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Arcade Fire did a quite silly "Little Drummer Boy" on Zach Gallifianakis' Funny Or Die talk show, but the embed code left something to be desired, plus you have to scroll to about 3:40 to see Arcade Fire, so I'm just linking to it. On the other hand, NBC has the embed thing down, so here's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" featuring Calexico, Iron and Wine, Glen Hansard and Kathleen Williams covering "Fairytale Of New York." UPDATE: Forgot to give props to Stephen Colbert's Christmas Carol Week. Monday night saw Greg Allman and The National combine (with Stephen) to do "Silver Bells," and Tuesday had Cyndi Lauper and Alan Cummings (with Stephen) doing "Let It Snow."
This is the point in the Mistletunes publish cycle when I'm pushing out the annual mix disc (watch the left sidebar for the liner notes
in a few days now, meanwhile the disc is on its way to the usual suspects). But Christmas music news never stops, so here's a few items to hold you over.
- Esquire has a pretty neat roundup of what it calls the 30 best alternative Christmas songs. I'm pleased to note just about all of them have been immortalized here in the past. A bonus reason to click through is that every song is accompanied by a video for easy listening.
- Gareth Jones, whose music podcast has been crossing the Internets from Old Blighty for a number of years now, and who once hosted yours truly on said podcast, takes to the electric Internet post office to tell us his Christmas show is now up for your delectation. Rachel Neiman, label boss of Cherryade Records, maker of nearly a decade's worth of original Christmas compilations, is a guest, along with Slow Club. A previous year's show featuring Shonen Knife is also available via Gareth's archives.
- WXPN-FM in Philadelphia has been doing the 12 Days of Christmas with a new song by a local Philly artist each day, and they promise the whole kit 'n caboodle will be downloadable shortly. Meanwhile, they've got a live stream of Jingle Jams.
- And finally, I have to tip my hat to old pal Stubby, who found this great song way ahead of me -- it's on his annual compilation and it's not on mine as a result of me not knowing about it until he sent it to me. There's a whole album connected to this fine tribute to a great artist, and I'll have something up on it soon, but meanwhile, enjoy "No Lou This Christmas" by Tom Dyer & His Queen's Pajamas.
That's pronounced "chik chik chik" for the uninitiated, and this appears to be their first Christmas song for 2013. It's a cool, funky electronic party record, ready to be paired off with cuts from the new Erasure album on your mix discs and holiday playlists. Good stuff. There's a "dub" version on the "flip side," if you grab the entire single. You're linked for the download from the cover art, but the band is also peddling a vinyl version via their website. Have a taste here.
Zach's a confederate of singer-songwriter-surfer Jack Johnson, and for 2013 he steps out front for a mini-album of Christmas goodies. If you're a Jack fan, you're all about the relaxed, folk-pop-rock vibe that Zach brings to this collection. The eight songs include seven popular favorites and one new original, "It's Christmas Time Again (Mawmaw's Figgy Pudding)," a whimsical squeezebox holiday fantasia that fakes tapdancing on the solo and gets in a plug for Ralphie. The almost-title song "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is just Zach backed by piano, "Up On the Housetop" gets a nice funky treatment, Johnson stops in to help out on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Little Drummer Boy" gets an original arrangement that deletes the martial tattoo for something that swings more, and "White Christmas" is rendered with slide guitar and ukelele to complement an arrangement that includes the not-always-used prelude about Los Angeles. In a way, this is almost Jimmy Buffett The Next Generation, but for those of you who have worn that predecessor record out, here's a great candidate for a replacement.
This Philly band is developing a national profile, and for 2013 they've joined the Christmas fray with four original songs, originally written by band member Scott McMicken for private use. There's a kind of slapdash charm to it, as though they knocked it out as an afterthought, but it's quite listenable for all that. "Christmas Party" is as advertised, a fun song about celebrating on the holiday, the title song is a melancholy reflection on the life and death of a Christmas tree, "I Believe In Santa Claus" is a handclapper that exhorts folks to believe in the jolly elf, and the band breaks out the banjos for "Rejoice." So far only available at iTunes, no Amazon link, but treat yourself to a stream at Stereogum.
