There are several labels that release at least one Christmas 45 every year: Kingfisher Bluez, Nordpolen Musikklubb, Jump Up! Records and Gotta Groove Records.have a released a total of five Christmas singles this year.
Peach Pit: Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 1/2
(Kingfisher Bluez / Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Village, KFB084, Canada, 45 rpm, single-sided, 500 copies)
Kingfisher Bluez released its first Christmas 7” in 2012. It was a split 7” between Old Phoebe and Tim The Mute, who also happens to be the man behind the Vancouver, Canada based indie label. Kingfisher Bluez is a very active, releasing many LP's and 7”'s each year – all under the motto 'Kingfisher Bluez: where my money goes to die'. After the Tim The Mute/Phoebe split single, Kingfisher Bluez released Christmas singles by Rose Melberg & Gregory Webster (2013), Kim Gray (2014, unfortunately victim of a pressing error), Ballboy (2015) and Laurice (2016). All singles come in a very seasonal looking and colourful picture sleeve, that has a wintery building on the front cover, drawn by Annabelle Burridge. By collecting all these singles, you can build your own Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Village! And what makes this project even cooler is that 100% of the profits are donated to 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC.
This year, Kingfisher Bluez even managed to release two Christmas singles. The first, 'Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 1/2', is one-sided and has a bakery ('The Last Crumb') on the front cover. It features a song by the Vancouver band Peach Pit, a quartet that released an album earlier this year on Kingfisher Bluez, an album full of jangling guitar rock. For their Christmas single they cover Sufjan Steven's 'Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day'. The single has the demo version of the song, which means its sounds a bit lofi – not the first single on the series with a lofi sound, actually. A full studio version of the song has also been released recently, but only digital. So we as vinyl collectors will find the demo version on our turntable. In a way it's a pity that pressing vinyl takes so long these days, otherwise Kingfisher Bluez could have put the studio version on the other side of the 7”, so that everyone can choose for him- or herself if he/she wants to listen to the demo or the studio version. Peach Pit explains that they wanted to do a Christmas song, but as they hate Christmas songs and are fans of Sufjan Stevens, they choose to cover 'Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day?' (the original adds 'Well, You Deserved It'), as it actually is just a sad song with the song Christmas in it. I ask myself: why do you want to cover a Christmas song when you hate Christmas songs? That doesn't make sense, does it? Anyway, I think the result turned out nice. This band seems to have a large folllowing, because, although the full studio song is only up for five days on Youtube, it has already had over 40.000 views. That mabye why Kingfisher Bluez pressed a total of 500 copies of the single, more than the 300 they usually press.
Listen to the demo version on Bandcamp, where you can also order the record:
Living Body: Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 2/2
(Kingfisher Bluez / Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Village, KFB085, Canada, 45 rpm, 300 copies)
'Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2017 2/2' has two songs, both by a band called Living Body, one Christmas song on side A and a remixed version of a song of the band's debut album on the B-side. The Christmas song again is a cover, of one of the most covered modern Christmas songs: Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You'. Living Body is a new band, but with a lot of familiar faces for people into indie rock. The self-proclaimed post-brexitcore band formed in 2016 in Leeds, England, and features core members Jeff T. Smith (originally from Chicago, and formerly of one-man project Juffage), Katie Harkin (who sang in the great Leeds indie band Sky Larkin, and also was active in Harkin, Wild Beasts and Sleater-Kinney) and Tom Evans (Vessels), helped out on recordings and live dates by several other musicians from Leeds. The band put out their debut album 'Body Is Working' late 2016.
Living Body take their time with 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' and stress the song, that is 4 minutes in its original version, to almost 5 minutes. That does not mean that it is much slower than the original version: although it starts slow, with Jeff T. Smith singing the first verse, after Alice Rowan (of Mayshe-Mayshe) takes over the vocals, things get a bit hectic, because of the breakbeats that continue throughout the song. That definitely gives a new and original twist to the song. All music on the song was played and recorded by Jeff T. Smith, with besides Alice Rowan who does most of the lead vocals, Katie Harkin also present to do some backing vocals. As said, the song on the B-side is not a Christmas song. It's the Vessels (so Tom Evans) remix of 'Last Few True', a song that originally appeared on Living Body's debut album and features Katie Harkin on lead vocals. The single has been put out in collaboration with Barely Regal Records, the UK label of Living Body. The Living Body single has a smaller pressing run than the Peach Pit single, and is limited to 300 copies.
Listen to the single on Bandcamp, where you can also order the record:
Sven Erik Libæk: Snowflakes EP
(Nordpolen Musikklubb, Julepakke04, Norway, 33 rpm, 300 copies)
The Norwegian label Nordpolen Musikklubb has been releasing one Christmas single a year since 2014. All singles are limited to 300 copies, handnumbered and come in a stylish cover. All four singles that have been released by the label have historic recordiings, that so far haven't been released on 7” vinyl. The 2014 7” contained recordings from the early 1960s by Norwegian singer Sonja, 2015's 7” has more a recent recording, from 2012 by Hvitmalt Gjerde, a band that is still active, in 2016, they put out the song 'Julesang' by Radka Toneff, a song from the early 1970s. This last 7” in the series seems to be particular popular, as it is already selling for 30 euro on Discogs.
