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December 2016 Archives

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New York singer-songwriter Mal originally posted a version of this song in 2010, but he's re-recorded it with a band for 2016. You can read his blog post to see what he was thinking, and then you can decide for yourself whether it pertains more this year than ever before, or not. Also note that paying to download it from Bandcamp generates money for the Ali Forney Center, which aids homeless LGBTQ kids in New York City.
More artistic expression regarding the soon-gone year of 2016, and just like your Facebook feed it's upset, angry and hopeful all at the same time. Stream it, no download I can see. UPDATE: Stubby found it on Bandcamp, and it's free. (Clean version with the one epithet removed also available.)
 
While stumbling around looking for things to cover, I discovered this, which was actually on the flip side of the vinyl single of 2012's "The Season's Upon Us" but somehow never came to my attention when I covered the A-side back in the day. It's clearly a throwaway, as it's more of a punk thrash than these Celtic-influenced roughnecks usually perform, but heck, you may need a song with this subject for a future holiday playlist.

 
Not much in the way of novelties crossed my path this Christmas, but this did. Chris, of Northwich, UK, apparently hasn't been at this long, but he likes to take the comedic approach to his music, and this is a well-thought-out music/video presentation on, well, selling out for Christmas. Good fun. Listen, and go buy on Bandcamp.

 

"Last Christmas," Wham! (Columbia)

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I would have been remiss not to at least mention this man's passing. See also this and this. UPDATE: Howard Cogswell reminds me I should have linked to this, as well. And here's the YouTube for that as well.

Merry Christmas once again

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If you've been keeping track of the occasional asides I've made in this year's postings, not to mention the liner notes to Manger Things, you probably already have a handle on how I feel about 2016, a year in which rock fans lost so many great and near-great performers, many before their time. Not to mention the recent events since November 8. It's almost enough for me to want to simply leave you with this bit of cacophony for the holiday:
   

But no, we want to enjoy our holiday, even rock out, as has always been the overarching theme of this website. We want to thumb our nose at the idea that Prince's "1999" simply came 17 years late. And we want to go into the new year energized, because we can't afford not to. So take your cue from this ancient rockin' classic, and press on regardless. I wish you all a Merry Christmas in the most sincere possible way, not in the Fox News way that really means "fuck off" because your holiday celebration isn't the same as Bill O'Reilly's. Come back after the holiday, I'll still have some posts going into the new year so you can prepare for next Christmas.

 

Felice Navidad, The Felice Brothers (Dualtone)

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This Americana band dropped an EP for 2015 consisting of five original songs, although they fall more on the side of country and folk than rock, and on the downbeat side of things lyrically. "Carriage" is a violin-driven complaint of hard times set in the modern day (name-checking 2015 in fact) that drops a couple expletives as it tells its sad story. "Country Ham" is more nostalgic about Christmas feelings, dropping a few song titles and a reference to Bing Crosby along the way. "Clarence," as you might guess, plays off "It's a Wonderful Life," "The Dollar Store" recalls the Christmas-gift venue of last resort, and "Breaking Up Christmas" wraps things up with a hoedown. A fine holiday effort, though not a particularly festive one. They previously did "Murder By Mistletoe" on their self-titled album from 2008, another downbeat number, although one with a bit more rhythm to it. UPDATE: "Country Ham" and "Murder By Mistletoe" are out on a vinyl single for 2016.

Sun Studio Sessions, Jack Skuller (Mint 400)

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sunsession.jpgSeriously old school rock 'n roll for the holidays, 1950s style, on a real live single (current availability uncertain) from this New Jersey guy who specializes in the rock music of this era. "Stuck in This Holiday" is the jumping A-side and "Empty Stocking Blues" is the slower B-side. This is really great stuff.

These guys have been throwing Christmas rock songs at us annually, and for 2016 they give us a changeup with this gentle shuffle. Looks like it's only on YouTube for now.

 

"Mistress For Christmas," Halestorm (Atlantic)

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The popular metal group from Central PA takes on the AC/DC Christmas "carol" for 2016. It's a little odd to hear this from a girl singer, not that there's anything wrong with that, but well, she's not far off Bon Scott's vocal sound. So dig in and enjoy.

"MCGA," Sad13 (self-issued)

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Sadie Dupuis, formerly of the band Speedy Ortiz and currently solo under the name in the headline, is apparently bracing for a big argument over the holiday dinner table with this topical little blast of guitar noises. It's freely downloadable from Soundcloud, where the lyrics are also posted, so as to avoid any ambiguity over what it's about. I'm down with the emotion; hope when this track comes up as a Facebook Memory we'll be able to say the sentiments are dated, but I wouldn't bet money on that outcome.
 

"Blue Christmas," The Lumineers (Dualtone)

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lumineers.jpgThe popular folk-rockers give us their cover of the classic tune for 2016 ahead of their upcoming world tour. No surprises, if you've heard them sing "Ho Hey" or "Ophelia," you'll recognize them doing this song.

"Go Santa Go," Priscilla's Revenge (self-issued)

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So at this point in the holiday season you're saying, "You know, Rudolph, what we really need right at this moment is some serious blues-rocking Christmas music from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories." Why, you read my mind. Check this out.

