12/13/13

2013 Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck Playlist


It's the most wonderful time of the year! The time of year when I listen to so much Christmas music that my ears start to bleed tinsel and candy canes. Let's face it, a lot of holiday music just plain sucks. So although I haven't touched this blog in about a year (I've been busy), I have sacrificed my ears and listened to as much holiday music as I could find - all to find the best gems for you. And so, gentle reader, I present to you, this year's Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck playlist. Enjoy!



  1. The Polyphonic Spree (ft. School of Seven Bells) - Silver Bells
    A somewhat psychedelic, decidedly trippier-than-the-original take on this classic. I think it's cool that this song is over 60 years old and can still sound totally new to me.
  2. The Primitives - You Trashed My Christmas
    I had never heard of this British band before I picked up some Christmas compilation featuring this song (or maybe my brother sent it to me, I don't remember stuff ever since we had a baby), but I love this song and I love how they used Christmas as an excuse to write a great breakup song.
  3. Punch Brothers - O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
    Like everyone, I thought this was Sufjan Stevens when I first heard it, but really it's a group started by mandolin genius Chris Thile. It's gorgeous.
  4. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - Linus and Lucy
    I have no idea what this song has to do with the holidays other than that it's on Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. The instrumentation on this version is somehow exactly what this song needs.
  5. Jonathan Coulton & John Roderick - Uncle John
    Coulton's trademark humor and musicality come through here, and apparently the other guy was in that band Harvey Danger that was on the radio all the time when I was in college. Now we've all learned something.
  6. Albert King - Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'
    I believe the title says it all.
  7. Blondie - We Three Kings
    I was not aware that Blondie rocked quite this hard. The slightly off-key vocals don't even take away from the driving beat and kick-ass organ part.
  8. The Emotions - Black Christmas
    I found this song on a Stax Christmas compilation, I think, and even though I'm not usually into soul or R&B all that much, this trio of sisters from Chicago won my heart. Or at least my ears.
  9. Elizabeth Mitchell - Mary Had A Baby
    This absolutely beautiful track is from a Folkways compilation of songs taken from Ruth Crawford Seeger's (Pete Seeger's stepmother) collection of Christmas folk songs. I can't get enough of this one.
  10. Nick Lowe - Children Go Where I Send Thee
    Nick Lowe! Christmas album! 'Nuff said, I believe. This version chugs along like a train full of hobos.
  11. Bad Religion - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
    It sounds exactly how you think it would sound, and that is a good thing. (Actually the background "aaah"s in the second and third verses took me by surprise, but in a great way.)
  12. Kay Martin & Her Body Guards - I Know What You Want For Christmas
    Yes, I am a sucker for stupid Christmas songs about sex. So sue me.
  13. Twisted Sister - Oh Come All Ye Faithful
    OK, so this doesn't really hold a candle to Weezer's version (featured in 2010's playlist), but I have to give Twisted Sister major props for just accepting that We're Not Gonna Take It is 90% the same song as this Christmas carol which dates at least to the 17th century (and is possibly even older). The fact that they basically just covered their most popular song with words from an even more popular song, and that the whole thing works, is pretty cool.
  14. Mike Clark - The First Noel
    This instrumental from the keyboard player for The Jicks is exactly the kind of Christmas music I try to make with my own home recording setup, except I'm not as good as him.
  15. Jewel - It's Christmastime
    I don't usually go for the vocal stylings of this Alaskan chanteuse, and I do have to admit that this song is a bit on the cheesy side [much in the same way that cheese is "much on the cheesy side" - Editor] but I have to give her props A) for sounding really nice and B) for writing an original Christmas song that basically sounds like a newly unearthed old English Christmas carol from 200 years ago.
  16. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
    This version isn't too crazy or massively original, but it's just good old-fashioned swing-band fun. And that's enough for me.
  17. The Puppini Sisters - Santa Baby
    No, they're not really sisters, but that doesn't make their harmonies any less sweet. This is gorgeous ear candy, and a loving paean to a simpler time when all music presumably sounded like this.
  18. Mark Lanegan - Cherry Tree Carol
    The former Screaming Trees frontman has confused a lot of people with his dark, acoustic solo work, but it's a perfect fit for this dark carol from the 15th century (or thereabouts). This weird little song is about Joseph and Mary out in the woods, where they come upon a cherry orchard. Mary asks Joseph to pick her some cherries, and a petulant Joseph responds with "Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee." Not a crazy response, if you ask me. Anyway, at that point, little baby Jesus (from within the womb) commands the cherry tree boughs to bend closer to the ground, and Joseph repents - but in Lanegan's version, instead of repenting, Joseph asks the baby when its birthday will be, and the baby says January 5th. Anyone want to explain that part to me?
  19. The Smithereens - Christmas Time Is Here Again
    A fairly straightforward cover of the Beatles classic, which sounds like a great McCartney track where he jotted down some placeholder words (scrambled eggs, anyone?) and then forgot to come back and fill in the blanks.
  20. Mary Chapin Carpenter - Hot Buttered Rum
    Not only is this song lovely, but the way she sings it, I can't tell if she is likening her love to hot buttered rum, or if her love is hot buttered rum. The lyrics are actually really dark, so the latter interpretation is pretty damn sad. Yay, winter!
  21. Kelly Clarkson - Please Come Home For Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)
    I was also surprised that I put Kelly Clarkson on here. (Playing this playlist here at home tonight, I learned that apparently my wife can recognize Kelly Clarkson's voice instantly.) But her voice is a powerful force, and she uses it responsibly here - holding back just a bit, leaving the listener wanting a touch more, instead of the overkill which seems to be de rigueur these days among her peers. If any blonde white girl had to cover Charles Brown, I'm glad it was her.
Well, that's all, folks! Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, and happy War on Christmas to you and yours. What are you listening to this holiday season? Tell me in the comments. And don't forget to check out the ghosts of playlists past!

