Season’s greetings and salutations from the Windy City, my friends! With only a few more sleeps until Christmas, I hope everyone has had a spectacular holiday season and is looking forward to ye olde twenty-fifth of December. I can only hope these past few weeks of festivity and frivolity have been enhanced, even if only slightly, by some of the Christmas music that’s been available here on NoiseTrade. It never ceases to amaze me to hear the quality releases that are being offered by such talented musicians on our site and it thrills us to no end to see and hear about all of the connections that are made through music. Alright, I’m putting on the parking brake before I get all mushy and start talking about that new Apple commercial with the cross-generational, decades-in-the-making duet. On to the never-dwindling batch of Christmas tunes!
If you’re not already familiar with Over the Rhine’s music or are a new fan that isn’t sure where to start with their Christmas albums, then Even the Snow Turns Blue is waiting under the tree with your name on it. This seasonal sampler features tracks from all three of their Christmas-themed releases: 1996’s The Darkest Night of the Year, 2006’s Snow Angels, and this year’s Blood Oranges in the Snow. Husband-and-wife duo Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler write gorgeously moody Christmas songs that fully embrace the typically untouched aspects of the season and also go down smooth with atmospheric splashes of jazz, folk, rock, and classic country instrumentation.
The Oh Hellos is a Texas-based sibling duo that plays eclectic indie-folk and blends their voices together like only a brother and sister can. From quiet and pensive moments to explosive and celebratory singalongs, Maggie and Tyler Heath have crafted The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album to be a four-track record of musical movements that incorporate well-known Christmas hymns and instrumental interludes. Played all together as one piece, The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album creates a stirring emotional arc that employs some really great gang vocals for its most joyful sections. This record is great for listening to by yourself or with a group; the more the merrier.
“Has anybody here seen Christmas?” If the opening line from Ike Reilly’s “Christmas Star” resonates with you, you’ll love the seasonal slant of this song. While the sentiment fondly reminds me of Charlie Brown’s questioning in A Charlie Brown Christmas, it’s understandable that there’s not a lot of warm and fuzzy coming from the songwriting pen of a former gravedigger. While Reilly’s take on Christmas is certainly one that is easy to relate to at various points throughout the season, he’s been nice enough to provide a sonic soothing aide to get you through.
To hear that there’s less than a week to go before Christmas is finally here is either going to thrill you or terrify you. If you’re in the latter camp and the speed and chaos of the season has become all a bit too much to bear, Dave Magill’s Twelve Days at Christmas just might be able to help. This reflective eBook features twelve devotionals based on the Gospel narratives of the Christmas story and there’s still time to download it and double up on the reading before the big day!
When writer Will Hodge isn’t wishing it was Christmas today, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Amanda from NoiseTrade Books here. Will was kind enough to let me take over the blog for a moment to introduce you to Pierce Brown. Brown’s Red Rising is being featured December 17-23 on NoiseTrade and he was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions for us. There’s an excerpt below, you can download the whole interview here. An extended excerpt of Red Rising is available exclusively through NoiseTrade, and the full book can be purchased for just $1.99 through your favorite digital retailer through December 26.
NoiseTrade: Can you please give our readers a really quick summary of Red Rising in particular and the series in general?
Pierce Brown: Red Rising is about a boy in love with a woman better than him, with dreams greater than his. When she dies for those dreams, he has a choice, does he die with her, or does he show his love by helping make her dreams come true? That is the heart of the series for me—the declaration that true love is more than just blushing cheeks and #instalove. It is sacrifice, pain, and selflessness.
NT: I’m incredibly intrigued by the caste system in Red Rising. I’ve read that you drew inspiration from, among other things, Nazi Germany. Besides history, there was obviously a lot of psychology and sociology that went into the development. Can you talk about your research process? I know the first draft came very quickly (6 weeks???!!! That’s incredible!) Was this all knowledge you already had? Did you do any research during the writing process, or did you have to go back and do some after that first draft? Are you a history buff?
