Almost every year, we round up a mess of amazingly tolerable local songs that are helping to improve the predominately terrible holiday music genre. Just when we think we’ve found the last of them, area musicians release a new batch of spirited compositions and Christmastime covers to help improve the holiday catalog even more. We also manage to unearth a few Milwaukee-made holiday songs Christmas past along the way. This holiday season is no exception, as we’ve been impressed with some festive new releases and music video from Milwaukee acts, and we’ve found some older material worth regifting. If you’re sick of the same old songs, here’s some more locally-made songs and yuletide albums to add to your wintry mix.
1. Amos Pitsch – Yule and Lake Effect
When he isn’t helping to put Wisconsin music on the map with his work in Tenement and Dusk, Amos Pitsch is doing his part to spread holiday cheer. Last December, the Appleton singer-songwriter stuffed streaming service stockings with Yule, a digital EP with six seasonal songs. This December, Pitsch has outdone himself with another collection of wintry originals called Lake Effect. Pitsch wrote and played everything on the festive solo follow-up release except strings, which Julia Blair handled (though Pitsch composed the arrangements). Lake Effect has two re-recorded songs from Yule that Pitsch wanted to live on in a physical format, along with nine new offerings.
2. Caley Conway – Heart Be Light EP
Caley Conway’s appreciation for the tradition of seasonal hallmarks, combined with her awareness of Christmas’ gift potential recently inspired her to record a holiday EP she hopes will help pay to record an original release at a studio that’s “just outside [her] budget.” The source material on Heart Be Light might be familiar, but Conway admits she took artistic liberty “with abandon” in each of the four seasonal standards she selected by taking out lyrics she either didn’t like or didn’t know. “I also didn’t bother to look up how any of these songs are actually formatted in terms of chord progression,” Conway says. “It was a cool process for me because I just captured what resonated with my intuition. And I have a rich emotional history with Christmas, so that ended up being pretty easy.”
3. Couch Flambeau – “Santa Claus Skips Cudahy”
This oldie-but-goodie was somehow left off our previous lists, but this spirited (mean-spirited) Cudahy diss track from Couch Flambeau deserves a place on your wintry mix. Poor Cudahy.
4. Decibully – “Like A Child On Christmas Day”
During their run, Decibully gave Milwaukee the gift of four outstanding full-length albums. Before the band ended, the band also listeners a song specifically suited for the holidays.”Like A Child On Christmas Day” was apparently recorded for use on a holiday compilation for The O.C., but never used. On Christmas eve in 2009, two years after the Fox series was cancelled, Decibully offered the single up for free.
5. Kavon Cortez Jones – “Merry Christmas, Milwaukee”
Poet, activist, author, and Milwaukee native Kavon Cortez Jones says he’s always wanted to write a piece that captured the sights, sounds, and characters of downtown on Christmas Day, saying a holiday poem was “years in the making.” In 2015, Jones spent an hour recording a poem he wrote and committed to memory with Ugly Brothers’ Alex Heaton, who added upright bass and piano accompaniment. Just in time for Christmas Eve, Jones said “Merry Christmas, Milwaukee” in a poem by the same name. “The spirit of Milwaukee will be singing for you,” Jones says over improvised jazz chords. “Remember to spread the love this new year. Merry Christmas, Milwaukee.”
6. Masked Intruder – Under The Mistletoe
Okay, okay…so Masked Intruder is from Madison, but Officer Bradford–the pop-punk band’s uniformed heel–is from Milwaukee. Frankly, where they come from won’t matter much once you unwrap the band’s 2013 holiday EP. The two-song release features the lively title track and an unprecedented adaptation of “Silent Night” that you’ll need to hear to fully appreciate.
7. Space Raft – “Another Holiday Is Here”
Following an (arguably too long) inter-band discussion about Mrs. Doubtfire and a missing phone, the Space Raft guys are joined in the basement—the site of another Space Raft video—by none other than Santa Claus. The big guy, played by two members of The Mistreaters, bestows gifts on the boys and serves up holiday cheer in canned and bottled forms. The merry motif of the video that was primarily shot and edited by the band’s members seems to suit the tone of the joyous holiday hymn, which can already be considered one of the highlights in Milwaukee’s ever-growing Christmastime catalog.
8. Testa Rosa – Songs For Melting Snow EP
Testa Rosa loves Christmas. The band’s holiday shows have basically become a December standard in Milwaukee. At such events (this year’s took place last weekend), Testa Rosa plays songs from their 2006 Christmas EP. Songs For Melting Snow includes originals and covers with themes that range from “the tribulations of holiday shopping, to the joy of a canine Christmas morn and the rebirth of love during spring’s first thaw.”
9. Xposed 4Heads – “8 Bit Ride”
It’s like “Sleigh Ride” with more bleeps and bloops.