Here are songs #80 to #71 in the 2018 edition of Indi’s alternative holiday playlist.
Kyle Andrews is a Nashville-based musician who trades in upbeat, energetic, indie tunes. He’s had a few songs featured in commercials, but most of his success has been on YouTube. He’s had more than one song’s video go viral, and his tunes have been used as the theme music by popular YouTube personalities.
His biggest claim to fame, though, may be his participation in a 2010 attempt to break the Guinness World Record for biggest water balloon fight. Brigham Young University organized the attempt, which boasted 3,927 participants – a mere 25 more than the previous record, set by the University of Kentucky. (The record was broken again a year later by the University of Kentucky again, this time with a whopping 8,957 participants.) In the middle of the massive water balloon fight, Andrews recorded a video for “You Always Make Me Smile”. That video went viral, and today has almost 3 million views.
Yes, the band’s name is “!!!”, three exclamation points. They’re an indie dance-punk band out of California (currently based in New York), mostly made up of members of other bands. They were at the height of their popularity in the mid-/late-2000s, but they still exist in some form or another.
The band’s name is inspired by the alveolar click, whose IPA symbol is “ǃ”. That’s a bar with a dot underneath, but it looks like an exclamation mark (“!”). The band got the idea from the 1980 comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy, which starred Namibian bush farmer Nǃxau ǂToma, and featured the Juǀ’hoan language with its famous clicks and tones. The band has said their name can be pronounced using any three monosyllabic sounds (I’ve heard “bang-bang-bang” used), but in practice the “official” pronunciation is “chk-chk-chk”.
Summer Fiction is Bill Ricchini, who has released two albums – 2010’s Summer Fiction and 2015’s Himalaya – under the name (as well as a few releases under his own name). Ricchini, as Summer Fiction, trades in warm, AM radio-friendly guitar pop like “By The Sea” and “Chandeliers”.
There’s a lot of throwback to 1960s and even 1950s pop in Summer Fiction’s sound – see “Chandeliers”, for example – and “Christmas Eve For Two” turns that up to eleven. This is a tune that would be very much at home in a retrospective collection from one of those decades, both lyrically and in its tune and arrangement.
Everything But The Girl is the duo of Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn, who for many years were a couple -even eventually married – without their fans knowing. They’re most famous for their 1994 dance classic “Missing”, but they’re not just a dance pop act, as they’re often described. They actually have a very diverse repertoire, swinging through folk, jazz, and more. Check out their first hit, 1984’s “Each and Every One”, with its bossa nova sound.
This track, with its indie folk rock flavour, is yet another example of their diversity. It actually comes from the same album as “Missing”, 1994’s Amplified Heart.
Jenny O. is a New York singer/songwriter currently based in Los Angeles. She earned critical praise for her 2011 debut EP Home; of the 5 songs on the EP, at least 3 – “Home”, “I Do, I Do”, and “Well OK Honey” – have been featured on major TV shows like The Good Wife and True Blood, and multiple ad campaigns. She’s since had multiple songs from her follow-ups on other hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy,Hart of Dixie,iZombie, and Orange Is the New Black.
This track was Jenny O.’s first holiday track. It was actually part of a 2010 compilation of original indie holiday music by Target – the department store chain – called The Christmas Gig: Two Thousand Ten.
75. ★ “Christmas Day” – Dido
Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong – you probably know her better as just Dido – has had an incredibly successful career, right from the start. Her first two albums, 2000’s No Angel and 2003’s Life For Rent, are the #2 and #7 selling albums of the 2000s in the UK, and her breathy singing style is instantly recognizable on sings like 2003’s “White Flag”. Interestingly, she’s had almost as much success writing or collaborating with other artists as she’s had on her own. She allowed her song “Thank You” to be sampled and even appeared in the video for Eminem’s 2000 dark hip-hop classic “Stan”, and co-wrote the memorable Britney Spears hit “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”.
This song tells a beautiful, romantic, but ultimately bittersweet story of a chance meeting. A man passing by asks if he can warm himself by the fire with a family that includes a young woman. After a few drinks, the man abruptly tells the woman how beautiful she is, and promises that he will come back for her… on Christmas day. The woman, smitten, resolves to wait… and wait… and wait. But the man never returns.
Math and Physics Club started out in 2004 as an experiment by Charles Bert and James Werle, recording music in their basement. They recorded a couple of songs and released them on the Internet, and their demo caught the attention of the non-profit radio station KEXP-FM. Before they’d even mustered an official release, they were getting buzz. An EP and eponymous album followed in 2005 and 2006, the latter of which has been named the best indie pop album of the year.
Unfortunately, just a few weeks ago in late September, James Werle passed away after a private battle with cancer. It’s too early to say what the future of Math and Physics club is.
Mazzy Star’s dreamy “Fade Into You” is a key entry in the soundtrack of the 1990s, but it came completely out of the blue. It started with a band named Rain Parade, which was basically the founder of an entire subgenre of psychedelic indie alt-rock in the early 1980s. When Rain Parade fell apart, one of the founders – David Roback – went on to form Opal, with lead vocalist Kendra Smith. At the same time, a high-school girl named Hope Sandoval had started a folk duo with her friend Sylvia Gomez. Both Sandoval and Gomez were fans of Rain Parade, and Gomez managed to finagle herself backstage at an Opal show, and give a demo tape of herself and Sandoval to Roback. Roback was impressed, and offered to help the duo produce an album. But then Kendra Smith was kicked out of Opal mid-tour, and Roback got Sandoval to replace her. Things went okay for a while, but Sandoval was not happy being merely a replacement for Smith, singing Smith’s songs, and so on, so Roback and Sandoval rebooted Opal as… Mazzy Star. They got off to a decent start, with their debut album getting some airplay, but then their record company folded. Mazzy’s Star’s contract fell into the hands of the massive, international powerhouse label Capitol Records who probably neither really knew they had it, and probably wouldn’t have even cared if they did. Capitol never really promoted the group’s second album, 1993’s So Tonight That I Might See, but a year after its release, “Fade Into You” started tearing up the charts, and Capitol belatedly realized what they had on their hands. So Tonight That I Might See has since been recognized as one of the best dream pop albums of all time, and “Fade Into You” is an undisputed 90s signature classic.
Mazzy Star has been on-again-off-again since then. After begging to be released from their Capitol contract because, according to Sandoval, the big label just didn’t grok the kind of underground music they were making, Sandoval and Roback did solo stuff for a while, but eventually reformed. And they’re still kicking around today; in fact, they just released a new EP in 2018. This track is their last Capitol release, from their third album, 1996’s Among My Swan (their next album wouldn’t be until 2013’s Seasons of Your Day), and was decent hit in its own right.
Best Coast and Wavves are a pair of California-based bands whose stories are inextricably intertwined by the relationship between Best Coast front woman Bethany Cosentino and Wavves front man Nathan Williams. Cosentino is an interesting story; in an alternate universe, she might have been the next Avril Lavigne, or perhaps Gwen Stefani or Taylor Swift. She was scouted while still in her teens and offered major record label contracts, but turned them all down because she didn’t want to be a “pop princess”. In reality, Cosentino seems to have always suffered from anxiety issues – it’s why she puts so much reverb on her voice (as in this song) to hide her real voice. Meanwhile, Williams was an infamous rock-star-wannabe brat, who had a legendary on-stage meltdown at the 2009 Barcelona Primavera Sound Festival, where he screamed at (former) drummer Rian Ulsh and insulted the audience. He later admitted he had a drinking problem (and was on ecstasy and valium). The relationship between the two was the talk of the indie scene in the early 2010s, but it seemed doomed; it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And yet… somehow the two seem to have stabilized each other. Both bands are better now than they have ever been, and are still getting better.
This song comes from the very beginning of their stories. For Best Coast, it was shortly after the release of their debut album Crazy For You, which was then in the process of ripping up the charts and attracting them attention and success far faster than they were expecting. For Wavves, it was not long after the Barcelona meltdown and a lineup change, and the release of their second album King of the Beach, which was getting widespread critical acclaim and being listed on several “best of” lists for 2010. This track may – I can’t swear on this – be the first collaboration between the two bands, but there have been many more in the years since.
Slow Club is the UK duo of Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson, both talented musicians who play several instruments. They count atheist actor Daniel Radcliffe among their fans, and their video for “Beginners” features a single 4-minute shot of Radcliffe pretending to be in a drunken depression, dancing and jumping on tables to play air guitar, all while lip-syncing over Taylor’s vocals.
This tune comes from the band’s very early days – it was only their third single, off of the 20-minutes 2009 LP Christmas, Thanks for Nothing. The lyrics are glorious, talking about finding happiness with a lover, even despite all the shitty things and worries in their lives:
It’s not bad of you to think of what might go wrong. But you can’t blame me for secretly hoping that I’ll prove you wrong.