With their 2017 release, the Nordpolen Musikklubb really spoil us, as it is a full EP, with four songs by Australian composer, record producer and musician Sven Erik Libæk. With a name like that, you expect a Norwegian and not an Australian. Sven Erik Libæk, internationally known as Sven Libaek, was indeed born in Norway, but after having been trained as both a pianist and an actor at the Juilliard School in New York and find his first success as both an actor and a pianist in the movie Windjammer, he moved to Australia and worked as the staff producer for the Australian division of CBS Records. In 1968 he started his own music company and mainly worked for film and TV productions. In 1977 he moved to Los Angeles, and worked as an orchestrater for the likes of Lionel Richie and Neil Diamond, while he also composed for the Hanna-Barbera Company (for television specials about Yogi Bear and Scooby-Doo among others). In 1994, Libæk moved back to Australia, and continued his career there, also composing classic concert works and being the resident conductor of Sydney's Sutherland Shire Symphony Orchestra. So this guy is really a big name in the entertainment industry.
Now on to the four tracks on the EP, that all have been composed by Libæk. The first three cuts, title track 'Snowflakes' (a title I particularly like, that goes without saying), 'The Deep Warmth Of You' and 'White Midnight' are performed by the Australian band The Saints. The songs have been recorded around 1963, so it's not the 1970s punk band The Saints were are talking about here, but about a band that was the houseband of the Cogee Bay Hotel in Sidney. Libæk discovered them playing at the hotel, and produced their, probably, only album, 'Sking With The Saints'. He also wrote some songs for the album, including the three that are now re-released on the 'Snowflakes' EP. Two songs, 'Snowflakes' and 'White Midnight' are instrumentals, 'The Deep Warmth Of You' features vocals of the band's vocalist and guitarist Noel Quinlan. Quinlan himself would later also try his hand on composing, and was responsible for the soundtrack of the 1977 movie 'Sky High - The Man From Hong Kong'. 'Snowflakes' and 'White Midnight' both have a wintery feel, and not only because of the titles. 'The Deep Warmth Of You' is a song about how love keeps you warm during the wintertime, when snowflakes are falling down.
Last song 'Writing Closing Titles' is a much newer composition and recording, and features Libæk himself behind the piano. It was composed and recorded by Libæk for the Norwegian movie "Skrivesperre", based on a 2011 novel. The movie was directed by Geir Henning Hopland, who happens to be one of the men behind the Nordpolen Musikklubb. The complete EP reminds me of Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack for 'A Charlie Brown Christmas', it has the same relaxed and jazzy feel. If you like that soundtrack (and who doesn't) you will definitely like this EP too! You can order a copy by contacting the label through their Facebook page. Don't wait too long, because judging from the number of people on Discogs who want a copy, it will probably sell out as quickly as the Radka Toneff single did last year. Unfortunately, the music is not (yet) to found on the internet or on Spotify.
Brooklyn Attractors: Xmas Inna Babylon Vol. II
(Jump Up! Records, JUMP7XMAS6, USA, 45 rpm, 200 copies, red or green vinyl)
Jump Up! Music is a very active ska and reggae label based in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. The label is run by DJ Chuck Wren, who already started it back in 1993. In 2010, the label started its XMAS-series with a somewhat atypical release, 'Waiting For The Christmas Light' by the Spanish female trio The Pepper Pots, who don't play ska, nor reggae, but are clearly influenced by early 1960s girl groups - the Phil Spector sound, so to say, so a perfect choice for a Christmas single. After three years without a Christmas single, Jump Up released the second single in the XMAS-series, by the Brooklyn Attractors, titled 'Christmas Inna Babylon Vol. 1'. From that moment on, releasing a Christmas single became a yearly tradition, and after singles by Roger Rivas & The Brothers Of Reggae (2015), a split single between Leo And The Lineup and Napoleon Solo (2016) and a single by Dr. Ring-Ding (also 2016), we have now arrived at Volume 2 of Christmas Inna Babylon, again featuring two songs by Brooklyn Attractors.
The first volume featured two very well-known Christmas songs in jazzy rocksteady versions: 'Jingle Bells' and 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' (retitled to 'God Rest Dem Irie Gentlemen'). Volume 2 has slightly lesser known songs, although both songs are actually among the very oldest non-religious Christmas songs. The A-side is titled 'Ras Nick' and is an adaption of 'Jolly Old Saint Nicholas', the B-side has a cover of 'Upon The Housetop'. This last song is in fact, most probably the oldest secular Christmas song. The song was written in 1864 by Benjamin Hanby, seven years after 'Jingle Bells', that is generally seen as the oldest secular Christmas song. And although Jingle Bells is considered a Christmas song these days, in fact, it just a seasonal song about winter, and doesn't mention Christmas. While 'Up On The Housetop' does. As for 'Jolly Old Saint Nicholas', it first appeared in print in 1881. The authorship of the song has been a reason for arguments over the years. Some claim it was also writtten by Benjamin Hanby, as the story line about Saint Nicholas is similar to the storyline of 'Up On The Housetop', but it seems highly unlikely that Benjamin Hanby was the composer, as he already died in 1867. More likely is that both songs were inspired by the 1822 poem 'Twas The Night Before Christmas', and were written by different composers.Enough history lessons.
