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EDM DJ and music mogul Diplo keeps his string of Christmas albums intact with this 2017 entry into the canon. "Know No Better" by Major Lazer (and a cast of thousands, judging by the credits) kick things off in fine style with this uptempo jam, Party Favor performs "WAWA," which has nothing to do with the Philadelphia-area convenience stores but is a riff on "Jingle Bells," Foodman contributes "Island Christmas," a fairly languid instrumental with a modern take on reggae, and "Tropical Holiday" by LIZ & Hoodboi is a slow jam vocal about partying equatorial style. Aquadrop gives us the EDM version of "Feliz Navidad" we're all waiting for, "Smash the House" by Rrotik does the same for "Deck the Halls," Tre Oh Fie deconstructs "O Holy Night" in the fast-tempo "O Litty Night," and DJ Douggpound turns "We Three Kings" into "We Three Bings," but they do it by singing the "bing" syllable, not by sampling vintage Crosby. KiWi crosses EDM with K-pop on "What's In the Present Box," and SpydaT.E.K. offers "TEKK the Halls Up," another slightly more straightforward version of "Deck the Halls." This is for younger people than your favorite reindeer, but there are at least a couple of tunes here I'd consider for a playlist.

Kaskade Christmas, Kaskade (Arkade/Sony)

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kaskadeXmas.jpgThere are lots of strands of DJ culture outside the mash-up experts we've championed here over the past several years (and as of last year appear to have taken their places in the history books), and here we have one of house music's biggest stars diving into Christmas music with this 2017 album of mostly covers transformed by the house treatments. Actuallly, this is probably more chill, as there aren't many fast tempos here. There are a few originals, like the mid-tempo "Cold December," the slow-jam ballad "It's Beginning to Snow," and the chill-sounding "This Christmas Night," with guest vocal by Dia Frampton. "Christmas is Here" is a repurposed "Carol of the Bells," "Deck the Halls" with singer Erika gets a heavy syncopated synth-bass backing, Skylar Grey sings "O Come Emmanuel," Ilsey guests on "Silent Night," which has one of those wildly mixed-up tempos, and Gabrielle Current sings "The First Noel," which picks up the tempo considerably from the previously mentioned songs. Kayrae is the singer on "In the Bleak Midwinter," there's a jaunty "Winter Wonderland," and Jane XØ sings "Santa Baby," which gets a kind of robo-reggae rhythm. My pick to click off this is "God Rest Ye," which is the gentlemanly carol set to the backing of "Sara Smile" with Debra Fotheringham on vocals, but then I'm a sucker for this kind of juxtaposition arrangement. Check it out, it's the time of year we all have to chill, right?

reminganother.jpgWe had this Norwegian band on the site many years ago with a holiday EP, and they're back for 2017 with a single. The song with the self-effacing title has that low budget indie-pop vibe, with a sound very reminiscent of the 1960s (which has been a trend recently in that world among bands such as Foxygen). All told, a very warm little number. Due to hit the download stores sometime next week; meanwhile, have a listen.

"Red and Green," Dead Gwynne (self-issued)

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redanddead.jpgWe post these guys every year because they selflessly write and record a new original Christmas song that they make available free for downloading. Their 22nd release is a downtempo folky strum colored with prominent organ backing a talk-sing vocal, featuring a melancholy look at the holiday. When you click on the cover art, you can download any or all of the group's oeuvre.

Our annual gift from New Jersey via V.D. King of the band Better Off Dead has just arrived, and damn, haven't we been talking about Beatle parodies a lot this year? Check this out. No independent audio, but you can enjoy it this way.

