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"On Christmas Eve," Field Report (Partisan)

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This up-and-coming Milwaukee band admit they knocked this out from some bits of old unfinished songs, but you won't get that from this strong, heartfelt midtempo rocker. Unfortunately they've only put it up for streaming from Soundcloud for 2014, but it's a fine melancholy tune recalling unpleasant memories connected to past Christmases. It may not put you in the holiday spirit, but it will hit you where you live.

cherry10.jpgBritain's Cherryade label reaches the milestone 10th collection for 2014, although things are a little different nowadays. The label has not been quite so active in the past couple of years, so where past collections were composed predominantly from contributions by the label roster, the most recent Cherry Christmas discs reach farther afield for songs. As with Cherry 9, the current collection received curation assistance from Gareth Jones, host of a popular music podcast, and it's very much in keeping with the previous nine editions in terms of giving us the alt-indie view of the holiday season. Indeed, the current collection resembles the mix discs compiled by obsessed music hobbyists, and of course (see sidebar of this site) you'll never hear me say a discouraging word about that. A couple tunes have appeared in other places, like Los Campesinos!' "Kindle a Flame In Her Heart" and Very Most's "Wombling Merry Christmas," and some of you might have encountered others that I've missed until now. Kicking off the limited issue (100 discs, no download) is The Thyme Machine's "Driving Home For Christmas (Presents)," a fun indie-rock song about trying to visit family after forgetting to bring the presents. Among the obvious covers are Simon Love's version of "Santa's Beard" by They Might Be Giants, a grungy take of "Back Door Santa" by Ho3, and a slow, meditative version of the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" by The Lost Cavalry. Town Bike does an alt-rock, girl-groupy "Worst Christmas Ever," Happy Fangs also mines grunge for the perfect extended holiday season rave-up "All I Want For Christmas Is Halloween," and Stephen Hudson & the Flat Pandas re-experience the trauma of learning "The Truth About Christmas." Melancholy creeps in with "The Shopworker's Lament" by The French Defence, "I Hope It Snows Tonight" by The Swapsies and "Under Christmas Lights" by Da Mighty D.a.Kid. Musical/spoken word hybrids are offered by Monkeys in Love with "Secret Santa Party #1 (In Comic Sans)" and Helen Arney with "Traditional Family Christmas Argument." Pocket Gods, who have been on numerous Cherry Christmas comps, appear here with "Moobular Bells," which I thought might be the Mike Oldfield classic done with cows but it's not, it's an original done on tubular bells. Quiet Maurader expresses love for turkeys and vegetarian meals with "It's Xmas, So It's OK (To Go and Hug a Turkey)," Sunny Intervals offers a sweet holiday duet with "Christmas In Your Sights," Partly Llama gives an antique folk reading of "The End of the Journey," and Jack Hayter gets his holiday shop on in "Xmas Eve in the Pound Shop," which I'm assuming is the British version of that US institution, the dollar store. The Twelve Hour Foundation wraps up with the instrumental "Christmas Follows Shortly," which actually it does, as I'm writing this anyway.

"Just Another Year," Bigudi (self-issued)

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These guys are from Moscow (the real one, not Moscow, Idaho; their Facebook page is in Cyrillic) but they've got their thumb on the pulse with this very retro-60s pop confection that's simultaneously world-weary and holiday friendly. It's up on Bandcamp and it's a free download, so grab it. From 2014.

Had heard there was a new Dap-Kings holiday single for 2014, and there was, "Just Another Christmas Song," but only on vinyl, and only 100 copies, so it's gone now. No download so far this year, but it's likely to become available that way eventually, as that's what happened with "Ain't No Chimneys In the Projects." Meanwhile, this ad placement for Cole Haan is so far the only way you get to hear this turbocharged rendition of "White Christmas."

 
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Boy-girl duos have become big business in the alt-rock field in recent years, and here's one from Rochester, NY, one of whose members was a contender in "American Idol" some years ago. Don't let that put you off, however, this 2014 single isn't anything like the bombastic text-vote bait normally heard on that show. This is a nice, refreshing mid-tempo ballad extolling the season that you'll want to hear years from now.
greenriver.jpgSharp-eyed readers will note this Fort Worth, Texas band appeared on a couple of compilations this year already, and this 2014 collection, only on Noisetrade, is where their contributions originated. It's a straight-up acoustic reading of six classic songs and carols, with mandolins and banjos as part of the mix, but they don't hold back on the drums and handclaps on "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Let It Snow," and they get a nice drone thing going on "Little Drummer Boy." "Silent Night," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "O Holy Night" get more reverent, though still pop-folky, arrangements. Those of you holding a lantern until Mumford & Sons does a Christmas album might just want to grab this.

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Gary himself -- an L.A.-based music supervisor who's worked on "True Blood," "Dexter" and "House" -- casts this 2014 tune as a kind of 70s glam tribute with a taste of the Kinks and Bowie, and he's not far off. It's a nice piece of work if you can imagine the goth kids on South Park being cynical and against everything -- except Christmas. That's the plot of the song, and it's a good one. Don't know if it will have you reaching for your spray-on glitter, but it's a solid rock performance for the holiday. It's free on Bandcamp.

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This guy-gal synth-rock-pop duo formed back in Washington state in 1997 and in recent years have squeezed out some subversive holiday singles. For 2014 they rolled them up into an EP and put it out there for us free from Bandcamp. Wish I'd known before I finished my holiday disc; this kind of observational, snarky material is the kind of stuff I stand holiday watch for every year. "Holiday Hold It" is an admonition to make sure you had your bathroom break before waiting on line for Santa at the mall. "Fake Blood For Christmas" is what the singer is buying online for all her friends this year, and why not, with the holiday season reaching ever backward toward Halloween nowadays. That point gets made again with "Christmas Is In December," a rant more directly about that annual problem, with a sneaky dig at Mariah Carey's ubiquitous holiday hit. "Christmas Makes Me Want To Die" is a humorously over-the-top lament about ever-more-stressful holiday preparations, "Kitty Don't Eat That Tinsel" is about the cat owners' annual holiday worry, and "Peppermint In Everything" celebrates the unofficial holiday candy, with a nod to its salubrious effects when combined with schnapps. Add to this an alternate, less synth-based take on "Holiday Hold It," karaoke versions of a couple other songs and a third "beats" version of "Kitty" and you get an album-length presentation. They say one of these years they're going to get around to a full album, and I can hardly wait.
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I hadn't heard of Ms. Lewis before stumbling over this 2014 album online, but I'm happy to let folks know that there are still rockabillies out there keeping the spirit of original rock 'n roll alive, and she's one of them for sure. Of course, over the years people have come to conflate rockabilly with country music because the folks who created this style of music came from the country music heartland. Take Annie Marie, whose name is actually Dolan but she's the daughter of Linda Gail Lewis, sister of Jerry Lee and performer in her own right. My pick to click from this album is "Hush Lil' Baby (Merry Christmas)," which is a revisitation of "Hey Bo Diddley," which itself is a reimagined "Mockingbird," and such are the ways in which history are made. But then I've always been a sucker for a well-played tune based in the Diddley beat. "Little Drummer Boy" gets the jungle drums treatment as well. "Rock 'n Roll Christmas" is a nice straight upbeat rocker, possibly an original as I can't remember another version. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" gets an interesting rock arrangement as well. The rest of the album is classic carols and popular holiday tunes like "Blue Christmas," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "The First Noel," "Santa Baby," "Frosty the Snowman," and "Merry Christmas Baby." Ms. Lewis' vocals are generally good, but unfortunately a lot of this sounds a bit by-the-numbers when heard all at once. Nevertheless, there are some good tunes here to lend some historical gravitas to your Christmas mixes.
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The 2014 edition of this annual compilation is only EP-length this year, but like always it's a free download. Once again Piney Gir is part of the proceedings with a cover of the classic "Christmas Island" in their distinctive style. Magnuson goes all heavy metal on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Alejandra O'Leary puts a bit of alt-pop spin on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)," Hawks Do Not Share go all moody on "Christmas Eve, Montmartre," and the Love Dimension throws the garage door open on their psych-rocker "Got Gratitude."