The Brooklyn Attractors is an all-star band, including Eddie Ocampo on drums, Bid Dan Jeselsohn on bass, Andy Bassford (who even played with Bob Marley back in the days) on lead guitar, Matt Kursmark on rhythm guitar, Mike Sarason on piano and Rhodes, Larry McDonald on percussion, Anant Pradhan on alto/tenor saxophones and Bansuri flute, Luke Penella on flute and tenor saxophone, Philip Cooper-trombone and Rich Graiko-trumpet. It is actually more an orchestra than a band, seeing how many musicians are involved. 'Ras Nick' is a very slowed down, jazzy and relaxed version of 'Jolly Old Saint Nick', that gives Bassford the opportunity to show his skills on guitar, and also features flute and saxophone solo's, while the rocksteady beat continues and continues. 'Up On The House Top' is slightly more uptempo, and this time almost everybody in the band gets a solo spot. Although this record mabye doesn't sound as seasonal as their previous Christmas 7”, due to the melodies of the songs being not as well-known as 'Jingle Bells' and 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', so not as easily associated with the season (at least, not by me, but it can be different for people from the States, as I guess both songs are more well-known there as here in Europe), I personally think it's a great 7” – and this is a Christmas 7”''s that you can also play after the Christmas season, without people thinking that you are a weirdo. The cover artwork is painted by Danny Rebel and the single comes in an edition of 200 copies, 100 on green vinyl and 100 on red vinyl. Both songs are on Soundcloud, so judge for yourself what you think of the 7” before deciding to order it through the website of Jump Up Records.
Listen to 'Ras Nick'
Listen to 'Up On The Housetop'
Couples Skate Only / Fascist Insect: Gotta Groove Xmas 7" 2017
(Gotta Groove Records, USA, ?? rpm, 500 copies, random vinyl)
The last of the usual aspects is Gotta Groove Records. Gotta Groove Records is both a label and a pressing plant, based in Cleveland, Ohio. From 2011 on, Gotta Groove Records released a 7” that is send out to all their customers as a Christmas present. It always features music done by employees of Gotta Groove of by bands that employees of Gotta Groove are involved in. The number of songs on a 7” differs from year to year: sometimes it are just two songs, sometimes it are up to eight songs. The style of music also differs – it ranges from indie pop to noise experiments. Some songs are clearly seasonal, some songs are only seasonal because of the title or not even have a seasonal title.
The 2017 single, that has just two songs, is a good representation of the compilations. Both artists featured on the single have appeared on Gotta Groove Christmas-compilations before. Couples Skate Only was featured on Gotta Groove's 2015 compilation, the six song 'A Christmas Gift To You', with the electropop song 'First Christmas', definitely my favorite of that year's edition. This year's song is not about Christmas, but about tomorrow - the Solstice. To be more exactly, about getting ready for a Solstice party. Musically it's electronics and sleigh bells, so although the song is not about Christmas, it does sound like a Christmas song. The vocals are sung in a rather monotonous way, but it works well with the music. 'Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)' is a family affair, as not only does it feature Tim and Cari Thornthon (the couple behind Couples Skate Only), but also Laura and Eileen Thorthon, the kids of the Thornthons, who together are the duo Zebra Zebra. Laura was the baby that Cari sang about in 'First Christmas'. Zebra Zebra is probably the youngest band ever, as both members are under 4 years old. Zebra Zebra started early 2016 as the solo project of Laura, when she was just two. Laura is now joined by her younger sister, and Zebra Zebra became the duo it should have been from the start – as for a solo project, Zebra would have been a more fitting name.
Contrary to 'Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)', what we find on the B-side, 'Session 3' by Fascist Insect does not sound like a Christmas song at all. In fact, it does not sound like a song at all. Fascist Insect started out as a grindcore/hardcore band and was featured on the 2014 and 2016 editions of the Gotta Groove compilations. I would lie when I'd say their tracks were my favorites of these editions. Fascist Insect left their grindcore days behind them, is now completely electronic and still unlistenable (okay, I have to admit, listening to some of their old stuff, I can listen to it, but well, I also actually do have the first Napalm Death album in my collection and that album more or less started this whole subgenre of hardcore punk). In fact, it's just noise. Something for people with a open mind, I would say. As always, the record comes on random colored vinyl. My copy is still on its way, curious to see how my copy will look. I like the one on the Bandcamp page where you can get the record (pictured above)! Only three copies available, so hurry if you want a copy.
Listen to the two songs here: