Shy Nature “What’s in Your Stocking” (2016)

Shy Nature - My Christmas Tree is Looking at Me

Self Released
Buy: Streaming (for now)Bandcamp (soon)

Shy Nature has become one of those can-do-no-wrong Christmas bands for me, along with Charlie’s Hand Movements, The Crookes, Christmas Aguilera, Parenthetical Girls, etc. Their latest, “What’s in Your Stocking,” is a stomping great time. The images of “coffee with a whiskey twist” make me want Christmas to come this very instant. They have a wonderful approach to Christmas tunes… it’s as if they are meaning to write a good song, not just a Christmas song. I know… sounds crazy. But there are some crap Christmas songs out there by very good bands. Shy Nature continue to prove that you can be a great band, both inside and outside of the Christmas season.

Bottom Line: Shy Nature continue to impress. It also looks like their 2 most recent seasonal tracks will be available on Bandcamp very shortly… just in time for those last-minute mixers.

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Home For The Holidays: A Christmas Songbook (2016)

Shelter Scotland Home for the Holidays

Shelter Scotland
Buy: Bandcamp

I’ve been following the progression of this project for a little while now, and it is finally out. This MASSIVE compilation of Scottish/UK bands had their release party just a few days back, and I had no idea as to the extent of this collection. 37 tracks… 37 tracks… some of which you’ll recognize, such as “Cheap Gold” by Frightened Rabbit, or Allo Darlin’s “Will You Please Spend New Years With Me,” but there is still plenty of new stuff to discover here! And hey, I don’t think that Frightened Rabbit track was ever available as something other than a MP3. I seriously can’t take the time to give a full review of the entire collection, it’s just so massive (and so nicely priced!), but who knows… maybe sometime in July? So check out the likes of Broken Records, Kid Canaveral, Withered Hand, Sweet Baboo, This is the Kit, The Spook School, Jonnie Common, De Rosa, and many many many more.

Bottom Line: I’m six tracks in… and there is not a clunker in the bunch so far. And every sale benefits Shelter Scotland, which helps “over half a million people a year struggling with bad housing or homelessness

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The Nashville Country Cowboys “Blue Christmas” (2016)

Nashville Country Cowboys "Blue Christmas"

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Well how about that? Two posts on one day for the same exact song. Technically, three versions of the song if you really want to get into the nitty gritty. This version is a hell of a lot more fun though. Perennial Christmas Underground favorites The Kansas Bible Company are back with yet another collaboration, this time with fellow Nashville band Okey Dokey to do a psych-brushed take on “Blue Christmas.” These old standards really benefit from fresh sounds, and this super-combo, renamed The Nashville Country Cowboys has hit on something very cool. Still not my favorite song to begin with, but their psych + mariachi horn combo is damn entertaining. Check it out for yourselves!

Bottom Line: The Nashville Country Cowboys find their own entrance into “Blue Christmas” and make it their own.

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The Golden Dregs “Blue Christmas” (2016/2011)

Golden Dregs "Blue Christmas"

Art is Hard Records
Buy: Free on Soundcloud!

The Golden Dregs are working on a theme here… they began with “White Christmas,” and have now moved on to “Blue Christmas,” I am waiting for “Green Christmas,” or as the title would suggest “Gold Christmas.” Well, as we wait to see if this project is bigger than two songs in the Art Is Hard Advent Calendar, lets take a listen to “Blue Christmas.” So… I’m not as enamored of this version as I was of their take on “White Christmas.” The Golden Dregs excel when they tackle material that is outside their normal aesthetic, and “Blue Christmas'” country roots are just a bit too close. This is actually their second take on “Blue Christmas,” as you can find a version on their Soundcloud from 5 years ago… (EDIT, they took it down) with oddly less listens than this year’s! That one is even more lo-fi, but has essentially the same approach to the material. All this said, “Blue Christmas” is not even close to being a personal favorite in my house… I have never included it on a mix, as I often find it terribly boring. So, The Golden Dregs may have been fighting a losing battle with this song.

Bottom Line: “Blue Christmas” may leave me feeling blue, but I very much enjoy The Golden Dregs holiday efforts and would LOVE to hear their take on some more adventuresome/against-type material.

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Junkie Thrown “Natten går tunga fjät (The Night Sleeps Heavily)” (2016)

Junkie Thrown "Natten går tunga fjät"

Self Released
Buy: Streaming on FB

Göteborg, Sweden’s Junkie Thrown is in the midst of a Facebook Advent calendar right now, and while the entries are not necessarily meant to be seasonal, she found herself compelled to create a new take on a old, Swedish language, Saint Lucia Day song. Saint Lucia Day is generally celebrated throughout the Scandinavian world, as well as in Italy, and signals the arrival of the “Christmastide.” While many different cultures recognize Saint Lucia Day, but Sweden has a particular way of celebration. Traditionally, towns, schools, and eventually (via a televised event) the nation chooses a girl to represent Lucia, and there are great processions, celebrations and caroling. However, this year there has been much debate, and public (one might say, racist) furor over a big company using a young black boy as Lucia in an advert. He subsequently became the target of cyber-bullies, culminating in his parents asking the company to pull the ad. This sounds like something that could happen… well pretty much anywhere; This is the world we are living in. Junkie Thrown has created a haunting version of a traditional, Saint Lucia Day song, with the words “Alla kan vara Lucia,” which means “everyone can be Lucia,” displayed throughout. A nice sentiment… and fuck racism.

Bottom Line: I love the meaning behind this song, and just as with 2014’s “Fairy Christmas Day,” it is beautifully performed.