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Despite the name, this is a British pop-rock band with several albums to their credit, and for 2014 they tackle Christmas with an EP of strong power-pop provenance. Four originals, including the previously released and delightfully snarky "A Doe to a Deer," join versions of Mud's "Lonely This Christmas," which gets a downtempo treatment, and the antique carol "The Holly and the Ivy," which is reverent but still fits in with the other songs. "When Christmas Comes" is an almost triumphal rock anthem, "Kindle a Flame In Her Heart" is a fine midtempo holiday love song and "The Trains Don't Run (It's Christmas Day)," is a stop-motion tempo ode to a typically British concern, seeing as how they actually have trains for people to ride on most places. I could have stood an album-length project, but I won't be greedy; this is an almost perfect Christmas record. (They're selling some vinyl copies at their shows and a few selected UK-US stores.)

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This is Kweller's vinyl-only release for Black Friday Record Store Day 2014, and so far he's sticking to his guns on that score, so go track down a vinyl emporium (or haunt eBay) if you want it. You do, by the way; a solid power popper with nice crunchy guitars well under three minutes that's about not rushing the season. Considering the song was released on Black Friday, can't fault him for consistency. Flip side is "Here Comes Santa Claus" from the "Merry Friggin Christmas" soundtrack.

"Snow," New Found Glory (Hopeless)

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newfoundglory.jpgThis long-running pop-punk band brings us a holiday single for 2014, a midtempo number with a strong melody and reflective lyrics about seasonal memories. Nice change of pace.

"FaLaLaLaLoveYa," Nikki Lane (New West)

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I was conflicted as Nikki's clearly pitching for country airplay (see cover art), but she also hangs out with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produced an album for her. The heavy use of pedal steel suggests a country song, but put a regular guitar in that spot and it's a 60s girl group song. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Even with the pedal steel it's still more Brill Building than Nashville.
chrislee.jpgI am seriously remiss in overlooking, until my friend Rich Lewis pointed it out to me, that Christopher Lee -- the Christopher Lee, actor in "Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars," multiple outings as Dracula, recurring guest in the British series "The Avengers," and more -- has a parallel career as a heavy metal vocalist and for 2014 has released his third Christmas single in a row. Did I mention he's 92 years old? I'm afraid I like the idea of this more than the reality, but then high concepts tend to play out that way. For 2012, he started the string with A Heavy Metal Christmas, with fast metal performances of "Little Drummer Boy" and "Silent Night." In 2013, A Heavy Metal Christmas Too featured "Jingle Hell," which is "Jingle Bells" with new, angrier lyrics, and the non-holiday "My Way," about which there's no question. This year, 2014, it's "Darkest Carols, Faithful Sing" (click the cover), which is "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" with more debauched lyrics, accompanied by an extended vocal version and an instrumental of the same song. How you feel about the singer is probably going to color how you feel about the songs, but if you're doing a theme playlist featuring "Star Wars" or Tolkien-related stuff, one of these tunes will fit in just fine.

"Sump'n Claus," Saturday Night Live (Hulu)

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When you get on Santa's "naughty" list and aren't supposed to get anything, in steps Sump'n Claus to throw you an envelope with some cash in it, goes the fable. Or at least the "Saturday Night Live" sketch from last night. (This is a hint regarding one of the site's traditions, by the way.)

Nick Lowe's touring with Los Straitjackets on his "Quality Holiday Tour," performing selections from Nick's well-received Christmas album of 2013. By the way, Los Straitjackets aren't exactly strangers to the Christmas scene either, as shown here and also here. Anyway, I'm going to see these two musical titans play tonight, and it's a bit of a road trip from Rudolph's North Pole headquarters, so apologies if posting is a little sparse through the weekend.

Hat tip to Dangerous Minds for unearthing this gem. The soundtrack is the work of a guy named Andy Rehfeldt, who apparently does this kind of thing from time to time, but this is the first Christmas-oriented one. This should purge your memories of those "Christmas Remixed" versions of Der Bingle.  

