figure “Christmas Eve of 1992” (2018)

Figure "Parakalien"

Sauna Cool Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Should you break down the content of this entire blog, you would probably find that I’ve written 50% of my posts about indie pop. Well, make it 51%, as this new track from Japan’s figure is a beautiful, early Wild Nothing-esque indie pop groove that deserves your attention. Figure is the indie pop project of Yoshinobu Hasebe, and “Christmas Eve of 1992” is off his first release in four years, Parakalein. The song starts off with that wistful, indie pop lofi production (which I love), but what really hooked me is when the song swells with emotion as drums and bass kick in. The production does bury the lyrics enough to honestly have no real clue what Yoshinobu is singing about (presumably Christmas Eve of 1992) here… but the vibe itself is enough for me to love this song.

Bottom Line: Japan has always been fertile ground for indie pop fandom, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear fantastic Japanese indie pop bands releasing underground Christmas indie pop gems. I suspect figure is only the tip of the iceberg for 2018.

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Dollar Signs – Another Sad Holiday (2017)

Dollar Signs - Another Sad Holiday

No Time Records
Buy: Cassette (3 left as of posting) | Digital

Charlotte, NC’s Dollar Signs have taken a detour from their usual punk rock aesthetic, and channeled the Mountain Goats for the profane and fantastic Christmas EP, “Another Sad Holiday.” Each of the two originals (“Caroler” and “Selfish Christmas”) are chock full of bitterness, but in a bizarre twist, also express a tangible warmth that is undeniable. The third track is a cover of the Tom Waits’ classic “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” which is a song I do very much enjoy. Dollar Signs’ version feels as though it is sung with a smile, which gives it a wholly different feeling than any version I’ve ever heard. Can’t say I prefer this angle, but it is certainly a unique and interesting take. This EP will most certainly find some fans out there. Bonus – If you are quick, you can still grab one of the 30 cassette copies they pressed!

Bottom Line: “Another Sad Holiday,” Dollar Signs’ loving, smirking approach to Christmas was a refreshing palate cleanser for this world-weary Christmas blogger.

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DCR Mixtape #3 – A Christmas Compilation (2017)

Dinosaur City Records Christmas Compilation

Dinosaur City Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Dinosaur City Records… what can I say? Why would you release such a great Christmas release only 3 days before Christmas? This record is PACKED with excellent indie pop (naturally), indie rock, electro-pop, as well as some that forcefully eschew categorization. This comp deserves more than 3 days of listening! I am finding myself fighting the urge to get too specific, to single out any tracks I particularly enjoy, and I want to simply highlight the general strength of the whole damn thing. There is likely a song on here for everyone… and I want you to buy the whole thing. Lets to encourage Dinosaur City Records to do this thing again, because this whole release has left me smiling.

Bottom Line: There are few Christmas compilations that make me feel so warm and fuzzy about them… this is one. I wish I had found it before they sold out of cassettes…

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Al Riggs “Christmas Parade” (2017)

Al Riggs - Hell House

Bull City Records Presents
Buy: Bandcamp

Durham, North Carolina’s Al Riggs is one of the most prolific singer/songwriters I’ve come across on Bandcamp. You know those links that let you buy entire discographies? I can only imagine how much it would cost… because you would be about 70 releases! The record I want to highlight now is his latest, Hell House. Included on this warm recording of sad songs is the beautiful “Christmas Parade.” The song is a vignette of a moment right before Christmas, where just being with a friend means more than whatever you might be doing with them – “Neither of us like the Christmas parade / but it means a lot. / but it means a lot / ….” Al’s voice is not terribly pretty, it is genuine –  exactly how I like my singers (e.g. David Berman, Mark Eitzel, etc). This really is a beautiful song, the production matches the sentiment perfectly… wouldn’t change a thing. (Again – thanks Ned!)

Bottom Line: Al is not a stranger to Christmas tunes (When the Saints Go Stag, Good Reasons to Freeze to Death,Yulemen), and while I have only scratched the surface, I think you may dig what you find underneath.