You can download this year's playlist here.

1/16/13

My Favorite Albums of 2012

I can't call them the "best albums of 2012" because as high an opinion as I hold of my own opinions, "best" is obviously pretty subjective.  So instead, I present to you, dear listener, a playlist of songs from  some of my favorite albums released in 2012.

Enjoy!



What rocked your socks in 2012? What are you looking forward to in 2013? Tell me in the comments.

  • Ben Folds Five - The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind
    It was exciting to hear the Five back together again, and even though Ben Folds is definitely past his peak, songwriting-wise, there are some standouts on this album.
    Hear also: "Do It Anyway"
  • Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo Magellan
    This album keeps blowing my mind, every time I listen to it. Their sound has grown a little more polished, and their vocal harmonies are taking center stage here, backed up by some fantastic arrangements. These songs are whimsical, weird, far-out, but somehow really accessible and stick in your brain like tar.
    Hear also: "Gun Has No Trigger"
  • Metric - Synthetica
    Metric's not covering a ton of new ground on this album, but the songs are tight and the theme is consistent. If you like her sound, you will like this album. This track features Lou Reed (who seems to pop up everywhere these days) to great effect.
    Hear also: "Breathing Underwater"
  • Passion Pit - Gossamer
    Passion Pit is trying new things here, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. The major new thing is a sense of emotion that was missing from the (catchier) songs on Manners. Still, I give them credit for trying, and there are some great songs on here.
    Hear also: "On My Way"
  • Regina Spektor - What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
    About 1/2 of this album is unmitigated schmaltz, but she executes it well. The other half sounds like a Regina Spektor album, albeit a recent one. Meaning a little less quirk, a lot more production. But the good songs are really good.
    Hear also: "Oh Marcello"
  • Soundgarden - King Animal
    A new Soundgarden album! My inner 16-year-old about lost his mind when I heard about this album. And you know what? It's actually pretty good. It sounds like...a Soundgarden album. Not revelatory, but certainly not bad. I know it sounds like faint praise, but after all this time this could have been just awful.
    Hear also: "Black Saturday"
  • The Coup - Sorry To Bother You
    The Coup kind of went off in a weird direction on this album, and while I always want to give bands credit for trying new things, it doesn't always work here. The album is inconsistent, but it's never boring, and that's no small feat.
    Hear also: "You Are Not A Riot"
  • The Flaming Lips - The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
    Guess what? The Flaming Lips made a weird album! Shocking! Even more shocking, most of the songs are really good. Because they reach far, when The Flaming Lips fail, they fail spectacularly, and this album has its share of failures, but for the most part the weird experiments pay off. This song features Ke$ha for some reason.
    Hear also: "That Ain't My Trip"
  • Yeasayer - Fragrant World
    Yeasayer has steadily moved from "we make interesting world music" to "we make fun synth-pop music with some texture" to "we want to be Hot Chip." I like this album in spite of itself, which I know doesn't make sense, but there it is.
    Hear also: "No Bones"
  • The Roots - How I Got Over
    This album feels like it wouldn't be out of place playing in a smoky Parisian club. The beats are solid but never in your face, the rhymes are tight but not showy, and the music takes center stage more often than your typical hip hop album. Then again, The Roots aren't your typical hip hop group. This song features My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
    Hear also: "Right On (ft. Joanna Newsom)"
  • Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour
    I first heard of these guys at SXSW 2010 (where I took a picture with them!), and I have been a fan ever since. This album is bluesy and hard rock-y, channeling the best of Jack White's side projects without all the overhead of Jack White himself.
    Hear also: "Lies"
  • Menomena - Moms
