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.
Bottom Line: Click and buy. It’ll be better than most Christmas records, and could possibly be great.
Polish folk group Lor may have released their heartbreaking track “Christmas Morning: Busza’s in the Garage” back in 2017, but this humble blogger didn’t stumble across it until their first proper album, Lowlight, was dropped earlier this year. I’ve been piecing together a bit about the band, largely from translated Polish websites, and I must admit a wry smile crossed my face when I saw they had cited recent CU favorite Tom Rosenthal as an early inspiration. These four girls, Julia Skiba, Paulina Sumera, Jagoda Kudlińska and Julia Błachuta, are still teenagers, and when you press play below, you will be somewhat astounded. “Christmas Morning” is a delicate song, deeply sad, yet somehow comforting. Written about a man who spends Christmas alone, Lor draws you gently into this scene. Then there is the video, shot and directed by Mateusz Mleczko (you can see the full credits on the Youtube page), which adds even more to the drama of an already emotional song and compliments it beautifully. They teamed up with Anna Dymna’s Against the Odds Foundation (donate here), who “help intellectually disabled adults by giving them a place where they can be happy and have a substitude (sp?) of home,” and this connection feels wholly appropriate with this song. This is a heavy one, but very much worth your time.
Bottom Line: To be teenagers, already opening for the likes of Rhye, and displaying this level of talent, taste, and sophistication… incredible.
David Bazan is no stranger to Christmas music, and even when he isn’t writing specifically-Christmas songs… he still sometimes writes an almost-Christmas song. “Yellow Bike” is the latest single from David’s recently resurrected Pedro the Lion project, and it is perfectly situated in the Venn diagram that is my life: Christmas songs and cycling. It begins…
“On a desert Christmas morning, 1981
One month shy of six years old
In the valley of the sun
My first two-wheel bicycle stood by the tree
My heart thumping in my chest
Though I’d tried, I couldn’t ride one yet”
The song is a beautiful tale of nostalgia, longing, and communion, facilitated by the memory of that first bike David got for Christmas. Just. Loved. It.
Bottom Line: Chapeau David, it’s a stunner. Lots of vinyl options out there for folks who want to pick up the entire album, which I would also recommend.
I am no stranger to stretching the definition of a Christmas song; I fully embrace a good winter song, the imagery of falling snow, the chill in the air, etc. However… this might be the most Van Damme I will get on this blog. Red Sleeping Beauty are the kind of Swedish synth-pop that I can get behind, as all their previous Christmas tunes have found a way onto these digital pages. (If you share members with my beloved Acid House Kings, you will get noticed by me.) So, I was excited to receive a DM from RSB a few weeks ago hipped me to a new single! “The Swedish Winter” certainly tackles the long, cold nights that those in the upper-regions of the northern hemisphere suffer through – but the celebration that bursts from the song is all about summer. This is definitively NOT a Christmas song. Yet somehow… I began to think that this song might be a good finale to a Christmas/winter mix. Christmas (and your mix) is over… so what else do you have to look forward to? Summer. “You lose your faith / and you lose your mind / the Swedish winter / The darkest times / and the darkest thoughts / the Swedish winter/ Then suddenly, a ray of light / to save your soul / Get ready cause here comes the summer / and everything feels right.”
Bottom Line: This is synth pop at its synthiest and popiest, and will most certainly satisfy fans of the genre.
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….
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 😛
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.
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.