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These tunes make for an enjoyable change of pace.

Pure Holiday, Ice Choir (Cascine)

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Old-school synthpop rears its head here with the two sides of this Brooklyn band's holiday single for 2014. "It's Different Now" is reminiscent of a ballad by Erasure, a sort of coming-of-age Christmas song. "Cut Down the Tree" is also a ballad about harvesting the holiday decoration, although it's hard to tell because the vocals are mixed kind of low. Still, this will fill that Depeche Mode-sized hole in your holiday playlists.

"Black Santa," Inner Circle featuring Mikey Spice (DubShot)

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This 2014 single is old-school reggae music, a few modern production touches but nothing you wouldn't have heard in the 1970s heyday of reggae. The song itself is a plea to "Black Santa" to make sure the needy get what they need for Christmas, not a new concern but always a worthwhile one, especially delivered with this lilting Caribbean rhythm. Good stuff.

"Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown," Jackie DeShannon (Imperial)

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Jackie's a minor rock 'n roll legend with a number of hits to her credit, some sung by her, others written by her and made famous by others, and she's on a short list of people who opened for the Beatles on their three U.S. tours. This song, from 1969, was written by Hal David and John Barry and actually appeared on the soundtrack to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" before Jackie covered it. In case you were wondering, the trees need sunshine, raindrops... and love. The song has that classic late 60s pop sound that so many young musicians these days are reaching to reproduce. On the flip is "Christmas," a Jackie original and more of a big orchestra ballad. Both are downloadable in the modern day. Shouldn't step away from this entry before noting that Jackie's big hit in the same year, "Put a Little Love In Your Heart," is nowadays imagined to be a Christmas song by some folks. No doubt that's because of the 1988 cover by Annie Lennox and Al Green that was not only in the Bill Murray Christmas movie "Scrooged," but was a top 10 hit with its heavily Christmas-themed video propelling it on the charts.

"Slipping Into Christmas," Leon Russell (Shelter)

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leonrussell.jpgRecorded roughly at the same time as his hit album Carney, this 1972 original by the heralded pianist, producer, arranger and songwriter only ever came out on 45, though it's possible to download it nowadays. It's a bluesy ballad featuring blues legend Freddie King on lead guitar. The flip side, "Christmas in Chicago," is a bit more uptempo and suggests the blues style of the city in the title. Both are fine performances and will satisfy fans of blues and classic rock. Leon later recorded 1995's Hymns of Christmas, but that is a collection of piano instrumentals backed by orchestra featuring 10 classic and antique carols, nothing resembling Leon's signature rock sound.

"I Forgot It Was Christmas," Eat Me (Papercrane Recordings)

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eatme.jpgThis British band calls themselves purveyors of "shambolic rock music," and this kind of punk-ish uptempo number will make your Boxing Day celebrations more enjoyable. This 2014 tune is at Bandcamp, leave them a tip even though there's no minimum.

A Dirty Gems Christmas, Kris Rodgers & the Dirty Gems (self-issued)

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From Portland, Maine, this band appears to have an affiinty for 70s-era hard rock, and they sound really good doing it. "Can't Spend Another Christmas (Without You)" is a solid uptempo original with that sound, and the EP rounds out with Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means To Me" and Elton John's "Ho Ho Ho (Who'd Be a Turkey at Christmas)." Although the EP was released in 2014, "Can't Spend Another Christmas" was on CDBaby as early as 2011 by itself. Grab it from Bandcamp.

"At Christmas Time," WJLP (self-issued)

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WJLPxmas.jpgHere's a Netherlands band that named itself after William J. LePetomaine, if the Soundcloud URL is to be believed, anyway. This 2014 holiday rocker is solid gold power pop and needs to be in next year's holiday playlist. (Better make a note of that myself.)

"Love Disease (Christmas In New York)," Cafeine (Indica)

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cafeine.jpgMissed this when it was a free download at Soundcloud (you can still stream it there), but it was a single in time for Christmas 2014 and will be on the artist's 2015 album New Love that drops in February. It's a nice raging uptempo rocker, guitars to the fore, and it's all about Christmas in the big city, as you might well imagine.

