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.
Eux Autres released their Another Christmas at Home 7-inch back in 2009, and in the subsequent four years, have earned (what I would consider) a status of indie-Christmas classic. Their original song, the titular “Another Christmas at Home” is 2:18 celebrating a warm fuzzy drinking-at-home Christmas that I’m sure a number of us can relate to. Short, sweet, and great. Their two covers, Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” and the Jacobites’ “Teenage Christmas” are equally wonderful – Eux Autres’ sound adds something to the song that makes you think they should be Eux Autres originals. (I especially love the lo-fi indiepop take on “Teenage Christmas.”) Unfortunately, the 7″ version will be hard to come by, as it was limited to 250 copies and is sold out – but do some digging and you might get lucky.
Bottom Line: The kind of solid effort you wish would come out more frequently. Truly enjoyable with some great choices. 5/5
In 2004, El Perro Del Mar was pretty much only known to the outside world as that singer who shared a split 7″ with Jens Lekman. Thankfully, things have changed in the past decade, and Sarah Assbring (her real name) has released a handful of wonderful, critically acclaimed and challenging records. One of her very first releases (her second if I am not mistaken) was a Christmas CD-R on the Swedish Hybris label. Limited to 200 copies, this CD-R had a fantastic A-side in “Oh What a Christmas!” and an equally enjoyable B-side with “Shake it Off.” Only one of those tunes was Christmas-related, I’ll leave it to you to guess.
“Oh What a Christmas!” has since become somewhat of an indie-christmas classic, showing up on the wonderful It’s Not Like Christmas… and of course, countless 8tracks mixes. This attention is well deserved, as the song is pretty wonderful – the music harkens back to the drum beat of 60’s pop, while layering on her ever-so-distinctive vocals to create a great 3 minutes of Swedish retro-pop. Of note, in 2009, she dipped her toes back into season fare with Auld Lang Syne – and really puts the El Perro Del Mar stamp on that old chestnut as well.
Bottom Line: If you aren’t turned off by her voice to start with, then this song is likely for you. 4.5/5
Associated with the wonderful Acid House Kings (in that they share one member), Red Sleeping Beautywere active from 1992-1997 are recently back in the swing of things with a new track (a cover) on the bonus disc of Alpaca Sports’ debut release. For those, like me, who have followed that Swedish indie-pop rabbit hole down a good ways, this is good news.
Red Sleeping Beauty, like the Acid House Kings, dabbled in a seasonal tune on their first release. Amazingly enough, both songs were titled “Christmas,” and were released in the same year (1992) on the same record label (Marsh-Marigold). However, one song is significantly better than the other – and my (unfortunate) distaste for the AHK song left me with quite low expectations for the RSB tune. I was, however, quite pleasantly surprised. Red Sleeping Beauty recorded a perfectly fine indie-pop Christmas tune, very much in the style of the genre, but with a nice bed of fuzz to build the male/female vocal interplay upon. Originally released on their 1992 debut EP, Pop Sounds, it is much easier located on 2000’s Siesta singles compilation appropriately titled, Singles.
Bottom Line: Solid indie-pop from Sweden gets my vote. As I live with this tune some more, it might get a few more points… we’ll see. 3.9/5
Cherrytree/Interscope Records Buy:Amazon (Try to find it elsewhere – eBay is often cheaper)
A side project of both singer-songwriter Marcus Srunegard and Adam Olenius (of the Shout Out Louds), Serenades (now known as “We Are Serenades“) put out a fantastic little EP, Come Home, to indie record stores in late 2011. A friend at our local college radio station proceeded to hip me to the fact that the title track is actually a Christmas song! And what a Christmas song! Melancholy Swedish Christmas songs are pretty much my favorite thing, and add a big chorus and I’m pretty much putty in your hands.
Bottom Line: These swedish songsmiths have created a song worthy of all-year-round listening – not bad for a Christmas tune. And hey, you can get this CD for CHEAP. 5/5
Gordon Downie is best known as the lead singer for the Tragically Hip – so while you may not know him, that name likely rings a bell. This is one of my ultimate finds… because this version of “Christmastime in Toronto” lives in only one place and is not available digitally. Comes with a Smile was a magazine + CD that specifically curated tracks unavailable anywhere else. It was a wealth of interesting bands, alternate takes, one-off covers, and the world is lessened with its folding in 2006. If you are so inclined to pick up Magazine #13 (with comes with CD #9, Protect Our Secret Handshake), you will be treated to this alternate version, which in my estimation, is vastly superior to the version that made it onto the record (the alternate version ROCKS the F* OUT). I always hesitate to give away free music when it wasn’t given away free to begin with, so I will have to defer to your own personal motivation… if you want it, you gotta get it yourself. I am not heartless though – if you want to hear it, head over to my mix from 2006, Fold Your Hands Santa, You Walk Like an Elf, and wait for track #9.
bumbleBEAR/Planting Seeds Records Buy:DiscogsGood luck!