The artists management company has been compiling its clients onto Christmas albums for years, as the title suggests, and this is the 2013 collection. "Bombay Beach Christmas" by St. Cloud is an electro-pop outing touting the idea of water skiing on the holiday, Magnuson also reaches for the synths on "O Holy Night," but then the guitars come out to crunch things rock-style, and The Hague uses acoustic guitars to paint a dour holiday landscape in "Hey Parker It's Christmas." Paper Tongues takes "O Come O Come Emanuel" uptempo with synths and multiple percussion instruments, Electric Shepherd stretches out with the epic "Angels in the Grove," The Smoking Flowers faintly recall T-Rex while spraying the tree with double entendres in "Ho Ho Ho (A Bow and Nothing More)," and Fred Roth Revue recall early new wave guitar bands with "Reindeer Get Lonely." The always-delightful Piney Gir rocks out with the short but satisfying "Every Day's a Holiday" and Here Comes Everybody upset the calendar by singing about a "Christmas in September." Another fine XO collection, and as always it's free.
This indie band from Raleigh, NC, actually made it as far as a contract with Merge Records before falling back on their own initiative during their decade-long career. In 2012, they recorded this entire album of original Christmas songs, and it's worth hearing; I wish I'd known about it last year, in fact. Solid indie-rock-pop, not quite power pop as it lacks the brashness of that genre, but frequently uptempo and always melodic. "When It's Cold" is a vocal workout on the topic of the weather heralding the holiday, "Xmas In New York" is a mellow shout-out to urban holiday celebrations, "I Hear (Click, Click, Click)" is a bouncy opener about anticipating the holiday, "Thru That Door" is about the arrival of Christmas, "Hold Me Tight" is a romantic holiday ballad, and "Lonely Light" is a soul-inflected slow song treading some of the same ground. "Melt Our Way Out" is the band's way of escaping the snow, "Christmas Dan" is a nicely retro sax-led tune about that quirky local guy who celebrates the holiday by stringing candy canes on his Trans-Am, "Christmas Clown" is a kind of Everly Brothers tribute, "Oh It's Christmas" is self-explanatory, and the toe-tapping instrumental "Journey To Christmas Island" closes things out. Click through to Amazon and grab this.
Another overseas artist with a holiday tradition of new original Christmas music, for 2013 this band (or two bands, judging from the artist credit) gives us more of what they've given us before: mellow alternative pop-rock in short bursts with the occasional contribution of a horn section. None of the nine songs exceeds 2:34 in length, and several are much shorter. They kick off with the sweet "Rainy Christmas," give us two bites at "Christmas Tree" numbered 1 and 2, sing about a toy "Singing Santa," exhort us to visit the "Sleighbell Museum," rock out with "She Must Be Santa," take us on a languid trip to a "Frozen Lake," create a faux antique ballad called "Selaphobia" about outdoor Christmas lights, and sing about the "Siamese Lumberjacks" who cut down Christmas trees. Quirky as always, and available on Bandcamp for a price you can name yourself.
This Swedish singer-songwriter's holiday tradition is turning into an album's worth of tunes, and for 2013 her new Christmas song is a sweet acoustic ballad with melancholy lyrics about being cold and lonely in a big city on the holiday. It's a nice change of pace, and it's free to download.
The independent Indiecater label has been offering Christmas compilations annually for several years, and they maintain the streak for 2013. This year's EP is more mellow than in past years, opening on a "Warm and Bright" note with Adam and Darcie. The Photo Ops, unable to travel for Christmas night, offer "Singers and Dancers," Ben Hood pulls out his acoustic guitar to promise "This Year" he'll spend Christmas with his lover, Candy Claws performs "Alp Shades," a breathy pop confection, The Very Most breaks the mold by rocking out with "Stars and Happiness Forever," and Spread the Celebration wraps up with, well, "Spread the Celebration." The Bandcamp page wants to be paid in euros, but don't let that bother you, currency converters are easy to find.
That 70s hard rock sound never dies, and who better to deliver it to us than two-fifths of the Runaways? This 2013 single is mostly Lita Ford's joint, but she offered a role to the otherwise reclusive Cherie, and less than four minutes later, with a request for a beverage over the fade, we have ourselves a Christmas tune. Good stuff, especially for the leather 'n lace crowd.
The long-running late 70s punk band, founded by Glenn Danzig before he went out on his own, is still a going concern in 2013, as evidenced by this EP, or should we call it a double B-side single, as there is a limited vinyl release in exactly that format in colored vinyl. It's downloadable too, which is the format I received. No surprises in sound, this is classic late 70s punk applied to three classics, the A-side "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," "Island of Misfit Toys" and "Blue Christmas." Misfits fans will want the vinyl, punks will be happy to have this and it's quite listenable for the rest of us as well.
The Rocket Summer is essentially just Bryce Avary of Dallas/Fort Worth, who has been making records for a decade now, and just got around to Christmas for 2013 with three original songs and an acoustic guitar cover of "O Holy Night." "Christmas Madness" is a strong opener, a fine power pop holiday anthem. "Elf Creep" is a piano-led number about an elf sneaking up on the object of his affections (you stalker you), and "Grapevine Christmas Eve" appears to be about a ghost returning on the night before the holiday. These are fine original Christmas songs, especially for the power poppers among us.
Hadn't heard at the start of the season whether the Killers would keep their Christmas single streak alive in 2013, well, they did. But they got a lot of help from up-and-coming California folk-rockers Dawes; that band's Taylor Goldsmith co-wrote the song and partly sings the tune, which if not for Brandon Flowers' lead vocals would sound like the Killers guested on a Dawes tune. (Irving Berlin gets a credit too, for the four lines of "White Christmas" that get pilfered on the lead-out.) My take on Dawes is that they frequently sing in the third person about some poor deluded girl who doesn't see the wheels within wheels the way the narrator does (I foresee an Onion headline: "Girl Who All Dawes Songs Are About Goes To Court, Seeks Restraining Order") but on this mellow folk-pop song, the observational aspect hits just the right balance; guess the Killers were in charge after all. Currently it's only on iTunes, no Amazon link available. UPDATE: Forgot to note the song benefits the Global Fund For AIDS. And I just got the YouTube link for the video:
This 2013 rocker is a hysterical number by the long-running indie-rockers, aided by comic Eugene Mirman and NPR stalwart Ira Glass, and it's part of a comedy album, 2776: A Millenium Of American Asskickery, set to be released next summer. Meanwhile, this has been released as a single. It's a riff on "Dance of the Toy Soldiers" transferred to the modern sci-fi blockbuster day, where the toys come to life and enslave humans, all to the not-quite-familiar sound of Yo La Tengo's buzzy, lo-fi accompaniment. "It came down to Toys or Us," the song sadly concludes, and don't worry, there are plenty of other great lines in this song. Destined to become a Christmas classic in the same way that the "WKRP" turkey episode has become a Thanksgiving Day classic. Enjoy, and click through to grab it for yourself.
Citizens are a Seattle-based Christian rock band that just got started a couple of years ago and have one regular album to their name, and now for 2013 they have this collection of Christmas music, four classic carols and one original tune, "Come and Stand Amazed," which fits right in with the worshipful tone of the other songs here. As for the sound, it's a radio-friendly alt-rock collection of mostly upbeat sounds, except for "Silent Night" and "Come and Stand Amazed." "Hark the Herald Angels" even throws a bit of 60s soul into the mix. Good original arrangements of these songs, you won't even notice you're being preached at.
Londoner Leona is a bonafide international star as a result of winning her home country's version of "The X Factor" in 2006 and going on to a string of Brit award/Grammy award winning songs and albums. I tend to steer clear of talent show denizens, particularly "American Idol," especially when the ever-present Simon Cowell is involved, but I have to say I'm not particularly horrified by the results on offer here. Leona's singing does evince a certain hero worship of the late Whitney Houston, the production is assembly-line modern pop, and there aren't any real surprises among the cover songs, but she manages to put some personality into the proceedings nonetheless. Points for using the Otis Redding arrangement of "White Christmas," and perhaps because I'm not English I never get tired of hearing Roy Wood's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday," which kicks off with a bit of emoting before heading into a Wizzard-faithful arrangement. She also does spot-on Spector takes of "Winter Wonderland" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Album closers "Ave Maria" and "Silent Night" are a little too reverent for my taste, however, the typical pop album's sincerity while showing off the singer's chops move. Leona co-writes three tunes for this collection, the sprightly album opener "One More Sleep," in which the singer is dreaming of her lover coming home for Christmas, "Mr. Right," an uptempo request for a two-legged Christmas present, and the churchy ballad "Your Hallelujah." Not really a classic, but I'm liking this in spite of myself.
The Seattle-based classic rockers, previously on the Christmas tip with the Lovemongers album, cut a new single for 2013. "All Through the Night" is Nancy Wilson with help from Richard Marx on this pop ballad, while Ann Wilson duets with Aaron Neville on the Charles Brown classic. This is far more pop than rock, but I know the classic rock fans would want to know about this, especially since other classic rockers' promises of holiday music haven't come through this year.
This song, from 2013, manages to live up both to the title and to the band name. It's a ballad that starts with a guy who lost his job and worries about his prospects, but the holiday manages to overcome his concerns for a short time anyway. It picks up from the slow intro to a nice mid-tempo rocker. Good work, pick it up.
Pete's a singer-songwriter and photographer with a number of albums to his credit, and for the time being he's making available this 2013 single free of charge at Bandcamp. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker, a love song in which the singer gets the girl, and that makes it always Christmas. Nice sentiment, nice song, check it out here.
Richard is a long-running power pop maven and sideman extraordinare with 10 albums to his credit, but near as I can tell this lovely rocker is his first Christmas song, released for 2013. Strong, hook-laden music, the only fly in the ointment is that it's not out for sale yet; the only way to hear it is via this YouTube video. If it becomes downloadable at some point I'll update this post. Meanwhile, crank up the volume on those open-air speakers. UPDATE: Commenter grendel322 tips us the download is now on iTunes and, click the cover art at right, Amazon.
Never Shout Never previously did a single for the holidays in 2008 called "30 Days," but that was when it was a one-man band. Now a full touring outfit, the group has cut loose with a Christmas gift for 2013, two originals and two covers, nice semi-acoustic versions of "Winter Wonderland" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." "Everything is Cool" is a ukelele-and-harmonica harmony-vocal tune that combines a major-key melody that belies the minor-key lyrics, and "Under the Mistletoe" is an acoustic duet with Dia Frampton in which the singers agree to meet in the favorite holiday spot in the title. Mellow stuff, but highly listenable.
This is from 2012, and there's not much info to be found about this group online. It starts out with several classic carols in a sort of alternative pop-rock vein, with mangled titles like "Sleh Rahd," "Janga Beylz" and "G.N.T.L.M.N." Then there's "Uber Nacht," a medley of "The First Noel," "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" in a more conventional acoustic reading. "The Sneaky Song" is a non-holiday parody of White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." Then there are what appear to be originals, like "House Call," an ambiguous story of "a doctor who's also a king," and "Chopstick Drum," an ode to making lunch that is non-holiday. Considering how much of this is non-Christmas, the title falls a bit short. But if you're looking for holiday songs that remind you of playing singles on your portable 45 player in the 60s, the tunes on here will work for you.
Yeah, these guys know on which side their bread is buttered, as they're back with their third pass at the holiday for 2013. This EP comes loaded with guest shots -- Colbie Caillat, Cee Lo Green, Otis Redding and Paul McCartney -- although at least the latter two are simply sampled from the original records, while Caillat appears to be performing live; Cee Lo's performance could have been either, though he sounds very much like he did singing "White Christmas" on his own Christmas album. Elsewhere, Amazon allows you to download free their parody version of "The Nutcracker," and they do a fairly rhythmic, almost streetcorner, version of "Home By Christmas," a poppier "Song For Santa" and a funky, uptempo "Amazing Grace." Other than "Nutcracker," the glee-club-isms are kept to a minimum here, thankfully.
This 2013 single is a charity release for Britain's Big Issue Foundation. It's a nice mid-tempo rocker with a sing-along chorus, and your buck or so supports needy people, so what are you waiting for? Check it out.
This act offers a new Christmas song every year, and for 2013 it's the John and Yoko classic. It's added to the group's Christmas Collection on Noisetrade, which we previously mentioned here. If you haven't grabbed the collection before, grab the updated version with this song added.
The now-online-only music/other arts magazine has a long history of distributing various artists collections of music, including Christmas collections, and this is the 2013 holiday edition, free for download from Noisetrade. (Noisetrade requests "tips" to support the artists, but in this case there's a strictly free download button provided.) This straddles the adult alternative and Americana genres, and nearly all this stuff is previously or currently released. As a result, I'm just going to mention stuff that's on here that hadn't crossed my radar before this. "Christmas Thyme" is by The Olms, the Pete Yorn/J.D. King project from earlier this year, and this original song is a nice 60s pop outing featuring acoustic guitar and trumpet fills. Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors offer the piano-led ballad "Everything's Changed at Christmas But You," Maggie Chapman sings of lost love at the holiday in "Could've Been Summer," J Roddy Walston & the Business take a grungy stab at gospel in "Jesus Gonna Do His Best," the David Mayfield Parade go old-school pop country with "They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose" and The Last Bison lead their version of "Carol of the Bells" with banjo. There are also cuts from Sufjian Stevens, Nick Lowe, Bright Eyes, Otis Redding, Good Old War and Seabird, but they've all been mentioned here before. Can't argue with the price even if you have a lot of these songs.
This Nashville-based Christian rock band only has a few albums out, but for the 2013 holiday season they've chosen to make one of those albums a Christmas project, and good on them for it. Leaving aside the religious aspect, these guys are a contemporary pop-rock band with a commercial radio sheen to their sound, and they've put together a highly listenable collection of originals and covers. Needless to say, most of the originals press home the religious reason for the season, like disc opener "What a Glorious Night," the piano ballad "Hey Moon," the almost-rockabilly "Merry Christmas To You," the stately march "Hope Was Born This Night," and the sprightly closer "Because It's Christmas." The midtempo rocker "Give Me Christmas" is a love song to the holiday, and is probably the best of the originals. As for the covers, they do typical slow takes of "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This," the standard pop ballad take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with the original third verse, although they slip in "If the Lord allows," a very countrypolitan take on "Holly Jolly Christmas," a nice "White Christmas" that uses the original Drifters arrangement with some vocal help from Francesca Battistelli, and a soulful take on "That Spirit of Christmas" from Ray Charles' Christmas album. Decide for yourself about the Christian aspect of this modern rock band, but this is a strong pop-rock celebration of the holidays. UPDATE: Forgot to mention that "Because It's Christmas" and "Hope Was Born" were part of a 2012 EP.
This old-school synth-pop duo was previously on the holiday beat with their 1988 single "She Won't Be Home (Lonely Christmas)," backed with "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." They've steered clear of the holiday from that day until 2013, with this new 13-cut collection, which doesn't include the two previous songs. No surprises in sound if you've listened to Erasure before, it's the same all-synth orchestration over pop, rock and R'nB beats applied to a baker's dozen of songs that include originals and familiar covers. And at least one unfamiliar cover: "Sleep Quietly" is better known as "Sleep Quietly My Jesus," written by Ruth Heller, but according to the Internets has only, until now, ever been performed by classical crossover singer Kathleen Jenkins in 2012. Likewise, the Great and Powerful Wikipedia has Ruth Heller as a Canadian children's book author with no songwriting credits. Oh well, a mystery for the comments section. The electro-pop version of "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is alone worth the entire album. Antique carols get their futuristic takes with "Gaudete," in the original Latin, "Silent Night," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "In the Bleak Midwinter." They also give soft ballad arrangements to "White Christmas" and "Silver Bells." The rest are originals, starting with "Bells of Love (Isabelle's of Love)," a plea for love on the holiday; "Make It Wonderful," a minor-key request for reassurance; the non-holiday dance-floor anthem "Loving Man"; the Three Wise Men allegory "Blood on the Snow"; and "There'll Be No Tomorrow," another uptempo number recalling the classic Erasure sound, this one a holiday come-on to a lover. Good stuff, especially for you SiriusXM "1st Wave" fans. A club remix of "Gaudete" is also on offer, though it appears to only be in the British market for now.
BBVD is one of those big horn bands that came out of the mid-90s "swinger" subculture (no, not wife-swapping, think the movie, more like Rat Pack worship), and these guys were on the Christmas tip early, with their 1997 EP Watchu Want For Christmas? (Note collector prices.) They recycled the holiday songs from that disc onto their 2004 collection Everything You Want For Christmas, and now they're back for 2013 with a third collection of holiday songs. In the past, there was some implied crossover connection between pop, rock and big band; this time around, the name of the record label, given in the headline, should be considered definitive. This is the kind of Christmas album a large horn-led band would have made in 1959, a pop jazz collection. The only difference is that in those days, they would have never covered "Run Rudolph Run," here jazzed up to a fare-thee-well, and "Christmas Is Starting Now," which originated with the "Phineas and Ferb" show on Disney Channel and gets the swing band treatment. "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" isn't from that time either, but it really lends itself to a jazz band treatment. The title song is a band original, a jazzy ballad. "Jingle Bells" gets a bit of 1950s-style vocal group schmaltz layered on top of the jumpy arrangement, "We Three Kings" is done as an instrumental in a sort of New Orleans march, and they stay in the same city for "Winter Wonderland." "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are taken at deliberately slow tempos, the latter getting the full vocal group intro about Dasher and Dancer, etc. You have to buy from Amazon to get the two bonus cuts, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and "Auld Lang Syne." Not really part of the Mistletunes rockin' Christmas universe, but it's irreverent enough, even in its retro shoes, to give your holiday that extra celebratory kick.