Young War - Winter in the City

Premiere: Young War “Winter in the City” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

HOW ABOUT THIS?!? Our first premiere, and a whopper at that! Manchester R&B duo Young War‘s “I Won’t Come Back For Christmas” was a highlight of the 2014 Christmas season, and Christmas Underground is proud to present their beautiful new track, “Winter in the City.” The duo of Thom Stone and Simon Facey have found their own rich vein of Christmas longing, and continue to mine it expertly. “Winter in the City” leans more toward Young War’s R&B roots than last year’s track, and the sparse beats, ringing guitar lines and beautiful melody perfectly compliment the conflicted narrator’s sense of yearning and loss: “I’m losing my mind and I tried to warn you. / Now you’re spending Christmas in California. / I can’t be sad, I don’t have the right, / but when it started to snow, I think I started to cry.” Young War create an atmosphere which envelops the listener to walk the city streets alone, snow dancing in the moonlight, missing the one you love. Just plain beautiful.

Bottom Line: Young War + Christmas = Perfection. This is modern R&B Christmas at its finest. This song deserves a wide audience, so join me and spread its reach far and wide. 5/5

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Communist Daughter - Blue Spruce Needles

Communist Daughter “Blue Spruce Needles” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

St. Paul, Minnesota’s Communist Daughter certainly have a thing for sad, sad Christmas songs. They recently played a gig billed as “singing the most depressing Christmas songs they know.” YES! I like this band! Thankfully, they have recorded one proper, sad Christmas song with a lovely cover of The Boy Least Likely To’s “Blue Spruce Needles.” The male/female harmonies are absolutely perfect for the song, as if they were always meant to be there. Further delving into their choices – the slower pace of the song, the sparse instrumentation – Communist Daughter have made this song feel wholly different from the original and beautiful in its own right. I believe that TBLLT would have to agree…

Bottom Line: Communist Daughter may have covered a song., but they uncovered it’s true soul. How about a download? 🙂 4.7/5

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Fowler VW Volume 5

UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 5 (2015)

Fowler Volkswagon
Buy: Bandcamp

YES YES YES! After what I erroneously feared was an end to the Fowler VW/Blackwatch Christmas tradition (silent social media and a few bounced e-mails), I was kindly corrected by the wonderful folks over at Fowler VW that one was indeed in the works – and here it comes! The first track was just released, a fantastic cover of “Mele Kalikimaka” by Oklahoma City’s Horse Thief. The song has a great swagger to it, perhaps only matched by Golden Boots’ version from the Comfort & Joy comp. These Fowler VW/Blackwatch compilations get better and better every year, and this tracklist has me salivating. BRONCHO makes an appearance as a full band this year, along with Barcelona, Bronze Radio Return, Sherree Chamberlain, Jacob Tovar, Samantha Crain, Brine Webb, Sports and Hector Comancho. I truly can’t wait – and I won’t have to wait long, since the full release is supposed to drop later today!

For those who live in the Norman, Oklahoma area, Fowler VW will host a free concert and Christmas party Dec. 13 from 8 p.m. to midnight at Stash, 412 E Main St., in Norman. The first 50 people will get a free copy on vinyl!!

Bottom Line: Too soon to tell, but these guys are killer.

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Elizabeth Morris - Athens

Elizabeth Morris “The Season” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Allo Darlin‘s Elizabeth Morris has released a 4-track EP today, Athens, and there is a special holiday treat for us at the end. Elizabeth describes “The Season” as “a song about trying to be a better friend at Christmas.” Indeed, it is just that. A touching song about a friends that you might not see because of time, distance or simply life, but have the kind of connection that is as important as family. I hope you all have someone like that.

Bottom Line: Beautiful as always, Elizabeth. On a side note, should I just rebrand Christmas Underground as an Allo Darlin’ fansite?

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Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums - It's Not Christmas Anymore

UPCOMING: Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums – It’s Not Christmas Anymore (2015)

Fika Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

Fika Recordings has blessed us with yet another seasonal release this year! Bill Botting and the Two Drink Minimums’ It’s Not Christmas Anymore features so many folks from bands that I love, including: Bill Botting & Paul Rains (Allo Darlin’), Hannah Botting (Owl & Mouse) Darren Hayman (Hefner, Papernut Cambridge, amongst a million other bands) and David Tattersall & Jonny Helm (Wave Pictures). Look at that lineup!! Those are some Christmas music all-stars!!

The only track that you can preview is the title track, “It’s Not Christmas Anymore,” and it is fantastic. I wish I could go on a bit more about the track, but I’m at my inlaws, my son is running around shouting, and I need to let you know about this ASAP… cause there are cassettes, and only 100 of them. Had I gotten home before midnight last night, and not been gone all day, I would have mentioned this record earlier… So listen and BUY!

Bottom Line: Only heard one song, loved it and bought it.

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Applennium “Just This Christmas” (2013) / “Is It Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream/Free

Buffalo’s Applennium have now released wonderful Christmas songs for two years in a row, and we can only hope there’s another coming in 2015. I’m getting antsy to write about the tracks… so here we go.

2013’s release, “Just this Christmas,” begins as the kind of song that my wife would roll her eyes at, as I have an affinity for a Christmas dirge, and she does not. “Santa, don’t bring me some silly toys / unless I can stomp on them. / No child could imagine the emptiness / of lack optimism.” Dark! But really beautiful. The music is a blend of indie rock, folk and alt country, pretty much hitting three favorites in 3:30. The song is not all dark clouds, though: “This holiday just made me believe / that there’s still hope in me.” Melancholy with a glimmer of hope? I’m hooked. (And its a free download on Soundcloud!)

2014’s effort, “Is It Christmas,” is nearly the polar opposite to “Just this Christmas.” “Tonight, begin to trust / begin to take less than you must / let go of sorrow / let in the good.” The music is soaring, echoing through the night and shimmering out of the speakers. As the track builds, the mandolin flutters into the background and the layered vocals float over the music, and you think, “Low would kill to have written this song.” Such wonderful production to a tremendous song. Loving it.

Bottom Line: These songs have grown on me over the past weeks or so, which is the mark of a winner. Everything about these songs, from the writing, to the music, to the production – truly exceptional. Check out their non-seasonal songs too – you won’t be disappointed. 5/5 (You readers seem to like the rating system.)

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deidre & the dark Christmas

Deidre & the Dark “The Ghost of Christmas Past” (2015)

Self Released? or Avec?
Buy: Free (till Thanksgiving)

Brooklyn’s Deidre & the Dark have recorded a great 60’s inspired, pop noir Christmas song that will help bridge that gap between the spooky Halloween and cheery Christmas. “I’m being followed by the ghost of Christmas past / I’m being scolded for my cheer that didn’t last.” Deidre & the Dark have approached their Christmas tune from a great angle – they chose subject matter that we’re familiar with, but not used to in a Christmas song, so it feels fresh, yet familiar. Certainly worth a listen, and available for free (well, for your e-mail) until Thanksgiving.

Bottom Line: My wife will no doubt love this spooky take on Christmas, and heck, even though I don’t have a spooky bone in my body, I like it too.

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Junkie Throw Christmas

Junkie Thrown “Fairy Christmas Day” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

When I’m solicited with a song… it has been my experience that the sender often has no clue what Christmas Underground is about, or what my taste might be. More often than not, it isn’t even a Christmas song… But enough blabbering from my grinch alter-ego. Yesterday I received an e-mail from someone who might actually have an idea of what I’m in to! Junkie Thrown, from my adopted hometown (cuz… I want to hang with Junkie Thrown & Jens Lekman, obviously) of Göteborg, Sweden, has written a beautiful, sorrowful, Christmas song about poverty and its contrast to the materialism of Christmas. In a season where I’m finding it hard to listen to happy Christmas music, and find myself searching for music with some deeper meaning, such as Sondre Lerche’s beautiful and poignant plea for Syrian refugees, Junkie Thrown’s sadness is cathartic.

Edit: Looks like this was originally released in 2014.

Bottom Line: Junkie Thrown’s voice is beautiful, the music equally so, and the subject matter meaningful. This is 2:31 that you, at the very least, will not regret; You may even love it.

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Neil Gretzky

Neil Gretzky – Christmas Song (Demo) (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

So, I often go down the Soundcloud rabbit hole. Don’t really know why, it’s so packed of choral music and sermons that it sometimes feels futile. Then… you find something like this demo by the elusive Neil Gretzky. Not only did Neil not respond to my message inquiring about him and this wonderful song, but he specifically states that he “Keeps to himself” on his Soundcloud. While Neil chills, this song seeps into your life. It piqued my interested on first listen, the simple programmed beats, the raw vocals, the (one might say) unglamorous lyrics. Day after day, I find myself with this song in my head. This song is not perfect, it is certainly a demo. But those ragged corners make it even more endearing. I do hope you feel the same.

Bottom Line: Neil Gretzky released a demo better than most fully-produced Christmas songs. Take that, guy who wrote “Christmas Shoes.”

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Gonna kill the rating system

I am 95% decided that I’m going to kill my rating system. Unless people f*ing love it for some reason, the numbers are gone and I’m going to take an afternoon and erase them from every damn post. Thoughts?