Jens Lekman – Christmas in San Francisco (2011)

Jens-Lekman

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

Lets get this ball rolling again.

This is the second of my series of Jens Lekman posts. What prompted me to so quickly dive back into the Jens Lekman catalogue? Well, he updated his website yesterday, and seems to suggest that he sold only 16 records last year. While I find this absolutely baffling, I would still like you to take a moment and discover Jens’ music if you haven’t already. If you are already a fan, you may be excited to know that he is presently accepting orders directly from his home for signed CDs at a “pay what you wish” price point, as long as you also cover postage. Normally I would jump all over this, but I already have all his records, and had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago and he graciously signed my 12″ of When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog.

Enough exposition about Jens and why he needs the support of those who love him, and those who have yet (but most certainly will) to love him. Back in 2011, Jens surprised us with a small present on his Smalltalk blog, a modest, 3-song zip file of holiday piano pieces he wrote in San Francisco back in 2005 – hence the title. They are all instrumental, but each quite lovely. Certainly a worthy pickup for its price: Free. Take that money you saved by not having to buy anything and buy one of his other records, for yourself or for a friend.

Bottom Line: Simple, thoughtful piano pieces from one of my absolute favorite artists. For the price, it cannot be beat. In the right context, I might even sneak it on to a mix. 5/5

Allo Darlin’ “Only Dust Behind” (2012)

allo-darlin-7777777

WIAIWYA
Buy: Bandcamp

Allo Darlin’ have a long history of Christmas tunes. In fact their first-ever release was a Christmas EP. I may review that one day soon as well; we’ll just see how it shakes out. I am not hear to talk about the distant past, but the ever-so-recent release from 2012, their WIAIWYA 7″ from last December. The Christmas song that resides on the A-side is one of my absolute favorite of the past few years, “Only Dust Behind.” This is one of those tracks that I just always come back to. My only regret… that I was unable to get my act together to buy a vinyl copy. However, as consolation, a lovely FLAC waits for you at the link above. I will not bloviate any more, you really just need to listen to it.

Bottom Line: Simply said, wonderful. 5/5

LISTEN

Bears – Snowman 7″ (2009)

Bears - Snowman 7"

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

The Bears released this lovely little 7″ record back in 2009, and I am flabbergasted that they are still available. Limited to 250 copies, the Bears are offering up this EP (6-songs!) for a mere $2! The songs are classic indiepop – beautiful music, melancholy lyrics. I recently revisited their Twitter account, and they made mention of their love of the Acid House Kings. This love, which I share, can be heard throughout this record. Standouts (for me) are “Easy Days” and the slow grower “Holidays.” Also not to be ignored, the extremely cheery “Merry Christmas Have a Happy New Year,” where the Bears delightfully sing “To all the people we hate / have a terrible year.” Hussah!

Bottom Line: Truly worth the $2, and then some. 4.5/5

LISTEN

Jens Lekman “Run Away with Me” (2005)

Jens Lekman - USA October 2005

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

So, this is the first in a series of Jens Lekman Christmas tunes I plan on posting. If you are familiar with the Swedesplease.net Christmas rundown, than you know and love this particular song already. If not, please do enjoy your first listen.

Jens Lekman released this little gem on the appropriately titled October 2005 : USA Tour EP. There are only 200 of these handmade CDrs out there, and one day I hope to be in that elite group. For now, I will have to settle for an MP3 (though I did suggest to his management that some of us would love a Bandcamp site). “Run Away with Me” starts off extremely strong – jingle bells and the driving beat that those familiar with Jens’ earlier, more uptempo work will absolutely love. The lyrics are also classic Jens. Since its a short song, I thought I might post them all:

What are you gonna do on Christmas Eve
Please don’t spend it with your family
I know you love your mommy
But she’s more like a mummy

She’s so empty,
She’s so empty
So run away with me

She’s so empty
She’s so empty
So run away with me

Yeah I know it’s been a bad year
And I can trace every tear
Back to your little life
But I can see a future for you and I

Because we’re not empty
We’re not empty
So run away with me

We’re not empty
We’re not empty
So run away with me now baby

If you make a mix that is at all along the lines of mine, then this song is either already on one, or NEEDS TO BE. What a weird, dark, beautifully orchestrated Christmas song.