Brown: I’m obsessed with history. It’s the greatest story ever told! Fortunately, that obsession meant I had to very little research for the sociological, historical, or psychological bits that went into Red Rising. Most of what’s in it was in my childhood—in the books I loved, the classes I took, the stories I’ve devoured under the covers by flashlight. I read mythology texts now, old plays, history books, etc so that I have a compendium of knowledge I can draw on. The science of it is my weak point. I’m constantly referencing planetary guides and the NASA website. The inspiration for the castes came from Plato’s Republic, which you probably already figured out.
I was struck by the number of times I found you were asked about political undertones in your books and how deftly you field those questions. Was this something you considered a possibility during writing or before publication, or was it a surprise? How do you feel about these interpretations?
Brown: I’m just flattered people think my work has undertones!
Red Rising is meant as a broad commentary on power: how governments use it as authority and how people in control generally use it to stay in control rather than assisting those with less. It’s a fact of the human condition. It was with us in the past, it is present, and it will be in the future too.
As for the interpretations, I’m not surprised. Dystopian books are often intended as commentaries on contemporary societies. The Hunger Games was a commentary on reality programing. Fahrenheit 451 was a commentary on censorship. It’d be silly of me to say, “Oh, no. My work alone exists in a vacuum. I intended nothing.”
But take all my opinions with a grain of salt, because I hate telling people what to think, especially about contemporary politics. I don’t have the answers. It would be presumptuous of me to even consider that I have them because I’m 26-years-old with comparatively little life experience. I tend to think that if someone thinks they have all the answers, then there’s a high-probability that they are a self-absorbed dunderhead.
NT: What is your favorite scene/line? (If this is going to be a spoiler, pick your second, or third, or…)
Brown: PAX AU TELEMANUS!
NT: How far into book three are you and when will it be out?
Brown: I’m in the first act right now. We’re shooting for 2016.
NT: Tell us about the sequel (without giving away anything from Red Rising!)
Red Rising is about Mars. Golden Son is about the Solar System.
Read the rest of the interview here.
While no one would deny that there’s an incredibly strong relationship between music and literature, it’s safe to say that few artists have explored the creative conversation between the two as interestingly as Ben Arthur. While he has previously recorded six albums and authored two novels, his If You Look for My Heart project actually combines those two worlds into one beautifully interconnected piece of art.
If You Look for My Heart tells one story through two different filters – an album and a book. You can certainly choose to enjoy one without the other, but taken in combination they allow to the story to unfold in richer and fuller ways. For the full experience, be sure to download both the album and the eBook.
I had the pleasure of asking Ben Arthur a few questions about If You Look for My Heart (as well as his next project Call and Response), but first he wanted to greet everyone directly:
“Just wanted to say hi to the NoiseTrade community, and thank anyone who’s giving my work a listen/read, and opening up a line of communication between me and you. I know it’s a loud, distracting world, and I appreciate you spending some time with the work I’ve been doing.”
Alrighty, on to the interview!
NoiseTrade: If You Look for My Heart is an interesting dual-medium piece that is told through an album and a book. Is it two separate stories that have intersecting elements or is it one singular story told two different ways?
Ben Arthur: Thanks! It was definitely a lot of fun to work on. Both the novel and the album tell the same story, but from different angles and with different points of emphasis. (The eBook is actually a single aggregated work, with the songs embedded in the text.)
But while the album and novel are intertwined conceptually, they aren’t dependent on one another – you can listen to the album like any other album, and you can read the book like any other book. Hopefully when you listen/read to them together, new elements of each shine through, characters and story lines and motivations shift around in new ways.
NT: Did the book and the songs get written simultaneously or did the project initially start out within just one of them?
Arthur: The album and the book were very much developed together. In fact, they changed one another as they went along. Lines in a song would nudge the narrative and story lines in the book made me write new songs.
NT: Are the special guests on the album (Rachael Yamagata, Aesop Rock, Bobby St. Ours, DJ Big Wiz) used as character connections to the book or do they just provide a different sonic coloring to the musical portion of the piece?
Arthur: Rachael Yamagata actually appears briefly in the book at a performance, which was fun to write – I’m a huge fan. But mostly the other voices on the album allowed me to fold the songs into the story without being too self-referential. I didn’t want a character saying, “Hey, this Ben Arthur cat, what a singer!” or anything awful like that.
NT: The idea behind your next album sounds absolutely amazing. It’s titled Call and Response and it includes your “answers songs” to both other songwriters (Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones) and also other authors (Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Munro). What sparked the idea for Call and Response and how did you go about deciding which songs and short stories you would respond to in song?
