Ryan’s Music Picks 🎄 20 December 2016

There are 3 or 4 different kinds of Christmas songs, really. There are songs about Santa coming to town, songs about how it’s cold and romance is in the air, songs about the fact that it is winter, and songs about baby Jesus being born. I tend to gravitate to types 3 and 4, but I’m an equal-opportunity Christmas music listener. I have written extensively about Christmas music because I love it so. I especially love “new” Christmas music, meaning either redone classics in an interesting style, or new songs that evoke the season just right enough for them to earn there way into my personal Christmas music canon.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Party (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Sharon Jones just died about a month ago, but she has long been an ambassador of soul, bringing the classic sound to the modern era. She left us with this album of toe-tapping Christmas tunes that’s a nice mix of funked-up classics and inspired originals.

David Bazan – Dark Sacred Night (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
In a bygone era, David Bazan as Pedro the Lion recorded yearly Christmas singles on 7″ records. His relationship with Jesus has become a bit more complicated since then, but he still celebrates Jesus’ birth on this new album. Some of the songs from those old singles have been rerecorded, along with some new covers of classic holiday tunes (and a cover of Low’s Christmas song Long Way Around the Sea) and an original. Bazan reworks some of the classics too, adding his own modern and inspired verses in. All around, it’s a pretty dark Christmas record, not exactly the cheery sort, but the kind that we really need this holiday season.

Josh Garrels – The Light Came Down (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
What we have here is a dreamy album of lush, dark holiday tunes, a good mix of originals, classics, and hymns. This is one of a couple of albums this time around that is particularly Jesus-focused, but this one in particular acts less as the antithesis of Bazan’s album as much as it is kind of the other side of the same coin. They are, in a sense, companions, illustrating the doubt and hope that comingle in the Holiday season and the Winter Solstice. The production on this album is particularly gorgeous, and I have found myself craving this album more than most other seasonal albums this year.

Various Artists – Over the Hills and Everywhere (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
If you prefer your Christmas music to be a bit more overt about the whole Jesus thing, this is the one for you. Gospel Song Union is a record label that focuses on particularly modern Christian worship music, and these tracks are really quite good and they’re definitely not ashamed of the Gospel. I’m a fan of the Kings Kaleidoscope track that takes the tune of Auld Lang Syne and adds some very hymn-like lyrics. The Modern Post track features lead singer Dustin Kensrue who also happens to sing in Thrice, so that’s a good one too.

Tartelet Records – North Pole Boogie Vol. 16 (Bandcamp only)
Sometimes for Christmas you just want jazzy house music. This is a pay what you want/free collection of slightly off-kilter electronic music that’s much better than any Jingle Bells remix could possibly be.

Christmas Music 2015

I love Christmas music! Seasonal songs are my jam for four weeks out of every year, and my favorites are the weird original ones. I especially love strange Christmas music when it’s free, and this year we get bunch of good stuff: UPDATE! I found some more good stuff!

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The next release in the Christmas Forest series (mentioned below), this compilation is smoother and sweeter than Volume 8. The cover of the Getz/Gilberto classic is pitch-perfect and somehow meshes well with the Holiday mood, and the noisy post-rock version of Christmastime Is Here works really much better than it should. It also contains a new Sound of Ceres track, which makes me happy. Get it here for free.

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This free collection of songs definitely veers closer to Contemporary Christian Music mainstream than usual for me anymore, but it’s a really solid collection of songs. Sticking mostly in the modern worship genre, it’s totally sing-along-able, just like the title suggests. Get it for free here.

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Sleeping at Last has released a compilation of Christmas songs recorded yearly as a kind of a Christmas card, and they all stick pretty close to his inspirational style that splits the difference between modern worship and Sigur Rós. Expect plenty of swelling crescendos quietly-strummed guitars, and bells. Get it for free here.

 

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Sam Billen (formerly of The Billions) loves to put together Christmas compilations with his friends and then release them online for free. This is the 2015 edition and it’s full of quiet, twinkly indie pop. My favorites are the instrumentals from Yuuki Ono and I Am Robot And Proud, but the whole thing is a charming, mellow affair. Don’t miss the annual Half-Handed Cloud Christmas track, which is always a delight! Download it for free here.

