Thursday, 8 December 2016


Christmas single reviews

It’s something of a tradition now that every December a slew of Christmas singles appear with a healthy smattering of original attempts as well as some reworkings, all hoping to get that John Lewis contract for next year or at least a stab at the top 40. Rather than cherry pick these I thought I’d just review them all in one go – kinda like demolishing a tin Quality Street in one sitting without any shame. So here goes:

First up we have Corvus with ‘Can You Hear The Sleigh Bells Ringing?’ and it’s a strong start if you like McFly-esque indie-pop lifting melodic elements directly from the Jam’s ‘Going Underground’. It’s an extremely polished piece of music with a definite festive edge (sleigh bells and a slightly creepy attempt at a children’s choir) but there’s something lacking that I like in a Christmas song and that’s the sense of slightly chaos that you expect from an office Christmas party. If you heard this in the background in a Beefeater at Christmas you wouldn’t bat an eyelid but I’m not convinced this is a future classic.

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Peterborough’s The Strawheads are next with ‘But Hey, It’s Christmas’ and now we’ve moved in to slightly depressed socio-political commentary territory a la John Lennon and Gary Jules. There are sleigh bells again (naturally) and a slightly earnest acoustic chug in the style of Crowded House as they sing of war, drug abuse and famine (“the third world crop is failing”) and basically make you feel guilty for eating After Eights for breakfast. Not a bad song but we’ve already got Band Aid to make us feel guilty at Christmas so I’m not sure we need this.

For the only reworking of the night we must turn to Ciaran Lavery as the Irishman takes on the classic ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ with a delicate touch and a rich, haunting vocal. The plodding acoustic plucks are soon augmented by some gloriously rich strings and Lavery’s vocals do the lyrics more than a little justice. There’s a nice little animated video too which works with the live recording to give this song just enough energy to trudge home from the pub on Christmas Eve just as the clock hand passes 12 and the slow flakes start to swirl in the light of a flickering street lamp. 

Changing pace and style completely, it’s time to give Swedish duo Rebecca & Fiona a listen with their blissed out stoner-pop effort, ‘Cold As X-Mas’. Much like compatriot Angie, Rebecca & Fiona like slowing things right down and wearing very little but that doesn’t stop them feeling festive. Their Scandinavian tones do give this a certain festive authenticity and they manage to squeeze “sitting all alone under the mistletoe” in as a lyric while processed church bells chime in the background which is pretty damn Christmassy. The only problem here is that this would be almost impossible for a choir to sing what with all the vocoder effects and backwards sampled vocals.

Now, The Senti-Mentals have plumped for a track called ‘You Show Me Yours At Christmas’ and it’s a little bit lively. There a sleigh bells and chimes, for sure, but then a ska-polka kicks in and the band are off on a mile a minute romp based around the age old chat up line of showing women your genitalia in the hope that they will return the favour. There’s a slightly disturbing video of a badly animated reveller getting repeatedly kicked in the nuts, vomiting all over himself and then getting shat on by a reindeer. Spirited, for sure, but is it festive spirit?

There’s a deep, Eurovision style message from Nita Nielsen on her song ‘One World Together’ which actually has a sense of hope and joy about it that is hard to ignore. More sleigh bells, chimes and a choir lots of mentions of wishing upon stars, silent nights and general feelings of love and generosity. Strangely, Nita spends most of the video hanging around down at the docks in Copenhagen whilst clicking her fingers or singing with a choir of waiters from Prezzo but that doesn’t stop this being a perky, optimistic tune that it’s hard to hate – a bit like your bonkers aunt/uncle who always buys you a weird present but is a right laugh when they’ve had a few.

The simply named ‘Father Christmas’ is the effort from singer-songwriter Jon McDevitt and it has a pleasingly shuffling country-skiffle rhythm that embodies a British high street in the days running up to Christmas. McDevitt employs a Jona Lewie vocal style (i.e. miserable as sin) but there are sleigh bells, a perky fiddle and even a children’s choir singing “I’m Father Christmas, I’ll have a whisky, I’m Father Christmas, will you miss me?” giving the impression that this is some sort of suicide note left to cause some poor child years of therapy and possibly end Christmas for good.

Charles Cave doesn’t sit on the fence when it comes to Christmas as his song ‘This Fucking Time Of Year’ tells you all you need to know about his views on the festive season. That said, the melody is pure 80s pop joy in the vein of Simple Minds or Deacon Blue with a simple keyboard stab and breathy, airy vocals. There’s a gorgeously wonky home video that accompanies this one and the distaste in the lyrics is easy to ignore if you focus on the icicle cool synths.

Finally, we have Homesick Mick with his festive ditty ‘Prisoner To The Past’. The almost a cappella opening is more than a little depressing but when the folky rhythms kick in things do perk up a bit. There is a lyric video which is useful but it’s all a bit preachy and gloomy for my tastes so I’m going 
to pour myself another port and gorge on cheesy footballs until they taste like copper coins.

