UPCOMING: You Wish (A Merge Records Holiday Album) (2019)

Merge Records
Buy: Discogs (so far)

You leave town for the weekend and everything blows up. This record is probably going to be all over Stereogum in a matter of minutes (as that is where all the bigger indie labels seem to go), but for now, let’s talk about this upcoming Merge Records holiday record! Merge is celebrating their 30th year, and with that they started a celebration subscription at the beginning of the year. I was one of the ones who decided to party along with them, and boy am I glad I did. Over the weekend I received this amazing, unannounced, Christmas record from one of my favorite labels, You Wish (A Merge Records Holiday Album). Pressed on peppermint vinyl and containing tracks by a couple folks who have already made a CU Xmas mix (Coco Hames, The Essex Green, Mac McCaughan and Telekinesis), as well as many that I hope might make it this year! These full-length releases always take longer to write about, and I get antsy, so let this post and the tracklist just be that little teaser for the upcoming review, hopefully coming sometime this week if I’m lucky.

Of note – there are a few copies on Discogs right now, and while it is subscription-only, Merge has been making their 30th anniversary records available in indie record stores on standard black vinyl. As for digital, it will probably come out on all the usual services, since their last release (Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible covered by A Giant Dog) is available digitally.

A1. Coco Hames – Keep Your Christmas
A2. The Essex Green – Green Christmas
A3. Mike Krol – Won’t Be Alone Tonight
A4. Mac McCaughan & Annie Hayden – Down We Go (Sledding Song)
A5. Fruit Bats – Baby In The Hay
A6. Apex Manor – White Christmas
A7. William Tyler – Jesus Christ
B1. Hiss Golden Messenger & Lucinda Williams – Christmastime In Prison
B2. Eric Bachmann – I Was Made For Losing You
B3. Telekinesis – Christmas Time Is Here (Uh Oh)
B4. Mikal Cronin – Christmastime Heist
B5. Will Butler – Love Asked Me To Stay
B6. Tracyanne & Danny – Santa, Don’t Say No
B7. Shout Out Louds – Blue Christmas

UPCOMING: Josh Rouse – The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse (11/01/2019)

The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse

Yep Roc Records
Buy: YepRoc CD/Vinyl/Ornament | Bull MooseAmazon | Amazon.UK | Amazon.DE | Amazon.FR

Well here we go! This one will make all the media rounds no doubt, as Josh Rouse has a large back catalog and fans that span 20+ years. I remember getting that Dressed up Like Nebraska cassette promo single was back when I was but a boy. That first record was great. Josh’s second, Home, is a modern classic record (for me). 1972 was a risk that paid off beautifully. Find a copy of Bedroom Classics Vol. 1 and you will be treated to “Michigan,” which is an incredible, incredible song. I don’t want to go into this with the level of expectation that I might… as I haven’t been quite on the Josh Rouse train for a number of records. But here I am… likely to buy the double-vinyl edition. The first pressing of the CD/Vinyl comes with an extra disc featuring 3 bonus tracks, and 3 demo versions of songs found on the record. So… if you are considering this record, the first pressing is by far the way to go.

The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse LP
The Holiday Sounds of Josh Rouse LP

Bottom Line: Click and buy. It’ll be better than most Christmas records, and could possibly be great.

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Christmas in July – Christmas is a Feeling (2012)

Christmas in July - Christmas is a Feeling

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

As the sole proprietor of this humble little Christmas blog, most of my music research goes toward finding those delicious, spicey new tunes. I do, however, get as much (if not more) satisfaction from digging up gems from the past… and this nice little EP by Christmas in July is just that. Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek are the duo who slapped a holiday name on and released “Christmas is a Feeling” back in 2012. The duo would later release 2 EPs, A-Sides and B-Sides, two years later. This seems like a long tease to finally get to the fact that both Adrianne and Buck would eventually expand their musical universe, adding two more bandmates and starting one of the most interesting, prolific and distinctive bands of the past few years, Big Thief. Having recently released the much-lauded U.F.O.F. back in May, they just announced a follow-up, Two Hands, which had been recorded only days after finishing U.F.O.F.. Since 2016, Big Thief will have released 4 albums, with another acclaimed solo Adrianne Lenker album, abysskiss, released in 2018. They appear to be in the middle of one hell of a creative streak.

All that said… this IS a Christmas music blog, and there are five solid tracks on Christmas is a Feeling, two of which deserve more attention. The lone original on the EP, the folksy “Miss Mistletoe,” appears to be a wholly Buck Meek tune (at least, he appears to perform it alone). My favorite bit comes about halfway through:  “So pour the cider and stoke the coals / finish up the pie / what comes tomorrow, goodness knows / but tonight I’m by your side.” The airy production, with the guitar fluttering between both channels, flickers with the warmth of a fire; This song is a mix-worthy beauty. The other highlight is “Walking in the Air,” a cover of the modern-British classic from “The Snowman,” which blends the voices of Buck and Adrianne with the subtle beauty that you expect from this ethereal song. Simply stated, this is a gorgeous version of a wonderful song. There are three more covers of Christmas classics on here, and they are all quite good on the strength of their great voices, production, and taste level. However, they do not reinvent the classics, which can be great but isn’t as noteworthy. In summation, this release is one that can be listened to from front-to-back, which is no easy feat for a Christmas record. 

Bottom Line: How a Christmas release by members of such a notable (and fantastic) band has slipped under the radar for so long is beyond me. This EP is fantastic, and will no doubt help feed your hungry mixtapes this holiday season. If I were 4AD, I’d be slapping this thing on vinyl and releasing it. Please send me a copy if you do.

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The Aux – Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Sometimes I do feel like I’m writing about the same bands, year after year. Well, that is a great problem to have, as so many of the bands I dig keep on putting out great Christmas music! I haven’t hit Mike Nevin’s The Aux releases every single year, but I am on a pretty good, every-two-year schedule. The latest EP, Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems, is Mike’s most personal release. After years of hilarious, dark and often bitter Christmas songs, he has found himself in a spot of sincerity. Mike presents these songs as such:

“this year was both the least creative and most solitary year of my life so far. so this is what has come out of it. i hope you enjoy these genuine christmas songs that i mean from the bottom of my heart. sorry that they’re not as funny as they used to be!”

He is indeed right – these songs are not as funny as they used to be. But that humor has been replaced by a true candor, best felt in his autotuned confessional, “A Real Santa,” where Mike owns up for being a bad friend at times. The ending is genuinely touching:

“cuz santa just wants to feel like he exists
and i know that i could be more like him if i gave a shit
if i’ve treated you like santa
i promise i’ll start acting less like the grinch
and fulfill your christmas wish
i will be a real santa that exists”

Mike goes pretty deep on these songs, and while the subject matter highlights his perceived faults and battles with loneliness and depression, it is refreshing to hear someone so connected to his feelings. These are deeply personal Christmas songs, thrown into a sea of seasonal cheer. You hear these things and the sugary-sweet artifice of the season begins to make your teeth hurt. Sometimes a little pain feels good.

Bottom Line: This year’s brutal honesty (and hope) is quite refreshing, while still remaining true to The Aux’s trademark bitter charm.

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Dearnley “Christmas in a Strip Club” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

David W. Dearnley has managed to take a provocative title, which many a song relies on exclusively, and surprises the hell out of me. The song does not just being and end with that title – it is the little details that make this song so damn special. However, this song  would not be possible with David’s voice, which has a quality that can’t be denied. It is one of those voices that sounds lived in, one with a patina that grows more beautiful under bar lights. Stubby wrote about this record earlier in December, and he rightly loved this track as well. He loved the twist as much as I… that the protagonist is recapturing childhood memories at the strip club, the one “where the Stuckey’s used to be.” You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to get it, and even when you know the reveal is coming, it is still so very worth it. “Christmas in a Strip Club” is a dirty, sad, thoughtful, beautiful song that is worth your money… so bring a stack of singles.