I'm going to admit finally that I don't know what the young people are on about when they talk about "mixtapes." I used to make mixtapes in the cassette days; now I make mix discs out of other people's songs. I'm told I should be making mix thumb drives nowadays, but never mind. This, by contrast, appears to be new original hip-hop Christmas music for 2016 created by Chance the Rapper and Jeremih along with special guests. We used to call these things "albums," but in today's ADHD musical world nobody listens to albums. So mixtapes it is, I guess. And this is a really cool mixtape. Special mention to "Stranger at the Table," a repurposing of the Jackson 5ive's "I Want You Back" with new lyrics. It's all mostly mid-tempo or slower, almost slow-jam styled modern R'nB but with a fair amount of rapping. On "All the Way," comedian Hannibal Buress jokes about wanting more auto-tune put on his voice, and "I Shoulda Left You" isn't particularly holiday oriented. "The Tragedy" addresses a homeless man's plight in winter, and while it's a nice ballad and rap I'm still going to state the vinyl record crackling was a cliché back when people were putting it on CDs. "Chi Town Christmas" repurposes "Carol of the Bells" into something befitting a hip-hop record, and the title song wraps things up with the title being used as a mantra. A few stray expletives turn up here, but otherwise this is quite listenable even if you're not particularly oriented toward hip-hop. It's only on Soundcloud.
 

"Merry Christmastime," Lost Cosmos (Ah-Love)

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Not sure how I stumbled onto this. It's a nice 70s-style rock shuffle celebrating the holiday from an Austin, Texas group. Currently it appears to only be available on Soundcloud, so here it is. It's freely downloadable if you want it.
 
christmas5fight.jpgAs with this act's major 9/11-era hit "Superman (It's Not Easy)," this 2016 Christmas song is a warm piano ballad about being with the one you love. Not much to say beyond that; check it out for yourself by clicking the cover.

PINS is an English band, and their dreamy 2016 holiday tune got added to Amazon's Indie For the Holidays playlist this year. Apparently it's an exclusive for the online store. Listen here, stream it or buy it.

Two quick hits

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  • Kurt Vile put some Christmas lyrics to his song "Wakin' On a Pretty Day" during an IFC network special the other day, with Lisa Loeb along for the ride. As I can't embed it, this will have to do for a mention.
  • And Manger Things is the name of this year's Mistletunes mix disc, and the liner notes for it are in the sidebar.
  • I lied, here's a third one. Jethro Tull has an album, The String Quartets, due out in March. It's available for pre-orders, and there are two Christmas songs, a new version of their "Ring Out Solstice Bells" and "Pass the Bottle (A Christmas Song)." You can download them now. But given the string quartets of the title, these numbers are more likely appropriate for your authentic Victorian Christmas than for rocking out.
8bitmullet.jpgThe Santastic series of holiday mash-ups ended with Vol. 9, but 8-Bit Mullet, a D.C.-area DJ, has revived the idea for 2016, offering the work of many of the DJs who provided their work for the Santastic albums. He's mashed them up himself into a 61-minute supercut, so I'm having a little trouble distinguishing where one DJ's work ends and another's begins. I guess that plays against my natural tendency to highlight particular cuts, but just as that didn't stop 8-Bit Mullet from mashing them together, that surely won't stop anybody from ripping them back apart. I'll point out that several of the cuts on here, like "No Sleep Till Christmas" by Divide & Kreate, "Insane Wonderland" by DJ Flack, "Cold Chillin' with Stevie at Christmastime" by DJ BC, "Jingle Bells Pon De Floor" and "Tommy's Royal Christmas" by DJ Schmolli, have already been on Santastic collections. It also appears that Mojochronic's Led Zeppelin mashups are on here uncredited. From among the rest, I'm enjoying "Frosty DMC" by Sam Flanagan, "Funky Christmas" by Brat, "Pumping Up Christmas" by DJ Schmolli, "Xmasploitation" by Mojochronic, and "Sister Christmas" by DJ Lobsterdust. If you'd like to see what 8-Bit Mullet has wrought here, by all means download this sucker free of charge.
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Michael's the frontman of the indie synth-pop band Passion Pit. For 2016, he's put together a combination audio-video project that celebrates Christmas as a way to respond to the growth of terrorism around the world with "sanity and unity, not panic and division." Proceeds from the record are earmarked for charity, including donations to the Nichols School arts department, which is the singer's alma mater and the location for the shooting of the visual element. I'll point out at the start that not all of the songs are directly Christmas-oriented, such as "Evergreen," "Weather the Storm," "And Never Be Afraid" or "Permission to Audition," though if you listen to the whole thing in one sitting you will get the spirit of the holiday. Possible playlist picks include "December to Remember," "Stained Glass Windows," "Wake Up, It's Christmas," "Christmas in Your Arms," and the title song. These would definitely be change-of-pace tunes in a playlist, as this isn't really party music; it's more inspirational and earnest. You can purchase or stream the album, however you like to roll. As for the video content, that's only on YouTube for now.