Arthur: Well, when you think about it, all art answers other art in one way or another. But the framing allowed me to really focus on that source of inspiration in the songwriting and even gave me the chance to collaborate with some artists that I really idolize. Co-writing songs with George Saunders and Jonathan Lethem was a big thrill for a fan like me.
NT: In January, you’ll have the opportunity to perform the song(s) you wrote in response to Joyce Carol Oates directly to Joyce Carol Oates at a Poets and Writers Live event in San Francisco. Is this the first time you’ll have done this and what are your thoughts on how she’ll respond to your response to her?
Arthur: Yeah, this is definitely a first for me. I’m excited and nervous. And grateful for the opportunity — Poets and Writers Live is a really cool event, and this should be equal parts exhilarating and terrifying…my favorite recipe for a good show!
NT: Bonus question… Do you have any favorite “answer songs” by other individuals and if so, what makes them a good “answer song” in your opinion?
Arthur: Well, “Southern Man”/”Sweet Home Alabama” is the standard (did you know they actually sing “southern man” in one channel at around the :55 second mark?), but my favorite answer song fact that I’ve run across recently is that “This Land is Your Land” was originally an answer song to “God Bless America.” The original title was evidently “God Blessed America for Me.” Weird and awesome.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t saving the last dance for you, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Will’s Weekend Wrap-Up: Venus Hum, Eastside Manor Christmas Sessions, Lindsey Luff, and Anthony Renfro
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Will’s Weekend Wrap-Up. Forgive my celebratory air, but this is a pretty exciting weekend for me, you guys. Both my lovely and I are graduating this weekend and on Tuesday we’ll be pointing the family truckster north and making the long trip from Nashville to Chicago as new adventures await us in the Windy City. This week’s musical recommendations will be helping to soundtrack the road trip, so I hope you all enjoy them as well. I picked two selections that are new to NoiseTrade this year and one that we made last year that I’m still so thrilled about. If you need a couple zombie stories in your life, well, we’ve got those for you too! Also, if you haven’t signed up for a NoiseTrade Fan Account yet, there’s no better time than now to join the ever growing throng! Not only have a ton of you guys already signed up, but it appears that it’s sparked a little generosity bump regarding the tipping side of things – “on the tip tip,” if you will. Maybe it’s this time of year or maybe it’s just the ease and security of your free NoiseTrade Fan Account, but either way the artists appreciate it and we love seeing it! Keep making it do what it do, my friends!
Self-described as “a sonic homage to the classic Switched On albums of synthesized cover tunes dating from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s,” Venus Hum’s Switched On Christmas is an incredibly cool and eclectic collection of seasonal favorites blipping and blooping along on some tasty synthesizer work and vocalist Annette Strean’s whimsical delivery. “Suzy Snowflake” is my personal go-to favorite of the bunch, but their robo-vocal take on “Let It Snow” is pretty fantastic as well. If you dig Joy Electric’s The Magic of Christmas or Erasure’s Snow Globe, you’ll definitely want to add Switched on Christmas to your holiday electro-pop playlists.
While it has been such a bummer to not have been able to do another one of these this year, I still love listening back to what we did last year. This stellar release contains 15 tracks of Christmas classics and originals from Brooke Waggoner, Humming House, Jars of Clay, Street Corner Symphony, Dave Barnes, Sarah Macintosh, Angel Snow, and Matthew Perryman Jones. There’s honestly not a dud in the bunch, but if you require a recommendation or two to sample, the haunting harmonica-via-phone-receiver on Matthew Perryman Jones’ “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and the piano-led bounce of Brooke Waggoner’s “Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree” provide for some pretty magical moments.
For her debut release, Lindsey Luff let her festive flag fly and recorded a 5-track Christmas EP. Composed of four classic chestnuts and one original titled “This Christmas I’ve Run out of Things to Give,” A Blue Christmas is a relaxed acoustic offering that offers a much needed moment of pause during all the holiday hullabaloo. Luff’s “Do You Hear What I Hear” is filtered through a nice folksy, blues shuffle and the metallic, disembodied percussion of “Little Drummer Boy” provides a great sonic coloring to the track. A Blue Christmas is a great way to familiarize yourself with Luff in advance of her follow-up release that’s set for early 2015.
