JW Francis “Christmas Heartache” (2020)

Sunday Best Recordings
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Bandcamp

You think there is a method to my searching? Well, there is SOME method, but a hell of a lot of it is just random searches. I hadn’t heard of JW Francis until a few weeks ago, when I was scouring DIY and caught a whiff of a possible Christmas song. JW Francis looked right up my alley, as lo-fi indie rock from New York is just about enough description to get my head spinning with possibilities. So I checked out We Share Similar Joy, his non-Christmas record (because people feel compelled to do write non-seasonal songs – go figure!), and it was awesome. Flash forward a few weeks, and JW has released a 4-song EP, JW Christmas. The record contains three covers, with “Wonderful Christmastime” being the strongest of the bunch. But I live for new, original Christmas tunes, and “Christmas Heartache” delivers. The jangly groove, the odd vocal drops (WHO DOES THAT REMIND ME OF?! IT IS DRIVING ME NUTS!), the simplicity, brevity and interesting choices make it a fantastic bite-sized snack of a song. Kick those covers to the curb, I’d love to hear some more originals from JW.

Bottom Line: Short, sweet and interesting lo-fi indie rock from JW Christmas Francis.

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Stephen Elliott “Cary Baru” (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

I feel like most things I’m finding this year can be filed under pretty excellent folk music. This isn’t quite the reaction to four years of post-Brexit and Trump rule that I was expecting. Then again, perhaps it makes total sense – we are all trying to calm our nerves after years of uncertainty…

The latest beautiful folk find is Stephen Elliott‘s “Cary Baru,” a song truly untethered to time nor place. This is one of those songs that sound like it could have easily been recorded last week or 40 years ago. Those first few moments of guitar picking and your mind will ping Nick Drake. Then you quickly get hints of Beatles, and back around to some more Nick Drake percussive bits amongst the metallic finger sliding residue of an early Elliott Smith record. The rhythm and pace of the song is a brisk walk, perfectly complimenting the lyrical basis of the song, which Stephen was kind enough to further describe to me earlier today.

Cary Baru is a short meditation on perseverance, on persisting in anticipation of a moment’s clarity, and on moving between these states. I wanted to compose something that embodied that sense of movement.

While the scene is set during the Christmas season, I initially found the lyrics to be ambiguous in the way that so much poetry is, allowing me to walk down multiple avenues, imagining different main characters, and leaving me wondering where the true story lied. After Stephen’s explanation, the song feels far-less personal than I had imagined, and it blossoms into a more universal story that everyone can take a piece from. This is one of those songs that benefits from multiple listens, so grab a jacket and add it to your playlist – we’re heading out (masked, of course).

Bottom Line: Stephen is learning some shiny new gear while under these COVID restrictions, and it sure seems he is getting the hang of it well.

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Eastern Conference Champions “Saving Christmas” (2013)

RockHampton Records
Buy: 7Digital MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

After a whole night of searching, sometimes you need to just take a layup, rather than try to dunk it. Yeah, I know the fans want that new song from 2020, but you’re just going to have to settle for this ridiculously fantastic song from 2013. Philadelphia’s Eastern Conference Champions may not be with us anymore, but their legacy lives on with a host of fantastic Christmas songs and I may have to throw those up on the blog as well. You can’t ask for much more than “Saving Christmas” when searching for an indie rock Christmas song – this song kicks in, and you are off and running. I can’t believe it snuck by me for so long…

Bottom Line: Eastern Conference Champions were one of the indie rock xmas greats, and this may be their seasonal Mona Lisa. You may even recognize that this song led off my own 2019 Christmas mix, as I do NOT discriminate against older Christmas songs. It it is fucking fantastic, it is in there.

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King Gizzard and the Shitpost Wizard “Christmas Lights” (2018)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

There is nothing complicated about this song, with the exception of who the fuck is singing it. King Gizzard and the Shitpost Wizard is an anonymous Youtuber who specializes in making weird ass videos around King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard songs, like the featured video which is “Rattlesnakes” with the every instance of the word rattlesnakes replaced by a member of the band repeating “mean brown rice stir fry.” On their Bandcamp, there is and entire record using a sample of someone saying “eggs.” Somehow mixed amongst this insanity is a simple, yet oddly satisfying, parody Christmas song. “Christmas Lights” is a parody of KGatLW’s “Vegemite,” and frankly, I prefer the parody! I think this song passes as a legit Christmas song all on its own, with the reworked lyrics not being too silly, yet silly enough to not take itself too seriously. It rides that perfect groove of near-silliness, one might say… perhaps you’ll agree.