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A City Without Snow (2016)

A City Without Snow

Middle Class Cigars
Buy: Bandcamp

Singapore’s Middle Class Cigars has released, from front to back, one of the most enjoyable compilations I’ve heard this year. A mixture of Books-esque spoken word folktronica, indiepop, lo-fi folk and downtempo chill-out music, the production value is uniformly excellent, and the taste level is on-point. If I had to pick out a track or two to highlight, for me it would be the lovely “A Song to Sleep to” by Ferry, and the dreamy “0212” by Cosmic Child.  You could put this album on, and not have to skip any horrible tracks… which in the Christmas-music world is a RARITY. Most certainly worth a listen – and for those in the US, it’s only a dash above $10 to have the limited edition cassette (ed. of 50) shipped from Singapore!

I found their description both useful, and endearing.

Music plays an important part in the season of Christmas, as we sing along to the carols written years ago, it still remains as powerful as ever.

With contributions from 9 Singapore-based musicians, A City Without Snow is a Christmas compilation album consisting of seven original songs and two renditions of classics. Born from different emotional perspectives of the season, each composition is a musical vignette of a uniquely Singaporean Christmas.

A City Without Snow is Middle Class Cigars’ proudest release thus far, encapsulating a collective dynamic of warm and intimate sounds of which the label thrives in.

Bottom Line: Just a pleasure. A pleasure. A pleasure.

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Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Christmas Tape

Twaague Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know everyone is all about the NEW NEW NEW songs… throw a “2015” after a song and nobody wants to retweet it. BUT, when nearly all the seasonal releases come out in a month’s time, you are bound to miss some great stuff. Berlin-based Twaague RecordsChristmas Tape was one of those misses… released on December 12 of last year, this release certainly suffered from missing the “christmas” tag on Bandcamp, which made it nearly invisible to my search. (Bandcamp really needs to up their game on search – they limit results and don’t let you combine tags…) This was the tape that led me to Skiing! This was the tape that led me to Hanemoon! And this is the tape that will make you love Milwalkie. Get comfortable, I’m going to cover my personal highlights of this excellent release.

The tape leads off with “26th December,” originally appearing on Skiing’s excellent Generous Fire EP. Its anti-consumerism rhetoric is comfortable terrain for me, and the punk rock aesthetic is invigorating. A very strong start.

Colorado’s Kissing Party is no stranger to Christmas songs – they have 2 featured on their Bandcamp as I type this review. “Merry Christmas Darling (Maybe Next Year Things will Change)” was originally released as their 2014 single, and it remains a great indiepop downer.

Berlin’s Milwalkie contributes one of my favorite tracks on this release with “This Year (All I Want is You).” From what I understand, this begins a string of tracks exclusive to this release. What they might call cheesy (and they do), I call simple and nearly perfect. Playful and nostalgic, this song hits all the marks without getting too sweet; A wonderful, perfectly seasoned (pun!) Christmas tune.

Who would have expected Berlin to be a hotbed of amazing indie Christmas songs? My head has been stuck searching in London for years… should have been looking here! Berlin’s Man Behind Tree channel 90’s-era Merge Records indie rock and blends their jangly guitars, dark lyrics and understated vocals into a fantastic Christmas song, “I Was Santa Claus.”

Hanemoon, who we featured a week or so ago with his 2013 gem, has blessed us with the equally wonderful “My Bell Ride.” This is a driving indie rock Christmas song that I could imagine Yo La Tengo (or my much beloved Mendoza Line) just ripping shit up with; It has the kind of frayed edges that I am such a sucker for.

Strand Child (also from… Berlin!) contribute their dark electro-pop “Yer Feet.” Is this a Christmas song? No idea! But I like it. “I was drunk when I met you / I was drunk when you walked out the door.” It may take place during Christmas… as might the equally non-Christmas specific “F&f” by Berlin’s Mother of the Unicorn. They are a bit less confusing on their Facebook than Strand Child, as they address their song as “not so Christmassy really, but it is a bit sentimental, so that’s the same thing right?” They are tapping into the same deep emotional well as The National… which I consider a high compliment and comparison.

