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"City On a Hill," Will Butler (self-issued)

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Will, the Arcade Fire-man, seems to be starting a holiday tradition. He did a solo Christmas tune in 2014, and he came back in 2015 with this frustrated holiday ballad -- so frustrated he lets a four-letter word fly in the chorus. A really arresting take on the holiday, and it's free to download.

Ronnie's a New York musician who identifies as Christian rock, but his specialty appears to be power pop, as you'll hear if you click through. This is a solid rocking Christmas tune, and it appears to be so new (2015) that there's no independent audio yet, at least I can't find it on iTunes, Amazon or CDBaby. He has a previous Christmas song, "Keep His Name In Christmas," from 2009, and that one is a more religious take on the holiday.

"White Christmas," Mac DeMarco (self-issued)

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Canadian pop star Mac DeMarco dropped this Christmas carol on Boxing Day, same as LCD Soundsystem did with their song. If staring at Jar Jar Binks is too upsetting, you can download just the audio here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notebook scribbles

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

We Wish You Emery Christmas, Emery (BadChristian)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The legendary Ronnie Hawkins, who booked original rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins into his nightclub in the 1950s and then went out on tour as a rocker himself, with The Band as his backing musicians, now covers his old backing group's classic Christmas tune for 2015. Independent audio is at iTunes and Amazon. It's a more countrified cover but not far off the original. He looks pretty good for 80, too.

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

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

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

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