Wild Winter, Smoke Fairies (Full Time Hobby)

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I've never heard of these women before now, but they're quite intriguing, sort of a cross between Lucius and The Raveonettes. And they've gone the full monty with a Christmas album for 2014. They're taking the "winter album" approach lest things get too holly jolly, going for the "bittersweet and wild" as they say in the press release from Rough Trade, which has the physical media, while Amazon (click the art) and iTunes get the digital trade. The title song evokes longing even as it's "21 degrees below," "Bad Good" is a garage-band ode to the rules of Santa Club, "Christmas Without a Kiss" is a fuzzy-guitar-led dirge to a search for love that just keeps building in intensity, "Three Kings" is another original, not the familiar carol, and "Steal Softly Thru Snow" almost swings into First Aid Kit-Secret Sisters territory. "Snowglobe Blizzard" is a suspenseful instrumental, "Give and Receive" briefly recalls the story of the child from a foreign land "who's coming to save us," "Circles in the Snow" is an uptempo ode to keeping the home fires, and "So Much Wine" lays on the synths to tell the story of an angry holiday breakup. This is quite the compelling collection of good original songs well performed, with a solid rock edge on even the most downtempo and contemplative numbers.
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This 2014 album is a label compilation for Firebreath, a Nashville label that promotes local artists through record releases, video productions and live show promotion. The artists showcased here are roughly Americana, mostly folky, only a little bit country. Grant Ferris kicks things off with the semi-title song, an entertaining novelty called "All I Got For Christmas Was Drunk." Alayna Anderson does a suitably dramatic "Little Drummer Boy," Ally Brown breaks out the ukelele for "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas," Joshua Dent creates a cello-led instrumental medley of "Carol of the Bells x God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Rae Hering offers a sprightly "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas" and Hannah Johnson emotes a brief "I'll Be Home For Christmas." Fable Cry lets loose with "Town Hall" from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," a performance more in keeping with that movie's soundtrack than the other tunes on this album. Zach & Hannah do a serviceable version of "Fairytale of New York" and Kirabelle Frabotta wraps things up with a medley of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and "Auld Lang Syne." A fairly gentle collection of tunes, although novelty fans might want Grant Ferris' title song. This collection is on Bandcamp and Noisetrade.

Christmas Songs, John Brazell (self-issued)

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John's a performing singer-songwriter from Napa, Calif., with a couple albums to his credit, and he rolled out this brief collection for 2014 featuring one original tune, "All I Want," a nicely syncopated midtempo number about wanting a lover for Christmas. Acoustic poppy arrangements of "Deck the Halls" and "Auld Lang Syne" round out this EP. It's on Noisetrade.

"Father Christmas," Bad Religion (Epitaph)

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Following on from last year's full Christmas album, this long-running punk band couldn't leave it lay, coming back for 2014 with this single, a strong cover of the Kinks' holiday classic. If you've somehow missed out on this song over the years, this version's as good an introduction as any.

"Deck the Halls," Larry & Bob (YouTube)

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Larry and Bob wanted to get a few laughs in for the holiday season, so they did this, and they sent me the link. Enjoy.

 

Christmas Card, Marvin Sapp (RCA)

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This 2013 album slipped by me last year, but better late than never. Marvin's a gospel singer and worship leader who was part of the group Commissioned before going solo, but he keeps the old gang around for a couple of songs on this collection. This is a solid collection of modern r'nb performances, the majority of which are on original songs, kicking off with the title tune and "Feels Real Good," both of which are uptempo celebrations of the holiday. The ballad "Home For Christmas" features a guest appearance by r'nb singer Joe, and Commissioned comes in on the original "Honor the King" and the classic "What Child Is This," both dramatic slow-tempo celebrations of the religious aspects of the holiday. "Joseph's Song," another original, is the Nativity story from Joseph's viewpoint in a slow-jam tempo, "Holy" continues the slow jamming, and "Love at Christmas" is more of a standard r'nb ballad. "Thank You" is a funk workout featuring the Sapp Kids, and things wrap up with "old school" soul on "Don't Get It Twisted," emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas. Although Marvin's a gospel performer, the album nicely balances the sacred and the secular, and there's plenty of uptempo moments to get your Christmas party started.