Wrapper Paper, various artists (Hated By Most)

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"Various artists" is a bit misleading, in that most of these tunes are by Sly Till I Die, occasionally with guests. This record label is based in south-central Michigan, promoting a roster of up-and-coming hip-hop artists, and this longish seven-song EP is their holiday joint for 2017. Sly is assisted by Sixx Digit on "Generous This Christmas," which is a party record about giving gifts, "Cookie Doe," featuring Sly and Woe, is a rap about collecting money for weed and gifts over a minor-key version of "Jingle Bells," and Postman assists Sly on a suitably portentious track celebrating "Krampus." Sly and Eod Homegrown posture menacingly on "Merry Scary Christmas," Kodeen offers an ode to "Spiked Nog," Sly takes all the credit for the midtempo "Christmas Without You," and Postman wraps up with "New Year New You." All the songs get the Explicit tag, just so you know before playlisting them.

Last year we had Three Seasonal Songs by Mr. Mom and Chris, and for 2017, Mr. Mom prefers to be known by the monicker above with this ukelele and bass rendition of the classic carol over a light tom-tom rhythm. On the flip, we get "Twas the Xmas of 2017," a short bit of studio goof-about. It's unique, I'll say that for it. Go over to Bandcamp and check it out for yourself.
Hey, we just had them on here a few weeks ago with a Beatle-like object. Well, they did another one in 2017. This originally was just a handful of snippets sprinkled through one of the Fabs' "Goon Show"-like Christmas records (which have been issued in a box set of vinyl 45s for Christmas giving, btw) but a version of it reached the public as an extra cut on one of the Anthology-era CD singles. Nevertheless, Beatle fans go big for this tune at Christmastime; hell, even Ringo did a version once. Because it's short and repetitive, the Weeklings spiced it up by mashing it with "Flying" from Magical Mystery Tour, and at the end they tacked on a coda ripped from the chorus of "Baby You're a Rich Man." Now you have to decide if it's this one, the other one, or both for your Christmas mix.

"Last Christmas," The Dollyrots (self-issued)

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dollylast.pngPop-punk rears its head once more as this fab duo gives its heavily Ramones-influenced treatment to the Wham! classic. It's free at Bandcamp.

Dear December, The Minus 5 (Yep Roc)

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minus5.jpgScott McCaughey, formerly of Young Fresh Fellows and sometime R.E.M. stage and session guy, is probably best known nowadays for The Minus 5, which includes him, Peter Buck, and other folks, plus the Baseball Project, adding Mike Mills and Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn. Apparently Scott was commissioned to write a Christmas song for somebody and he went batshit and composed an elpee's worth of tuneage, as the saying goes. And then the guy had a massive stroke recently, and being a less-than-famous working musician, people are having to ramp up the GoFundMe campaigns to help him out. Needless to say, grabbing a copy of this 2017 holiday album will be a big help as well. The best part is that you don't have to rely on your charitable impulse to take part this way, as this is a fine, fine, supafine rock 'n roll Christmas album. Folks who have previously partaken of Minus 5 and Baseball Project recordings won't be surprised by the sound, but for those who haven't, rootsy rocking rules the day. Guest stars turn up to assist as well, with M. Ward and Chuck Prophet on "See You In December," the Decemberists' Colin Maloy joining for "The Fourth Noel," Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard featuring on "I See Angels," Kelly Hogan and Norah O'Connor backing up the vocalist on "Johnny Tannenbaum," Mike Mills providing a Hanukkah Alert on "Festival of Lights (Hanukkah Song)," and Kelly Hogan duetting on "Yule Tide Me Over." The group's "Your Christmas Whisky" from a decade ago turns up here again, "When Christmas Hurts You This Way" is a jangle-pop take on a sad holiday, "Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp Gulp" whips up a Phil Spector beat to back up a look at a holiday of excessive imbibing, and things wrap up with a hard-rocking "I Still Believe In New Year's Eve." Grab this now and give it as gifts too.

We've been impressed with the musical fecundity of this particular corner of the Pacific Northwest indie rock scene, particularly in regard to Christmas music. This 2017 entry is Green Monkey's eighth holiday compilation, as always a combination of individual artists and bands plus whoever label maestro Tom Dyer can con into bashing out some jingle-jangle with their rock 'n roll. I'll lead with Tom Dyer and the True Olympians, whose two original tunes, "Christmas in Olympia" and "Christmas Is Love," are the class of this group; they've even been issued separately as a single. The former is a rocking holiday tour through the Washington city of the title, and the latter is a set of holiday verities set to a solid garage rock beat. Dyer comes back solo with an accordion-led version of "What Child Is This," the Elf-Tones offer "Wish You Well This Christmas," on which the vocals remind one of early Frank Zappa but the song itself is a nice mid-60s midtempo rocker, and the Krampus Quartet knock out the novelty "Fruitcake." Instrumentals get their due as the REDS go all antique on the public domain "Breakin' Up Christmas," a slightly rocked-up hoedown from the Virginia-North Carolina mountains, while Pleasure Island grunges up a heavily Duane Eddy-influenced "Hark the Herald Angels." The Randy Hicks Band brings the rockabilly with "Car Parts," which is all the singer wants for Christmas, and she throws a few puns at you for kicks. The Green Pajamas go for the backhanded holiday anthem in "Let's Get Together at Christmas (It's Better Than Drinking Alone)," Jim of Seattle gives us "A Christmas Song" that is a parody of the "Star Trek (TOS)" theme, along with a brief goof called "Have a Merry Christmas," and Ed Portnow's "Christmas Time is Here" is what you'd get if you crossed Wild Man Fischer with the "Peanuts" song of the same name. More rockabilly emanates from Duane Hibbard in "A Child's Christmas Wish," Burnseer gives us some of their home region's grunge with "Search Party," which is about homelessness, and The Fresh Prince of Brain Wizard (honest) offers a dour piano ballad about lost children, "Santa Won't Be Here." Elves Bells (great name) give us the primitive sounding "Orphan's Christmas," Saint John and the Revelations rock out with cello on "Christmas Fire," in which the singer burns the tree because "Santa's a liar," Space Band contribute their rocker "@santaclaus," Kelly Kristjanson go almost power pop with "Follow the Angels," and Earle Thunders/Mike Shuppe completely deconstruct the Disney chestnut "Toyland." This is a fine collection of indie-rock with attitude. Get it from Bandcamp or Amazon.

This up-and-coming duo features Mark Ballas of "Dancing With the Stars" and singer-songwriter BC Jean, and they added Casey Abrams of "American Idol" fame for this 2017 rendition of the minor-key classic carol, featuring lots of percussion and a solid midtempo beat behind the guitars and voices. Nice work, get it from Amazon.

This English group includes Geoff Barrow from Portishead, and for 2017 they've decided to raise funds for mental health charities with this shambling, edgy track, a strong rocker that seems to be encouraging and discouraging lyrically at the same time. I rather like it, and given the charitable motivation I encourage purchasing this from Bandcamp.

This Copenhagen, Denmark act has several self-released albums and singles on Bandcamp, and this one is a 2017 ode to a parent and his kids -- specifically, a parent who wants to see his kids on the holiday so bad that he kidnapped them.  This might upset some, but the actual record is pretty good, a young Shane McGowan vocal over a white-guy soul backing, and if you didn't know what the song was about, it would pull you in for a closer listen. Kidnapping is always illegal, and there are no valid justifications, but you can still empathize with a character driven to such lengths even as you call the authorities. The flip side (vinyl or download) is "Silent Night (Karaoke edition)," which explains itself. 

A Tav Falco Christmas, Tav Falco (ORG Music)

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tavfalco.jpgThis rootsy guy is best known for starting the band Tav Falco's Panther Burns back in the mid-late 70s, which caught the attention of Big Star cult hero Alex Chilton and led to recording sessions together. Originally a more psychedelic sounding group, over time Falco's love of original era rock 'n roll and rockabilly came to play a larger role in his sound. That's the sound that predominates on this 2017 album, eight performances of mostly familiar rock and country holiday tunes. "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" and "Blue Christmas" feature the Elvis Presley arrangements, and "Jingle Bell Rock," "Holly Jolly Christmas," "White Christmas," and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are rendered fairly closely to the most familiar pop-rock versions of these songs. Like Bob Dylan, Tav chose to do the Sammy Cahn "Christmas Blues," and things wrap up with a shambling version of James Brown's "Soulful Christmas." This is a listenable collection of tunes, although I can't help feeling like folks would be better served searching out the original sources. But if this disc points people in that direction, it'll be a public service.