Winter Lives, Matt Pond PA (131 Records)

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Matt's been around as an indie rock artist for a long time, and this 2016 album is actually his second offering of "winter music" after 2004's Winter Songs EP, which featured covers of Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road," Richard and Linda Thompson's "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," Neil Young's "Winterlong," and Neutral Milk Hotel's "In the Aeroplane Over the See." This time around, everything is original material. "The Glow" opens up on a folky note evoking children playing in the run-up to the holiday, "Fotzepolitic" uses the guitar figure from "2000 Miles" to great effect on a song that's otherwise unrelated to that classic tune, "Force of Nature" is a full-on rocker, and "Whoa," repeated quite a bit as the chorus, is an impressionistic lyrical take on sled riding. The banjos are brought out for the ballad "Dirty Looks," and acoustic folk is the approach on "Used to Be." That leaves the title song, an impressively orchestrated number that relates daily life in the last season of the year. The rest of the album is short instrumentals. This is a fine album, and though it may not work for you as holiday music, some of the songs may fit as selections on your holiday playlists.

Christmas, Night Flowers (self-issued)

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This indie London band has only been around a few years, but they've got several releases up at Bandcamp. This 2016 single is intended to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust and Mind charities. "To Rest" is a pensive indie-pop ballad, while "Christmas Eve" is a fine rocker with fuzzed-up guitar driving it along. Listen to great music and help some worthy charities.
Hair metal, y'all! I have been unable to find out much of anything about these guys other than their home is the Bay Area. They have Facebook and Flickr pages, which haven't been updated lately. And Guff.com names them among 20 real life bands with unfortunate names. But this thumping take on the popular carol has only been up for the past 18 days on Soundcloud, so here you go. No independent audio I'm aware of.

deadgwynne2016.jpgKeeping up their string of annual releases, these guys give us two free songs in 2016. "Christmas Time" is an upbeat acoustic ditty with bongos, and "Christmas Flow" brings in some fuzzy electric guitar crunch. As always, these guys' complete Christmas discography is freely downloadable from the link.
The boys from Brooklyn have a history of making the very occasional Christmas tune, and for 2016 they've penned a new one, a pensive little acoustic ditty about a holiday in stir. It's nice, but so far YouTube is the only way to hear it. UPDATE: Go to their website, donate your email address, and it's yours.

 
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A bit of 70s rock, a bit of music hall, a tiny bit of Elvis in the vocals, combined with lyrics that offer a holiday come-on, and these swinging Brits suck you in with a great 2016 single. There's a different mix on the B-side, too.

"Father Christmas," Jon McDevitt (Cattleprod)

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Not the Kinks classic, but a perfectly enjoyable original tune in an indie-pop vein with a lot of classic touches from the 50s and 60s thrown in. The lyrics are mostly impressionistic, but they have a warm vibe to them. Check him out.

"Naughty Christmas," Lacuna Coil (Century Media)

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I don't follow metal, but I am aware that it is still a thing, and I had heard of this Italian goth metal group before. Didn't realize they've been in business for 20 years, though. Anyway, if goth metal was a genre radio stations were interested in playing, this 2016 holiday tune could be considered a single. It's your basic naughty-or-nice Christmas premise, except in this case being naughty means being hunted by Krampus. It's kind of bouncy in a minor key, hammer-the-ax way, and it'll definitely put some roughage in your holiday playlists.

This is from last year's It's a Holiday Soul Party album, but they just made this video for it this year. I'm posting it because the late Sharon Jones is a talent who should never be forgotten.

 
Nice slow-jam hip-hop record for 2016. The artists say they were looking to highlight the special time of year with positivity, and it looks like they succeeded in this story of a family supporting each other through the tough times. Looks like it's only on Soundcloud for the moment.
 
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This Boston band offers us a midtempo rocker for 2016 with lyrics mixing melancholy and hope: "We can be real again/I can't believe...this is how the story ends." A Paste article indicates these guys like emo, but this sounds closer to power pop to my ancient ears. Grab it from Bandcamp.

"Merry Christmas Time," Somerdale (JEM)

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This New Jersey power pop act claims to channel the Who, the Beatles and Fountains of Wayne in concocting their music, and while you won't necessarily nail any direct quotations in this fine, fine, superfine 2016 Christmas single, you will detect the spirit -- if you're not too busy dancing, anyway.
acousticxmas.jpgI initially steered away from mentioning this since it appeared to be mostly country and folk, but while occupied with something else I let the playlist stream as background music, and I did hear some stuff I liked. (Not that any of it is bad, just that some things jumped out at me and other things didn't.) You can stream this anytime if you're an Amazon Prime customer or you've joined the newly offered Amazon Music, or you can call the whole playlist up and buy as much of it as moves you. "Feels Like Christmas" by Us the Duo is a cute little ukelele strum, Sara Watkins contributes the midtempo "The Holidays With You," Shinyribs' "Birthday Cake For Jesus" is a fine acoustic blues giggle, G. Love offers the stomping "Merry Christmas to You," Son Little does a straight harmonized version of "What Child Is This," Train's "I Miss You, Christmas" is here in an acoustic version, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry cover Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December," the Stone Foxes do a Dylan-esque arrangement on "Christmas at McKinley Pub," Black Joe Lewis strums solo on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Trampled by Turtles covers John Prine's "Christmas in Prison," and Baskery's "Cold Street" is a more electric rock ballad with just a touch of country gospel in the vocals.