Bottom Line: This song reminds me of a Raymond Carver short story – dark, personal, and fascinating. Highly recommended.

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Fowler VW presents A Blackwatch Christmas Vol. VIII: The Sounds of the Season (2018) + WIN SOME VINYL!

Fowler VW/Blackwatch Studios
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

This season has been… long. I’ve been working until 9:30 a bunch, and still have things like laundry, dishes and the various domestic duties that we do as we strive not to look like a hoarder. I’m beginning to see the sun, or normalcy at the very least. And as those clouds part, I begin to catch up… and I have the pleasure of basking in the ALWAYS excellent Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studios release! The Sounds of the Season is their best one yet – and that is a high bar to clear. And you know what, there isn’t a version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” anywhere to be found! These are originals! Now, lets talk favorites… WAIT A SECOND – I LIKE THIS WHOLE THING! From the 70s groove of Sports, to Home Alone-inspired indiepop of Chair Model and the relaxed indie rock of Spaceface featuring LABRYS – this record will take your party to wonderful places. There are a whole handful of tracks on here that I have on my shortlist for next year… this record is fantastic.

BUT WAIT – THERE IS MORE! I live in Virginia, but continually find myself jealous of everything going on in Norman, Oklahoma. Fowler VW and its ownership are incredibly involved in making their town a better place, often taking part in efforts to help fund the public schools, as well as being great patrons of the arts in their community. This holiday season, I’ve been watching them promote Wrap Up Homelessness. This program sells locally designed wrapping paper, and is coordinated by the Curbside Chronicle, which is a street paper that “provides employment and empowerment to men and women transitioning out of homelessness.” Last year they helped get 41 people off the street and back into housing, which is pretty damn incredible. You know what else is incredible? There is some wrapping paper designed by Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips! So, you know that paper is crazy awesome! I would like to take this moment and encourage you to order some paper, or simply donate some money to this fantastic cause. Fowler VW does so much for their local community, but they also do so, so much for our alternative Christmas music community as well. As an added bonus, if you order some wrapping paper or donate to Curbside Chronicle, then tweet me, FB me, or e-mail proof that you did (screenshot will do!), you will be entered to win a copy of THE SOUNDS OF THE SEASON on VINYL! I’ve got a couple copies sitting here for you… so lets all show some Christmas spirit, help those in need and give thanks to those who bring us this great music year after year.

THE FINE PRINT: I got these LPs a little later than I had hoped, as the mail lost the first shipment, so they are likely not going to get to you by Christmas. BUT YOU CAN JAME TO THIS 1) Whenever OR 2) NEXT CHRISTMAS! This contest will run from Dec. 17-21, and you can email me at christmasunderground(at)gmail.com, tweet at me @xmasunderground, or comment on the Facebook post for this entry. Please use the hashtage #fowlervwisawesome whenever entering, either in your tweet/FB post or email subject line. I will choose a few folks at random, and ship you some records. UNFORTUNATELY, this offer is NOT open to our international friends. It costs about $24 to ship ONE LP outside the country. I’m terribly sorry… I just can’t afford to do it.

Bottom Line: I love a record you can enjoy all the way through. Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studio continue this glorious tradition, and somehow keep getting better!

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Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

December can overwhelm a tired Christmas-music blogger. Often, the casualties of a lack of time and a wealth of music, are the large compilation and the full album. Singles are so much quicker to consume and write about. Seattle’s Zach Malm was a casualty of last year, as he put out a very interesting experimental, electronic pop record that I did not get to, and most certainly deserves our 2018 ears. There are some damn interesting songs on here, many of which are awash in a Novation Bass Station II synth. Zach’s cover of “Walking in the Air” has a fantastic buzzing bassline powered by that synth, as well as these great fluttering melodies interspersed throughout; It is truly beautiful. Zach’s wonderful original “Magical Night,” is much less electro, bringing in guitars while crafting a beautifully sweet song about a child’s anticipation of Christmas. It is simple, poignant and wholly mix-worthy. Zach’s other originals, “Christmastime is Always,” “The Darkest Time of the Year,” and “Half the Fruit” all reflect the album’s title in a way the sweet “Magical Night” did not. They are dark, but with these brilliant moments of light, such as this line in “Half the Fruit:”