The long-running Midwestern Americana label pulls together its roster artists for a 2017 collection of holiday tunes spanning the various threads of that musical label. Murder By Death kicks things off with a folky strum through "O Holy Night," Jon Langford puts an English accent on the genre with the gently witty "Christmas Carol, Christmas Ray," and Barrence Whitfield and the Savages do a grungy soul number called "Papa Barrence's Christmas," in which the singer gets to play Santa Claus. Ruby Boots dresses her country twang up with some Phil Spector readymades for "I Slept Through Christmas," the Dex Romweber Duo get ready for a holiday-based sequel to "Pulp Fiction" with their spaghetti western-surf instrumental "Dark Christmas," and Ha Ha Tonka do a unique, almost power-pop number called "The List," which is not for gifts. Kelly Hogan's "Blue Snowfall" is a jazz-pop ballad designed to put a little melancholy in the holiday, Ron Gallo does something similar with "White Christmas," All Our Exes Live In Texas cover Paul Kelly's "How To Make Gravy," and The Yawpers straddle country, folk and rock with "Christmas In Oblivion." Devil in a Woodpile goes all jug band as they skewer the Fox News "Merry Christmas" obsession with "The Pagans Had It Right," and Zach Schmidt provides the answer record to "Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas" with his country lament "I'm Drunk Again This Christmas," in which we hear Daddy's version and get a quick reference to climate change to boot. A fine showcase of mostly original holiday songs performed well.

A few years back this British indie duo cut an entire holiday album, and now they've come back with a new Christmas single for 2017. This is a melodic midtempo lament of lost love on the holiday, with a very faint evocation of the kind of sound George Harrison had on All Things Must Pass, at least that's what came to me on first listen. It's a strong entry for your holiday playlists. 

"Holiday Ease," Amy Stroup (Milkglass)

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We've had Amy on the site before with solo songs as well as her work with Sugar and the Hi-Los, and for 2017 she popped out this nice bit of late 60s pop-rock about decorating, playing music and simply making the holiday easy. Nice work if you can get it, Amy; some people make a six-month career out of Christmas preparations. This could be a real earworm. Only on iTunes and Spotify for the moment.

When Winter Comes, Sofia Talvik (Makaki)

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talvikwinter.jpgFor the past decade, this Swedish songstress has dropped a holiday single every year like clockwork. So that would suggest this 2017 album was inevitable, but maybe not; her press person said this was scheduled for last year but a household emergency ate up the money she set aside to do the album. Most of her past holiday songs have been on the darker side of the holiday, but over the past few years, as she's toured the US and gotten in touch with her Americana side, they've gotten a little lighter. Still, these are mostly guitar and violin/cello arrangements of these very serious tunes; not a lot of rocking going on here, but attention must be paid to the excellent songwriting on offer here. This year's single, "This Great Old Christmas Night," is based on an old Irish song that touches on everyone's ultimate fate but still manages to celebrate the holiday. Other new songs include "A Second or a Year" "Clothe Yourself For the Winter," and the title song, pensive ballads all, and the collection's only cover, an almost dour version of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." The rest of the songs are re-recorded versions of most, but not all, of her past singles; they're all up on Bandcamp if you want to mix and match.

Some Latin music for 2017, courtesy of this fine roots/retro group. The original song takes a lighthearted look at Santa vis-à-vis the immigration controversy, observing that Santa has no green card or work permit, yet everybody loves him. Good fun, and guaranteed to give an aneurism to your Fox News Uncle™. Grab it from Amazon or iTunes, or just check it out here.

"Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," DMX (Spotify)

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This just dropped on Spotify, and apparently they have a playlist with some exclusive songs, like Sam Smith on "River" and Demi Lovato doing "I'll Be Home For Christmas." Not the most tuneful vocal, but if you need something hip-hop for under the tree, this is 1:37 of throwing down. Apparently there's a YouTube video of him doing it a cappella from a few years ago, but this is a full studio version. If you're not on Spotify, check it here.

dudeyork.jpgThis Seattle rock trio steps up for 2017 with a full-length holiday CD that is unpolished rock 'n roll fun. They're kinda grungy, kinda punky, and they don't take themselves too seriously, which is all to the good. They kick off strongly with "Break Up Holiday," in which the singer tries to avoid an ex at a Christmas party, and swings into a faintly funky "Hollywood Holiday," in which they explore a warm weather version of yuletide celebrations, name-checking landmarks along the way. Another strong rocker is "The Greatest Gift Is You," followed by "My Favorite Part (Of This Time Of Year)," which, spoiler alert, is a significant other. "Long Distance Christmas" is their version of the holiday road song, and "True Meaning" is a boogie shuffle search for holiday verities, with a shout-out to Hanukkah no less. The remaining songs are a hyped-up "Silent Night," and throwaways "Jingle Bells Rock" and "Takin' Care of Christmas," the latter a short takeoff on the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit; apparently they hadn't heard that Randy Bachman had done the same thing himself years ago. No matter; these guys and gal have added a fine rocking collection to the Christmas canon. 

sia.jpgNot being a hit radio kind of guy, people like Sia, who makes her own music but also lurks in the background writing songs performed by such folks as Beyonce and Rihanna, manage to dodge my radar easily. Maybe I should pay better attention the rest of the year, if this 2017 Christmas album is anything to go by. Sia had help writing this album from disc producer Greg Kurstin, who has produced and written for Adele among other worthys, and while pop is the order of the day, it's modern pop with lots of charm and plenty of rhythm. Things start out promisingly with the jaunty "Santa's Coming For Us," and then "Candy Cane Lane" steals shamelessly from the Phil Spector Christmas album, but with a clean modern sound. "Sunshine" is more of the same. "Snowman" and "Snowflake" change up the tempos, going midtempo and ballad respectively, and the title song is more of a power ballad. "Underneath the Mistletoe" and "Underneath the Christmas Lights" let Sia show off her pipes, and "Ho Ho Ho" makes a bouncy soundtrack for a pirate Christmas, given the lyric "Ho Ho Ho and a bottle of booze...." That leaves the uptempo "Puppies Are Forever" to round things out. Lyrically there aren't any surprises, but that is hardly ever a dealbreaker with holiday music. This is one you can just throw on without worrying about playlists.

More Winter Lives, Matt Pond PA (131)