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https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FJunkieThrown%2Fvideos%2F1229922507074347%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Charlie’s Hand Movements – Be, Be Together (2016)

Charlie's Hand Movements - Be, Be Together

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (FREE!)

What the what?!?!?! How come Bandcamp didn’t let me know that there was a new Charlie’s Hand Movements release? I had to find it in my Twitter feed?? HUSSAH! The boys are back, and as great as ever with this new 3-track EP, Be, Be Together. The leadoff track “Snow Globe” is a fuzzed-out guitar, flippin’ good time. “We can block the whole world out and be together.” Awesome.

“Until the 25th Came” is one of CHM’s most interesting Christmas songs to date. The musical movements, as well as the lyrics, take a journey that culminates with the some of the most beautiful lyrics they have written. “Forget the jealousy, forget the misery, embrace the melody, take pleasure from the small things like giving more than you get, appreciating friends, tell people that you love that you love them.” The ending is warm, cathartic and gorgeous.

“Fairy Lights & Cheap Beer” finds CHM pinpointing a simple moment. “Get together every year, fill the room with fairy lights and drink cheap beer. Drink cheap beer. Talk about nothing. So glad you’re here. We don’t need to talk about anything. Our hopes, jobs, or fear. No, we don’t need to talk about anything, just be together. Don’t leave me hanging.” There is something so perfectly human about this moment. There is the warmth of connection that you have with those few people in your life, where you don’t even need to speak, a mere presence is enough. But that final line, “Don’t leave me hanging,” there is something so fragile there that everyone can relate to. Those who we love the most, can break us so easily.

Bottom Line: Charlie’s Hand Movements have given us their most beautiful Christmas record to date. Of note, their past two releases are back up on Bandcamp as well, so I’d grab them while you can.

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Shy Nature “My Christmas Tree (Is Looking At Me)” (2016)

Shy Nature - My Christmas Tree is Looking at Me

Self Released
Buy: Stream (for now)

YES! Shy Nature is back, and thus, a tradition is set in stone, and they will have to do some serious negotiating to get out of this gentlemen’s agreement to put out a Christmas song every year. “My Christmas Tree (Is Looking at Me)” shares some emotional complexity with last year’s “Christmas Lullaby.” It starts out sweet, with excited children wanting to go down to the tree. The food, the fun, the battleground of presents. However, as the song progresses, it gets darker. No one wants to sing, you’re losing your hair, and it’s getting colder. “Those magic times / Won’t be magic forever.” The emotional arc is quick, poignant and most certainly relatable. The magic we have as children never lasts, no matter how much we still love Christmas. It will never be the same.

Hold on to it for as long as you can.

Bottom Line: Shy Nature excel at writing emotional, thoughtful Christmas songs, and “My Christmas Tree (Is Looking at Me)” is a wonderful addition to their Christmas collection.

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Christmas Mix 2016: Come on Santa

This year’s mix is darker than most. But hey, this year has been darker than most. The normal mix of indiepop and indie rock is joined, for the first time, by chiptune. There’s also a healthy dose of alt.country and folk, as well as a dash of what some might consider R&B. Who knows what you’ll think of it… but I like it. Tweet me any questions at @Xmasunderground.

HEY, I added Mixcloud too:

Continue reading “Christmas Mix 2016: Come on Santa”

Saintseneca – The Mallwalker EP (2016)

Saintseneca - Mallwalker EP

Anti-
Buy: Bandcamp

Columbus, Ohio’s Saintseneca has released one of the strongest indie rock Christmas releases I’ve heard, perhaps the best since labelmate Dr. Dog’s in 2013. The 5-track EP compiles four previously released songs, with one new song for 2016! The refreshing lyrical approach makes this entire album different than… well, anything else I’ve heard this year. None of these songs feel like Christmas songs… and that is probably why I love it. Really, all I can do is ask you to listen to it – if the first track “All the Best” doesn’t grab you, then this fantastic, wonderful, mix-worthy record is just not for you.

Presently, I’m heavy into trying to finalize my own mix right now, so I’m having a tough time writing a ton about this record. So consider this my worst review ever, for perhaps the best EP of the season. I also just realized that this is a compilation of 4 previously released songs and one new one. I’m familiar with “New Coats”, and see that “Mallwalker” was released a few years ago. Which one is the new one, got me! Perhaps I’ll be able to amend this later.

Bottom Line: Saintseneca have created a beautiful, gritty, sweet, thoughtful holiday EP whose proceeds benefit Water For People (www.waterforpeople.org), a charity whose mission is to get clean drinking water to people. You’d be an awful person, with terrible taste in music if you didn’t buy it. Just sayin’. 🙂

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Charles Cave “This Fucking Time of Year” (2015)

Charles Cave "This Fucking Time of Year"

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Charles Cave, the bassist and lyricist for the British post-punk band White Lies, released a great, 80’s synth Christmas jam last December that is making the rounds again thanks to a new video. This song is dramatic in all the ways you want an 80’s synth Christmas song to be.

If you’re gonna leave,
Go on and leave;
Leave my heart in the cold snow
When you go.
But if I wanna drink,
Well then I’ll drink.
I’ll drink to forget I drink alone.
So alone.

‘Cos I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.
I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.

This is a hot track. It’s just what I needed when I woke up this morning… the montage was epic. There was singing into a hairbrush. There may have even been dramatic turns to a mirror. I put on a great, ill-fitting suit slicked back my hair and got into my Ferrari. My best friend Alf and I took off and headed for our Club Med vacation. We’ll see you all in the new year, 1987.

Bottom Line: Yeah yeah yeah, technically from last year, but I actually HEARD about it THIS year. And I love it. So there.

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