Finally, Farfara’s instrumental “Flying Pan” is also damn good. Again, it suffers by not having an explicit nod to Christmas, but overall a great track that, depending on your own personal mix rules, might still qualify for consideration. At the very least, this track proves them to be an excellent band, worthy of further listening.

Overall this release is extremely strong, and with few exceptions, immensely listenable and wholly enjoyable. I would consider 3-4 of these songs for my own personal mix, which is like scoring a hat trick… very, very hard to do on a Christmas compilation. Tapes are still available via their Bandcamp, as well a digital downloads for a very respectable €5!

Bottom Line: Berlin is just killing it right now. One of the strongest compilations of 2015, easy.

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Skiiing – Holly (2013)

Skiiing "Holly"

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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Kid Canaveral “Wasn’t Really Listening” (2015)

Kid Canaveral - Wasn't Really Listening

Lost Map Records
Buy: Cassette!

Edinburgh’s Kid Canaveral obviously love Christmas; they are in fact hosting their sixth-annual Christmas party… a party that I follow on twitter, wishing that I was not thousands of miles away, and could actually go to. IN FACT, if you are going to Baubles VI this year… you’ll get this new song in the form of a limited edition cassette tape! So, if you live anywhere nearby and are not going… for shame! If you are going, pick me up a tape! Either way, one of those tapes WILL BE MINE. Hear that internet? I will get one somehow, some way, if I have to crash their website next week, I will do it. Because this first song, if it remotely sets the quality level of what I am to expect, has me absolutely frothing at the mouth like a rabid badger.

I first became aware of “Wasn’t Really Listening” back when Lost Map posted an early version to their Youtube page, and I thought it was beautiful then. To my particular enjoyment, the song has been expanded, and Christmas has been brought into the mix. I really love the music – Kid Canaveral have an amazing sound. As each instrument enters the track, they fill their own little space that has been perfectly carved out for it. The song is big, emotional and beautiful.

I want to live in a house the light still reaches in winter
I know it sounds trite, but it’s easier when we face it together
So come on home.
to me.

Bottom Line: I have been waiting for this, a true Kid Canaveral Christmas song to be released… and boy is it good. Rock solid for next year’s mix in my book. Very limited cassette (and digital download) now available!!

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

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

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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UPCOMING: Cassie Ramone – Christmas in Reno (2015)

Cassie Ramone - Christmas in Reno

Burger Records
Buy: Burger Records (Colored LP/LP/Cass) | Amazon.UK (LP/Dig) | Amazon.DE (LP/Dig)

Ex-Vivian Girls’ guitarist/singer Cassie Ramone has announced a new Christmas covers album, Christmas in Reno, and it has been shouted out from the rooftops of Pitchfork, Stereogum and the meat-and-diary-free Brooklyn Vegan to name a few. I also tweeted about it. Thus, I doubt this is news to anyone. However, should this be finding you today, on a day when writing about Christmas music seems pretty damn inconsequential, maybe it’ll bring you some happiness, and that’s worth something. 10 covers, with some cool choices (Run Run Rudolph) and some terrible ones (Wonderful Christmastime), I’m really interested into hearing how this lo-fi Christmas comes together. “Run Run Rudolph” has a chilled-out, shimmering vibe, which makes it extremely enjoyable. I truly love the music, as it tickles the part of me that absolutely love Real Estate, and that would be the biggest RIYL if I were to go down that path.

For those interested in picking up this records, the preorders have begun. Burger has the colored & regular vinyl, as well as their classic format, cassette. Amazon also has the cassette and an LP listed (for cheaper than Burger), which I assume its the black vinyl. Amazon around the world is also listing the LP, so I’m not guessing the black vinyl is going to be ultra-limited.

Bottom Line: I’ve only heard one song. So no.

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