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We've had this informal grouping of punk superstars operating under the rubric of the Misfits on the site before, as they appear to love doing holiday tunes, in this case a twisted punk ode to a holiday under strict conservancy. From 2016.
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Hot Press is an Irish music magazine of long standing. In 1978 and 1979, the magazine sponsored the release of several rock Christmas singles, and now they've put together an EP with all of them available in one place. (They're pushing this in 2016, but the Amazon listing indicates this has been up since 2014.) "December 24" is a midtempo rocker that takes a jaundiced look at last-minute shopping, with a nod to the spirit of the season mixed in there somewhere. "Christmas in the Cookhouse" is a Little Richard-via-garage-band ode to a missing holiday turkey (inspired by a true tale of the dog stealing it), "Gobble Gobble Gobble Hey!" mungs together 70s British punk with a purloined Ramones title while celebrating holiday excess, "Eight Reindeers (Santa Was a Trucker)" takes its inspiration for a mid-70s trucker song from Little Feat, and the title song is a Bruce Springsteen homage, right down to the downbeat lost-love topic of the lyrics. It's not clear from the promotional materials, but it appears at least some of the folks involved with these tunes were magazine staffers, and I gotta say, good on ya's, not just for doing this in the first place but for resurrecting it in the modern age so we can rock out old school for one more holiday.
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Aussie Joe Algeri is one of those unsung toilers in the power-pop world, and we've featured his Christmas work here before, usually when it appears on one holiday compilation or another. I'm pretty sure we don't have a complete archive of his holiday repertoire here, which is a shame, because he's done some fine work, of which this 2016 tune is just the latest example. Get yourself over to Bandcamp and get it, 'cause it's just straight-up free and worth risking your data cap to own.
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Knox Hamilton is a band, not a person, and for 2016 they've hooked up with Team Coco to cover this Beach Boys classic. And they've done a very nice job; though it adheres very closely to the original arrangement, they perform it with a solid modern rock sensibility. Should be widely available for purchase.

sloan.jpgVeteran Canadian (Toronto by way of Halifax) power-poppers Sloan come to us with a Christmas single for 2016, which actually is a 7-inch vinyl artifact that can also be downloaded. (Sorry I dawdled; vinyl appears to be sold out.) The title song starts out slow but bumps up to a nice mid-tempo rocker about bringing the holiday to the little ones. B-side "December 25" is a little slower and piano-dominated, "suitable for a slow skate" as the band itself asserts. An enjoyable pair of original holiday tunes suitable for your playlists and mixes.

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This Austin, Texas duo pass by the Americana and blues favored in this musical town in favor of DIY indie-pop music. The three seasonal songs are "Winterplace," "I'm Coming Home For the Holidays," and "Last Chance on New Year's Eve," all mid-tempo pop-rockers with an upbeat feeling. Rush on over to Bandcamp for these guys' music, and note in the sidebar their label has previous Christmas music on sale as well.
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This New York singer-songwriter provides for 2016 your basic low-key Americana take on the Mariah Carey song, nicely done. If that's your speed, go to Bandcamp and buy it, as purchases will be donated to fund a cure for type 1 diabetes.

"Whatcha Got?," V.D. King (Garageland)

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New Jersey's own V.D. King has been playing roots and rockabilly music for a fairly long time, and regular readers will recall he comes up with original Christmas songs on an almost annual basis. This is his contribution for 2016 -- a nice jumping rocker asking his baby "whatcha got" for Christmas. Download it free from his website, or just listen to it here.

"Some Hearts (at Christmas Time)," Low (Sub Pop)

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The long-running indie band known for its chamber-pop approach to music, and also known for having one of the classic rock Christmas albums, has dropped a new holiday song for 2016. It's a dreamy little number, and it's sure to spark interest in their current tour that is emphasizing the band's Christmas repertoire.

Lonely This Christmas, Los Kingdom (self-issued)

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We covered "Angels We Have Heard on High" when it was a single last year; for 2016, this duo expands the single to EP length. The collection's title song is a cute 1950s ballad take on a pre-holiday breakup, "O Come O Come Emanuel" is the slow folky way you would expect a singer-songwriter duo to approach it, and "O Come All Ye Faithful" is solo vocal with gospel piano behind it. If you missed the single last year, grab the whole concoction from Noisetrade this year, or just get the single from Amazon.
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Not much to say beyond that this fun pop-punk duo doubled the speed and brought the guitars to the fore on this 2016 cover of the Mariah Carey tune. It's a name-your-price download at Bandcamp, so go on and grab it. UPDATE: Video!

