husbands - xmas

Husbands – Xmas (2013)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

How in the world did HusbandsXmas sneak by me for nearly 3 full years? That’s what will happen when you don’t have “Christmas” in the tags on Bandcamp. (Man, Bandcamp needs to up their search game.) Thanks to the tweets of Jonathan Fowler over at Fowler VW (yes, THAT Fowler VW), this oversight has been remedied, and Husbands’ stellar Christmas record, Xmas, is now mine. This record is so much fun, it is truly ridiculous. I’m going to call out a few of my favorite tracks, one of which might be a bit of a surprise to loyal readers…

Xmas begins with “Little Bummer Boy,” which is, for all intents and purposes, “Little Drummer Boy.” But wait… it is FUCKING GREAT. Yes, a version of “Little Drummer Boy” that is great. I truly enjoy, nay, love this song. Their chillwave styling brings in so many beautiful colors, its groove becomes viral.

“Hey Yew” is the kind of track, that had Animal Collective wrote it, would have been on every indie Christmas mix on 8tracks from now until the end of time. The harmonies and the rhythm are so uplifting and fun, I dare you to not turn it up and groove in your seat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” throws the traditional “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” into a pot of simmering beats and synths that makes my head sway back and forth in absolute pleasure. Throw in some Beach Boys harmonies and this song is ready to eat.

“Holly Jolly Donut” segues perfectly into the “Jingle Back Margaret,” whose upbeat, shimmering melody is perpetually battling it out with “Hey Yew” for my favorite song on the album.

Yeah, my review is pretty front-heavy, as I have a particular attachment to these first few songs. But don’t let that discourage you from the latter half, where you’ll discover the layered sonic landscape of “Slayer Ride,” and the absolutely beautiful meditation of “Midnight.” Simply put, this record is an absolute pleasure. Over the holiday season, I played it for a few different folks, and have yet to find a consensus on a favorite song; Everyone finds a different track that they are drawn to. Which one will be your favorite??? Maybe let me know in the comments!

Bottom Line: Xmas is populated with enough stellar songs to justify every single reader of this blog to buy the whole damn thing. Of note, “Hey Yew” leads off my 2016 mix, and thus, mints this album with stone-cold classic status. This record needs to be spoken about in the same breath as the Parenthetical Girls, Sufjan Stevens, and Low when the seasonal indie rock Christmas blog posts make their way back onto the pages of Stereogum, Pitchfork and the like.

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The Aux - christmas isn't funny anymore

The Aux – Christmas Isn’t Funny Anymore (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

The Aux have released a really nicely produced, lo-fi Christmas EP the past two years, and can usually be counted on to have one of the most profane and funny releases of the season. This year is a bit different – the profanity is there, but as the title suggests, there is a bit of a shift. The first two songs are both really well written, introspective struggles with life and the season. Trying to find comedy in a year like this leaves you with a lot of those “it would be funny if it weren’t true” situations that can be hard to take. The third track, “all i wanted for christmas was my fantasy football super bowl,” brings out the clever bitter lyrics that I’ve come to expect from Mike. I feel for this song… I lost out on my fantasy football super bowl last year after a Thursday POINT ADJUSTMENT after I had specifically benched my defense as to not have one of those dreaded -1 weeks… DAMN IT. Heh. The final track is the obligatory cover the classic Wham! track, “Last Christmas,” but with way more fucks than usual. The autotune works really well on this track too, and has a great ending, “This song is fucking repetitive and this is the end.” Ha! About time someone cut that song off.

Bottom Line: The Aux are always a refreshing listen, even when the entire song is bitching about something. I do hope that Mike finds some inspiration for next year, and I share his hope that 2017 will be in improvement on what was a supremely unenjoyable year.

Charlie's Hand Movements - Be, Be Together

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

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 hold 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 the easiest.

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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Saintseneca - Mallwalker EP

Saintseneca – The Mallwalker EP (2016)

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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Winterval - At Christmas Time

Winterval – At Christmas Time (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

So… lots of folks tweet at me with Christmas tunes. I do appreciate it – please keep doing it! The nature of the beast is that I’m never going to be able to listen to them all, nor give them all the proper time that they may deserve. Why? Because all the music comes out in a span of only 3 weeks… it’s nuts. But damn… I found myself with a little time and listened to one today while walking to my car, picked a random track, and found myself transfixed. Winterval, a home recording project from Moseley, UK, has written a whole album of Christmas originals over the past 7 years… and it is pretty damn fantastic. The production perfectly captures his voice, which has a touching sincerity during the more contemplative songs. The song that I randomly chose was “Hang the Lights on the Tree,” and the way his voice floats amongst the ringing guitars is just perfection. “Hang the lights on the tree / one for every memory.” The simplicity of these captured moments aren’t anything grand, but that is where their power comes from. I honestly haven’t had the time to give this record the deep listen it deserves, though rarely does an entire release reveal itself so quickly to be worthy of attention. I mean… I didn’t even have to dig. Shoot at another song – “Christmas Every Day” – just fantastic. “At Christmas Time” – beautiful. “Puffy’s Song” – even that elf song is great! Truly, this record has been an absolute indiepop pleasure.

Bottom Line: This is a modest, home recording project that is fighting well above its weight class.

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The Golden Dregs "White Christmas"

The Golden Dregs “White Christmas” (2016)

Art is Hard Records
Buy: Free on Soundcloud!

