strayfolk

Strayfolk “Christmas Day” (2008)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

How about some wonderful Americana from Sweden for your Saturday morning? Strayfolk came into my radar back in 2008, courtesy of Swedesplease, and their “Christmas Day” immediately became part of my regular rotation. Long existing as an mp3 floating out in the ether of the internet, it now has a home on Bandcamp. Why would you go to Bandcamp, rather than just popping over to their website? Well, because you can now get a FLAC version, as well as show your appreciation for such a great song with a buck. Christmas Underground is all about supporting the artists that make our season happen.

Bottom Line: You and your country band are going to want to cover this song, so go buy it and start practicing. 5/5

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A Very Special Colourmusic Christmas, Vol. 1

Colourmusic – A Very Special Colourmusic Christmas, Vol. 1 (2013)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Colourmusic has put together a very enjoyable, at times silly, collection of 7 original Christmas tunes for the 2013 Christmas season. As an added bonus, those of you who love a good piece of vinyl will be pleased – a limited translucent green vinyl edition is also available! There is really nothing on this record that I particularly dislike, and some tracks that I very much enjoy. I feel as though you could put this on at a party, and nobody would be a big whiner and ask you to change it.

Bottom Line: Certainly listenable, and you might just love it. 3.9/5

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Comes with a Smile: Protect Our Secret Handshake

Gordon Downie “Christmastime in Toronto (Alt. Version)” (2003)

Comes with a Smile
Buy: Discogs

Gordon Downie is best known as the lead singer for the Tragically Hip – so while you may not know him, that name likely rings a bell. This is one of my ultimate finds… because this version of “Christmastime in Toronto” lives in only one place and is not available digitally. Comes with a Smile was a magazine + CD that specifically curated tracks unavailable anywhere else. It was a wealth of interesting bands, alternate takes, one-off covers, and the world is lessened with its folding in 2006. If you are so inclined to pick up Magazine #13 (with comes with CD #9, Protect Our Secret Handshake), you will be treated to this alternate version, which in my estimation, is vastly superior to the version that made it onto the record (the alternate version ROCKS the F* OUT). I always hesitate to give away free music when it wasn’t given away free to begin with, so I will have to defer to your own personal motivation… if you want it, you gotta get it yourself. I am not heartless though – if you want to hear it, head over to my mix from 2006, Fold Your Hands Santa, You Walk Like an Elf, and wait for track #9.

Bottom Line: Dig and you shall find a winner. 5/5

an Indiecater Christmas

An Indiecater Christmas (2008)

Indiecater Records
Buy: Bandcamp7Digital MP3

An Indiecater Christmas was Indiecater Records‘ first foray into Christmas tunes, beginning a streak that ended in 2011. But wait… set your clocks for December 1, because 2013’s edition is not far away! But I digress – 2008 felt like a moment in time where a wealth of comprehensive indie Christmas comps were coming out (as opposed to the single tracks that I see more frequently now), and An Indiecater Christmas is one of those must-have releases of yesteryear.

There are plenty of good songs on this record, but I will call out a few for review’s sake. The Very Most, purveyors of generally excellent Christmas tunes, give us the jingle-bell heavy “This Year, Christmas Came on November 4th.”  A solid tune, that could sneak its way onto anyone’s Christmas mix without much trouble.

Jape and David Kitt (YES!) contribute an appropriately titled “I Will Cry this Christmas.” While I do enjoy the vibe, and even the song in general, I can’t bring myself to put it on a mix. Perhaps your mix will have different needs – because its an excellent song – and I f*ing love David Kitt. I wish he would do another Christmas tune…

My Teenage Stride‘s “Is it Christmastime Already,” has a vibe and production value that makes you think that it is already a Christmas classic. Any major-label band that wants to pick it up, cover it, and throw it on their platinum-selling Christmas record will likely make this song a holiday staple.

There are many other good songs on this record – but when it comes to large compilations, and with my job/child/computer problems, brevity shall be my mantra.

Bottom Line: Great price, great songs, why not? 4/5

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For Folk's Sake 2012

For Folk’s Sake it’s Christmas 2012 (2012)

For Folk’s Sake
Buy: Bandcamp

For Folk’s Sake has been putting out Christmas compilations for (including this year) four years now, and I do hope it continues into infinity. I can easily say that Folk Folk’s Sake it’s Christmas 2012 was the best compilation that I purchased last year. Entirely listenable with some complete gems, this comp was worth every cent. I was one of the lucky few with an actual CD, as I do love physical media, and that just adds to the luster in my eyes.

While I feel there are many 3’s and 4’s on this record, I don’t have enough time to go track-by-track. However, I will most certainly highlight my absolute favorites. Please keep in mind, some of those songs I don’t mention at this very moment may indeed, one day, become a favorite that should stand with these… but I cannot see the future.

Ellen and the Escapades “By the Fireside” has that classic percussion + jingle bells that we have all come to expect from Christmas songs, which is not a knock at all – its the Darlene Love formula, but updated to their own, modern purposes. This song is good enough to be covered for years to come… and while I can’t imagine a different production being better than this one… perhaps a stripped down, banjo version would do the trick. Beautiful song. Can’t stress that enough.

Gibson Bull and Carmen have made me a believer in “The Holly and the Ivy.” I’ve heard versions from Los Campensinos (a good one, maybe even a great one) that come close, but not as good as this. Their voices are good, but not TOO good, which means they don’t overpower the song. They compilment each other so well – his early Dylanish tone and her soft tone wrapping that like a scarf on a cool winters night – true perfection.

Tom Williams‘ “Christmas (So Much Better When You’re Here)” reminds me of Mason Jennings’ lackluster contributions to the Brushfire Christmas comps… and how much better they would be if he took Mr. Williams approach. Stripped down, melancholy and utterly beautiful, this track is for that late-middle section of your mix, before you pick it up a bit in the latter half. It might just be someone’s favorite song, if they are a Handsome Family fan or something of the sort.

I’ve been glowing about these early songs, but you and your buddies in Spinal Tap will have to turn the glow up to 11 for this one. Gerard & the Watchmen’s “The Road” was very much one of my favorite Christmas tunes of the last five years. Comparison is useful for description, so please don’t think that I’d rather have these artists perform the song… but if Bon Iver had released this song, everyone would have (pardon my vulgarity) shit their pants in approval. I love it when a song’s ending is my favorite part.

So, with very few exceptions (mainly the really traditional stuff… but that’s a personal preference), For Folk’s Sake 2012 is one of the strongest compilations in years. Do yourself a favor, send them some money and download it right now.

Bottom Line: These kinds of releases make my life infinitely more enjoyable. 4.7/5

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Christmas Club 2013

The Christmas Club “Child’s Christmas In Wales” (2013)

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

The Christmas Club is back for another year! Sneaking up on me in my Soundcloud feed, The Christmas Club’s most recent release for 2013 (they have already done an… interesting… version of Fairytale of New York) is a cover of Dylan Thomas & John Cale’s “Child’s Christmas in Whales.” The result is an excellent version of a wonderful song. While I may still be partial to the Superchunk version, The Christmas Club have found that grittiness that this song needs to really seal the deal. I’ll be looking forward to whatever else they have instore for us this holiday season. They will likely be setting up a donation for City Harvest again, so if you like it and download it, be sure to check back to see how you can help.

Bottom Line: A well-produced, excellent cover of a wonderful song. 4/4

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How far along is everyone?

So, I’ve created an extensive spreadsheet to track the creation of this year’s mix. I’m looking at about 10 locked-in tracks, and 30 or so on the list for consideration. How is everyone else doing? Are you waiting for the week after Thanksgiving for what will hopefully be a flurry of new releases (I know I am!)?

Now if only the Apple Store would give me my computer back. Blarg!

Wave Pictures - Instant Coffee Baby

The Wave Pictures “I Love You Like a Madman” (2008)

Moshi Moshi / Little Teddy
Buy: Discogs (CD/LP) | 7Digital MP3 | iTunes

Every so often, I strike gold and pull out a double, as in I love the Christmas song and also find that I love the band. The Wave Pictures are indeed one of those true finds, that hooks me in the xmas and reels me in for the rest of their catalog. Their 2008 release, Instant Coffee Baby, contains “I Love You Like a Madman,” one of the most interesting and enjoyable Christmas songs I have ever experienced. Their style is as if Jonathan Richman had listened to a good bit of Dexys Midnight Runners while reading Raymond Carver stories (I am stretching here… I can’t find the perfect combo). The chorus begins with “The air in here is dead / But we’re not finished yet / Throw the back door open / Let me see your breath.” Its this kind of simple, visceral visual that I find in Evan Dando at his best and David Berman at his most poignant, and is indeed, a large part of why I love music.

Bottom Line: Like a weird short story that you can’t help but see yourself in. 5/5

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Haze

Haze “The River” (2013)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I don’t consider this a blog that is there to inform you of HOT NEW MUSIC. The goal of Christmas Underground is more to ferret out those hidden gems that might have passed you by, or give an alternate take on a record that others have likely loved… not necessarily posting new stuff coming out with any real voracity.

However, I did come across a rather intriuging cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” that I thought I might share. Yes, yet another cover of “River.” However, I think Haze does a pretty great job with this song. Stripped down, with layered backing vocals that for a split second reminded me of Glasser, she takes “River” and with slight changes, does appear to make it her own. While the song normally bores me, she does little things to keep me engaged.

Bottom Line: While I’m not a huge fan of the song to begin with, Haze does it justice with a excellent arrangement. 4/5

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Spottiswoode and His Enemies - Salvation

Spottiswoode and His Enemies “Chelsea Boys” (2008)

Self-Released
Buy: BandcampiTunes

This song is amazing. I’m going to step back and let Spottiswoode explain it though:

“My recollection is that i wrote the opening two melodic lines with the clear intention of composing a Christmas carol (only realizing later that the melody was, of course, similar to “Hark The Herald”). and then the words for the first two lines came out:

Boys in Chelsea holding hands
Whistle as they watch us dance.

“Had I intended to write a gay carol? i don’t remember. My guess is that after mouthing those two lines my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to see where the song would go. i understand that many people may dismiss the tune as a novelty song or just think that’s it’s a little clever and twisted ditty, but to me it’s an achingly romantic song. it’s a love song. it’s not just a love song to the girl the singer is addressing who is about to share a dance with some leather-clad homosexuals in the snow. it’s a love song to gay New York and thereby, in Christmas spirit, to human brotherhood.”

Listen to this song. Its beautiful.

Bottom Line: One of my favorite finds, ever. 5/5

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