"New Year's Eve," Brian Cullman (self-issued)

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Here's a nicely funky year-end tune based on the irresistible lyric "I'm just a New Year's Adam, looking for a New Year's Eve." Aren't we all, Brian. Of course, we all know how that worked out, for better or worse. Good fun with just enough rough edges to preserve the spontaneity. It's on this 2016 EP with three other, non-holiday songs.

Coldplay felt that Australians should have their own Christmas song, so Chris Martin volunteered one at this 2016 concert in Sydney. Yes, it's a trifle we'll probably never hear again after this, but the audience was singing along with it by the end, so there's that.

"The Sweetest Season," Deerheart (self-issued)

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Excellent 12-string guitar-led power pop meditation on the holiday for 2016. A nice upbeat tune with solid holiday-oriented lyrics that will fill that Fountains of Wayne-sized hole in your heart. Grab this from Bandcamp or Amazon now.

The Christmas EP, Mike the Prophet (self-issued)

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Mike's a Durham, NC singer-songwriter, and for 2016 he's put together four classic carols and added to it the midtempo original "Outside Like Inside," his own take on the joy and sadness of the holiday. He gives "O Come O Come Emmanuel" a syncopated take, punks up "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," does a short choral take on "Gloria" and puts a Latin spin on "O Christmas Tree." Nice work, get it from NoiseTrade or the usual suspects.
jolivi.jpgIt starts out like it's going to be some sort of dance-floor reimagining of the Brenda Lee classic, but then the acoustic guitar comes in and JoLivi starts singing, and it turns out to be a more straightforward modern pop version of an old familiar holiday rocker. Check it out.

Fallin' Like Snow, Jaymay (self-issued)

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I haven't encountered Jaymay before, but I didn't have to get any farther than album opener "This Is a Christmas Song My Love" to be excited about her. She's written six of the 13 tunes on this 2016 holiday album, including the rocking tune just mentioned. "Up in the Sky" is a piano-ballad plea to Santa to show himself to the world, the album's title song is a surrender to the holiday's melancholy aspects, "For Christ's Sake, Pick Up the Phone!" kind of speaks for itself, "Farewell, New York" is about giving up your happy home amid holiday memories, "Santa's Little Helper" is not about the Simpsons' dog, but is an elven work song (well, kinda), and "My Evergreen" is a winter torch song. Among the covers, she does straight readings of "Carol of the Bells" and "Ave Maria," leaves out the drums and the boy on a piano-backed "Little Drummer Girl," does a jazz-orchestra take on "Silent Night," a musical theatre-styled "Up On the Housetop," and a solid, not-quite-reggae version of "Winter Wonderland." This is quite the ambitious album, one that deserves to be played alongside the better-known holiday divas out there.

"Little Drummer Boy," piKziL (Bonestown Music)

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This electronica pop duo fancies itself "a hot tango between Astrud Gilberto and Debbie Harry." I do hear bits of both laid over a slinky beat laid down with synths, a welcome change from the usual martial beat this popular holiday tune normally lays down. Excellent change of pace. From 2016.

Still more quick hits

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  • Gareth Jones, British DJ and podcaster and friend of the site, has put up his annual holiday music edition for 2016. Guests include Robert from the Snowflake Singles Club (all four of their releases previously featured here), Rachael Neiman of Cherryade Records, from whence the annual Cherryade Christmas comp is curated (still waiting for my copy of this year's, tap tap tap...), and Koo Koo Kanga Roo, the American comedy troupe. Lots of alternative holiday music too, as usual.
  • For some reason, Amazon called Yuletunes to my attention on their front page today. Apparently Black Vinyl Records is still offering it at non-collector prices through Amazon. This 1991 alt-rock compilation is one of my all-time favorite collections of holiday rock music.
  • And NoiseTrade is out with their 2016 holiday mixtape, downloadable for free or at least cheap if you leave a tip. Haven't had a chance to listen, but there's a fair number of tunes on here we've covered in previous years; if you're here for the first time, this is a good way to get your beak wet in alternative holiday music. 
natalieprass.jpgLove this, a slinky number celebrating the holiday, more precisely having fun on the holiday. The synth bass and chimes combination has been heard a lot since the 80s, but when it works, it works, and it helps that Natalie's multiple vocals are irresistible. Go to Bandcamp and buy this because it supports the School of the Performing Arts in her hometown of Richmond, VA, but also because you need it on your playlists.

This Holiday Night, Margo Rey (Organica)

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Mexican-born, Dallas-raised Margo is married to comic Ron White, one of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour performers, and for 2016 she co-wrote and performed the title song from this EP, a nice mid-tempo holiday meditation. She rounds out the EP with a slow ballad version of "Toyland" and a nice funky take on "Silent Night." Oh, and there's a separate version of the title song done in Spanish if you're doing a Dreamer playlist.

Carol of the Bells, The Melvins (self-issued)

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Long-running punk provocateurs The Melvins let rip with the popular carol for 2016, an Amazon exclusive that was added to last year's "Indie For the Holidays" playlist. Considering how many heavy rock, metal and punk bands have done versions of this, it's not surprising that this doesn't stick out in any meaningful way compared to past rock versions, though it inarguably sounds like the Melvins. Check it out yourself.
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This is a great driving rocker with sassy lyrics (She's not singing about the tree? Do tell!) that will really perk up your 2016 holiday playlists. I've never encountered G Matthews before, but she's got a great future if her non-holiday material is like this.