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Mixing and mashing their way through the holidays are the various DJs and Pro Tools jockeys who help us get a different look at the holiday by cutting and pasting the familiar into something new. And appropriately enough, Mojochronic kicks off "Number 9" with "Yuletide Beatles," doing what Giles Martin did with The Beatles Love but emphasizing selections from the Fabs' Christmas flexidiscs in honor of the holiday. Mojochronic returns later with "Walking In LA Winter Wonderland," in which he builds an 80s Christmas song out of the Missing Persons' hit and Jean Dixon's version of the popular carol. Voicedude presides over a shotgun marriage of Mariah Carey and AC/DC on "You Shook Me All I Want For Christmas" and puts Smokey Robinson over Plain White T's on "Hey There, St. Nicholas!" Rapper DMX once did an off-the-cuff version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and dj BC lays it over the Burl Ives version here, then comes back with "Forgot About Merry," in which the Staples Singers meet an array of Christmas villains. ATOM offers "A Glimpse of James' Jingle Socks," in which James Brown is reimagined as a chill artist, and "Santa Ist Das Bein Stalker," in which a German guy snarks on Santa while various grooves play behind him, and I don't have any idea where that came from. DJ Schmolli keeps the Germanic groove going on "Weihnachtszeit-Song," and Divide and Kreate has Peggy Lee doing "Little Breakbeat Boy," in which various hip-hop beats accompany the "Little Drummer Boy." DJ M.i.F takes the "remix classic jazz age singers" craze of a few years ago a few steps further, going crazy on Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby with "Children Winter Wonderland." DJ Morgoth offers "The Power of New Divide," in which Linkin Park is uneasily joined to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and "Carol of the Tolling Bell" is G3RSt's combination of Metallica and Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra. And no, Metallica aren't playing "Carol of the Bells" on this mashup. Mashups aren't for everybody, of course, but for those who like to see familiar themes subverted, especially at the holiday, Santastic has become a great holiday tradition.
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This 2014 release just snuck out the other day on iTunes, and it features the multiple Grammy nominee showing off his pipes on the popular carol, backed just by piano. He's a very strong singer, if you've heard his hits, and this performance is sufficiently heartfelt to appeal to just about everybody. No Amazon link, as it's not there, at least not yet. It's there, click the cover as usual.
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Amy's an established songwriter and performer who's had some success pitching songs to movies and television, and for 2014 she's wrapped up a collection of her own Christmas songs from past years into this downloadable EP. This is your basic female alt-pop collection of performances, mostly on the ballad side of the ledger, but with strong melodic hooks. "Christmas Is Closer" is about holiday anticipation, "Love's a Light" is about finding your way home for Christmas, "Wishes Come True" is self-explanatory, and the title song is a more uptempo love song. Rounding things out is the only cover, an unadorned reading of "Mele Kalikimaka." A mellow grouping, but lots of good songwriting. Amazon will sell you a couple of these songs as singles, but you'll have to go to Noisetrade to get the whole thing. Leave a tip.

Joe Perry's Merry Christmas, Joe Perry (Unison)

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Aerosmith's lead guitarist isn't well known for performing solo, but back in 2008 he let loose with a faithful cover of "Run Rudolph Run." For 2014 he's back with an EP that includes that performance and adds strong instrumental takes on "White Christmas" and "Silent Night" and a very good vocal performance of "Santa Claus Is Back In Town," the Christmas blues number that originated with Elvis Presley's first Christmas album. No surprises given the guy's day job, but classic rock fans should eat this up.

OK, they weren't first to the text message Christmas song, but this is a pretty good one. Apparently they've updated their Under the Influence album to include it, but of course you can download it alone too.

theboth.jpgTaste-tippers know from this record's appearance on the Superego label that Aimee Mann had something to do with it, since that's her vanity label. The Both is Aimee with Ted Leo, who together released a well-regarded 2014 album, and as they're touring with a Christmas show this season, a new holiday song was called for. It's a mid-tempo number that sounds all of a piece with Aimee's past work, emphasizing the melancholy of the season while Leo brings his trademark vocals and guitar to the proceedings. I'd call this a holiday gotta-have.

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