If nothing else, we still have Christmas
If nothing else, we still have Jesus
And even though the meaning changes
If nothing else, we still have Christmas

Zach has created a true album – the “Kid Conversation” tracks are great on their own, but not really “songs” – but they work beautifully, stitching together this wonderful collection of largely original, both in content and approach, Christmas tunes. Zach has nailed it with this one, and you should check it out (as well as forgive me for not getting to this fantastic record last year).

Bottom Line: Zach Malm has created a wonderfully cohesive record – a true Christmas album – beautiful to listen to in its entirety.

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Joyful Noise Recordings’ Holiday Party Vol. 2 (2018)

Joyful Noise Recordings
Buy: 7″ Lathes | Bandcamp

Joyful Noise has done it again! Those delicious little lathe-cuts are back for a second season – only 100 of each song. You buy a snowflake, you get all the tunes! Or, you can pay $10 and just get the songs. Some highlights from this year are the Netherlands-based Eerie Wanda‘s cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow is Falling” and the Low Anthem‘s original “Fairy on Top of The Christmas Tree.” The crazy part about this whole project is that these songs are all tracked in one hour! They roll them in, figure out their parts (the bands also bleed over into each other’s tracks), and lay it down. In addition, 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to Second Helpings, a non-profit that rescues perishable food, to feed people in need, all while providing culinary job training for disadvantaged adults. Now that sounds like a plan!

Bottom Line: These snowflakes are for a good cause, and with a lineup like Kishi Bashi, Danielson, No Joy amongst many other notable purveyors of indie rock, it is certainly worth checking out.

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Ariane Zita “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Someday I’ll finish my mix… but in the meantime, maybe I’ll help you finish yours. Ariane Zita, an indie folk singer/songwriter from Montreal, has a Christmas advent calendar that is turning out to be quite lovely, Un Noël à Botch. The first track, “Christmas Can’t be Far Away,” is an Eddy Arnold cover, and TBH, not a song I was familiar with. Ariane’s voice is is beautiful, and her arrangement makes the song feel particularly intimate. The calendar continues in a similar fashion, each song building a soundtrack to that first snow.

Bottom Line: This is truly the season of beautiful songs, and Ariane Zita could very well put out more than everyone else combined…

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Forest Creatures – Noble Fir (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Oh those seasonal bands. Those spectacular seasonal bands. There are a few, a few bands who come together for explicitly Christmas music, the obvious ones (for my readers being Christmas Aguilera and Sunturns), and now Forest Creatures are making their claim for elite status. Not only do they only release Christmas music, and not only have they released something for the past three years in a row, but they have released FULL ALBUMS three years in a row. There are some bands that have matched this feat… but Forest Creatures are really taking this to another level. A healthy mix of originals and covers, all performed beautifully – so beautifully that you find yourself wondering where they find the time? This year’s entry is Noble Fir, which follows in last year’s beautiful Was That Christmas? in brilliant fashion. The title track is a standout for sure. Their interesting arrangement for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was pretty damn great and unexpected. The calming bliss of the other two originals, “Silent Morn” and “Christmas at the Cabin,” combined with this coffee I’m drinking has put me in a serene, blissful mood that this bitter, overworked Christmas blogger kinda, really, truly, definitely needs. This record is fantastic, for those who like that sort of thing…

EDIT: Woah. Mind. Blown. All three originals have EXACTLY the same running time… 2:37. That is crazy.

Bottom Line: Forest Creatures have maintained an incredible track record of fantastic, FULL-LENGTH Christmas records – a nearly unmatched feat.

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