Little Lights, Janet Devlin (OK!Good)

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I missed this Irish singer-songwriter's 2015 EP December Days, but she's back for 2016 with a second EP in a row of Christmas material. The song her label is promoting is "Wake Up It's Christmas," a piano-led ballad with just a hint of that sort of Enya-esque orchestration in the background. "Merry Christmas Mum & Dad" is another piano ballad about Christmas through a child's eyes, and "Something Beginning With Christmas" and "Christmas Kiss" show off the singer's Celtic influences. That leaves a straight rendition of "White Christmas" and a chamber-ballad take of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody." A little too conventional for my taste, but the reverent take on Slade does tickle me.

Naughty or Nice, Candy Cigarettes (self-issued)

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This Portland, Oregon band (actually just Lane Muller) isn't on Green Monkey Records, but maybe he should be, as he claims to have recorded this EP in November 2016. Four originals of nice lo-fi alt-pop-rock for the holiday, with the title song proclaiming the coming of Santa, "A Whale's Christmas in Childress, TX" noting that everything's bigger there, including apparently holidays, "Manger Scene" creating a pensive soundscape for the virgin birth, and "the Meaning (Of Christmas)" offering upbeat music with downbeat thoughts. Check him out on Bandcamp, and keep in mind that your $1 will go to his local Salvation Army.

regrettes.jpgIt's getting to the point where I'm seriously gobsmacked whenever I come across a Christmas single that's actually on whatever passes for a major record label these days. Especially if the record in question is by a new rock band. I don't know much about these folks, or if this single was entirely their idea -- a Record Store Day release based on something the old people who bought vinyl back in the day will remember -- but I approve of this, even if the entire arrangement is a straight lift off the Phil Spector Christmas album and therefore doesn't quite measure up to Darlene Love's vocal performance. But it's good enough for 2016, and if it causes their fans to look up that classic album, it's a win for everybody. (I removed the earlier mention of no non-vinyl availability from the notes post.)

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Seattle may be the home office of rainfall, but it's also where Green Monkey Records is located, ground zero for a lot of fun lo-fi indie rock music-making. And the label is down with Christmas, as the multiple releases of holiday compilations over the years would indicate. Spontaneity is not in short supply here, as the producer's notes state he put a call out for contributions only at the start of October. For 2016, we get more of what made Green Monkey famous, with your contributions to the cause being donated to MusiCares. The Green Pajamas offer their version of a Mexican carol, "El Rorro," Captain Christmas and the Winter Solstice Singers take on "Christmas Boogie Woogie," originally found on the Anthology of American Folk Music Vol. 5, the Fastbacks punk up "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," Pleasure Island does a surf-oriented instrumental of "Winter Wonderland," and compilation producer Tom Dyer (who pops up on several of these songs) does a fairly straight reading of "Joy to the World." That's it for the covers. Cain Morehead and the Elves Bells rock out to "All Those Christmas Songs," Zelda Starfire breaks out the ukelele to proclaim in a deceptively upbeat way that "I Hate Christmas," Uncle Tiki puts in his holiday menu selections on the punky "The Potato Song," and Three Ninjas salutes their "Black Dog Family," which appears to be better than their real ones. Ed Portnow offers a shambling folkish "(Peace Can Happen) On Christmas," Free Creature puts original lyrics over a Fats Waller tune on the good-timey "Youse a Humbug," whose horn solo is simply "The Dreidel Song," the producer appears again with The Tom & Jim Yuletide Contraption on "(All I Want For Christmas Is a) Big Black Eye," and his family, The Dyer Spawn, offer the holiday nature strum "Wild Christmas." Steve Martinelli offers an ode to a "Pretty Cute Christmas Kitty," Guns of Nevada rocks out with their one-item Christmas list, "Liquor in my Stocking," The Fresh Prince of Brain Wizard offers us a spacey "Christmas In This Modern Age," the Write Brothers Sonic Soul Consortium give us a mournful ballad with the mouthful of a title "A Misspent Mercury Tear and a Cold Obsidian Heart," and Eric Padget wraps things up in a neat little package with "12 Drummers Drumming," which is nearly 12 minutes of exactly that. Run over to Bandcamp and grab this.

"White Christmas," Billie Marten (self-issued)

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Billie's an English singer-songwriter known for her most recent album Writing of Blues and Yellows, and for 2016 she posted this version of Bing's baby to Soundcloud. (It appears to be part of a Spotify holiday playlist she created, but Spotify seems to think I don't have Flash on my computer, which I do, and won't let me see the playlist.)
 

"White Christmas," The Chordaes (self-issued)

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These guys identify as a post-power pop band and they have one album to their credit. This video apparently isn't part of it, and it doesn't look like there's any independent audio, but hell, let's encourage them to do a real holiday release by posting this.

More quick takes

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  • Ghostface Killah and Run the Jewels are selling ugly Christmas sweaters this year. Not a new meme, but it's new in that hip-hop performers are turning it into swag. I'm waiting for Nick Cave's, or maybe Iggy's, before I reach for my wallet.
  • Sleeping At Last is continuing to add one new cut a year to a Christmas album that originated back in 2012. This year's cut is "The Christmas Waltz (2016)."
  • Taraji P. Henson apparently had a Christmas special full of R'nB takes on Christmas songs from such folks as Missy Elliot, TLC, Smokey Robinson, Snoop Dogg and Pharell.
  • Fiona Apple used "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" to take a poke at Cheeto Benito. It's clearly something off the cuff she did into her iPhone, so I'm just going to let it stand rather than write something more elaborate.
  • Los Campesinos did a different version of their song "When Christmas Comes" from their previous Christmas EP and it was added to Amazon Prime's "Indie For the Holidays" playlist. Or you could just buy it outright.

"Keeping Christmas," Carly Jamison (OK!Good)

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We had Carly's single "Christmas May Have To Be Postponed" up last year, and she's back for 2016 with a nice crunchy rocker about keeping Christmas spirits high. It's just that simple, just that upbeat, and just what you need to rock the holiday. It's on Amazon and Bandcamp, and various streaming services have it too.

Snowdrift EP, Vocal Few (self-issued)

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"A guy and his pregnant wife making music" in Seattle brings us this 2016 mini-collection of Christmas originals. (Apparently the kid is out and about since this Bandcamp blurb was written.) This is acoustic pop, nicely orchestrated and arranged, starting with "Ice Storm 2008," a singalong holiday ode no doubt based on a real-life experience. "Oh Holy Night (There's Only Love)" is more pensive and not based on the familiar carol, "Not Giving Up" and "Beloved" are minor-key ballads with religious overtones, and "Cheers to Your Holiday" is a little more upbeat lyrically to close the EP. More mellow than we normally go for, but these are good original songs well played.

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These guys have been popping up the last couple of holidays with fresh original alt-rock-pop takes on the holiday, and this is 2016's offering. A nice midtempo ode to warm-weather holidays in the tropics, the time being December but the weather befitting July. As these guys are residents of Phoenix and Minneapolis, this apparently was a natural subject to broach. Come to Bandcamp and listen (and buy).

Old-school soul star Bunny had a Christmas album out in 2012, and at the time it struck us here as being just a bit too much adult contemporary/easy listening for visitors to the site. But for 2016, they plucked Bunny's version of Der Bingle's song from the album, remixed it, juiced up the arrangement and cut nearly two minutes off the run time, and I like it a lot better now. Grab it from Amazon and iTunes, or just check it out below.

"A Hint of Nutmeg," Black Flamingos (Hi-Tide)

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I mentioned these guys in the Seasonal Favorites: Vol. 4 post and they got back to me to mention that their "How the Gurch Stole Christmas" from that album is also on a vinyl single for the first time in 2016. This is the B-side, a slightly mellower surf instrumental than their frenetic A-side. Apparently it's just out, so new it's not even mentioned on their website, but I'm sure that will change shortly. Meanwhile, enjoy. UPDATE: The single's downloadable at Amazon.

 
bongoboy.jpgBongo Boy is a record label that appears to specialize in compilations of lesser-known independent artists, and for 2016 they've rounded up 17 tunes across a number of rock/pop/soul genres. I can't say for sure whether any of these tunes were commissioned specifically for this album, although I know Les Fradkin's Spector-esque original "Say You Love Me For Christmas" is from his decade-old holiday album. Similarly, the synth-pop dance floor anthem "I Love Christmas Times (Remix)" by Wayne Olivieri & DJ Chris Ibe purports to be an updated version of an existing song, and Walter Rossi's rocking shuffle "Jingle Jangle" appears to have been around for a while, according to Mr Google. Inches From Sin trumps Walter with "Jingle Jangle Jingle," a 70s soul workout, Dennis Sy gives a more contemporary R'nB sheen to "Christmas Morning," as does Tammi T and Keith Hines Production on "Go Wish." Steel featuring Bubu the Producer brings the hip-hop on "Have a Gigolo Xmas," and Cousins Steel does a bit of the same on "1, 2, 3." Ysanne performs "Christmas in the Sun," a reggae carol, and Deborah Henricksson offers "The Angel Gabriel," a spare holiday ballad. The Forty Nineteens bring a bit of that mid-70s hard rock crunch to "Frosty the Snowman," and Jackie Kringle & the Elves (aka the Doughboys, or at least most of them) do a garage take on the collection's title song, also mis-punctuated as in the title to this post. Sarantos goes soft pop on "It's Christmas Time," which the press release identifies as something from an old school Christmas special, and you probably won't disagree. Bob Shaw gets the most Bongo Boy love with three tunes, a ballad in E Street Band style called "I Wonder Where You Are This Christmas," a country/jug band exhortation called "Don't Forget the Christ in Christmas," and a comedy sketch called "The Sleigh Ride" in the tradition of those old Beach Boys album fillers like "Bull Session With the Big Daddy" and "Cassius Love vs Sonny Wilson." Easily downloaded from the usual suspects, don't know if any hard copies are being manufactured.  