If you’re a big fan of both post-apocalyptic zombie narratives and also seasonal storytelling, author Anthony Renfro has got you more than covered. A Zombie Holiday Trilogy compiles three short stories (A Zombie Thanksgiving, A Zombie Christmas, and A Zombie New Year) that tell of the trials and travails of celebrating the holidays amidst an onslaught of the undead. With a tag line of “Stuff the turkey, deck the halls, and ring in the new year in a zombie apocalypse,” Renfro is pretty up-front as to what you’ll be getting with his stories. “Oh bring us some figgy pudding… and brains!”
When writer Will Hodge isn’t struggling to survive the Christmas night when zombies came to town, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Happy first weekend of December, you guys! Not to sound like the oldest man alive but can you believe it’s December already?!? This time of year is always an action-packed exciting time for me, but this year has felt a bit stuck in overdrive. I’m looking forward to slamming it into park somewhere around the week of Christmas and I hope you all have equally chilled plans to look forward to as well. Until then, soldier on with me, won’t you? Last week’s recommendations were overflowing with Christmasy goodness, so this week I cut the yule log in half just to keep things on the up and up for any potential naysayers in the bunch. So, if you can’t get enough of the holiday harmonies, Smalltown Poets and Fiction Family have got you covered. However, if you’ve already had enough of both the holly and the jolly, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors’ Good Light is calling your name. Just for kicks, I also threw some classic American Renaissance literature from Melville into the mix because we keep it classy like that around these parts.
With the generous offering of Good Light in its entirety, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors are giving away a stunning stocking stuffer that’s only available through Christmas. On its own merits, Good Light was unquestionably one of the best roots-based rock records released last year. However, for those not familiar with the band, it also functions as a perfect introduction in the lead-up to their next album, Medicine (out January 27, 2015). Sample the Americana slink of the title track, the slow burn build of “Another Man’s Shoes,” or the wistful yearning of “Tennessee” and you’ll hear why Good Light has been buzzed about so much and why so many fans are excitedly awaiting the release of Medicine.
The season so nice they released an album about it twice… Last month Smalltown Poets followed up on their 2011 Smalltown Poets Christmas album with the release of their second holiday offering, Christmas Time Again. While I highly recommend adding both albums to your collection, their amped-up version of “The Wassail Song” available here on NoiseTrade also does the job of showcasing their tasteful mix of nostalgia and now, as they add their own unique sonic layers to the familiar song foundations you’ve known for years. For me, this specific song will forever and always bring to mind claymation dinosaurs arguing about waffling, waddling, and wallowing, but Smalltown Poets certainly do a great job of making this version their own and they (thankfully) steer clear of the trap of yuletide sameness.
While the Holiday EP initially functioned as a bit of a sneak preview for Fiction Family Reunion (the sophomore album from the side project of Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek), it also contained a fantastic Christmas original that has found its way onto many of my holiday playlists over the last year or two. “I Don’t Need No Santa Clause” is a fun, sentimental ditty, landing somewhere between a jaunty bluegrass number and a nostalgic classic Christmas song of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Plus, the lyrics are jam-packed with holiday references of mistletoe, jingle bells, sugar plums, off-key carolers, Rudolph, Ebenezer, Bing, and Elvis. Along with the seasonal song and the album previews, Holiday also contains two exclusive tracks: “Don’t Say You Love Me” and “My Forgetful Baby.”
If you’re one of those folks who always says “I need a good book to read over the holidays,” then have I got a keeper for you! While Herman Melville is mostly known for writing a little book titled Moby Dick, he also had a few other stories-at-sea tucked away in his storytelling pen. Billy Budd is not only Melville’s return to lengthy novel-writing after a three-decades long hiatus of only poetry and short stories, but it was also what he was working on at the time of his death. Although never given the author’s “final approval,” enough of the enthralling story was completed for it to have been posthumously published 30 years after Melville’s death. Billy Budd is an adventurous and emotional read without a pretty bow ending, a combination that usually makes for the best kind of reading experience.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t wondering what can you get a Wookiee for Christmas when he already owns a comb, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
If you’re not already familiar with rock ‘n’ rollers miggs, then your musical ”how do you do” awaits in their new EP Meet miggs. Compiling a few back catalog songs with new offerings and an acoustic version of “Summer Takes the Fall,” Meet miggs is a perfect intruduction to what the band has already done and what they are currently doing.
