Christmas music gets a bad wrap (pun intended). Some people seem to think that you can take any old song and throw a seasonal reference in and – voila! – holiday classic. Hardly. Every year an ocean of new Christmas songs hit the holiday beach but few have any staying power. There is something inexplicably magical about the combination of tune, sentiment, and bells that maketh music genuinely seasonal. Kinda like if tinsel and marzipan had a soundtrack. Fortunately, there are a few tunesmiths who still understand how to work the formula, with some of the finest featured here on our now annual holiday music post!
Nine. I don’t why or how I settled on that number but my three previous holiday music posts have all featured nine artists. Weird. Well, I’m not one to needlessly buck tradition so here’s nine more … starting with the amazing Lannie Flowers. Flowers is a longtime veteran of the power pop/indie music scene, charming audiences with his consistently Beatlesque melodic hooks. He returns this year with a remixed version of his 2013 holiday release, “Christmas Without You,” a song that nicely combines jangle with just a hint of country. Next up is a very modern take on seasonal themes, namely, that surely Joseph would have had some doubts about just what was going on with Mary and their miracle baby. Only the New Pornographers could pull off such content and they do on “Joseph, Who Understood,” a new holiday, sing-along classic. Proving their recent comeback Good Times! album was no fluke, the Monkees return this year with a whole album of festive music, with a similar crew of indie pop royalty providing the tunes and musical direction. There’s plenty of good stuff here but “The House of Broken Gingerbread” stands out for me as a superior poprock tune, written by celebrated author Michael Chabon and FOW’s Adam Schlesinger. I’m kinda cheating a bit with this next contribution from Gregory Pepper who just released his holiday-themed four song EP Tsundere. I’m treating his effort like a double-A sided effort, but one with four songs. Pepper’s work sounds deceptively simple but melodically and lyrically he’s a master of so many genre styles and a brilliantly funny and smart lyricist. Spend some time with these tunes. Anybody who can song-check both Macca (“Secret Satan”) and the mopey one (“Home Alone”) knows what he’s doing! Lannie Flowers – Christmas Without YouThe New Pornographers – Joseph, Who UnderstoodThe Monkees – The House of Broken Gingerbread
Digging a bit deeper into our Christmas music bag, Pugwash prove they are the deserving inheritors of XTC’s brand of hooky, intelligent indie poprock with “Tinsel and Marzipan,” capped with a darling Irish-accented child at the end! Crossing the water to Liverpool Rob Clarke and the Wooltones Mersey up the Christmas music scene with a whole album of festiveness on Bring Me the Wooltones This Year! It’s a very Beatles-ish collection of serious and not so serious contributions, with new songs and old faves. The double-A single for me would be “Another Wooltones Xmas Record/Santa Claus.” It can’t be a Christmas tune-age roundup without a tender ballad of seasonal longing so now we head a bit north to Glasgow to hear from The Pooches and their simple song of needing to be with someone as the yuletide comes, “Christmas, With You.” Both stark and moving. Super poprock stars Fun. haven’t put out much in terms of albums but they did put out a holiday single shortly after their first album. “Believe in Me” bears all the hallmarks of that band’s winning formula: intriguing change ups in the song structure, toy piano solos, and plenty of hooks of course.Pugwash – Tinsel and MarzipanThe Pooches – Christmas (With You)Fun. – Believe in Me
Wrapping up this year’s holiday blog post (literally this time), something more traditional. Well, sort of. Quiet Company love the holidays and we’ve featured their stellar coverage of the traditional canon before. Now they’re back with a timely release that captures the distemper of the times with Baby It’s Cold War Outside. With song titles like “Merry Christmas, The President is Terrible” and “Alone on Christmas (You’re Going to Die)” the sense of seasonal dread really comes through. But the traditional themes of hope are there too with “Little Drummer Boy” and particularly on their original reworking of “Carol of the Bells/Setting the Trap.”
Dear readers, this past year you have given me the gift of your precious and scarce attention. I hope I’ve given you some poprock joy to carry you through whatever challenges came your way. Hey, I know, let’s do it again next year! Right now, why not give Lannie Flowers, the New Pornographers, the Monkees, Gregory Pepper, Pugwash, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones, The Pooches, Fun., and Quiet Company the gift of newfound popularity and check out these holiday offerings and their regular catalogue.
Merry ho ho to all!