when everyone says september is too early
i string lights up with my girlfriend
and then we’ll toast, to scrooge’s ghosts, and what i love most, is christmas lights

i love i love my christmas lights
theyre bright as hell on dark ass nights
i keep my bulbs all screwed in tight
and plug them in whenever i like

Bottom Line: This parody song didn’t go far enough if they think I’m not gonna like it as a Christmas song. GAUNTLET THROWN King Gizzard and the Shitpost Wizard. Make a sillier tune for us, and I won’t fuck with all your parody plans the next time around…

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Beausire “Christmas” (2020)

Beausire "Christmas" (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

French folk band Beausire have managed to convince me (with their music, not their e-mails) to write about an almost two minute long instrumental track. Astounding! “Christmas” is off of their latest LP released in September, and it is just… damn nice. Were the song any longer than it is, and I might not be writing about it, but under two minutes and this enjoyable – that makes an argument for a place on a Christmas mix. So, check it out, and you might as well feel the same.

Bottom Line: I’m here for your mix-making inspiration, and Beausire inadvertently are as well. This may very well find a home with you all.

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Andrea von Kampen “A Midwest Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

I stalk some of my readers whose tastes often match mine (hi @tuttijackson), and this totally-hip reference archivist recently bought a Christmas single on Bandcamp… so I was obviously intrigued had to check it out. The song was fantastic. The midwest has been vying to unseat Sweden as my focal point of excellent underground Christmas tunes, and Lincoln, Nebraska’s Andrea von Kampen has helped to further build this case with “A Midwest Christmas.” The song is written from a refreshingly honest point-of-view, which Andrea breaks down on her Bandcamp page:

When I sat down to write my first ever original Christmas tune, I felt at a loss for what to even write about. This year has been tough and disappointing in so many ways for everyone. I wanted to lift the spirits of people but I didn’t feel like sleigh bells, ice skating, or any of the other quintessential Christmas topics were relatable right now. And then I started to think about what really makes me happy and feel at peace during the holidays. It hasn’t ever been shopping or the big light displays, but the simple moments that show human kindness. That’s what “A Midwest Christmas” is really all about. 

Andrea’s description got me thinking about the moments that I appreciate, and none of them revolve around Christmas parties or presents. Popping in to see friends, those shrimp that I never eat, and you all who read this blog and are in the same search for something that moves you at Christmas. Writing this song moved Andrea, and it most certainly comes through in the performance. Certainly a mix-worthy tune, especially with its brief 2:35 run time… brevity is always an asset.

Bottom Line: I feel like my blog is largely hyping up fantastic female singer-songwriters lately… and as long as great songs like this keep coming my way, so be it!

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Sharon Van Etten – Silent Night / Blue Christmas (2020)

Jagjaguwar
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Bandcamp | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I love, love, love Sharon Van Etten. Some records I would put up in my top 20 of all time… but I did not always feel that way. SVE had to grow on me… and these two songs, perhaps they need more time too. I’ve heard them before on other comps (these are nothing “new”), but this is the first time they’ve been neatly packaged together. Sharon is fighting an uphill battle with these song choices, as they are songs we’ve heard a million times. She does make some nice choices though, especially with organ and trans-inducing, metronomic baseline on “Silent Night.” The “Blue Christmas” B-side has some interesting vocal phrasing, which I can also appreciate. Overall, these two tracks are stronger than the usual suspects I run across, but I desperately want to know what SVE could create on her own.

Bottom Line: Solid versions of those songs you know, which only make you want a genuine, Sharon Van Etten original. That said… had they released this on vinyl, I would have bought it. They are good enough to own, but borderline mixworthy depending on your mix.

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Wake Up And Smell The Sun – Electric Snow (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Philadelphia’s Wake Up and Smell the Sun have expanded on 2019’s excellent 2-track Christmas single, Holiday Hymns for People, and created one of the best Christmas records I have heard in years with Electric Snow. This record, with its thumping drums, woozy guitars and big vocals make you sit back and ponder if Spiritualized or the Verve would be fucking jealous of this record. The instrumentation and production on this record is just so damn good that it can both sound so BIG, like the slowly built epic “Gingerbread,” and small and intimate on “Country Western Holiday Meltdown,” with both feeling like sonic siblings, wonderfully at home on the same record. This cohesive feel truly comes across on this 7-track release even more than their initial 2-track single – you really get a feel for the sound as a whole.

