Beer and Pavement

Top 5: Xmas Records

Posted in Records, Top 5 by SM on December 5, 2011

I debated waiting to post this until the 19th, but I thought you’d all like a chance to set up your Spotify play lists or go record shopping. Know that the following albums should fill your Xmas with happiness and joy and they won’t suck too badly. Also, I tried to focus on only those albums that have a decidedly indie slant to them. All the artists may or may not be currently on indie labels or even considered indie, but the sentiment is pure indie and the execution is all craft.

Also, I considered compilations, but that just seemed too easy. These are full albums by indie artists that contain nothing but Christmas songs. An interesting fact about me is that I love Christmas music. I don’t necessarily get into most holiday traditions, but I love interesting Christmas music. I used to give mixed tapes as gifts.

Anyway, here’s a list of the five best indie Christmas albums. I may do one of my favorite songs next week or the week after. Also, be on the lookout for a beer post thematically similar…

5. Aimee Mann – One More Drifter in the Snow
Aimee Mann does mopey, sad music better than anyone. This is the type of thing I enjoy when countering all the happy joy joy that runs rampant this time of year. Sadly, her best Christmas song , “Christmastime,” is not even the best version of the song. You’ll have to hunt down the track with Michael Penn, appearing on the holiday compilation album, Just Say Noël.

4. She & Him – A Very She and Him Christmas
Some may be on Zooey Deschanel overload, but She and  Him partner M Ward do some nice stripped-down versions of Christmas classics old and new. Plus, your indie cred will go up when you put on a record from Merge.

3. Bright Eyes – A Christmas Album
I know folks have their issues with Conor Oberst, but this album released to raise money for a Nebraska AIDS charity (They have AIDS in Nebraska?) is valuable find if you can locate it. Other than the strange reading of the “A Night Before Christmas,” Oberst and friends put a rather stark and desolate holiday season. You’ll notice this trend in the odd-numbered albums on this list.

2. Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas
I have the free download of this album, as that’s how it was originally released. Since then, the Saint of Hipster Christians has released a 4-disc album of a pretty complete collection of Christmas tunes. This album was recorded during the manic, hyper-productive period for Sufjan Stevens when it seemed possible he’d actually write and record an album for every state. Oh well.

1. Low – Christmas
This EP just barely qualifies for the list, but for what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up in quality. Low somehow captures the dark, lonely side of Christmas while creating a record of both old favorites and original soon-to-be-classics. You may not care for all of the artists above, but you have to own this record.

Two for the Road

Posted in Records by SM on April 1, 2010

We had to travel in order to visit some family this past weekend1. So, I took advantage of the time to listen to new records2 throughout our travels.

I first heard Let’s Wrestle’s “I Won’t Lie to You” on a compilation3 a while back. From the get-go, I was hooked. Then I found out they were signed to Merge. What else did I need to know?

The band’s material is all over the map. There’s the punk charm of Billy Bragg, sans the politic. I hear a ton of Dinosaur Jr’s rawkward geekiness, without the guitar heroics. Plus, the presence of the youthful exuberance of a young Noise Addict4, with British accents instead of Aussie. The sound is still raw and emulates their heroes more so than creating their own niche, but that’s to be expected from such a youthful bunch of hooligans.

As a whole, In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s is as danceable and fun debut as one might want. It won’t shatter anyone’s expectations of rock ‘n roll, but it will remind you why you go to rock shows and buy more albums than you need5. There are even instances where I can tell this band won’t do punk records forever and my expand their repertoire to make albums of more substance in the future. However, for now, I want them to flaunt their youth and remind me that a piece of me is still young6. That’s why this record will be in heavy rotation for the spring and summer months, possibly beyond.

I’m lame. I have a minor crush on Zooey Deschanel. It’s nothing serious7, nor creepy. I just think she’s cute and her quirkiness gets me every time. There are no posters on my wall. The screen saver on my computer is not a series of Zooey Deschanel images. I just have a lame-ass guy crush on a Hollywood/Indie “it” girl8.

This does not cloud my view of her music. Sure, I loved Volume 1 she did with M Ward as the combo She and Him, but I was not alone in proclaiming the album’s greatness. Volume 2, on the other hand it is taking me some time to get.

The second She and Him album is bigger and brighter than the first. Deschanel still sings about relationships she’s had, not those for which she longs9. M Ward is still a master of producing 50-year-old hits. While all this sounds good, it doesn’t quite fit into the neat package that Volume 1 did, pulling me in from the first listen. Volume 2 is a good companion/sequel, but I don’t think I would give it as much time as I have had it not been for the band’s first effort. Eventually, it will grow on me and earn a regular spot in the rotation, but I doubt it ever overtakes Volume 1‘s place in the all-time list.

1We hit Pittsburgh before heading up to Huntingdon (near State College). I love older cities and towns like these. There’s so much character in eastern states. I miss it.
2Obviously, I did not listen to records on the road. The first album reviewed here is only out on CD. So, I lowered myself to purchasing said CD and played it on the ride to the airport. The second album came with the now-expected Mp3 download.
3The comp was created by my sister for my daughter Lucia after videos of Lu surfaced of her dancing in our living room naked. Lu’s aunt thought that she needed a mix in order to encourage more dancing. On the compilation are songs by Prince, The Clash, Unicorns, Michael and Janet Jackson, as well as Sponge Bob Squarepants.
4Early nineties teen band from Australia which was a pre-Claire Danes Ben Lee, released records on Thurston Moore’s and the Beastie Boys’ labels, respectively.
5It’s fun, exciting, makes you feel like you’re part of a community, etc.
6Despite the pains in my back that seem to shoot down my leg every morning.
7Then, I would be writing about my upcoming divorce. No worries.
8As far as indie it girls, there’s been Julianna Hatfield, Liz Phair, the Deal sisters before they became bloated on drugs, Neko Case, Feist, etc. Those crushes all fade eventually.
9This is a key difference between her and most indie musicians. Normally, they are way more awkward and unsure of themselves or they put on such a persona that their shyness doesn’t seem apparent at first. Zooey is a different creature all together.
10Look. It’s a very sensible size for a footnote section. I bet you’re proud of me…or hoping that the footnotes go away. For now, they stay.