    Menomena's first album after Brent Knopf's departure is a powerhouse. Big anthemic songs filled with heavy riffs and depressing lyrics. I do miss Brent's influence (if you do, too, check out the new album Prophet from his awesome band Ramona Falls, which almost made this list), but I like the direction Menomena is going in and I hope they keep it up.
    Hear also: "Pique"
  • Damien Jurado - Maraqopa
    This album is way more psychedelic than I would have expected from Damien Jurado, but despite some new production techniques, he still lays down a foundation of solid songwriting backed up by real emotions.
    Hear also: "Life Away From The Garden"
  • Dan Deacon - America
    Dan Deacon has really upped the ante on this album, laying down connected, ethereal, lush, richly textured electronic songs that invade your earspace and don't leave much room for thought. This is music you really listen to, despite the absence of understandable lyrics (or even vocals, much of the time). His best album yet.
    Hear also: "Lots"
  • Dr. Dog - Be The Void
    Dr. Dog took back the production reins on this album, and while the finished product could have used an editor or someone else saying "hey, maybe we don't need 10 repetitions of this chorus" or whatever, but this is still one of my absolute favorite albums of last year. This band is great at stealing parts of classic bands' sounds (e.g. guitars from the Dead, backing vocals from the Beatles, etc.) and making them sound almost fresh.
    Hear also: "Do The Trick"
  • Dr. John - Locked Down
    Confession time: I did not know Dr. John was still alive. Good for him! Despite pairing up with notable hack Dan Auerbach on this album (no, I am not a Black Keys fan), this is still a fantastic blues album, dripping with New Orleans attitude and killer hooks.
    Hear also: "Big Shot"
  • Flying Lotus - Until The Quiet Comes
    I've seen Flying Lotus filed under hip hop, alternative,  instrumental, electronica, experimental, IDM, and more. I have no idea which one is right, but I do know that this album extends his sound, and sees him working with a lot of collaborators, each of whom brings out something different in his sound, while still showcasing his seemingly boundless creativity and thirst for sonic experimentation.
    Hear also: "See Thru To U (feat. Erykah Badu)"
  • Imperial Teen - Feel The Sound
    Imperial Teen keeps putting out catchier and catchier albums. Even though this one is a little over-produced (and definitely mixed too loud), there's no way to listen to this album and not get some of the sticky-sweet ear candy stuck in your head.
    Hear also: "Don't Know How You Do It"
  • Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory
    Punk! Pop! Depressed! Ecstatic! This album can't make up its mind, and that's just fine. The result is high-energy ear candy that keeps plowing ahead even when it slows down.
    Hear also: "No Future/NoPast"
  • Miike Snow - Happy To You
    I've been waiting years for Miike Snow to release a new album, and my love was justified last year. They're not exactly stretching on this album, but if you like brilliant production chops, tweaked out synths, smooth vocals, and ridiculously catchy songs, this is the album for you.
    Hear also: "The Wave"
  • Das Binky - Divide the Storm
    This album is a labor of love by Wisconsin-based multi-genre wizard (and frequent musical collaborator of yours truly) Das Binky. Binky has a knack for writing beautiful songs with powerful hooks, no matter what genre he's working in - but I think he shines brightest on his ballads and his BNL-esque pop tunes.  Vocals on this by Mr. Wired For Music himself.
    Hear also: "My Country Tis Of Me"
  • El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
    El-P is all riled up on this album (as usual), and this song features him in a great state of high dudgeon about...something. It almost doesn't matter because he's so good at shaping his rage into something the rest of us can enjoy.
    Hear also: "Drones Over Bklyn"
  • Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light
    Spiritualized nailed it o this album, where you can hear Jason Pierce fully embracing his new ("new" meaning the last decade-ish) style of songwriting, where the words and vocals are in the forefront, but with brilliant blues-infused almost-psychedelic riffs anchoring the songs.
    Hear also: "Mary"


12/12/12

2012 Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck


People have asked me over the years, "why does a nice atheist Jewish boy like you love Christmas music so much?"  To that I have several answers, but here's 3:

1)  About 60% of all holiday music [Editor's note: percentage not determined via any remotely scientific method] is different versions of the same song.  I love cover songs for the way that a good cover can bring out what is unique about a band's sound.  So it's not a big leap that I would really love hearing a bunch of different bands/composers/etc. all try their hands at the same handful of songs.

2)  If you're going to imply that a Jew can't love Christmas music, you should probably tell that to the Jews who wrote many of the Christmas songs that are so famous today.

3)  Most of these songs are not about Christmas.  Seriously, why do the goyim get a monopoly on riding in a one-horse sleigh?  Or letting it snow?  Or walking through a winter wonderland?  Or date-raping your girlfriend when it's cold outside?

So I guess my point is, music is music, and good music is where you find it.  And this music is good.

What are you listening to his holiday season?  Tell me in the comments, and have a happy pagan December holiday!


  1. The Yule Ghoul - Sleigh Ride
    The Yule Ghoul was one of my favorite Christmas music bloggers, though he/she (I think it's a he) seems to have abandoned the site last year.  A couple years ago, he posted cover art and a track supposedly from an album called "The Merry Moog," which would be fantastic - if it existed.  Turns out it was just a little joke, and this fantastic take on Sleigh Ride is actually a homegrown production by the Ghoul himself.
  2. Moses Kahumoku - Joy to the World
    A lovely example of Hawaiian
    slack-key guitar playing by one of the masters, this peaceful rendition is perfect for sipping some eggnog by the fire (or in my case, by a TV showing a DVD recording of a fire).  I love the pizzicato bits in the second verse.
  3. Barenaked Ladies - Hanukkah O Hanukkah
    This version is feisty and joyful, enough so that I can overlook the fact that apparently Steven Page doesn't know the word "sivivon" (Hebrew for "dreidel") and so substituted something that probably sounded right to him, but sounds like the name of a character from the Star Wars prequels to me.
  4. Benny Goodman - Santa Claus Came In The Spring
    I love the way the singer says "Santey Claus" in this one.  And I love the arrangement.  And the fact that it's really just a love song masquerading as a Christmas song.  I like to think this song answers Dean Martin's question in "Marshmallow World" of "what if spring is late?".
  5. Half Man Half Biscuit - It's Clichéd To Be Cynical At Christmas
    Come for the title, stay for the mournful melody and clever lyrics from these sardonic Brits.
  6. Atmosphere - If I Was Santa Claus
    This song strikes a nice balance between aspirational and depressing, just like the holiday season itself.  Fun fact: the guy rapping goes by the stage name "Slug."