I spoke with frontman Don Miggs about Meet miggs, their new single “Walls Come Down,” and next year’s plans for new music.
NoiseTrade: With calling your EP Meet miggs, what made you pick these specific songs to functions as an introduction for the band?
Don Miggs: It’s a weird thing, picking a few songs to hopefully give someone a comprehensive overview of your life’s work! I wanted songs that really give you insight into the core of who we are. There are songs that we’ve done that I like more, but these represent the heart of miggs. From here, we hope people will want to hear how far left and right we branch off.
NT: You just released your new single “Walls Come Down” last month. What inspired the song?
Miggs: I sort of never really know the full meaning of a lyric. Sometimes years later I will be singing a song and it will hit me- “I meant THAT!?!” But “Walls” is about declaring your freedom, finding your voice and making sure everyone knows about it…I think.
NT: I heard you guys have some really interesting plans for a monthly distribution of your new music next year. Can you tell us anything about that?
Miggs: I love the music industry. I love holding a piece of plastic with liner notes and a story behind why a certain set of songs happen to become an “album”. Sadly, not many other people feel the same way. People consume music differently than I do and I was tired of the general public really hearing only 1-4 songs on an album that we took time to write and record. So, I challenged myself and the label to take a chance and do something drastic that might get these songs some attention. We tried to get Apple to immediately download them onto every mobile device they own but they declined for some reason… So it’s back to the days of singles. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Someone smarter than me said that once.
NT: Have you already started working on the new songs for your next album? What can we expect to hear from you guys?
Miggs: Of course. If you make music for a living you just make music all the time. Who knows. I’d like to write something Bruno Mars and Eddie Vedder would both want to cover.
NT: With over a decades-worth of a music career under your belt, what’s the most memorable thing that “present-day you” has experienced that “pre-first-album you” would’ve never believed?
Miggs: That you don’t need to be a household name to find a place in the music biz… and that the journey is definitely where it’s at.
I can’t imagine what the next ten years will bring and that’s exciting to me. I get to live my childhood dreams every day. Who would have thought that would happen.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t pleased to meet me, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
There’s no question that Over the Rhine really knows their way around the sonics of this season. With their recent release of Blood Oranges in the Snow, husband-and-wife duo Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler now have three Christmas albums filled with uniquely soulful (and unquestionably soul-fulfilling) holiday hymns of heartache and hope. What you’ll find on an Over the Rhine Christmas album are songs that fully embrace the typically untouched aspects of Christmas, helping to bring all the experiences of the season into full view. Plus, the gorgeous music is as comforting and inviting as a warm blanket on a snowy night as well.
Even the Snow Turns Blue is a charming compilation that perfectly captures the soothed spirit of Over the Rhine’s three Christmas albums: 1996′s The Darkest Night of the Year, 2006′s Snow Angels, and this year’s Blood Oranges in the Snow. From their breath-of-fresh-air originals like “Blood Oranges in the Snow,” “Let it Fall,” and “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)” to their “this reminds me of something I’ve heard before” spot-on tribute song “Goodbye Charles” to their strikingly vibrant take on “Silent Night,” Even the Snow Turns Blue allows you to hear exactly what’s so special about Over the Rhine and their own slant on seasonal singalongs.
I spoke with Over the Rhine to discuss Blood Oranges in the Snow and their unique approach to Christmas music, as well as have them list off some of their own holiday favorites.
Blood Oranges in the Snow is the third Christmas album you guys have recorded in your career, none of which are of the traditional schmaltzy variety. How do you successfully continue to make your self-described “reality Christmas music” so original and so true to your own sound?
I think the short answer is we’re not trying to write good Christmas songs: we’re just trying to write good songs. We really don’t approach the Christmas records that much differently than the other records. And as songwriters, we’re genuinely curious to discover some of the Christmas tunes that haven’t yet been written. There are so many great ones out there already.