This year’s crop is a bit like a gift bag from your nan, then, some rubbish, some stuff you’ll use and some things that will be in the bin before Christmas dinner is over. Charles Cave and Ciaran Lavery can share the wish bone and let’s all go loosen our belts to Dr Who.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Chris Hurn – If I Were You (Monkey Records) 
Chris Hurn - If I Were You

Release Date: Out Now

There is no doubting or mistaking that New Zealander Chris Hurn is a composer for film and computer games as well as a regular musician in his own right. ‘If I Were You’ romps and bounds like an excitable teen in a suburban slice of life movie featuring tortuous pregnant pauses and the kind of sexual tension that only teenagers can have. Perky bass licks and guitar flicks bounce around while those smooth vocals coast over like ice cream melting on warm chocolate cake. Hurn sings “Here’s the thing, I’m not stupid, I’m just optimistic” and that’s the very core of this song – unbridled optimism. The video deserves special mention as well in all its Wes Anderson meets Flight of Conchords glory. Quite the package then, Mr Hurn.


Jake Alder feat. Eliza – Horizon 
Jake Alder feat. Eliza - Horizon

Release Date: Out Now

Every now and again you come across a polished, finished article of a tune that could be gracing any top 40 rundown or Now compilation and this new track from producer Jake Alder is one of those occasions. ‘Horizon’ is a slick piece of dance pop that, with the help of vocalist Eliza, creates a twilight anthem to get your summer party off to a classy start. Tight guitar notes roll and flux with pulsing beats and synths weaving in to fill in the gaps in between. Eliza’s smooth, sweet vocal is the perfect fit for a tune with this energy that speaks to the part of the brain that just wants to run away from it all and have some fun in the sun. Keep this one on the back burner until next summer.


The Velveteins – Don’t Yah Feel Better? (Fierce Panda Canada) 
The Velveteins - Don't Yah Feel Better?

Release Date: Out Now

More talent from Canada on its way for your listening pleasure now, in the shape of three piece of The Velveteins. New track ‘Don’t Yah Feel Better?’ has a distinctly British flavour about it with the likes of the Zutons, the Coral, Jake Bugg and the Magic Numbers being evoked by the jangling guitars and sunny chord progressions all nudged along by the shuffling beat. This is a delightful two and a half minutes of indie pop with an emphasis on melody and the only problem I have with it is that it’s almost too summery to be coming out in December – especially in Canada for the love of Santa.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016


Lulu James – Colours 
Lulu James - Colours

Release Date: Out Now

South Shields talent Lulu James has been one of the revelations of 2016 and this new single and video don’t disappoint. ‘Colours’ is a glorious combination of soulful vocals, sparse beats and rich piano tones that all blend together perfectly. Sure there are comparisons to Laura Mvula but there are also elements of Kimbra, The XX, Portishead and a mainstream pop flavour that jars beautifully with edgy, artistic video which sees James exploring the different sides of herself and all the parts that make up what she is now as well as what is to become in the future. This is real, hugely appealing and the kind of tune that has an international market just waiting to lap it up if we can only give it the air time it deserves.


The Shakers – Brixton Kiss 
The Shakers - Brixton Kiss (Photo: Jonjo Roony)

Release Date: Out Now

London quintet The Shakers are pretty much bookending the year on Listen With Monger which is no bad thing as so many bands have that have fallen by the way side in 2016 – never mind legends. The bands new single, ‘Brixton Kiss’, is simultaneously skittish and relaxed with the guitars lurching and swaying around while the drums keep things tight and funky like a Bruno Mars chart smasher. I can just imagine a club full of indie kids losing their collective nut to this song as long as they keep just the right side of that white-boy funk line which they just about achieve by the skin of their skinny jeans.

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Listen Here: 

Live Dates:

22nd December – OTC Bar @ Off The Cuff, London

12th January – The Half Moon, Putney


Stella Rio – Don’t Go Away 
Stella Rio - Don't Go Away

Release Date: Out Now

There is a slew of singers, performers, artists (call them what you will) who are great at interpreting the songs of others these days but they don’t tend to worry themselves with song writing as an art form. Now, normally I would be raging at this slacktivity but what this does mean is that there is a group of unsung heroes (pun intended) in the background writing the songs and biding their time until the limelight is theirs for the taking. Toronto native Stella Rio is one such heroine who has paid her dues (and her rent) writing for the likes of Little Mix and DVBBS but now, with ‘Don’t Go Away’, it is her time to shine. The hypnotic, circular piano riff is gorgeous in its own right but then you’ve got the muted industrial beat and Stella Rio’s stunningly soft vocal that creeps in through the sea mist and winds unnoticed around your legs, your heart, your senses until you’re completely enveloped in it. I’m sure her song writing talents will continue to be in high demand but with a voice like this I’m betting Stella Rio is ready to fly solo and boy is she gonna soar.