If you follow me on Twitter, you know this is a tough week for bloggin. So, I’m going to be brief! Said Fantasy is Ronnie Martin, and he knows his way around a MOOG. “Chorus Noel” is a fantastic experimental synth-pop song that I wish could be replicated 5 times on one record… because I’d buy that shit on vinyl. “Chorus Noel” comes as the lead, title track of their 5-track Christmas EP, out now on CDr (100 copies), as well as digital download on Chicago’s Plastiq Musiq. I’m not as down with the traditional covers, but it is totally worth it for that lead track. So… let that be your bit for the day. Best of luck you all in your mixin’ endeavors, and send me stuff you think I’d like – @xmasunderground!
Bottom Line: Some awesome synth-pop for your ear-holes. I do wish you could buy a single track though….
Too Many Fireworks
Buy: Bandcamp | A Very Cherry Christmas Vol. 13 CD
If you have been following my blog, placing pins on the map every time I go international, grab yourself a pin and find Poland… because we’re heading off to Warsaw! Indiepop producer and songwriter Neil Milton (The Frozen North) has teamed up with Seattle-born singer and screenwriter Jules Jones (Ephrata) to create this new 2-track single, which is also their first recordings together as Milton and Jones! “This Life (This Christmas)” is a 60’s-wall-of-sound-inspired celebration of the end of a relationship. “We’ll never meet again / not gonna be friends / this is a happy end / This life’s gonna start, / this Christmas.” This fantastic premise was driven by Jules’ research into holiday music for her film’s soundtrack, and how she couldn’t find anything that quite fit:
“Researching holiday music for our film’s soundtrack, I couldn’t find any empowering break-up songs. Everything out there was either, ‘I want you back for Christmas’ or ‘I’m so happy we’re together under the Christmas tree.’ If I ever took the opportunity to write a Christmas song, I knew I would write something for those better off leaving their crappy exes behind them. A few months later, Neil mentioned the single and I was ecstatic – here was the chance!”
“This Life (This Christmas)” is a brilliant celebration of failure, and truly a success in my book. The b-side is equally successful, and even has its own cinematic connection. As you might have gleaned from the title, this beautiful little ditty about a happy couple, snuggling together watching movies… ends with them on Christmas day watching the modern classic Love Actually. “It’s Christmas day, don’t go away. / We’ll spend the day in bed. / “A movie’s on TV tonight- / Love Actually,” you said.” This pitch-perfect indiepop sweetness has everything you might want – soft vocals, simple production, dreamy imagery and pop culture references. Fun fact that will also knock your Christmas socks off: “Love Actually” went from nothing to a fully-produced song in 37 minutes! This song is truly a Christmas miracle!
Now… I’m going to cover this more in-depth later, but I do need to mention that you can also pick up the fantastic A-side on the brand-new A Very Cherry Christmas Vol. 13!
Bottom Line: Polish Indiepop perfection!
Edit: Working on the embed. Sorry if you can’t see it 😛
Refuge Foundation for the Arts
Buy: Vinyl & CD | iTunes | Google Play MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
Traveller, the Americana supergroup comprised of Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel and Jonny Fritz, may have taken three years to follow up the release of their first track, “Western Movies,” but I would contend… this is most certainly worth the wait. Robert Ellis has released four solo records, including his latest self-titled album, Robert Ellis, in 2016. Cory Chisel has toured for years with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, releasing seven records since 2004. Jonny Fritz (AKA Jonny Corndawg) first came to my attention with a gift from a friend, a glow-in-the-dark LP copy of the endlessly entertaining Dad Country. So when you put all three of these already-accomplished alt.country/country/Americana artists together for a proper full-length (also called Western Movies), you are likely going to get something pretty special. And to my surprise, there is the added bonus of an absolutely stellar Christmas song on there – “Christmas Eve at Kroger.” I’ve been listening to this track for a few months now, and the first time my wife heard it – she began to tear up. I certainly wasn’t surprised; This song has a bunch of these little, deceptively-powerful moments. The lyrics are so simple and real, that they feel as though they could have come right out of your own mind. I was hooked upon hearing them name-check Cracklin’ Oat Bran and “watching Die Hard with my mom.” While I would not have watched Die Hard, I most certainly ate that cereal and snuggled with my mom as a kid on many, many occasions. Cracklin’ Oat Bran was that little indulgence that my mom would give herself back when my family was young, and I remember those days like it was yesterday. I may be a bit of a humbug at times, and I know I find interest in the bitterness of the holiday, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t also secretly (and sometimes openly) love Christmas – and you can tell these guys do too.
Bottom Line: The heart found in the lyrics compliment the warmth of the recording, as all three singer-songwriters trade off verses in this beautifully delicious song.
Buy: Preorder | Preorder + Tickets to the release show if you live in/near Glasgow
Aidan Moffat (ex-Arab Strap) and RM Hubbert (ex-El Hombre Trajeado), both known for their prolific solo careers as well as their past bands, have hooked up of late, releasing the excellent Here Lies the Body back in May. Certainly Aidan is no stranger to Christmas songs, with Arab Strap releasing a few throughout their run, as well as having his own solo Christmas EP back in 2011. Thus, the two began with an idea for one Christmas song, meant to be a one-off seasonal treat. It soon developed into an EP, and eventually ballooned into a full album. The description sounds fascinating:
“These are the ghosts of love, haunting happy homes and fairy-lit bars; these are the ghosts of memory, of haunted mirrors, pagan festivities, and unforgettable friends. As with this year’s critically acclaimed debut album, Here Lies The Body, Moffat’s quiet, pensive storytelling finds a perfect partner in Hubbert’s intimately intricate, flamenco-flavoured guitar. Across eight new original compositions and two deftly executed covers, here they offer an alternative view on the Season To Be Jolly.”
This is certainly one to be checked out! Available for preorder now and will be released on Dec. 7, which is unfortunately a bit late for my mix. However, if you live in the Glasgow area, you can order from Monorail Music and grab a ticket to their special Christmas release party on Dec. 6!
Unfortunately, they have not released a true Christmas song to preview, only a cover of Yazoo’s “Only You,” which was a Christmas #1 in the UK. The original intended one-off, “A Ghost Story for Christmas,” is the forthcoming single and will likely be released in short order. BTW, I don’t consider Christmas #1’s to be appropriate holiday listening… their version here is very nice, but it should have been a digital extra or something 🙂
Melbourne’s School Damage reside in what I would call Christmas Underground’s sweet spot – DIY, underground indie pop. Thus, you might have thought I would have been all over this record from the start! However, it is thanks to the ever-amazing No Love for Ned, that I am now well hipped to both their fantastic new record, A to X, and also to the fact that there is a Christmas song on it! School Damage’s angle into a holiday song is to write a song that is not necessarily about Christmas, which immediately piqued my interest. Musically, it is quite sparse, largely comprised of a pulsing beat, with the only real hint of Christmas contained in the simple melody that bookends the song. Despite not being Christmas-specific, it is the lyrics and the sentiment of the song that make “Xmas Song” a noteworthy addition to your holiday season. An interesting mixture of nostalgia (“Riding down your old street / the years pile up”), stark reality (“And it can be hard. / It will probably get worse.”), and hope (“And you will get through / the black and the blue, / the thick and the thin, / the losses and wins – / everything”), the track creates a sense of realism not found in many Christmas songs. After a year of tough losses, I found the voice of support and friendship in this song to be quite powerful.
I hear the fear in your voice. / I know that you are feeling disappointed. / Don’t let your heart sink / or worry about what they’ll think. / Don’t try to hide / your fire inside.
Riding down your old street, / the years pile up. / We don’t have to always agree, / by your side I will stay / even when I seem far away. / Don’t try to hide / your fire inside.
And it can be hard. / It will probably get worse. / It will happen again, / but it’s not the end – / nothing time cannot mend. / And you will get through / the black and the blue, / the thick and the thin, / the losses and wins – / everything.
Bottom Line: Raw and emotional indie pop from down under.
The latest “Christmas” tune to make the rounds on all the big boys (Stereogum/Under the Radar/Brooklyn Vegan/etc) is the second track to be released off the new Phosphorescent record, C’Est La Vie, due out Oct. 5 on Dead Oceans. It has been five years since the excellent Muchacho (with that brainworm “Song for Zula“), and this new record promises to be damn interesting. The first track, “New Birth in New England,” strikes as a stellar, upbeat Paul Simon track, while “Christmas Down Under” is an auto-tuned slow burn. Pedal steel and haunting lyrics forge the solemn atmosphere that permeates this song, yet not without revealing its own scuffed beauty.
Bottom Line: Phosphorescent’s end-run around what we expect from a “Christmas song” yields fascinating results.
Jigsaw/Debt Offensive Records
Buy: US-Jigsaw (CD) | Canada-Debt Offensive Records (CD)
“We’re doomed for sure. / Apocalypse creeps closer every year. / Keep this in mind, / we’re all fucked. / At least it’s Christmas time.”
THE DARKEST TIMELINE CONTINUES!
Here is Calgary’s finest with a FUCKING AMAZING indie pop jam that I cannot get out my head. Pre Nup come out swinging with fuzzed-out perfection, while name checking the illuminati, pretending the chemtrails are Santa’s sleigh, and highlighting a government plot to foment carnage. You know, the perfect appetizer to the oncoming
meltdown Christmas season.
Bottom Line: Sharpen your knives, this Christmas feast is going to be bloody. Pre Nup have thrown down the Christmas gauntlet, and bloodied a few noses in the process. (Heads up, this song is a hidden track on the CD version of their debut LP, Oh Well.)
Cherryade Records and DJ, music promoter and fellow alternative Christmas music fan Gareth Jones have done it again, for the twelfth time to be exact! Which, might I say, only makes them one year behind me (I’m coming on 13 this year!). This latest collection of indie Christmas tunes is only available to 200 lucky souls, as they only license the tracks to sell physical copies, and when they are gone, they are gone. And while you can often hunt down many of the tracks on Bandcamp if you miss out, think of all the work you are going to have to do hunting down 25 songs just to preview them. THEN, on top of that, paying about $25 do download each one, instead of the killer £6 price tag on this nice little package. Some highlights (for me) include Les Bicyclettes de Belsize (whose 2017 Christmas EP, Christmas Revisited, reimagines some tracks off his 2016 Xmas record), Marble Gods (also featured here on CU), and that leadoff single from Shrill Fit, “It’s Been A Shitty Year (So Give Me All Your Presents).” I’m all for bitter Christmas songs – and Shrill Fit’s indie rock jam certainly scratches that itch.
Bottom Line: Well, not a real review, as I have yet to receive my record yet – but you can’t beat the price, and I’m pretty excited that I barely know any of the bands on there. Discovery is why I do this gig…
Buy: Record Store Day (LP) | Amazon.fr (LP)?
The Minus 5 is essentially Scott McCaughey and his band of merry, quite famous and somewhat famous friends rocking out and taking names. I presently have his Down with Wilco on my shelf, which, you can imagine, features members of Wilco. My friend Ned just hipped me to the fact that Scott also likes to hang with friends… and record CHRISTMAS SONGS. Dear December features M. Ward, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service), Peter Buck (R.E.M. – duh), Mike Mills (ditto), Colin Meloy (Decemberists), Chuck Prophet, Tammy Ealom (Dressy Bessy), The Posies, Kelly Hogan (The Flat Five/Neko Case), Nora O’Connor (The Flat Five/solo badass) and more. That’s a rather impressive lineup, as most of the Minus 5 albums are… which obviously raises my expectations. The first single, “When Christmas Hurts You This Way,” does not disappoint. It is a downer with a Wilco AM vibe: “When the last one your remember / is the last one you deserve / you look back at all the mistakes you make / that somehow made much worse.” DARK! Love it! This is not a safe leadoff single, and that is what make this a great leadoff single. Hell, I love Nick Lowe, but I’d much rather listen to this than “Christmas in the Airport” – it is just so much darker and interesting to me! (No offense Yep Roc, you continually release Chatham County Line records, so you’ve got my love.) McCaughey can write a great song, and he obviously is respected enough by some stellar artists to lend their name to the project; Thus, if the rest of the songs are as good as this… well hot damn.
Dear December will be a Record Store Day release on vinyl, with an advent calendar-inspired gatefold sleeve on colored vinyl, limited to 1500 copies. It will also be released on December 1 on CD, as well as on your favorite digital retailers (7Digital??? Bandcamp??? They have FLACs!!!)
Bottom Line: Looks damn promising. Yep Roc – hook me up! I want it early! (In a curious twist of fate, most of the stuff I get sent is not Christmas-related at all… not gonna happen.)
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Way back in 2010, the wonderful Scottish band The Just Joans released The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet, a limited mini CDr Christmas EP, on the wonderfully-titled WeePOP! Records. And it looks like just about every holiday season, they would pop a track out here or there, released on Soundcloud or as a live recording on Youtube. However, it appears that in December 2016, the whole EP became readily-available again via their Bandcamp page! This is a wonderful turn of events, as there are some excellent tunes on here for those who like a melancholy, slow-tempo Christmas. “Card from a Multipack” is (for me) the strongest of the bunch, as the approach is interesting and the delivery feels genuine – there is some pain in this track. My second favorite would be the vaguely indie-folk rendition of the classic “Last Christmas,” where their Scottish brogue and gently strummed banjo give this stale song a fresh feel. Certainly worth your time and money.
Bottom Line: The Just Joans are due for another Christmas EP… just throwing it out there 🙂 But until they do, I’m happy to have “Seasonal Greet” to tide me over.