Wishlist" and "Gather Round," and bring in Christina Perri and David Hodges for "Christmastime," and Michael Fitzpatrick, Josh Edmondson and Charity Daw join in for "Holiday In L.A." The cast also brings their big hit-radio approach to "Jingle Bells, "Joy to the World" and "Auld Lang Syne," and there's a nearly a capella version of "O Holy Night" featuring Street Corner Symphony. Folks from Owl City, Evanescence, Lifehouse and Semisonic are also part of these proceedings. Not everybody is impressed with these sort-of supergroup projects, but if you like contemporary pop-rock this is a nice collection with some decent original songs.
Music She Blogged is essentially a woman named Sarah who, wait for it, blogs about music in and around Toronto. She's compiled this lengthy set of music as a benefit for Toy Mountain, a Christmas charity in her home country. This is a mostly punk collection, all pretty well-played stuff, and it appears to be mostly original songs except for No Doubt's "Oi to the World" covered by The Stragglers and a thrashy "I Heard the Bells" by Quick and the Dead. Many of these songs appear to be non-Christmas, however, so I'll stick to the holiday tunes. Carly Thomas' "Hold You" is more of a pop ballad, and as such sticks way out from the rest of the lineup. Audio Visceral's "Wonderful Life" plays off the movie, Last Imprint hammers out a speedy "Through These Eyes," Rebuilder screams about "X-Mas PunX," and Redambergreen does a crunchy, almost 70s rock "Christmas List." The Good Boys do a more pop-punk take on "It's Christmas Time and I'm In Love With You (Haven't You Heard)," and You Big Idiot offers the punk shuffle "A Christmas Song." My suspicion is that a lot of folks are going to want the Carly Thomas song and not the rest of the album, but if you're interested in contemporary Toronto punk, the album makes a good snapshot of the scene, though the Christmas highlights are few. Music She Blogged apparently did this a year ago with Holiday Headbangers, and the rundown of that album is straight punk Christmas with thrashy covers of familiar carols. Both albums are at Bandcamp, and the Headbangers set is free to download.

Pop-punk from the U.K. for 2015, this is simply an amped-up medley of Christmas songs, from rock-era gems to standard carols. It's well-performed, with lots of rhythmic variation from straight-up punk to reggae, opening with "Fairytale of New York" and taking in everything from "Silent Night" to "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" to "Wonderful Christmastime" to "Jingle Bells" to "Winter Wonderland" to "Last Christmas" to Band Aid's holiday anthem. There are many more, and this is kind of fun.

Christmas Dream EP, Josh Wright (self-issued)

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Josh is a singer-songwriter who has done an original Christmas song a year for the last few years, and NoiseTrade has compiled them into one place in 2015 for an easy download. "Christmas Dream" is set to a relaxed midtempo swagger,  while "Christmas Time Is Here" and "I'm Coming Home" are ballads with a little help from a string section. A nice collection, though if I had to pick one it would be "Christmas Dream."
This singer-songwriter identifies as pop-folk, and for 2015 she's combined three originals and three carols into an enjoyable EP. "It's Merry Christmas Time" is the likely choice for a single, a midtempo stomp with full rhythm section and horns. She breaks out the ukelele for "Christmas Glow" and calls for "Peace On Earth Tonight" in a stately ballad. Also on the playlist is an almost 70s rock ballad version of "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming," a straight reading of "O Holy Night" and a mild reggae take on "Winter Wonderland." Miranda sounds great on all of these songs, and though the vibe is mostly mellow you might still want to get yourself over to Bandcamp or NoiseTrade for this.


Another female punk group takes on Chuck Berry, and the result is good fun, with the driving punk crunch taking precedence over the Berry riffs. Yes, I know there are similar versions of this practically growing on trees, so whether you go for this probably depends on whether you're a fan of the band or you actually don't have a similar version of this song. But I like this 2015 single without reservations. It's on Bandcamp and NoiseTrade.
Kerry Pastine is a Colorado-based author of self-help books, according to her personal website, but she's also a singer-songwriter with a cooking band playing barroom retro-rock, and this is their 2015 Christmas album. It's a short collection, just eight songs, but it will leave you wanting more. "Ride Santa Ride" keys off the "Blue Suede Shoes" riff and goes to town, "Holly Jolly Rock & Roll Party" is a strong boogie-woogie number, "Dream of Christmas Day" is midtempo doo-wop, "(Have I Been) Naughty or Nice" is a slinky come-on to Santa, "Crime Scene Christmas" is a driving rocker, rockabilly pushes "Santa's Movin'," and there's two nods to the end of the year, "Happy New Year," which is a ballad, and "New Year's Day My Way" gets a little Link Wray and "Peter Gunn" going on. I wanna do Christmas and New Year's Day Kerry's way for sure, as long as the Crime Scene is backing her up. 

Magnolias & Mistletoe, Marc Broussard (G-Man)

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Marc describes himself as "Bayou soul," and it's a reasonable description of what you get here on this 2015 Christmas album. Marc contributes two originals, "When Christmas Comes Along" and "Almost Christmas." The former is a straight soulful ballad, and the latter is a more bluesy tune, and both are strong additions to the Christmas canon. The other songs on this are familiar carols and pop songs, all midtempo and in a moderately soulful style that may recall Michael McDonald for some people. I think Marc erred in picking all songs that lend themselves to slower takes; some faster tempos would have made for a better listening experience across the whole album. But Marc's fans will love all of this.

You're a Gift, The Both (YouTube)

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Aimee Mann, she of many past holiday music gifts, and her current bandmate Ted Leo, are playing Christmas shows this month, and they've worked up a new Christmas song for the second year in a row. (Last year's is here.) If you heard their album as The Both, you'll immediately recognize this as something that could have been a bonus cut on that disc. Nice work, but no independent audio until Dec. 18.

I'm frankly surprised I don't run into more Korea pop (K-pop to the rest of you), though I guess I shouldn't have said that... Anyway, this is my first exposure to a group that's huge in South Korea and Japan and is becoming known in the USA as well. They're so huge, in fact, that there's Girls Generation, and then there's a subgroup called Girls Generation TTS, the latter of which is the subject of this post. Essentially, what we have here is a Korean girl group whose music is as relentlessly Western as any USA homegrown group's, although they sing a lot in Korean --  in fact, only the title song has an English version, and it's here in Korean as well. As for what this sounds like, well, take the pop part of K-pop seriously, although they're a bit behind the trends, as their sound is roughly 80's R'nB, disco and pop. That said, the English version of "Dear Santa" is not bad, and the rest is listenable if you like dance music and don't pay much attention to lyrics. Of course, some of you will want to throw on the Korean language songs just to see what your friends think. (Amazon link is to an imported CD version; downloads appear to only be available at iTunes.)
You all know Toni Braxton, the hit R'nB singer, and some of you probably know she didn't become big until she went solo from her family-based vocal group. A few years back, Toni and the family reunited not for music but for the reality show "Braxton Family Values." And now you know where the album title comes from. There's no lack of talent on display, as the a capella version of "O Holy Night" should spell out for you. It's a short album, just eight songs (two versions of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" pump it up to nine), and there aren't really any surprises here, just a modern R'nB Christmas album bordering on adult contemporary. There are three originals, one of which is "Every Day Is Christmas" with Babyface and Toni as two of the writers, and it's a catchy little number. "Blessed New Year" is also a Toni co-write, and "Under My Christmas Tree" is a standard ballad written by Michael Braxton. They also perform "Mary, Did You Know?," the above-mentioned two takes of "This Christmas" (the album opener is the better version), and a listenable soul version of the ubiquitous "Last Christmas." Hate to encourage anything connected with a reality show franchise, but talent will out. Toni previously had a solo Christmas album, as did Tamar.

Happy Hanukkah, yo

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A little something to kick off the Festival of Lights, starting tomorrow.

Mike's last solo Christmas single was a weak-brew version of "Kokomo" with repurposed lyrics. This one, for 2015, is much better, a new version of a long-unreleased Beach Boys tune. Done with all the verve of prime Beach Boys, it definitely upstages the Phoenix cover, although the Phoenix cover, given its connection with Bill Murray, will get more notice.
This is from the 2015 Bill Murray Christmas special on Netflix, and while it would have a built-in audience from Bill Murray fans anyway, it's actually not a bad little pop-rocker. It's a cover of a long-unreleased Beach Boys song, so kudos to Phoenix on the rock archaeology front, though it suffers in comparison to Mike Love's current remake. A tip: If you're going to put Buster Poindexter's name in the credits, it would help if we could hear him. Proceeds from this single benefit UNICEF.

Craig's from the Hold Steady, lately on his own, and Esmé is a solo performer, and they got together for The Onion's A.V. Club to perform Low's 1999 classic tune. They put a little more rhythm into their version, and that's a good thing. There will probably be more of these, as The Onion typically gets about four of these in before Christmas every year. Oh, and Esmé has a holiday song of her own in 2015, which we'll get to eventually. UPDATE: Laura Stevenson covers Elliot Smith in the latest installment.

"Father Christmas," Pop Noir (Fantastic Heat)

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Haven't encountered this British-by-way-of-LA duo before (reminds me of another such ensemble who are LA-by-way-of Britain, Sparks, about whom more later), but this 2015 single offers two great slices of synth-pop for the holidays. The A-side is a fine upbeat number about the jolly elf: "He's coming down the chimney, turn the fire off." Squalling brats are heard in the background but thankfully are not given the lead singer's microphone as so many other artists feel obliged to do. Flip it over (if you can find a 45 of it, anyway) and you get "Little Burundi Drummer Boy," the familiar holiday song that in this case mashes up synth-pop and Burundi-style drumming. This is a short-list choice for your holiday playlists, especially if you're going for either an 80's vibe or a modern contemporary flow.
shearer.jpgThe singer/songwriter and her husband, a co-creator of "This Is Spinal Tap" and famed "The Simpsons" voice actor, have organized live Christmas-themed performances for a few years now, featuring a rotating cast of characters you might know, with the proceeds going to charity. For 2015, they've provided us with an audio document of these performances, half of which were performed live. It's essentially a long EP, six songs, all originals. As you might imagine, a group of people who are mainly known for acting over musical endeavors are going to sound more like a Broadway revue than Trans-Siberian Express, but it's a worthy document if you're fans of these people. Judith Owen provides two solo tunes, "The Best Things" and "(I'll Sing) Silent Night for You," both singer/songwriter style piano ballads and strong candidates for the permanent Christmas canon. Amy Engelhardt brings the show tune chutzpah with a "Great Balls of Fire"-styled lament from mother Mary, "How Did This Thing Get In Me?" Harry Shearer, with help from Jane Lynch, Alice Russell and Ian Shaw, offers the slow jam parody "Too Many Notes," and former SCTV diva Catherine O'Hara sings "What Do You Give the Man Who Has Nothing?," which satirizes a person who wants to help the needy on Christmas but makes that desire all about himself. That leaves Fred Willard's monologue over a musical bed, "The True Story of Christmas," which is absolutely hilarious and should be heard widely. My main complaint is that after listening to this I stumbled over something that isn't on this collection and should be -- Harry, Jane and Weird Al Yankovic covering Jill Sobule's "Jesus Was a Dreidel Spinner." So here it is.

It's Christmas, Daniel Martin Moore (Sofaburn)

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danielmoore.jpgCurrently touring behind a new album produced by My Morning Jacket's Jim James, this is a nicely ambivalent ballad that captures the longing people feel during the Christmas season. Organ, guitar and percussion are eventually joined by a string section to create the mood. UPDATE: Edited to remove reference to Daniel touring with My Morning Jacket.

"Dirt Sledding," The Killers (Island)

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Right on schedule, and once again via "The Jimmy Kimmel Show," we get the new Killers Christmas single, number 10 in a series. This one harks back to two previous songs about the band's fraught relationship with Santa Claus, "Don't Shoot Me Santa" and "I Feel It In My Bones," only this one, despite the grimy video, is much more upbeat, almost rockabilly. Ryan Pardey returns as Santa Claus and Richard Dreyfuss (?) makes a voiceover cameo. Independent audio is only at iTunes, as has been the fashion for the last several years. This one's better than the last few Christmas tunes by these guys, and once again Project (RED) benefits from money raised from downloads and video views.

Cleopatra Records takes two bites at the punk-rock apple for 2015 with this collection of female artists taking on the Christmas songbook. Yeah, it doesn't actually say "punk rock" anywhere on here, but a fair number of these folks have the sound and the attitude down, though this is a slightly more eclectic collection. And definitely a majority British collection, judging by the song selection and little hints like The Ethical Debating Society substituting "motorway" for "freeway" in "Run Rudolph Run." But punk kicks things off with PantyChrist's amped-up and profane "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Diploid renders "Silent Night" as a drone and a shriek, LIINES puts some hard rock crunch into Mud's "Lonely This Christmas," Matagot strips down the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping," and Husbands n Knives liberally rewrite the lyrics of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody." Snap-Her appear to have the only original song, "I Hate Christmas," which is as punky as you can want, Thee Merry Widows punk up "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," and more of the same for Kerosene Queen's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." Frightwig hits the Hanukkah tip with South Park's "The Lonely Jew On Christmas," Majorettes cover the Ravers' "It's Gonna Be a Punk Rock Christmas," Charla Fantasma gets girl-groupy on "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus," and Lez Zeppelin tops the album off with a medley of "What Child Is This/Frosty the Snowman" set to the melody of "Stairway to Heaven." If you don't have time for anything else on the album, grab that one.
Not the most original title for an album in 2015, but certainly one that's accurate and descriptive of this 19-song collection. A good number of the artists on this collection, furthermore, are veterans of the original 1970s punk explosion -- Slaughter & the Dogs, the VIbrators, UK Subs, Anti-Nowhere League, Eddie and the Hot Rods, The Members, and there's an appearance by the Godfather of Punk himself, Iggy Pop, although that's the same semi-loungy "White Christmas" that's been compiled several times before. Everybody else came along later, like Suicide Machines, Unwritten Law, Smash Mouth and Reel Big Fish. Information out in the real world is sketchy, so I can't say with assurance that the original period punks' songs are from that time or were recorded later. This is a good collection, although it's best when the artists stretch the meaning of "punk" a bit, like Reel Big Fish's ska take on "Little Drummer Boy," Suicide Machines' punk-via-Broadway version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and Anti-Nowhere League's poppy if gruff "Let It Snow." Elsewhere, UK Subs do a version of Kevin Bloody Wilson's partially spoken-word (and profane) "Hey Santa Claus," Slaughter & the Dogs crunch down on "Run Rudolph Run," the Vibrators run with Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody," Unwritten Law cram "Please Come Home For Christmas" into a square wave, and Eddie and the Hot Rods recorded "It Feels Like Christmas" new in 2015. Smash Mouth gives us "Snoopy's Christmas," 45 Grave takes on "The Snow Miser Song," Bankrupt covered the Cheap Trick self-parody "I Want You For Christmas," and Batfoot! drew the short straw, taking on Mariah Carey's signature holiday tune "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Good fun for punk fans, and even if you're not, feel free to graze it for highlights.

plantkrauss.jpgThe unlikely duo who won a shelf full of Grammy awards together appeared to have left things lay for good with their Raising Sand album, until they popped up on the soundtrack to the 2015 Christmas-themed movie "Love the Coopers" with this holiday ballad, written by Charles Duncan of Ranchers For Peace. It's the same folky-country-ethereal sound Plant & Krauss perfected, so you should be able to tell if this is for you or if you're going to keep sitting shiva for another Led Zeppelin reunion.

Xmasqueens.jpgThe RuPaul influence on 2015's holiday season continues with this raft of "Drag Race" competitors doing their take on the holiday repertoire. Like RuPaul's disc, the sound is mostly modern pop/dance/R'nB, but it's more of a novelty album, in that enthusiasm outstrips talent here. And it's also for mature audiences, in regard to some infrequent sex talk. But you might get a kick out of Ginger Minj's "Christma-Hannu-Kwanzaa-Ka," a song that will at least help you explain to the Fox News-obsessed stick-in-the-muds out there why people say "Happy holidays" this time of year. Or Sharon Needles' punky take on "Jingle Bells" that does something unspeakable with the top of a Christmas tree to start. "From Head To Mistletoe" by Courtney Act throws in a tiny bit of girl-group schmaltz, Jiggly Caliente brings the hip-hop on "Ratchet Christmas," and the near-obligatory ode to the ugly "Christmas Sweater" is brought to us with a touch of folk-country by Alaska Thunderfuck (really), Courtney Act and Willam. The latter artist shows up again doing a Bill Cosby impression on "A Very Cozby Christmas," which is really "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Oddly, Manila Luzon performs "Slay Bells," which you'll recall is the title of RuPaul's album, Violet Chachki delivers an R-rated "The Night Before Christmas," and Detox tips his wig to Hanukkah with "This Is How We Jew It." I won't make any great claims for this album, but there are some giggles to be mined here if you're up for it.

Slay Belles, RuPaul (RuCo)

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The Drag Racer had a Christmas album before, and he's back with another one for 2015. The difference this time around is more than a decade of reality-show celebrity, to the point that the numerous spoken-word interludes are mainly comprehensible only to those who follow the various RuPaul broadcasts. And there's one of those for every song on this album, exhausting my patience. Apparently this album is the soundtrack for a Christmas special airing on Logo TV this season, so it's possible the spoken word clips are actually from the show. We're more about the songs though, and there's 10 of them, created in a dance/pop/R'nB style that on some tunes almost evokes the 80s, and it appears that they're all originals, other than a cover of "Deck the Halls" and a short throwaway rendition of "Joy to the World." Things start out promisingly with "Merry Christmas Mary," an ode to being "loud and proud," and "Christmas Is About Love," which could be a single very easily if hit radio would be caught dead playing songs by people over 50. "You're the Star (On My Christmas Tree)" starts out nicely retro but bolts for the modern day quickly, "Christmas Cookies" lays on the 50's "doo-bops" behind the double-entendres, and "My Favorite Holiday" could have been done by Dead Or Alive back in their heyday. "From Your Heart" is a duet with Michelle Visage, Ellis Miah and Big Freedia join in on the hip-hop "Jingle Dem Bells," "Nothing For Christmas" plays on everybody's holiday nightmare, and the obligatory nod to New Year's is the dance-out processional "Brand New Year" with Siedah Garrett. If you like modern R'nB/pop, this is actually a decent album, although I'd make a playlist with the "interludes" removed, myself. It's definitely an improvement over RuPaul's previous Christmas album, which was mostly covers and parodies, with at least a few candidates for playlists and mixtapes.

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