Bottom Line: This is one of my favorites. I really, really, really need a higher source than the MP3 that Jens’ website offers. Anyone out there want to help a guy out? christmasunderground(at)gmail.com. 5/5

LISTEN:

Parenthetical Girls – Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls (2012)

Parenthetical Girls - Good Christian Men Rejoice, It's Parenthetical Girls

Slender Means Society
Buy: Bandcamp

Parenthetical Girls never disappoint when it comes to Christmas tunes; They are ALWAYS interesting.  2012’s edition, Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls, does not have any of the sure-fire xmas singles that some of their early releases had, but the entire release is uniquely fantastic. This release is a fully-formed group of songs meant to be listened to as a set. After some basic research, I am led to believe that all these songs may very well be originals, but I just await that clarification from my better educated readers. For example, there are a bunch of “Christmas Mourning” tunes out there, but the Parenthetical Girls’ version rings original to me. My favorite track would have to be the gorgeous “The Salvation Army Bell.” Parenthetical Girls can be wonderfully abrasive, but this track is like a warm hug… at least, as warm as the Parenthetical Girls can be. The lyrics set such a vivid scene and very much suggest the short story that comes in the final 12-minute track, with lines like: “A cold day, the end of December / those bright bells chimed. / In a twin bed, we swore to each other / you’d show me yours, if I showed you mine.” Parenthetical Girls, please continue this tradition. You are in the top tier of Christmas songsmiths, and each release is a welcome addition to the underground Christmas canon.

Bottom Line: This release stands beautifully as a fully realized piece of art. Would be a perfect 5/5 if I could have just squeezed on single off it, which I am well aware, is antithetical to why I loved this record. 4.6/5

LISTEN:

Lisa Bouvier – Live From Hendon Cathedral (2011)

Lisa Bouvier

Cath ‘N’ Dad Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Lisa Bouvier is presently the bassist in the excellent indiepop band The Proctors, but that does not stop her from releasing her own solo material. This simple, two track Christmas single, is released on Cath ‘N’ Dad Records, which allows you to name your own price on all their releases. The catch? All the proceeds go to the charity of the band’s own choosing. Lisa chose Popkollo, a Swedish (yes, she is Swedish – I’m such a sucker for the Swedes) charity best described by Lisa:

Popkollo started as a music summer camp for girls, and is now a nationwide collaboration of incredible female musicians who support girls all over Sweden in their musical endeavours.

As for the songs, they are short, sweet, and performed beautifully. Not quite sure they are the kind of vibe that I look for in my Christmas mix, but certainly would fit the bill for some of you. To the best of my knowledge, “Christmas Rain” appears to be Lisa’s own song. There are other songs with the same title, but not a match when I compared the lyrics. It is an excellent song, and the production value is of equal quality. The second and final song is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Covered by a million other singers, Lisa’s version does nothing to rewrite the script. However, she does it quite nicely.

Bottom Line: Lisa Bouvier’s Christmas single is short, sweet, well performed and produced, and all the proceeds go to charity. I think you’ll be quite pleased with your purchase. 4.3/5

LISTEN

 

And for good measure, be sure to check out The Proctors, the band Lisa is presently touring the world with.

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

Radiant
Buy: Free!

Hailing from New South Wales, all these songs were performed live on Radiant Radio, and thus, you can expect a bit less of a stretch when it comes to overall performance and product.

It starts with a deep-voiced gentleman, Kirin J. Callinan, working through “Merry Christmas,” a song he just wrote. Tough to get through, but to be expected for a song he’s only worked through on his way there.

Packwood’s “Oh Holy Night” is a ramshackle folk performance that comes in and out of tune and key, but that rawness directed to a song that you normally heard sung by a huge voice and soaring orchestra might just be what the doctor ordered.

The Maple Trail and A Casual End Mile & R. Somerset each do covers of traditional songs as well, and none of them are notable enough to highlight. They are both perfectly fine, but the song and the performance just don’t lend themselves to comment.

The Preachers “Run Run Rudolph” is notable for the single fact that you’ve got a woman covering a Chuck Berry tune that is most often covered by dudes. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, you got a twist. Otherwise, nothing too crazy. Excellent guitar playing, but not exactly what I’m looking for.

The Holy Soul’s “Six White Boomers” is a original, normally a bonus a cover (Stubby has corrected me, it is apparently a Rolf Harris tune)… and the production value (e.g., the sound… not everyone is mic’d well) torpedos it. I can’t say that I think the song is very good either. If you are an Aussie, you might enjoy it a bit more; I doubt I get the humor, especially when it sounds like they are having sex in the middle of a song.