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Last year Matt graced us with Winter Lives, an entry in the not-Christmas Christmas music sweepstakes, and for 2017 this EP follows up with a remix of the catchy "Whoa" from the original album and four additional tunes. "In Winter" opens with a guitar figure similar to that in Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas" and continues in a folky way extolling love in the cold weather. "Curtains and Eyelids" and "Skiers in the Street" are pensive acoustic instrumental ballads with a little background synth padding adding spice, and "Moon Rose" is an impressionistic ballad that could be for any time of the year. It's a fine collection of music, though not essential for the holiday, but if you're already listening to the original album then these additional cuts will be welcome.
Can't say I'm familiar with Bloom or Bozeman, but here they are with an R'nB holiday EP for 2017. (Bozeman has a role on the music industry soap opera "Empire," as I discovered while writing this.) After a couple false starts with the brief "Chopin Nocture Interlude" and the mostly spoken "Sugar Plum Ghetto," they launch into a slow jam called "Mistletune Hanging," which is pretty much what you'd expect from the title. "Funky Christmas" picks up the tempo just a bit, narrating holiday preparations and running down some holiday verities. The song their label is pushing is their version of "Baby It's Cold Outside," which throws a few R'nB touches over what is otherwise a familiar way to perform the song. Things wrap up with another slow jam, "Ghetto Christmas," telling the story of a tragic holiday. Well produced and performed, but I'm not hearing a breakout tune from this collection other than "Baby."
rymer.jpgThese guys have received Grammy nominations in the past for Best Children's Album, but we've tried to look past the hype if the music's there, and for the most part it is. The songs are lively, accessible, played with lots of vitality and some of them really rock out. As with a lot of music aimed at kids, it may sound a little too well-scrubbed for some of you, so beware. Good candidates for playlists include the title song, "Untanglin' the Christmas Lights," "Can't Sit Still," the almost-ska "Holiday Jam," and if group dancing plays a big role in your holiday, "New Accordions." "It's Christmastime" and "Trim the Tree" lean country, "Hanukkah Rocks" gets the customary alert for being kosher and uptempo, and "Baby New Year" has a taste of New Orleans -- a well-scrubbed one, I might add. Holiday ballads include "Rainbow Candles," "Christmas Wishes," and "Peace Be to All." If you have kids who are playing the soundtrack from "Frozen" over and over again, at the very least this should save your sanity.

Some years ago we all giggled at the unlikeliness of Bob Dylan cutting a Christmas album, though musical history, his Theme Time Radio Hour, and his current direction remaking Sinatra classics demonstrate that was a wrong-headed response. Now if you want unlikely, how about the host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" embarking on a music career? And given his welcoming attitude toward the current president's candidacy throughout 2015 and early 2016, that he would not only end up lashing that candidate daily as president, but that he'd extend his brand into a 2017 Christmas EP poking fun at the guy? Actually, of the three songs, only "The Drumpf," a not-quite but may-as-well-be clone of "The Grinch," is the only one that explicitly hammers the guy, although "Christmastime," a nicely upbeat pop-rocker, makes a few mentions of this being a crappy year that feed into the theme. The remaining song, "This Christmas It's You & Me," is a midtempo bid for the singer and his love to jettison the big family gathering and celebrate with each other. I'll leave it to you as to whether you find this playlist-worthy, but if you use "The Drumpf," don't say I didn't warn you when the family's Fox News Uncle™ launches into a tirade.

This teenaged trio from London is getting a lot of notice for an album with a Spoonerism of a name (Earl Grey) that just came out in 2017, and they topped it all off with an original holiday single that is ... well ... I like it, but I'm having to listen to it repeatedly because the myriad tempo changes are giving me vertigo.  It's sort of the "River Deep, Mountain High" of Christmas singles, wildly ambitious and overly long, and I'm not sure if you're going to find this an easy fit in your holiday playlists. It's quite the pastiche of girl group singing via Roy Wood's Wizzard, although the vocals are rather gentle for the busy backing track. On the bright side, they throw in a kid's chorus that isn't self-consciously off-key or excessively cute. Right now it's only on Bandcamp, or check it out for yourself. (A vinyl single is slated for Dec. 8.)

bridgers.jpgA new indie singer/songwriter from Los Angeles with her debut album Stranger in the Alps out this year, she took a few minutes to cover this chestnut for 2017 in a spacey rendition that might remind you of Fiona Apple or Tori Amos if they had a serious Velvet Underground jones. Points for the original third verse lyrics. I like this a lot. Listen or buy from Amazon.

#1HappyHoliday EP, DRAM (Empire/Atlantic)

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dram.jpgJust encountered this R'nB singer/rapper for the first time because of this 2017 EP. Two classics and one original, the version of "Silver Bells" features his mother, BigBabyMom as rendered here, and "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" is just him and electric piano with a spoken interlude; canned strings sneak in near the end. The title song is a smooth slow jam built out of samples that's all about the holiday verities, and all about that sweet lovemaking as well. Cool stuff.

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