It was only a matter of time until I reviewed the inspiration for my blog’s title. Christmas Underground was a 2001 release by Planting Seeds Records & bumbleBEAR Records, with the 30+ tracks (some are just greetings) shared by both their indiepop/lo-fi rosters. I wish I could say that it was the gem that I was hoping it would be. The main reason I hunted this comp down was the slight overlap with Kindercore Records Christmas 2, one of my absolute favorite Christmas records of all time. When I say slight, I truly mean slight – I think one band overlaps, The Wee Turtles. Their track, “By Golly, They’ve Dehydrated Christmas,” is one of two tracks that I can come back to. The other is The National Splits “Let’s Wrap Each Other,” which is a frolicking song that begins with “My nose just started to bleed / and there’s grass stains on my jeans / aw, there’s your red and your green.” I just like the attitude that comes off that song. Bugs Eat Books also contribute “Waiting on the Sun,” which has a nice atmosphere and contains the title amongst its lyrics. The rest of the album has some somewhat passable originals and traditional songs (which I normally find quite boring), but it also has some stuff that I just can’t listen to for more than 15 seconds.
Bottom Line: Could be the victim of high expectations – I can admit that. That doesn’t change the fact that I just don’t enjoy most of this record. 2.3/5
The second in a series by Willamette Week’s Local Cut section – this is the first one that I’ve actually held in my hands. Only available in Portland and (briefly) online, the Another Grey Christmas series compiles local Portland bands doing both originals and covers… as so many other cities do. What Portland has in their favor though… is that its Portland. They’ve got a bunch of great bands just chilling out, waiting to record something amazing.
There are some solid tunes on this disc, with the perfectly passible indie folk rendition of “Winter Wonderland” by A Weather, a stripped down “Silver Bells” by Run on Sentence with Mike Midlo, and a delicate “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Laura Gibson. There are some good originals here too – Future Historians‘ “Family Tree” is a darker take on the holiday season, and the lyrics have a wonderful sense of reality to them – something you don’t normally get from a Christmas song.
The best song on the disc is Dolorean’s cover of the Dolly Parton classic, “Hard Candy Christmas.” Slow, sparse and haunting at times – this is not your mother’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” And best of all… they posted it on their website for download.
Definitely check out the rest of the series… but be forewarned, they do not let you BUY anything but vol. 4 & 5. I had to call a boutique in Portland to get ahold of #2… actually purchased their in-store play copy. And I’ve never seen one go up on eBay either.
BOTTOM LINE: Some solid classics are covered, with one strong original. 3.6/5
Class Actress. Dan Deacon. Cloud Nothings. Three Christmas songs on a free record (from select indie stores last year) that had me on the edge of my seat.
Too bad I don’t like any of them. The Cloud Nothings track is purely instrumental… not something I normally look for with a Christmas tune, though if it were compelling enough, not something I’d rule out. The Dan Deacon tune samples animal noises… which makes it (in my estimation) unlistenable. The Class Actress cover of “Silent Night” is acceptable… but I just don’t like that song on a mix. If it ever makes the cut, it will be because someone did something truly unique with the song that makes me enjoy it.
The non-holiday songs are generally great. Shortest review ever.
Bottom Line: If you create a Christmas mix based strictly on the hipness of the band and not the song, this LP is for you. The following number score is holiday-song specific and does not reflect the generally excellent non-holiday tunes. 1.3/5
Not technically a Christmas release, the 3″ CDR Do You Think it Will Snow Tonight falls in the winter/snow category that I open up my mix to. The vibe is much more varied than the previous Cloudberry release, adding a bit more of an indie rock tone at times. The first track, “Catch Your Cold,” is the best example of this. Evans the Death have created a rocking song with a great feel, and some very silly lyrics – “I’m afraid of getting a job / I’m afraid of Snoopy Doggy Dog…,” but it works.
Seapony‘s “Dreaming” is a lovely piece of 80’s inspired chillwave that will find favor with kids who listen to Wild Nothing. It later appeared on their 2011 record, Go With Me, and is certainly good enough to be mix-worthy BUT – is not winter-related enough for me (or at all!).
The Sweater Girls follow with “Sweater Weather,” which has a much more indie-pop feel than its predecessors. It could use a bit more a hook, with the lead singer’s spoken vocals over a buzzy guitar that is going in circles that would benefit from some variation of tone. Still, not a bad song – it gets bonus points for being the second song whose subject matter qualifies for Christmas mixes.
Floridian indie-poppers Cassolette weigh in with “Not Just Anyone,” the longest song on the record… a little over 3 minutes (a definite plus for this record if I may say so), but it is not a winter song! The only nod to the season is the lyric “You turn my winter into spring.” Too bad – it is a wonderful piece of indie-pop!
Finally, the Christmas-y named The Garlands finish out the album with a song that could be off a Sarah record of old, “Throw Away This Day.” My personal taste leads me to say this is the least strong song on the record, though if you love the indie pop sound of the 1980 & 90s, you’ll absolutely love it. Though, this is not a winter song either! (They did release a rather good Christmas tune two years prior that you should check out.)
Bottom Line: Not enough winter-themed songs hurts its rating, but some strong stuff. 3.3/5