“White Christmas” is one of those songs that is always just so… cute. It tends to lend itself to ukuleles and pretty voices… you know the type. Every so often, someone can perform a song in a way that will refresh you, make you less cynical about this whole Christmas-music game. The Golden Dregs have performed “White Christmas” admirably, but more importantly, they have delivered a ramshackle version that takes the sheen off, making for a much more interesting listening experience. There is going to be more too… Art is Hard suggests that this is just the tip of an E.P., which the artwork suggests is called “A Very Golden Christmas.” This E.P. can’t come quickly enough, because I’m close to the end of my mix, and I need some gold(en) hits.

Bottom Line: “White Christmas” is the tip of a shabby iceburg that I would like to hear more from.

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Marika Hackman - Wonderland EP

Marika Hackman – Wonderland EP (2016)

Transgressive
Buy: Vinyl | iTunesAmazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Marika Hackman is no stranger to Christmas tunes – she’s been featured on Daisy Digital’s past two Christmas compilations, covering “O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” The Christmas bug must have really caught her, as her new EP does not just gather together her previous efforts (it doesn’t in fact), but it has her recording a bunch of new covers, as well as some originals. The first track that has been teased out is an absolutely incredible original song, the synth sprinkled “Driving Under Stars.” I’m such a fan of this track. The vibe is perfection – just what I needed today. This is a stone-cold mixworthy track… I can’t even bring myself to get beyond it to talk about the other selections. One exception… “O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel” is a new version, different from the charity comp version previously available, so all-new material! ALSO, vinyl vinyl vinyl! 300 copies are available via Transgressive, coming out on December 1st. So… pony up. In a related note… care to buy me one? 🙂 You can find my address in the Submissions section. Hehe.

Bottom Line: 30 seconds is all I need to fall in love. No joke. Likely you too!

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Christmas for Cowboys

Christmas for Cowboys (2016)

Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP)
Buy: Stream | Amazon.de MP3

How about some country music from Norway? Because that makes total sense right? Everything makes sense right now! Well, actually Norway, Sweden and the like have long had a healthy Americana/Country scene. The folks over at Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP) gathered four Norwegian country bands (The Brigade, Helldorado, Flying Shoes and the Tramps), and each band chose two songs by prominent country and americana bands and songwriters. Songs featured on this release were originally recorded by the Handsome Family, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Jackson Browne, John Prine, The Band, Buck Owens, Chris Hillman and Glen Campbell. Those are some big names indeed, though my favorite is perhaps the smallest name (Handsome Family). That said, I am having a tough time singling out specific tracks to feature, because truly, the quality level is high enough on each of these tracks. The entire release is certainly worth your time. For extra credit, check out The Brigade’s Beyond Christmas Day EP from 2014.

Bottom Line: These Norwegians really love this country music, and it comes through.

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Aviva Skye - Walipini

Aviva Skye – Walipini (2015)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

NYC’s Aviva Skye snuck this “Christmahannukah” release out last year, but you know what… it’s never too late to be featured on Christmas Underground! This lovely 3-track EP of seasonal-ish songs reminds me of the wonderful Glasser + Lia Ices, and at times, a stripped-down Feist. For my money (and it is name-your-own-price), the highlight of this release is the atmospheric leadoff track, “Snow.” The shimmering guitar recalls the swirling path of a falling snowflake, as Aviva’s vocals layer upon each other, as if accumulating on a windowsill. Close your eyes and watch it fall. Truly lovely.

The rest of the EP is quite good too – I could see some readers finding the uptempo “Jerusalem” right up their alley. The wonderful use of brass accents really takes this song to the next level. The final song, “Wait for Yourself,” may be the biggest stretch for those looking to round out their Christmas mix. I can’t find any thematic connection to the season… but as with most of Aviva’s stuff, still worth a listen.

Bottom Line: Atmospheric slow jamz for chilly nights – a sure-fire soundtrack to your more introspective moments. Definitely recommended.

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Skiiing "Holly"

Skiiing – Holly (2013)

Self-Released/Späti Palace
Buy: Bandcamp

On day two of my Skiing trip, we visit 2013’s Holly. Upon initial discovery, I nearly flipped out and thought the entire record was Christmas… but alas, I’m only going to point to two… two stellar tracks on this overall fantastic release. Let’s begin with “Skiing,” the eponymous second track on the album. Here, skiing is used as a metaphor for life, blazing paths and picking up (and staying with) friends. While this is not explicitly a Christmas or winter song, the imagery and the nostalgia evoked by looking to the past and relying on your friends certainly brings out the spirit. Similarly, the title track “Holly” is another metaphor song, this time for a false friend. However, the dressing of this song in this Ilex opens the door to a seasonal attachment – to use this particular metaphor (to me) grounds the time period the song takes place in as the holiday season. I know, I know… maybe a bit of a stretch on these two… but I’m flexible. I just like this band too damn much to talk myself out of this post.

If you are interested in picking up any of these Skiing releases, they are often only print runs of 100 or so… so if you are like me and like a physical copy of a disc/cassette, you’ll grab them sooner than later. Of note… Holly appears to be gone, gone, gone.

Bottom Line: Did you enjoy my attempts at Christmas-mix gymnastics? If you did or didn’t, I hope you join me in just enjoying the hell out of this band.

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