As you might imagine, I would be recommending this record based on the stellar music/production/vibe even if they gave up on lyrics entirely and sang nonsense words… but if you’ve come for the dinner, why not have a glorious fucking show too? Once you get into the music (and you will), you may find that you actually love this record for the lyrics. There were moments that I just began shaking my head and smiling, like during the title track “Electric Snow:” “Beneath the minor keys, the majorettes, and bells,  / Sweet little girls with missing teeth seek inner peace within themselves (WHAT A LINE) / I’d like to share my Christmas Story, come on over / I once was haunted by a ghost, it mostly taught me how to coast / And when I tried to kick the habit, it gently pushed me in to traffic (AGAIN!) / Let it snow, electric snow, electric snow.” WHAT!?! There are so many incredibly interesting and clever lyrics on this record that I’ve been genuinely stressing out about how much I want to feature. I keep discovering new lines, and feel this absurd need to give every single lyric some sort of context. SO, with deep apologies to Wake Up And Smell The Sun for not writing this epic review delving into every single track… I am just too excited to share it with everyone, and I have an itchy publish finger.

If you are not already onboard, just press play. Problem solved.

Bottom Line: Frankly, I can’t wait to put this record on with some good headphones, because those guitars are going to surround me, and I’m going to happily surf the jet stream with this fantastic record.

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I am going to post every song individually, as I cannot choose a favorite, and I want the Hype Machine to index every… single… song.

Marcos y Molduras “La de Navidad” (2018/2019)

Discos de Kirlian
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Bandcamp

Madrid’s Marcos y Molduras decided to revisit “La de Navidad,” which featured on their first single in 2018, and give it a full makeover… which as you know, can go either way…

facebook has reminded us that ‘a day like today …’ a year ago we published for the first time “worse would be to kill”, which included this anti-Christmas carol that, at these dates, we cannot continue to ignore.

so we have re-done it, this time with a little more affection and with less uncertainty about what our friends will think about it. We already know they like it, we hope you do too 🙂

Marcos y Molduras, Bandcamp

Well, as you might assume, the procedure was a smashing success. Sometimes I am all about lyrics, sometimes I’m all about FEELING. This song just FEELS SO GOOD. I do not speak Spanish (I took German in high school), but that has certianly never stopped me from jamming to some incredible spanish-language Christmas songs. I did some Google translate, and I’m even down for the anti-Christmas message. The food is too expensive, the families are loud and the businessmen are obnoxious. Christmas in the big city can be pretty shitty, especially without you.

So with that, Merry Christmas and try not to smile… even though you know the gist of the lyrics. I dare ya… Just feels too good eh? This is a stone-cold Christmas-mix hit.

Bottom Line: “La de Navidad” is bound to lead to involuntary movement of your feet, legs, head and mouth. Buy it, listen to it four times, and tweet at me in the morning.

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They Is They Is They Is ” Your Kind of White Christmas Sucks” (2016)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

I really, really wish I had found this little gem, “Your Kind of White Christmas Sucks,” by They Is They Is They Is (gonna call them TITITI to make things easier) back in 2016. I love a Christmas song that has a message beyond the usual “Boy I can’t wait to come home for Christmas and/or I wish you were with me for Christmas” that so many Christmas songs sink into, and these lyrics are a perfect time capsule of the anxiety swirling through a world flying out of control:

“Grubby little opportunists are stirring a rage
They come bearing hate in the post-factual age
But Jesus was a dark-skinned, socialist Jew
Who died in the name of peace, love and truth
So if ever there’s a Christmas to think of the meek
It’s 2016 with the havoc we’ve wreaked.”

Just thinking about that time, immediately post-Brexit vote and post-Trump election… I recall driving to work in a detached haze, not knowing what the future was going to look like in a way that I had never experienced before. To be faced with that, and to still find hope, as TITITI does in the chorus, is both surprising and encouraging:

“I’ll be hopeful this Christmas
Won’t give into fear
I’ll be wishing this Christmas
For a kinder new year

We’ve got to cohere
I’m really sincere
Now pass me a beer”

This song highlights those seeds of resistance, those seeds of kindness that were planted back in 2016. I would like to believe these sentiments have been slowly growing over the past four years, and may have begun to block out some of those weeds. Not that everything is fixed, and it is unlikely to ever truly be perfect, but we still have kindness and hope. They haven’t taken that away.

Had I begun writing this review a week ago… I think it would have had a significantly different tone. Still… a great song, with a beautiful sentiment.

EDIT: A lovely reader of Christmas Underground actually recommended this to me – but not quite understanding the new “Business Suite” (like this is a business) app, I hadn’t seen it! Thank you Konstadina – you have my taste pegged. I only wish I had seen it back in October!

Bottom Line: They Is They Is They Is crafted a thoughtful (yet oddly funny), beautiful (but not in the traditional sense) song that signaled the beginning of the Christmas music resistance.

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