  7. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects
    This song makes a good counterpoint to James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto." 
    The horns get me every time, as does the "Jingle Bells" tease in the sax solo (which of course is also a callback to the aforementioned James Brown tune).
  8. Black Prairie featuring Sallie Ford - (Everybody’s Waitin’ For) The Man With the Bag
    This was one of only a couple stand-outs on the Starbucks "Holidays Rule" compilation.
      The Shins cover of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" is decent, Paul McCartney's version of "The Christmas Song" is lackluster at best.  Fun.'s "Sleigh Ride" is an overproduced saccharine nightmare, but I usually like that sort of thing, so maybe I'm just being Grinchy.  I love the syncopation on the "if you've done everything you should, extra special good" part of this version, but it took me several listens to be able to sing along on the beat.
  9. DJ John - The Christmas Massacre of Charlie Brown
    Charlie Brown like you've never heard him before.  I love how the samples describe what's going on in the song musically.
  10. The Kinks - Father Christmas
    A classic that's been absent from my playlists for far too long.  Favorite part is when he asks Santa for a machine gun.
  11. Darlene Love - Winter Wonderland
    Another classic from the amazing "A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector."  To be honest, all the songs on there kind of sound alike, but that's OK, because they are all absolutely fantastic.
  12. Jimmy Butler - Trim Your Tree
    This one's a great
    entry in my favorite musical genre: songs that are supposedly about Christmas but are really about getting down.  Way down.  Sample lyric: "I'll bring my beautiful Christmas balls/And sprinkle snow up on your tree."  Yeah.
  13. Matisyahu - Happy Hanukkah
    Matisyahu released this song in conjunction with a Hurricane Sandy relief donation site, so go pay for a download and help out the good people of my adopted hometown.
  14. The Raveonettes - Come On Santa
    A simple comma would have dramatically changed the perceived meaning of this title.  This one's got a nice repetitive drone, but the drums liven things up a bit.
  15. Ukulele Christmas - Deck The Halls
    I don't know who this really is, I couldn't find the artist information, but it's a really nice little version of Deck The Halls - it's nice to hear ukeleles not trying to sound precious.
  16. Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Christmas Eve Can Kill You
    This Everly Brothers cover is sad and beautiful and really rewards repeated listens to catch all the detail in the lyrics and arrangement.
  17. Six by Seven - I Believe in Father Christmas
    A nice cover of a sad Christmas song by Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer fame).  According to Wikipedia, Lake never intended for this to be a Christmas song.  Huh.

  18. Blitzen Trapper - Christmas is Coming Soon
    I don't really have any idea what this song is about, but it's pretty.

  19. Jordan Hirsch - Xmas Medley
    I arranged and recorded this in December 2010 and I love it.  It's a mix of "Angels We Have Heard On High," "Good King Wenceslas," and "Do You Hear What I Hear?".
  20. BONUS TRACK!
Download this year's playlist here.
Be sure to check out previous years' playlists!

10/15/12

Friday Playlist, Monday Edition: Menomena Is Great

I saw Portland OR's Menomena in concert last week, and they were incredible.  It was my 4th time seeing them live (in order, at the Rock and Roll Hotel in DC, the Black Cat in DC, Webster Hall in NYC, and last week at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC), and they never fail to put on a great show.  The encore could have been a bit stronger last week, but that's nitpicking.  They even pulled up a fan from the crowd who was dancing like a maniac to every song (it was clear this guy knew every drum hit, every change, every note) and let him dance up on stage with them during a song.  Pretty cool.

Despite losing a member shortly after the release of their last album (Brent Knopf left to focus full-time on the awesome Ramona Falls), Menomena went on to write and record "Moms" (which you can stream here), their first as a duo instead of a trio.  The album is dark and personal and really good and you should buy it.

Menomena at the Bowery Ballroom 10/11/12
I've been meaning to put together a Menomena playlist for a while now, and last week's concert finally gave me the nudge I needed.  Enjoy!

8/13/12

Just the FLACs, Please.

2 bands I like are releasing new albums shortly:  Brooklyn's Yeasayer and Portland's Menomena.  This is awesome.  In fact, it's so awesome that I went off to go and pre-order both albums.  "It's 2012," I thought to myself, "surely each band will offer me a lossless audio download option for their new albums.  Won't that be nice?"


And then cold, hard reality set in.  Menomena offers a cool t-shirt, a vinyl pressing, and a CD.  That's it.  Yeasayer offers a big deluxe bundle, a CD + a couple MP3s, an LP + a couple MP3s, and an even bigger deluxe bundle.  Neither of them offers a download-only option.  Neither of them is selling through Bandcamp or a similar service.  Neither of them, in short, is catering to me or others like me who truly want to support bands they love, but are not interested in paying an extra $3.60 (for example) for shipping and handling.

And so, bands, I implore you: please give me a download-only, lossless-audio option for your albums!  I will download them.  I will not share them illegally.  I will even promote them on my blog to all 5 of my readers.  Pretty please?  

My plaintive cry to this effect was retweeted by Menomena themselves, and subsequently by many others - telling me I'm not the only one who feels this way.  So maybe, one day soon, things will change. In the meantime, you can check out an awesome track from the new Menomena album here, and you can stream the entirety of the new Yeasayer album here, thanks to the good folks at NPR Music.