Where your previous two Christmas albums (The Darkest Night of the Year and Snow Angels) are heavily seasoned with blues and jazz flavors, Blood Oranges in the Snow seems to carry a bit more of a classic country vibe. Was that an intentional direction in the instrumentation and the vocal performances?
We recorded and toured our last record, Meet Me at the Edge of the World, with a group of musicians that we’ve really come to love: Jay Bellerose on drums, Jen Condos on bass, and Eric Heywood on pedal steel and guitars. We wanted to record our new Christmas songs with this core band for the most part, and felt that they would help set this record somewhat apart from the previous two releases you mentioned. We had so much fun on our tour last year that we wanted to bring some of that shared history and chemistry to Blood Oranges in the Snow. It’s always been important to us not to make the same record over and over.
Your cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” is hands-down one of the most gorgeous versions I’ve ever heard of the 1973 classic. How’d you come about covering it?
Oh, are there other cover versions out there? I guess we should have researched that! Karin and I heard the song on a late night drive coming home from a tour one December. As you mentioned earlier, Karin has joked that we’re developing a new genre of music called “Reality Christmas…” I think we’re just trying to acknowledge that none of us are immune to the heartbreak and family foibles and tiny victories and joys and sorrows that we encounter throughout the year, just because it’s Christmastime. So we’re trying to get at some of those deeper layers in the writing. “If We Make It Through December” is certainly one of the great “Reality Christmas” songs.
Those of us who grew up believing (and still want to believe) the Christmas story, that angels arrived on the scene and announced that peace was coming to earth, that the baby hidden in the barn like a forbidden song was going to break the cycle of violence we humans are addicted to and show us a higher, different way – I think we can’t help but feel the disparity between that dream and where we are today. I think maybe our Christmas songs live in the space between the hopeful dream and the reality of the still broken world we call home.
Your new Even the Snow Turns Blue compilation beautifully captures your saccharine-less take on Christmas music with songs like “All I Ever Get For Christmas Is Blue,” “Let It Fall,” and “My Father’s Body” to name a few. What pulls your songwriting towards these typically unexplored sides of Christmas?
Again, I think we’re just curious about the Christmas songs that haven’t yet been written. So like the rest of our songs, we’re looking for some fresh language, a little something you can feel on your skin, some element of risk or danger or vulnerability in the writing etc.
There’s a wonderful narrative storytelling quality in songs like “Blood Oranges in the Snow” and “First Snowfall.” Have you ever considered fleshing some of your songs out into short stories or novels, or do they exist more purely to you in musical form?
A number of people have said that some of these songs feel like short stories. We hadn’t really thought about it. No plans to adapt them anytime soon, but I think Karin and I are both pretty aware that we are writing stories with our lives, that we are our own protagonists and antagonists. Both of us would like to take a run at a memoir at some point. I think anyone that had a rich and conflicted childhood feels that tug.
When you’re not writing your own Christmas songs, what are some of your go-to musical favorites this time of year?
The best Christmas album ever recorded bar none is Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. So that is the gold standard. And we’re always in the hunt for a great reality Christmas song. Mary Gauthier, John Prine, Merle Haggard, and Tom Waits have all written them – to name a few. They’re out there.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t snowed in with you singing the one olive jingle, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Happy Thanksgiving, NoiseTraders! Whether you’re feeling sluggish from a turkey coma or riding high from your Black Friday scores, I hope you’ve all had a wonderful time celebrating the holiday. Just a Wenceslas-sized warning, now that it’s socially acceptable to start diving into the Christmas tunes, the next few Weekend Wrap-Ups will be a little heavy on the holly and the ivy. Each Christmas season we get a ton of new holiday tunes uploaded to NoiseTrade. So as those are still trickling in over the next week or two, I thought I’d first highlight some of my favorite NoiseTrade Christmas releases from years past. I hope you enjoy this kick-off to the Christmas season and if not, well, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled, holiday-free festivities soon enough. Until then, God bless us, everyone and keep the change you filthy animal!