Songs of the Architect Presents: A Very SOTA Christmas, various artists (SOTA)

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sotaxmas.jpgSOTA is a production company from Georgia, or "music collective" as the popular phrase currently goes, and they promote, produce and even make their own rock-Americana flavored music alongside a small roster of artists. For 2014 they decided to try their hand at Christmas music, and they've put together a nice collection of music featuring their own roster along with a few guests from outside. Things kick off promisingly with a fine uptempo arrangement of "Silent Night" from Marshall Ruffin, a song that too often gets the reverent, or worse, the diva approach. The Shadowboxers acquit themselves well on "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday," Alex Gordon Hi Fi offers a guitar/bass instrumental rendition of "Deck the Halls," then they back Marshall Ruffin on "Angels We Have Heard on High." Indianapolis Jones offers a fine uptempo original by Galavanters' bass player Nicholas Niespodziani called "Peace and Harmony," and then that band comes back with their own organ-led instrumental take on "Jolly Old St. Nicholas." Big Mike Geier gets help from Larkin Poe on "Christmas Island," Trs Lechers perform a jazzy xylophone-led "Joy to the World" and Michelle Malone, who has a past Christmas album to her credit, performs the original "Feels Like Christmas." Stephen Kellogg, with help from the Galavanters, performs his syncopated original "Christmas in Cancun," the Handlebars render Ellis Paul's "Santa Claus & the Tooth Fairy," in which a mild Bo Diddley rhythm meets a child-sung chorus, Tim Smith takes on NRBQ's "Chrismas Wish," and Mike Snowden breaks out the cigar box guitar and accordion for a suitably rocking exit to the disc with "Auld Lang Syne." The producers imply in their liner notes that this may become a tradition, and that's all right with me.

"Rock 'n Roll It's Christmas Time," Bay City Rollers starring Les McKeown (The BoomBox)

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baycityrollers.jpgI'm always bemoaning when artists from the now-distant past attempt to make themselves relevant again with a Christmas release, especially when they use their rock brand name to make something that's more in the adult contemporary vein. And of course, the Bay City Rollers is not a brand name that suggests rock integrity. Nevertheless, this is a strong pop-rocker that draws on the BCR legacy but hammers out a fine rock rhythm. You might want to check out this 2014 single before you dismiss it entirely.

Sickly Sweet Holidays, Dallon Weekes (None You Jerk)

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daltonweekes.jpgNever heard of this guy until recently, and then only because of this fine Phil Spector-influenced holiday rocker. (Turns out he's in Panic! At the Disco.) Just released in 2014, the way he strings together holiday cliches threatens to make the title unironic, but the driving rhythm and fuzzy bass set against the Carpenters-esque piano is simply addicting. Gotta have.

"Spending Christmas," Chuck Berry (Chess)

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One would have to have been a Chuck Berry expert to extend his Christmas heritage beyond "Run Rudolph Run" and "Merry Christmas Baby," the two sides of his one and only officially released Christmas single. Turns out Christmas was briefly on his mind sometime in the mid-1960s, when he recorded this bluesy ballad that only found its way to the public via You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966. And then, another box set, Have Mercy: The Complete Chess Recordings 1969-1974, yielded another blues, this one a bit more uptempo, titled "Christmas" on the box set, but Google searches turn it up under the title "My Blue Christmas" as well. I only discovered them via this 2014 compilation, Lost Christmas Holiday Rarities, but now you can grab them too.

Noise to the World 2, various artists (Converse)

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I stumbled over the first Noise to the World right when posting resumed in November and found it to be a great free EP of Christmas tuneage. Should have kept checking after that, because in December 2014 they rolled out #2, another fine collection that's free. (Except for the Michael Christmas cut, which has resisted all attempts at downloading. You have to go to Soundcloud and download the songs one at a time, and that one won't cough up a button.) Deer Tick's "White Havoc" steals some melody from "At Seventeen" and a bit of "Last Christmas" in a fine rocker, IamSul's "Next Season" and "Pleasant Winter" by Michael Christmas provide the hip-hop on this collection, GRMLN's "Before December (You're Alive)" is a driving indie rocker, Torreblanca featuring Iraida Noriega offer a spacey take on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," with a duo vocal offering a bit of Lee Hazlewood with Nancy Sinatra, and the award winners for this collection are the Dum Dum Girls with "On Christmas," a nice girl group via synthpop rendition of a fine melody, getting a little help with synths from the guys in Ice Choir. That's two in a row for the makers of Chuck Taylors, so I guess I better put a note in my calendar for 2015.

"Be My Valentine (On Christmas)," Glenna Bell (self-issued)

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This was rattling around my iTunes library and I just stumbled over it today. Glenna is an Americana artist from Texas and this folky ballad is from her 2008 album The Road Less Traveled. Glenna has a road-weary voice that contrasts nicely with the novelty-inspired sentiment of the title, and who wouldn't want a valentine on Christmas, anyway?

Holidaze, Happy Fangs (self-issued)

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Gotta love how this San Francisco band mashed up all the year-end holidays across two songs of this 2014 single. "Fangsgiving" is their punky take on creating a substitute holiday of their own with all the Christmas trappings, although they may not have the success that Festivus has had in that regard. Then they state that "All I Want For Christmas Is Halloween," a bit more garagy-sounding appeal for a goth do-over two months later. "Bet you thought this song was going to be jolly," they sing, and actually I got a laugh out of it, which is all that matters.

Christmas, Quiet Marauder (Bubblewrap Collective)

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Here is the 2012 EP from which the Cherryade 10 compilation got this band's "It's Xmas, So It's OK (To Go and Hug a Turkey)." According to the info on Soundcloud, these songs are "offshoots" of songs from their 111-song debut recording, Men. The sound here is kind of skiffle-poppy and a bit twee, although they go a little Wild Man Fischer on "All I Got For Christmas Was a Bike," as in "All I got for Christmas was a goddamn bike." In addition to the "Hug a Turkey" song and this one, they also perform "The Best Gift Ever...." and "I Took a Match to the Christmas Tree." Fun stuff. The EP was reissued in 2013 as Merry Marauding Christmas, minus the "Match" song, which they apparently gave to a magazine compilation that is long gone. The original EP is on Bandcamp with a request for payment, although you can specify $0, and the updated version is on Soundcloud, freely downloadable.

I Love The Holidays, Office Romance (Frenchkiss)

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These folks are members of Les Savy Fav and the Blue Bloods, and for 2012 they came together to create this sweet pop-rock EP that remains available in the usual download locations. "Holidays Aren't the Same Without You" is a warm piano ballad, "Twinkling Lights" is a late-60s poppy confection and the title song is a solid Christmas rocker. Not much from these folks since the EP; their website URL is parked and there are no posts on their Facebook page since early 2013. Nevertheless, what they did here is worth remembering -- and playing.

"Do They Know It's Christmas," Fucked Up (Matador)

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I remember trying to track this down when it first came out and coming up empty. In 2009, the Toronto band recruited a bunch of minor musical celebrities to re-enact the Geldof-Ure holiday special in a more indie-rock vein. Participants included Andrew W.K., Bob Mould, David Cross, Ezra Koenig, GZA, Kevin Drew, Kyp Malone, Tegan & Sara and Yo La Tengo. It remains available as a download. There was a vinyl single, though I'm betting it's reasonably rare now. Like the original, this was a charity project, in this case benefitting three organizations who assist in finding missing and murdered indigenous women. Only place I could find it was iTunes, so no link-through for purchase.

Mr. Batson's First Xmas, Mr. Batson & the Rotating Stock (self-issued)

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From Pittsburgh, this guy wanted to do some punk rock Christmas songs, so he started knocking them out until he ran out of time. Literally; this dropped on Christmas Eve 2014 on Bandcamp. "Good King Wenceslas" gets a driving thrash rhythm, "Feliz Navidad" is rendered in a punk-ska arrangement, "Two Front Teeth" is a midtempo rendition with plenty of scratchy guitars, "Blue Christmas" is pretty close to a typical rendition, and "Father Christmas" is mostly faithful to the Kinks original. Vocals are a little pitchy and it definitely sounds home-recorded, but the energy is good and the collection is listenable.

"Pitter Patter," Dana Alexandra (Think Loud)

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A late 2013 release, this fine poppy holiday confection comes from this rising singer from York, Pa. Solid work, featuring a nice shuffle rhythm that kicks in after the first verse, clean crisp guitars and Dana's distinctive singing voice.

North Pole Vault EP, Ian McGlynn (Bailey Park)

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Ian's a professional musician with a career doing film & TV soundtrack work as well as a bit of acting. This carries over to the songs on this 2013 EP in that they are lushly produced synth-pop creations with ample instrumental breaks, but they're fine pop-rock meditations on the holiday. "Christmas Sleep" is the single, because it's catchy and also less than three minutes. "Christmas Morning," after a long instrumental intro, offers nostalgic lyrics about remembering childhood holiday events. "Our Favorite Christmas Movie" isn't about any particular film, the better that listeners can substitute their own favorites in this mellow ballad. There's a double dose of "Meet Me Where the Bright Lights Shine," a sweet waltz, and the title song is a slow instrumental featuring layers upon layers of keyboard melodies. Click to get it at Amazon. Ian previously recorded "The Snow Angel and the Icicle Sword" in 2010 and "Listen to the Choir Sing" in 2009 for the holiday, but neither seem to be available for download anywhere at the moment. UPDATE: North Pole Vault is free at Noisetrade.

"Let It Snow," George Ezra (self-issued)

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This Englishman had a 2014 hit with "Budapest," and in 2013 he put this up on Soundcloud, a folky-pop take on the popular Christmas song. It's just for streaming, so stream away.
 

"Christmas Day," GFOTY (PC Music)

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The acronym means Girl Friend Of The Year, and this 2014 slightly-off pop confection only dropped on Dec. 26 from this singer and producer who is, according to Stereogum, part of what's known as the PC Music collective of contemporary hit record makers. I really like this. It's downloadable from Soundcloud.

"O Holy Night," Osaka Popstar (Caf Muzeck)

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These guys are nominally a punk rock supergroup (their term), as their membership is a rotating cast of former associates of the Ramones, Misfits, Black Flag, the Voidoids and others. Although they got together in 2006, they persist to this day with this pop-punk take of the classic carol released in 2014. It's a good production, and you'll want it if a punk rock carol is what you need for your mix disc.

"Dear Santa," Jackknife Stiletto (self-issued)

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Old-school hard rock is this Massapequa, N.Y. all-girl band's forte, and for 2014 they bust out this fun talk-sing number in which the verses are letters to Santa demanding he come more than once a year. Write your own joke here. Still, this is great uptempo rocking fun and you should grab it.

Broken Little Winter, The Glass Child (Broken Glass)

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The Glass Child is Charlotte Eriksson, a Swede by birth and a current Berliner via London, and need I add, a singer and songwriter as well as a published author with a memoir of her struggle to make it as a musician. She's been giving this EP away via Noisetrade this year, although it's not clear when she originally recorded it, but I don't think it's new in 2014. It's not exactly a rocker, more of a solo folkie thing. She contributes three originals, the dramatic "A Haunted Acapella" and the ballads "Winter Song" and "Where Are You Christmas,", an a capella "Silent Night," and a fairly conventional "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." A little mellow for my taste, but well done.

"Little Saint Nick," Jack + Eliza (self-issued)

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Another new alt-rock boy-girl duo from New York, these folks do a spacey, lo-fi reconstruction of the Beach Boys' classic for 2014. It's an interesting take, although it's only on Soundcloud, and then only if you access it from Paste Magazine. Maybe they'll let it out next year.

A Very, Very Decent Christmas, various artists (Mad Decent)

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This is actually the second Christmas mixtape compiled by Diplo and Mad Descent, the first being called, wait for it, A Very Decent Christmas, from 2013. Of course, I'm just getting hep to this for 2014. Both are still streaming from Soundcloud, but click the cover to buy this one from Amazon, and click here to get the previous edition. Jessi Slater & Wuki kick things off with "Rock Them Bells," a heavy-bass version of "Deck the Halls" with the title chanted repeatedly over it. Diplo & Alvaro featuring Kstylis offer "6th Gear (Bethlehem Edition)," a holiday remake of the artists' existing song. Snappy Jit goes to the dancefloor with "Lil Drumma Boy," Aquadrop offers to "Troll the Halls," another deconstruction of "Deck the Halls," and Splurt Christmases up his "#OMW25YG" with a taste of "Frosty the Snowman."  DJ Fire's "Twerkith On These Bells" is a fairly minimalist performance, 4B offers yet another clattery "Deck the Halls" take on "Drop It Again (Xmas Version)," Wiwek's "Totem Night" drops the beat on "Silent Night," Alizzz offers a deconstructed slow jam over "Jingle Bells" on "What If (Jingle Edit)," and Davoodi's "The Nutcracka" needs very little elaboration from the likes of me, in that it's the hip-hop take on the Tchaikovsky classic. Though I'm far from a hip-hop expert, this stuff is pretty listenable to me.

"Christmastime In Venice Beach," Crown & the M.O.B. (self-issued)

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The Brooklyn-born, Venice Beach-based hip-hop collective offers this fine holiday jam on its Holiday in the Sun Sampler at Noisetrade for 2014. It's a rap tune with a solid musical background, relaxed but danceable, and it'll bring a fine change of pace to your playlists. The other songs on the sampler aren't holiday tunes, but don't sweat it, if you like the hit, you'll probably like the other tunes.

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