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Colorado record label Act So Big Forest has released 8 volumes of their Christmas Forest compilation full of wild, lo-fi tracks. Each volume has a track from Candy Claws and this final release features a track from their new project, Sound of Ceres. The whole thing is moody and noisy and a little unhinged. Download it for free here.

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Owen Ashworth has recorded under the names Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and Advance Base, and all of his music features his honest, plaintive voice and plenty of thrift store keyboard sounds. This mixtape of all of his Christmas tracks ranges from 2006 through this year and includes Christmas classics, covers, instrumentals and new original holiday songs. Get it here for free.

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Last year Chill Mega Chill released Tape Deck The Halls last year, and they’re back this year with Totally Righteous Holiday Special. It’s a compilation of tape-label chillwave that veers from found-sound compositions featuring samples of It’s A Wonderful Life to danceable jams about getting sloshed on eggnog. Get it here for free.

Christmas Music 2014

It’s the week of Christmas, which means it’s time for wall-to-wall Christmas music at my household. But Sinatra, Ella and Phil Spector’s Christmas Gift for You can only get you so far. Here’s a round up of the best weird Christmas stuff:

Tape Deck the Halls

Chill Mega Chill records has a good Christmas tape-label compilation out this year. Get it free on bandcamp.

A Very Christmas

I made a mixtape of Christmas music last year that includes zero songs you have heard. Get it here.

I also threw together a Side A/Side B style Christmas compilation a few years ago. It has a lot more traditional music. Get that here.

My old free music blog, Melodic Expectation, has a ton of free Christmas music.

C90 Christmas: Eve & Morn

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I put together a Christmas mixtape for you. It’s two sides of a 90 minute cassette. (The cassette ended up being a little longer than 90 minutes, actually. Lucky me.) One side is for Christmas evening and the other is for Christmas morning, but you can really play them any time you’d like. There’s a nice mix of traditional songs, new takes on classics, and original pieces. It’s mostly Sufjan-free, too. (Not that I don’t love Sufjan’s Christmas albums–I do! they’re fantastic, but I thought it would be nice to have some other Christmas music…though I did slip one song in there.) It’s all zipped up and ready to go in iTunes with album art, track order, etc. You might want to turn on Sound Check, as there is wildly varying sound quality and bitrate in the songs. Click on the Links below to download the zip files.

If you’re thirsty for more Christmas music, check out my post from 2008 rounding up some good stuff and including an old radio show of mine!

C90: Christmas Eve

  1. 1. O Little Town of Bethlehem – The Innocence Mission
  2. 2. Joy To The World – Eef Barzelay
  3. 3. Silent Night – Bosque Brown
  4. 4. The Christmas Waltz – Sam Billen and Josh Atkinson
  5. 5. lo, how a rose e’re blooming – Feist
  6. 6. O Holy Night – Anathallo
  7. 7. God Rest Ye Merry Little Gentlemen – Viva Voce
  8. 8. Christmas Time is Here – Cepia
  9. 9. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Starflyer 59
  10. 10. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – The September Equation
  11. 11. Carol of the Bells – Outputmessage
  12. 12. Hymn for St. John of Shanghai – Create (!)
  13. 13. Joy Joy!!! (Feat. Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri) – Bifrost Arts
  14. 14. I Heard the Bells – Pedro the Lion

C90: Christmas Morn

  1. 1. The Nutcracker Ballet March: Tempo Di Marcia Viva – Moscow Rtv Symphony Orchestra
  2. 2. Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn – Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers
  3. 3. Come On! Let’s Boogey To The Elf Dance! – Sufjan Stevens
  4. 4. Father Christmas – The Kinks
  5. 5. Got Something for You – Best Coast, Wavves
  6. 6. The Bells of St. Mary – Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans
  7. 7. Jingle Bells (Dan The Automator Remix) – Dean Martin
  8. 8. Little Drummer Boy (Edit) – Lindstrom
  9. 9. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Sy Mann
  10. 10. Angels We Have Heard On High – Joy Electric
  11. 11. the first blip blop noel – dma-sc
  12. 12. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Goat Explosion
  13. 13. Why Can’t It Be Christmastime All Year – Rosie Thomas
  14. 14. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) – Elvis Presley
  15. 15. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Ella Fitzgerald
  16. 16. Auld Lang Syne – El Perro Del Mar

Enjoy!