Ethan Luck’s Cold Music combines three of my favorite things: festive holiday tunes, alt-country instrumentation, and a strong dose of DIY ethics. Luck sang, played, and recorded everything himself, making Cold Music a personal affair that definitely comes through in his performances. Traces of Luck’s punk rock roots shine through beautifully on his rockabilly romp through “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” while his tumbleweed take on “We Three Kings” showcases his instrumental talents and his refreshingly laid-back voice. Both songs make you wish for a full album, while still making you incredibly thankful that you at least have these two traditionally non-traditional takes on the classic standards. With the potential of this becoming an annual tradition, I’ve got my fingers crossed for another killer volume this holiday season.
If your Christmas music preferences skew slightly from the traditional variety of Elvis and Bing, Sufjan Stevens has got you more than covered. With eclectic energy and adventurous arrangements, Stevens has been delivering left-of-center Christmas songs since 2001 and this sampler of Silver & Gold collects some of the tracks from his yearly releases. If songs like “Christmas Unicorn” and “Justice Delivers Its Death” cover new seasonal territory for you, “Mr. Frosty Man” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” may be gentler points of entry. If this 12-song sampler doesn’t quite fill your sonic stocking all the way to the top, Stevens has a 10-volume double box set of Christmas releases (Songs for Christmas and Silver & Gold) that just might be able to get the job done.
When Rhett Miller isn’t leading one of the absolute best bands of the last couple decades, the Old 97’s frontman makes time to craft some equally amazing solo songs. Last year, Miller released “Christmas is Coming” as a whimsical duet with French-American singer-songwriter Sydney Wayser. The song is carried along by Miller’s alt-country acoustic strum and an infectious “fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” singalong that will have you pining to toss back the eggnog in no time. If you like what you hear, Miller has released a variety of other holiday songs with Old 97’s over the years as well.
If you’ve ever felt that all the Christmas hoopla can sometimes be a bit overwhelming (i.e. are a human being), then I suggest reading through author Anne Marie Miller’s Surviving Christmas this season. It’s a relaxed read compiled from a variety of Miller’s Advent writings over the years and it seeks to offer the possibility of finding “peace in chaos in a hectic but holy time.” With an emphasis on rest, reflection, and refocusing, Surviving Christmas might just be the perfect prescription that allows you to do that very thing.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t attending the Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Americana has become one of those genres that is easier to define by its characters than its characteristics, a fact that is wonderfully embodied by the boundary-blurring sound of Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors. Over the last decade, Holcomb and his band have put out some of the best roots-inspired music the genre has to offer, with their previous album Good Light garnering them their largest audience yet and some much-deserved attention from radio and television.
As both a “thank you” to fans and also as an exciting lead-up to the release of their new album Medicine (out January 27, 2015), they are currently offering Good Light in its entirety for a limited time here on NoiseTrade.
Ahead of the release of their new album, I spoke with Holcomb about the breakthrough of Good Light, his inaugural Moon River Festival, and what fans can expect from Medicine.
NoiseTrade: Looking back at Good Light, to what do you attribute the splash it made on the charts and the buzz it generated with fans old and new?
Drew Holcomb: We have been a band for nearly a decade, and when we made Good Light, I had a much clearer vision as a songwriter than I had on previous records. We decided to keep the recording process simpler than we had before. In the end, the album felt more like we play as a live touring band, a lot less going on sonically, with better articulated songs, melodies, and arrangements.
As a songwriter, there are songs on Good Light that were way more personal and more mature than anything I had written before; songs like “What Would I Do Without You”, “Tennessee”, and “Good Light.” I think it was the record that we and our fans always wanted us to make.
NT: Good Light allowed you guys to do an international headlining tour for the first time as well. What was that experience like for you as a performer compared to when you play here in the states?
Holcomb: First off, our crowd overseas skews much older. It’s more of a 70′s songwriter-loving crowd and less of a hip, Americana crowd. They are very intentional listeners and they give you more benefit of the doubt. Whereas in the states, lots of audiences can throw a vibe that makes you feel like you have to prove something to them. Both are great experiences, just very different.
NT: This summer featured your first annual Moon River Festival that you founded and hosted. What sparked the decision to start your own festival and what was the biggest thing you learned from it?
Holcomb: I’ve always wanted to host my own festival, and specifically host it in my hometown of Memphis, TN. I wanted to introduce our fans to my city, and to bring artists we have met along the road together for a big family style musical reunion. I learned that it takes a lot more work than I envisioned, but the end result was also more rewarding than I had imagined.
