Begun in 2013 by my personal holiday hero, Robert Voogt, Snowflakes Christmas Singles this year turn seven. And number seven proves to be lucky for all of us.
The original idea was to preserve, modernize, pay tribute to and carry forward the beloved institution of the Christmas single. Back in 2013, the Christmas single was all but a memory. Heck, the 7″ vinyl single (Christmas or not) was all but extinct. If you’re anywhere near my age, you grew up with a stack of 7″ vinyl singles…it was THE medium for music for teens, tweens and young adults. Though growing older meant a move to 12″ albums, most of us never lost our love of the 7″ 45. But then came the digital age and, in my opinion, something was lost. For all the convenience of a digital single, you can’t see it, you can’t touch it, hold it in your hands, marvel at the grooves of it all, and you can’t enjoy the aroma of freshly minted vinyl. We have 5 senses and digital singles only reach one. To me, things becoming less physical–more virtual–leads to a lack of trust in reality itself. Vinyl has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, but a 7″ vinyl single is still the exception and not the rule. Yet a 7″ vinyl single is a thing of beauty…a wonder to behold. Nothing is quite so exciting as putting a 7″ record on the turntable and placing the tonearm at the beginning of the record. Oooh, the anticipation of waiting for that first note. And nothing is quite so zen as watching the record go round and round as the music plays. (And digitizing your vinyl is amusingly meta. Just sayin’.)
For his Snowflakes, Robert Voogt identifies the best emerging bands around the globe, invites their participation, and pays all recording costs. The bands or artists record one original and one cover song which are pressed to Snow White vinyl. The artists provide their own artwork, which is then reproduced to sturdy cardboard for a top quality picture sleeve. These are quality records, prepared with all the love and care which you would employ if they were your own–possibly more. The releases are very limited…no more than 320 of each (with rare exceptions)…and very reasonably priced (for comparison, the coming Cats In Space 45, which I’m also excited about, goes for 10 euros while a Snowflakes single is only 7). There’s a reason Robert refers to his collection as the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club; “membership” is extremely limited. But you don’t need to be anyone special to belong…just a lover of new and exciting Christmas music. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Snowflakes Christmas singles has ever appeared anywhere else. You won’t find these tunes on any CD comps anywhere and there is no second pressing; when they’re gone, they’re gone for good. Their quality and limited nature make them great keepsake collectibles. A copy of The Smoke Fairies’ Snowflakes single, sold out for years now, will currently set you back anywhere from $20 to $40 on the secondary market, and that record is only a few years old. But you don’t buy Snowflakes Christmas Singles for the investment possibilities; you buy them for the love of Christmas music and vinyl. And, if you are here at Stubby’s, odds are pretty good you love Christmas music and vinyl. In short, these are just for you.
For year 7, we get 3 new records. The bands are SuperBravo (from France), Us and Them (from Sweden). and Livingmore from right here in the good old USA. As is our own tradition, here, we share our thoughts on the bands below with a more-or-less random non-Christmas cut from each of them, just so you get a taste of their sounds and styles. Pre-orders are now LIVE! Clicking on the cover art will take you to where you can pre-order each single. Or you can save money by pre-ordering a bundle of all 3, here. The official release date is November 22 but, if you pre-order early, you’re likely to get your Snowflakes Singles substantially before the official release date. There are also limited quantities available of most of the previous Snowflakes Singles (several have sold out), which you can purchase individually or, if you’re just getting started, bundled up in one big package of Snowflakes Christmas joy. Snowflakes Singles are also available through Bandcamp, though the 2019 additions won’t be posted there for awhile and there are no bundles there.
SuperBravo is something of a French supergroup…featuring super sexy vocalist Armelle Pioline (of Holden), Julie Gasnier (of Lalafactory) and Michel Peteau (of Cheval Fou and Nyl). If you lived in France, you’d know those bands. The three formed SuperBravo in 2016, combining that sensual sound of 60s French Pop with 70s Pysch and 80s Synth Pop. It’s a bit like Eurythmics if you softened some of the edges, took more chances with the sounds, and replaced the roar of lioness Annie Lennox with the purring of a Parisian kitten. OK, so nothing at all like Eurythmics (but I’ve always wanted to type “the purring of a Parisian kitten”, so I can cross that off the bucket list, now). SuperBravo goes beyond any simple explanation, weaving magic and mystery into their sound. Deeply layered, endlessly fascinating, intriguing and inviting, yet thoroughly accessible.
SuperBravo’s Snowflakes original is “La Nuit” (“The Night”) which, even if you don’t understand the lyrics, conveys the magic, majesty and mystery of Christmas Eve in all of it’s wonder. You can easily visualize Santa preparing for his annual trip around the world, accompanied by the knowing excitement of elves and other mythical creatures and the singing of heavenly angels. For their cover song, SuperBravo offers their interpretation of one of the best known children’s Christmas songs from France, “Chanson Pour Les Enfants l’Hiver” (“Song for the Children of Winter”), which tells the tale of a snowman who sought to warm himself by the fire…with predictable results.
As our exemplar, here, we’ve chosen “Seule” (“Alone”) from SuperBravo’s 2017 album “L’Angle Vivant”.
Livingmore’s Snowflakes original, “Show Me Light and Love” is an instant winner, a catchy Rocker that sounds like a lost classic from the late 70s (and the only Christmas song I can think of off hand to name-check jello molds). It’s definitely something worthy of playing again and again, over and over, possibly for days at a time. They strip everything away for the flip, an acoustic cover of “Winter Wonderland”, so you can focus on the fascinating harmony vocals from Moore and Livingston. That one reminds me a bit of when Columbia records would recruit a contemporary Pop act to contribute a track or two to those Goodyear albums of old. In short, their take is both fresh and traditional, destined to be enjoyed by children of all ages.
For our selection, here, we’re going with “Really Mean It”, which is closer in style to the hook laden “Show Me Light And Love” than is “Dead Fruit”. But if this is your first encounter with Livingmore, it wouldn’t surprise me if you’d want to collect up all of their works to date…which you can check out on Bandcamp.
Us and Them make some of the most beautiful music you will ever hear. It’s the soft Psych Folk of Simon & Garfunkle’s “Scarborough Fair” meeting the dreamy delicate vocals of Marianne Faithful. The sound is fragile as a faberge egg, but that is deceiving. For behind the fragile facade is something of such substance and weight as to be unbreakable. Us and Them offer you the opportunity to drift off to a fantasy realm of your choosing or to contemplate the deeper meaning of your own actual life. You can even do both…simultaneously. There’s a very cinematic quality to the music of Us and Them, which is highly conducive to whichever mental endeavor you undertake.
For their Snowflakes single, Us and Them have written “When The Stars Are Shining Brightly”, a bit of bittersweet nostalgia mixed with the eternal question of whether one can or can not go home again. And, while most of the cover songs selected for Snowflakes singles have been well-known tunes with plenty of December miles on them, Us and Them have opted for “Winter”, a relatively recent composition from Tori Amos which, in the hands of Britt and Anders, sounds like it was written especially for Us and Them (no puns intended).
For our selection, here, we’ve chosen a cover of The Hollies’ song “Butterfly”. Us and Them’s version can be found on the vinyl-only Hollies tribute record “Re-Evolution” (which may or may not be sold out).
Au revoir, mes amis. Au revoir, chats et chatons. Jusqu’à la prochaine fois. Or, as we say in this country, so long until next time.