A Christmas Music Party

Our Christmas Tree

Christmas Music holds a special place in my heart. For some reason, I have always been drawn to alternate versions of Christmas songs. It’s not to say that I don’t love the “canon” versions of Christmas classics done by the Rat Pack, Motown stars, schmaltzy orchestras or Manheim Steamroller (okay, I don’t love Manheim Steamroller’s version of anything), but I love hearing artists I already like doing their own take on Christmas classics. It’s a dangerous land to enter, because 70 to 90 percent of all pop covers of Christmas are total garbage. There are some really solid sets of alternative covers of Christmas music, which I have sorted through:

I’ll start with the unquestionable–Sufjan Stevens. His “Songs for Christmas” releases are a great combination of respectable covers, complete reinterpretations and Christmassy originals. They started as a personal gift he gave to his friends, then morphed into something more as Sufjan gained notoriety. Asthmatic Kitty Records has his 5 disc set of discs (2001-2005) streaming on their site for free listens! Check it out at xmas.asthmatickitty.com

Sufjan also handed out a Christmas album for 2008, which found its way onto the internet.

Sounds Familyre have also hand-crafted Christmas compilations for the last two years. Their old one is available in its entirety here, and their new one is adding songs right up to the 25th here.

Speaking of the Sounds Familyre/Asthmatic Kitty crew, superstar producer, composer, and family man Chris Schlarb has put out his family’s auditory Christmas card, featuring some short, fun tracks. Download it here.

In a less-free manner, singer (and also friend of Sufjan–what’s up with that?) Rosie Thomas has released A Very Rosie Christmas. It’s on emusic and AmazonMP3, and the same original song is available free at both places. I’ve provided, below, another song from that album–an unbelievably great reinterpretation of The Chipmunks’ classic hit, re-titled “Christmas Don’t Be Late”. It bears only a passing resemblance to the original, and it is fantastic in its own right.

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Right-click/Save As to Download

Finally, some of you might know that I used to co-host a Christian radio show in San Luis Obispo with Fred Ghansah. We used to record the shows and, once a year, we’d do an annual Christmas show. It’s made up of songs from Tooth and Nail Records’ Happy Christmas compilations, Plastiq Musiq’s (out of print?) Plastiq Christmas comp, and various other Christmas covers.

A note: while 756-5277 may still be the KCPR request line, this show is at least 3 years old. Those Palm Theatre tickets are long gone.

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Right-click/Save As to Download the In The Light Christmas show from 12/4/2005

Christmas (Tree) Time

 

Yesterday, Rossy, Isabella, and I went shopping for a Christmas tree. We went to Peltzer Pines in Silverado Canyon, where they actually grow the trees. We walked through a veritable forest of Christmas trees to find “the one”. Which they then cut down and brought home. It was quite a bit of fun.

I love Christmas. I love the weather, the feelings, the giving, the helping, the food, the family, the everything.

I just don’t love celebrating Christmas (at all) before Thanksgiving. It just feels wrong to me. So I specifically avoid the “Holiday Decorations” sections in stores and refuse to play any Christmas music before black Friday (seeing as it is the day after Thanksgiving).

One other thing I love about Christmas is the music. Hearing mostly the same songs, endlessly interpreted into different styles is always entertaining. It’s great to hear a new version of an old standard that tugs your heartstrings just the right way, or to hear an old version that pulls up long-forgotten memories.

I’d like to post most about my favorite Christmas albums later (let’s see if that ever happens), but TODAY’s Amazon mp3 deal of the day is Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You, which, from everything that I have heard, is a stone-cold classic of Christmas music. I plan on picking it up after getting home from work. Check it out: