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treeI grew up in a totally secular home where Christmas was largely understood as a kind of socialist event. A little something for everyone, and something thoughtful (rather than expensive) was the gift-giving philosophy. Holiday tunes rather than Christmas hymns were de rigueur. My mother had a stack of 45s that would come out every year– Bobby Helms, Brenda Lee, Rolf Harris – you get the picture. So, for me, it can’t be Christmas without some merry melodies!

FH XmasThis year’s mix runs the gamut from power pop to new wave to mash ups to folky acoustic. Coventry’s own The Primitives kick things off with their trademark mix of hooky power pop on “You Trashed My Christmas” from the Elefant Records special holiday album. Love the use of the bells! Then to Sunderland, UK where The Futureheads keep the energy up on their “Christmas was Better in the 80s.” There is something about the vocal delivery of this band I love. This song sometimes exudes the sonic feel of their first album but also develops in different directions with kooky abandon, pushing the boundaries of traditional holiday fare. Then we tamp things down a bit with the pleasant melodies of Cleveland’s own Bears on their “I’m a Snowman.” While technically just a winter themed number, who can resist the fun organ sounds and sweet harmonies? Not I. Rounding out this first batch of tunes is the eclectic West Coast poprocker Spirit Kid with his new wavishy “Santa Claus is His Name.” This song is an interesting mix of old and new influences – in many ways, a very late 1970s take on 1950s motifs worthy of David Edmunds.

FF HSOk, let’s shift gears here in round two. Ohio-based Over the Rhine seem to be channeling Jennifer Warnes in full Leonard Cohen mode on their winter themed “Snow Angels.” Lovely piano and an understated vocal give this a haunting and lasting quality. In the ‘something completely different’ file, check out Mojochronic’s unusual and very effective mash-up of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” with the Police’s “Roxanne,” interspersed with dialogue from the original stop-motion animated movie. Mike Viola’s Candy Butchers bring us back to familiar territory with their poprock ode to seasonal forgiveness on “Give Me a Second Chance for Christmas.” Just listen to these holiday-coated hooks! Viola is a master of the poprock form. The Franco-American duo Freedom Fry return to the holiday music scene with their great Holiday Soundtrack EP. Their reinvention of the traditional classic “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” as a hooky keyboard-based instrumental is pure ear worm brilliance, while their time shifting “Next Christmas” vibes a very Simon and Garfunkel melodic warmth, particularly in the chorus. Wrapping up this season’s musical presents is a brand new acoustic Christmas contribution from Pop Etc. “All I Want for Xmas (Just My Baby)” is a swinging pop gem, sure to become a regular addition to your seasonal playlist.

Snow AngelGive Me a Second Chance for Christmas

To have readers who make the bands I write about just a little more popular by checking them out, buying their songs, telling their friends, etc. is really the best present I could ask for this holiday season. So don’t disappoint me – I’ve been good. Visit The Primitives, The Futureheads, Bears, Spirit Kid, Over the Rhine, Mojochronic, the Candy Butchers, Freedom Fry and Pop Etc. today!