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Christmas Music: Saint Etienne, Mariah Carey, Tuscadero, Mary Timony

I wrote a Christmas song once. It's been lost to the sands of time and warped cassettes, but it was a track that was not-very-vaguely about a dude I'd been seeing at the time. He lived in another state and liked Star Wars, which I had last seen when I was three, so I took the melody of the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria," wrote a few lyrics about lightsabers and plane trips, and asked a four-track-enabled friend to assist with guitar parts and recording. Et voila, a holiday love song, sung by a totally twee me. Sweaters and cocoa for all! Oh, and the guy and I broke up about two weeks later. READ MORE

Why The Ads For Christmas Engagement Rings Make Me Uncomfortable

It's not even December, but the "aggravating trends in holiday commercials" list is already filling itself out quite nicely, and right behind the chart-topping scourge of twee that is Pomplamoose has to be the surge in ads for diamond merchants like Jared, Zales, and Kay, all of which have decided that the best way for a man to celebrate the season is to put a sparkly ring on his intended's finger. But all these ads are doing for me, a red-blooded American female, is solidifying my belief that that I never want someone in a relationship with me to feel like they have to "propose." READ MORE

New Music: The Joy Formidable, LeeLou, PJ Harvey, Kylie Minogue, and Florrie

Over the past two years the new band I've been most thankful for is the Welsh trio The Joy Formidable; led by a powerhouse blonde named Ritzy Bryan, they sound like all the best bits of alt-nation's brief matriarchal rule, full of energy and passion and galloping drums. Last year, I probably would have worn out the grooves on their hyperactive single "Cradle" had I listened to it in physical form, and this year I have them on repeat again thanks to "I Don't Want To See You Like This," an impassioned look at a broken relationship that's currently fighting it out for the top spot on my "2010 awesomeness" list. READ MORE

New Music: Marnie Stern, Sky Larkin, Shakira and the xx

My greatest regret of CMJ week, which just blew through New York in a whirlwind of panels and open bars and late-night Kanye sightings, was missing the almost-dozen performances by Marnie Stern. Marnie's self-titled album, which came out earlier this month on Kill Rock Stars, is my favorite record of the year—brash but vulnerable, energetic but melancholy, and stuffed with ideas from top to bottom. Plus, "Female Guitar Players Are The New Black" is not only a great title that sorta-forces critics to deal with their "OMG a girl is playing guitar really fast that's like so weird" biases, it's a whirlwind of a track, with an army of Sterns leading the assault over Zach Hill's pummeling drumming and guitar bursts that sound like they were inspired by the "pew! pew!" sounds people make when they're playing Finger Lasers. READ MORE