NT: With your new album Medicine being set for release at the end of January, what song are you looking most forward to sharing with your fans?
Holcomb: There’s a song called “You’ll Always Be My Girl” which might be a career song for me. It’s a simple song about love and marriage, but to me it really speaks to the height of joy and the depth of sorrow that real love entails.
NT: Thinking back to when you were entering the studio to record Good Light, what is one of the biggest differences between your mindset then and more recently when you were getting ready to record Medicine?
Holcomb: I think Good Light gave me the wings I needed to really make music the way I want to make it, without other voices – commercial expectations, or the work of my peers – having too much influence. Medicine is the harvest of that mindset. We recorded Medicine in just 8 days, and it feels like the most natural and present record we have ever made.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t liking the way you hung the moon, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Happy (early) Thanksgiving, NoiseTraders! While songs explicitly devoted to Thanksgiving aren’t quite as plentiful as Christmas songs (Adam Sandler and Reverend Horton Heat aside), I do have one turkey-themed selection in this weekend’s picks to help you enjoy the holiday. Now, before anyone shouts out that “Jingle Bells” and “Home for the Holidays” were both technically written to be Thanksgiving tunes, we all know Christmas co-opted them long ago, making songs about eating turkey in a big brown shoe and turkey trottin’ (gobble-gobble-diddle-ip) all we really have to work with. So with that in mind, crank up the Dollyrots while you’re in that shopping line on Black Friday (or Black Tuesday, or whatever day it’s starting this year) and have an awesome Thanksgiving everyone!
I’m such a huge fan of the Asthmatic Kitty roster and Lily & Madeleine are one of the main reasons why. The Jurkiewicz sisters both have incredible individual voices, but the seamless otherworldy blend that is created when they sing together is even greater than the sum of their already great parts. This unbelievably tight 5-song sampler features a single from their most recent album Fumes (“Rabbit, Run For It”), a relaxed cover of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner’s “Stuck on the Puzzle,” and three alternate acoustic versions of songs from their self-titled debut album: “Come to Me,” “You Got Out,” and “Spirited Away”. “Rabbit, Run For It” is an accurately plucky introduction to Fumes (which was just released last month) and I guarantee it will enhance your Autumn if you go out and pick it up this weekend.
You guys, if you can find a more celebratory Thanksgiving song than “Let’s Turkey Trot,” then please let me know. The Dollyrots have just released their punk-rock take on the 1963 Little Eva classic (using the word “classic” ever so loosely here) and it’s a sure-fire remedy for helping you survive both a too-many-mashed-potatoes couch coma and also your Aunt Edna’s unending attempts to kiss you on the lips. “Let’s Turkey Trot” was originally written by Gerry Goffin, the same legendary songwriter who gave us “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Tale Good Care of My Baby,” “Saving All My Love for You,” the theme from Mahogany, and so many more actual classics. Between Goffin and The Dollyrots, your Thanksgiving is in good hands (hopefully not your Aunt Edna’s).
There’s a palatable energy rumbling through Angel Snow’s new single “Secret” that makes the song transcend beyond its lush sonic space. Propelled along by a thumping heartbeat bass line and Snow’s smoke-and-sugar vocals, “Secret” beautifully embodies both empowerment and challenge. Snow is currently recording a new album and after listening to “Secret,” you’ll be thankful it snuck out of the mix early. Snow also has a live EP (Live at Eddie’s Attic) available here on NoiseTrade to help alleviate the wait for her new album.
If you’ve enjoyed rock memoirs like Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue, Motley Crue’s The Dirt, or Keith Richards’ Life, then you’re going to want to check out Scott Ian’s I’m the Man. As a musician, Ian is the guitarist, lyricist, and co-founder of thrash metal’s Anthrax (who I was introduced to through Public Enemy when Anthrax’s covered PE’s “Bring the Noise” in 1991, a monumental musical moment for me). As a writer, Ian is a fantastically honest and humorous storyteller who devotes more of the book to his own pitfalls than those of other people. Throughout all of the crazy stories, Ian weaves a wonderful tale of perseverance and spotlights the importance of relationships.
When writer Will Hodge isn’t cuttin’ a record from side to side, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack