This is the second of my series of Jens Lekman posts. What prompted me to so quickly dive back into the Jens Lekman catalogue? Well, he updated his website yesterday, and seems to suggest that he sold only 16 records last year. While I find this absolutely baffling, I would still like you to take a moment and discover Jens’ music if you haven’t already. If you are already a fan, you may be excited to know that he is presently accepting orders directly from his home for signed CDs at a “pay what you wish” price point, as long as you also cover postage. Normally I would jump all over this, but I already have all his records, and had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago and he graciously signed my 12″ of When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog.
Enough exposition about Jens and why he needs the support of those who love him, and those who have yet (but most certainly will) to love him. Back in 2011, Jens surprised us with a small present on his Smalltalk blog, a modest, 3-song zip file of holiday piano pieces he wrote in San Francisco back in 2005 – hence the title. They are all instrumental, but each quite lovely. Certainly a worthy pickup for its price: Free. Take that money you saved by not having to buy anything and buy one of his other records, for yourself or for a friend.
Bottom Line: Simple, thoughtful piano pieces from one of my absolute favorite artists. For the price, it cannot be beat. In the right context, I might even sneak it on to a mix. 5/5
Allo Darlin’ have a long history of Christmas tunes. In fact their first-ever release was a Christmas EP. I may review that one day soon as well; we’ll just see how it shakes out. I am not hear to talk about the distant past, but the ever-so-recent release from 2012, their WIAIWYA 7″ from last December. The Christmas song that resides on the A-side is one of my absolute favorite of the past few years, “Only Dust Behind.” This is one of those tracks that I just always come back to. My only regret… that I was unable to get my act together to buy a vinyl copy. However, as consolation, a lovely FLAC waits for you at the link above. I will not bloviate any more, you really just need to listen to it.
The Bears released this lovely little 7″ record back in 2009, and I am flabbergasted that they are still available. Limited to 250 copies, the Bears are offering up this EP (6-songs!) for a mere $2! The songs are classic indiepop – beautiful music, melancholy lyrics. I recently revisited their Twitter account, and they made mention of their love of the Acid House Kings. This love, which I share, can be heard throughout this record. Standouts (for me) are “Easy Days” and the slow grower “Holidays.” Also not to be ignored, the extremely cheery “Merry Christmas Have a Happy New Year,” where the Bears delightfully sing “To all the people we hate / have a terrible year.” Hussah!
Bottom Line: Truly worth the $2, and then some. 4.5/5
This is one of those pretty ubiquitous releases that everyone knows about already, at least, for those searching out indie rock/pop Christmas tunes. That said, its not one of the better ones. I want to single out a great track that you NEED TO HEAR, but I’m at a loss to find one. The entire release is ok, but just that. Nothing on there makes me cringe, but nothing makes me excited. It hurts me to say so too, in that I really like the Parasol label, and greatly miss their distro.
However, don’t take my word as sacrosanct. I may be looking for something that you are not, and again, nothing on this release really sucks to the point where I would discourage you from listening on your own.
Bottom Line: When I think of average, I think of a record like this. 3/5
So, this is the first in a series of Jens Lekman Christmas tunes I plan on posting. If you are familiar with the Swedesplease.net Christmas rundown, than you know and love this particular song already. If not, please do enjoy your first listen.
Jens Lekman released this little gem on the appropriately titled October 2005 : USA Tour EP. There are only 200 of these handmade CDrs out there, and one day I hope to be in that elite group. For now, I will have to settle for an MP3 (though I did suggest to his management that some of us would love a Bandcamp site). “Run Away with Me” starts off extremely strong – jingle bells and the driving beat that those familiar with Jens’ earlier, more uptempo work will absolutely love. The lyrics are also classic Jens. Since its a short song, I thought I might post them all:
What are you gonna do on Christmas Eve Please don’t spend it with your family I know you love your mommy But she’s more like a mummy
She’s so empty, She’s so empty So run away with me
She’s so empty She’s so empty So run away with me
Yeah I know it’s been a bad year And I can trace every tear Back to your little life But I can see a future for you and I
Because we’re not empty We’re not empty So run away with me
We’re not empty We’re not empty So run away with me now baby
If you make a mix that is at all along the lines of mine, then this song is either already on one, or NEEDS TO BE. What a weird, dark, beautifully orchestrated Christmas song.
Bottom Line: This is one of my favorites. I really, really, really need a higher source than the MP3 that Jens’ website offers. Anyone out there want to help a guy out? christmasunderground(at)gmail.com. 5/5
Two excellent little songs from the rather mysterious Faye and The Scrooges have come across my Soundcloud searches of late. Before I inquired, very little could be found about them. Google searches led to nothing. I thought, perhaps, there was an odd Aluna George connection, since that is the only band they followed. They had 2 songs up, and by all measures, were quite obscure with two very modest play counts (as of now, 80/768). I took a moment and asked them who they heck they were, and learned that this is the product of a group of friends who get together and write/record a Christmas song with just enough time to give them to friends at the pub on Christmas eve. Judging by the production value, this group of friends knows their way around a recording – they sound great. Both songs are silly, but not too silly as to be annoying. They are simply quite clever, and extremely enjoyable. Jump on this bandwagon and add to their 4 followers, and while you’re at it, follow Pluto Rise on Facebook and Soundcloud – because two of the members of this trio have started a band, and its bound to be pretty damn good.
Bottom Line: Faye and The Scrooges have my vote. They are one year away from writing an indie classic. Perhaps set up a Bandcamp to allow FLAC downloads? 4/5
Parenthetical Girls never disappoint when it comes to Christmas tunes; They are ALWAYS interesting. 2012’s edition, Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls, does not have any of the sure-fire xmas singles that some of their early releases had, but the entire release is uniquely fantastic. This release is a fully-formed group of songs meant to be listened to as a set. After some basic research, I am led to believe that all these songs may very well be originals, but I just await that clarification from my better educated readers. For example, there are a bunch of “Christmas Mourning” tunes out there, but the Parenthetical Girls’ version rings original to me. My favorite track would have to be the gorgeous “The Salvation Army Bell.” Parenthetical Girls can be wonderfully abrasive, but this track is like a warm hug… at least, as warm as the Parenthetical Girls can be. The lyrics set such a vivid scene and very much suggest the short story that comes in the final 12-minute track, with lines like: “A cold day, the end of December / those bright bells chimed. / In a twin bed, we swore to each other / you’d show me yours, if I showed you mine.” Parenthetical Girls, please continue this tradition. You are in the top tier of Christmas songsmiths, and each release is a welcome addition to the underground Christmas canon.
Bottom Line: This release stands beautifully as a fully realized piece of art. Would be a perfect 5/5 if I could have just squeezed on single off it, which I am well aware, is antithetical to why I loved this record. 4.6/5
Nobody has noticed this yet, but I have created a Christmas Underground Facebook page to compliment the website and the Twitter account. So many ways to get your obscure(ish) Christmas tune fix. How do you like to get your CU updates? Feel free to choose and let me know. Oh, and btw, feel free to comment on my posts so I don’t feel so terribly, terribly alone. Single tear. Sniffle.
Oh, and I got a crazy amount of traffic from Facebook on Sunday – more than this modest site ever has received. Any idea where it all came from?
Lisa Bouvier is presently the bassist in the excellent indiepop band The Proctors, but that does not stop her from releasing her own solo material. This simple, two track Christmas single, is released on Cath ‘N’ Dad Records, which allows you to name your own price on all their releases. The catch? All the proceeds go to the charity of the band’s own choosing. Lisa chose Popkollo, a Swedish (yes, she is Swedish – I’m such a sucker for the Swedes) charity best described by Lisa:
Popkollo started as a music summer camp for girls, and is now a nationwide collaboration of incredible female musicians who support girls all over Sweden in their musical endeavours.
As for the songs, they are short, sweet, and performed beautifully. Not quite sure they are the kind of vibe that I look for in my Christmas mix, but certainly would fit the bill for some of you. To the best of my knowledge, “Christmas Rain” appears to be Lisa’s own song. There are other songs with the same title, but not a match when I compared the lyrics. It is an excellent song, and the production value is of equal quality. The second and final song is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Covered by a million other singers, Lisa’s version does nothing to rewrite the script. However, she does it quite nicely.
Bottom Line: Lisa Bouvier’s Christmas single is short, sweet, well performed and produced, and all the proceeds go to charity. I think you’ll be quite pleased with your purchase. 4.3/5
And for good measure, be sure to check out The Proctors, the band Lisa is presently touring the world with.
Sober & Gentle Buy:RoW (as in… not available in the US, barely available to the world)
Did you enjoy Cocoon? Because if you did, you may like Peaks. Why? Because its one half of Cocoon (Morgane Imbeaud) singing a song that has nearly the same name! Officially released on their debut mini-album, Love, this song was also promoted as a Christmas gift from Peaks last year. I do not believe it was ever available for free download though…
As you can imagine, the music is quite lovely. It is unavoidable for a band associated with Morgane Imeaud. Now lets take a stab at the lyrics… if you guessed dark, you guessed right! The song finds the lead character lamenting how wonderful it would be if they were still in love and stuck inside together, while crying that her love is not there and not coming back again. So bring that mix back down to earth with this fuzzy little Christmas dirge.
Bottom Line: You guessed it. I’m a fan. Loses points because of the extreme lengths you may have to go through to actually purchase this song. Sober & Gentle will not ship to the US, and I can’t find it on Amazon/iTunes. 4.2/5