seasonal4.jpgThis surf music label sporadically comes up with a Christmas compilation, and 2016 is the year for the latest entry. Some of the individual tunes we've seen before, like "Lump of Coal" by the Barbary Coasters, "Hot Rod Hanukkah" by Meshugga Beach Party, "Groovy Old Saint Nick" by Los Straitjackets, and "Ye Merry Gentlemen" from the Falcons is from a decade-old album. The majority of these tunes are surf-style instrumentals, with a bit of late-50s-early-60s balladry mixed in, as in disc opener "Christmas in July" by Martin Cilla. Black Flamingos give us "How the Gurch Stole Christmas," their spelling not mine, which taps on the mood if not the precise melody of the Grinch's theme song, while the Twang-o-Matics go more spaghetti western on "Staffan Var En Stallendrang," a Swedish tune I could get very little about from Google Translate. The Other Timelines bring us "Public Access Christmas Special," a neat guitar-organ duet, the Crazy Aces give us a medley of popular carols called "Crazy Acemas," and the Kanaloas do "X-Mas Palm Tree." The Nutcracker gets a couple of different takes as Fronkensteen's "Nutty Sweet" is essentially a cover of "The Nutrocker," while Travelers of Tyme bring a bit of the tiki hut to "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy." More familiar carols are performed by Aqualads, "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Surf" by the Takeoffs, and "Jingle Bells" by Tiki Joe's Ocean. Vocals aren't completely ignored here, as Whoa Nellie Vera and Johnny recast the Johnny B. Goode story as "Little Johnny Got a Japanese Guitar For Christmas," The Beagles take on "Snoopy's Christmas" with a "Hang On Snoopy" chorus, and the best cut here, "Xmas Is a Bust" by the Ogres, is a snarky original with more of the garage sound about it. Apparently only available from the label's website, no download or streaming at this time. UPDATE: "I Saw Three Ships (Mr Rebel Version)" by Urban Surf Kings was recorded new for this collection; I erroneously assumed it was from a previous album by them.

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The band name is actually just Paris-based English singer-songwriter Kate Stables and her musician friends, and this Christmas single is a nice synth-based version of the "Peanuts" staple, backed with "La Peregrinacion," Spanish for "The Pilgrimage," as the song originates with Argentinian composer Ariel Ramirez. It's the Nativity story set to a beautiful South American-inflected melody. You might like the B-side a bit better than the well-traveled A-side. From 2016, get it from Amazon or Bandcamp.

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The only outlier in the 2016 Snowflakes series, this one is dark, atmospheric and almost foreboding, in contrast to the other uptempo rockers on offer in this series. If your Christmas isn't complete without a full airing of the Kate Bush or Tori Amos Christmas albums, you'll want to add this classically influenced number to the playlist. The approach remains the same on the flip side, "Dreaming of a White Christmas," a deconstruction of the Bing Crosby chestnut. Vinyl or Soundcloud.

"Who Needs Summer?" The Haywains (Snowflakes)

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Here's a cool lo-fi pop-rocker with a bit of classic-era Jonathan Richman to it, which also manages to keep Christmas out of the title but not the lyrics. Part of the 2016 Snowflakes series, they sneak singing kids into the last verse, but we'll let that slide. Flip side is "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," in a 70s style early pop-punk major-chord arrangement. Good stuff, on 7-inch or visit Soundcloud.

"Never Had Christmas," Rope Store (Snowflakes)

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Another Snowflakes Series vinyl single, these guys do a nice '70s glam rock shuffle that needs to be on your 2016 holiday playlist. Great work. The flip is a similar treatment for the David Essex song "A Winter's Tale," written by Mike Batt (Wombles) and Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar), but don't hold that against the song. Vinyl or Soundcloud.
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This is one of four singles in the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Series for 2016. This band does a driving punkish thing to start the song, which then slows down into a dreamy Christmas interlude before kicking back into overdrive. The flip is a kind of emo version of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Available on vinyl or stream them at Soundcloud.

More Than December, Jetty Rae (self-issued)

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This Michigan singer-songwriter has favored us with a holiday EP for 2016, and if all you get from this is the title song, you've done well, young padawan. It's a sprightly midtempo tune about extending the holiday verities beyond the last month of the year and it'll set your toe to tapping. She also give us "Christmas Kiss," a nice acoustic ballad of love. The remaining songs are popular favorites, "O Holy Night," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy," all done in an acoustic singer-songwriter vein. But that title song, well, gotta have.

"Back For Christmas," Andrew Belle (self-issued)

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This John Lennon Songwriting Award-winner from Chicago has been busily recording since 2009 and he's lately been spending a lot of time in Nashville hanging out with the Ten out of Tenn crew. But you wouldn't know that from this 2016 song, a lovely slice of electronic pop balladry that will take you back to the 80s and 90s. Sorry I can't give you more insight into the lyrics, which are a bit indistinct even on the third hearing, but I'm guessing they helped inspire the pensive mood of the song. I like this a lot.

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