Side Note: This is the second review where I have missed a cover version and assumed it was an original. I either have to take more time doing research (which I likely will not have time for) or you will just have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: Overall, not something you need to take the time with unless something I described above sounds particularly appealing. 1.5/5

LISTEN:

Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

LISTEN:

Don’t Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape (2012)

Don't Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape

Select Music
Buy: Free!

One of my most recent finds, this free compilation from Sydney-based Select Music is an extremely solid compilation that is wholly listenable; A fine effort that I hope they continue to pursue in the future.

Step-Panther‘s version of “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight tonight)” begins and ends with a skit, which I’m sure you could edit out quite easily. The delivery of the actual song makes me think of a bunch of 16-17 year olds rolling through this classic Ramones tune, which could be exactly the vibe you’re looking for… I, however, don’t feel like this song is good enough (as in, the song, not the performance) for simply a serviceable cover. Asobi Seksu’s version is different enough to enjoy over multiple listens, but Step-Panther’s, while not bad, just doesn’t quite break the mold of the original.

Wax Witches‘ “Forgot Me” is a solid indie-rock Christmas tune. I am always partial to originals, and the Wax Witches effort is certainly in the upper 10% of the pack. It actually grows on me a bit with each listen… not quite sure if its going to get to the level where it will be mix-worthy, but a great effort no matter.

The Cairos rendition of “Sleigh Ride” is about as good as it can be. I would never consider this song for my mixes to begin with, but if I HAD to find a version to play for someone, this would certainly be an option. They do their best with what they’re working with.

Millions take a stab at the modern-classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and they do it admirably. Its kind of a fusion of indie rock with an alt-country beat and the twangy guitar of an earlier time. Their arrangement really makes the song their own, and thus it is immensely listenable. This is one of the songs that you need this compilation for… and hey, its free.

The Preatures take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and they follow the Millions lead-in with a similarly unique take on a classic tune. They lighten the mood, add some dirty edges, and throw their version onto the top of the pile. Short, sweet, and spot on.

Finally, Jonti‘s “Christmas Worm” makes an appearance at the end of this short compilation. If you read my blog, you are well aware of how much I enjoy this song. I will no doubt be writing more about this song as the season develops, as I have also found a cover from a few years ago as well. So… enjoy this release and the FREE FLAC that it offers.

Bottom Line: There are three great songs, and three good songs. If every other Christmas compilation could be so fortunate. 4.5/5

LISTEN:

Oh Sweet Music! “(Fly Away For) Christmas” (2005)

Oh Sweet Music

Canarie Records/Self-Released?
Buy: Good Luck!

Many moons ago, Swedesplease hipped me to this wonderful, odd little Christmas tune. The anti-christmas lyrics, the rough-around-the-edges vocals, the sparse guitar arrangement and beautiful horn interplay have placed this track solidly in my own personal “classics” collection. I now find myself wanting to learn more about the band in question, Oh Sweet Music. So, after some basic research, which takes some serious digging, I have come up with a few items I believe to be (relatively) true. First, the band is fronted by a man of the name of Magnus Nordström. This turns out to be quite a popular name in Sweden, and has thwarted my attempts to find him on Facebook. Secondly, he was also in a band called Piotor. Each of his bands appear to only have MySpace pages, and they haven’t been attended to in years. Thirdly, he recorded on Canarie Records in Sweden, and appeared on a Series Two Records compilation in the US. Canarie Records appears to be long-gone, and Series Two stopped releasing records in 2010. What I would give for an e-mail address, simply to thank him for the songs (I’ve found about four Oh Sweet Music tunes still available around the net), and perhaps suggest a Bandcamp page where his music can live on with high fidelity downloads and a few bucks in his pocket.

So, I throw out in to the ether, Magnus Nordström, please create a Bandcamp page for your old recordings. I will buy them.

Also, it appears that everyone thinks this song is called “Oh Sweet Christmas,” rather than “(Fly Away For) Christmas,” as it was originally titled (or so I assume… based that it makes sense from the lyrics, and is titled such in the earliest instance of the song being posted.)

Download the song here I found a link that was still live!

Bottom Line: An interesting original with a rough edge, sung by Swedes who, try as they might to fight it, have quite an ear for pop music. 5/5