Roders “Julen 92” (2014/2017)

roders - Julen 92

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Readers into Swedish indiepop are likely familiar with the underground indiepop legend Nixon. However, those only familiar with Pitchfork-famous indiepop likely don’t, but you may know Sally Shapiro’s “Anorak Christmas,” the main single off their excellent Disco Romance. Well… that is a Nixon cover. Nixon has been around since the 90s, when Roger Gunnarsson set up his home recording studio, and is largely considered Roger’s first major musical project. However… one band predates Nixon, Roders, though it does not get mentioned in Roger’s Swedish-language Wikipedia entry. Roger and his cousin Anders Nilsson started Roders back in 1982 when they were eight, and it also appears to be the only Roger Gunnarsson project that is presently active (despite any Nixon releases you might see coming out of the Nixon Archives). Roger recently (well, this has been a draft for a while, so not quite so recently) released this lovely, Swedish-language indiepop tune on his Nixon Archives Soundcloud feed, and while the production is more traditional pop than the lo-fi indiepop I expect from a Nixon track, the qualities of the vocals maintain the indiepop roots. Snippets of the video that inspired the song combine with a wistful melody, as this song beautifully invokes the Christmas of these two eighteen-year-olds, celebrating a Christmas on the border of childhood and adulthood. This is just the tip of the Nixon/Roders/Garlands/etc Christmas iceburg… so feel free to dig into the feed, or just wait for me to stumble through my reviews.

Bottom Line: Roger Gunnarsson has a long history if quality indiepop Christmas tunes, and the sweet “Julen 92” is a welcome addition.

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Advance Base “Christmas In Nightmare City” (2018)

Advance Base - Animal Companionship

Run For Cover
Buy: Bandcamp | Run for Cover Records (all the vinyl options available)

Owen Ashworth has a long, long history of indie Christmas music. From his early years as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone to his most recent project, Advance Base, he has consistently released solid tunes, all of which (I believe) can be found on his CFTPA/AB Christmas Mixtape (as one long track though). Some of those songs are covers, most are originals, but all of those songs are explicitly about Christmas. Which leads me to this latest track, “Christmas in Nightmare City.” This song is not about Christmas… but it does have Christmas in the title, and is used as a simile in the lyrics. Thus, I could have easily passed, if not for the more adventurous rule-benders that I feel are definitely out there. Owen explains the inspiration for the song in a recent Talkhouse interview, where the song debuted:

“I remember one night in early December, making my way through Gary, Indiana with Pet Semetary on my Subaru’s stereo, passing under the blinking street lights of an abandoned downtown, and then getting lost in the industrial zone. I got pretty creeped out, so I turned off the stereo and just listened to the eerie hum of trains, factories, and refineries rolling past. I was struck by the grace of the industrial work lights, twinkling through the mist. They reminded me of Christmas, and I found it all strangely comforting. That was the feeling I tried to get at when I wrote “Christmas In Nightmare City.”

So, inspired in December, with Christmas on his mind – I say it qualifies. The simple piano melody that drives the song elicits a soft, but constant rain, setting a dreary mood that I’m sure we’ve all experienced during a lull in the holiday season. Owen’s seemingly stream-of-consciousness, narrative style is reminiscent of Mark Kozelek’s latest phase (Advance Base was on Mark’s a label for a while too), but IMHO, Owen’s brand of realism is far more concise and interesting; Owen knows the value of editing. The brevity of the song leaves you intrigued yet fulfilled; This is the sweet spot that all songwriters should aim for, especially with Christmas songs which are often consumed out-of-context to the larger concept of an album. Dreary, yet satisfying, I’m happy to see Owen/Advance Base continue to expand his excellent holiday catalogue.

Bottom Line: An overcast pleasure from one of indie Christmas’ most reliable songwriters.

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School Damage “Xmas Song” (2018)

Chapter Music
Buy: Bandcamp

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.

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The Technicolors “Santa’s Claws” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Have you ever asked yourself, “what if Pavement wrote a Christmas song?” Phoenix, Arizona’s The Technicolors have answered this question with their excellent “Santa’s Claws.” The phrasing, and even the lead singer’s voice, both left me drifting off to comparisons with Stephen Malkmus’ signature delivery. Pavement have long been a favorite of mine, so I’m totally down. The premise of the song has a young dude falling in love with Santa Claus’ daughter over AOL, and Santa is not happy – loving this premise. My only gripe would be the somewhat campy “voice of Claus” that pops up through the song – makes a pretty killer song just a tiny bit cute. Thankfully, they don’t cross all the way over the cuteness line, so I’m still on board. Hat tip to the truly wonderful Lie in the Sound for hipping us all to this track last year!

Bottom Line: The Technicolors come to the table with a wonderful homage to Pavement and an equally fantastic premise. Diggin it.

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Phosphorescent “Christmas Down Under” (2018)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

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.

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Saintseneca “The Wandering Star” (2017)

ANTI
Buy: Bandcamp

Back in 2016, Saintseneca released one of the best holiday EPs of recent note, with their holiday compilation The Mallwalker EP. This past holiday season, they continued what has been established as a near-yearly tradition of releasing a new holiday song, “The Wandering Star.” Unfortunately, by December 23rd, I am running on 10% power and the final warning window has popped up. Thus… I am only getting to this song now. “The Wandering Star” is immensely interesting and enjoyable, instantly reminding me of one of the more adventurous tracks you might find on a Sufjan Stevens’ holiday opus. There is more religious imagery in this track than I’m used to from Saintseneca, but they dress it up well enough to keep things interesting. (Avid readers know that this blog is here to write mainly about the secular songs of the holiday… read my about page if you are so inclined.) Saintsenica know their way around a song, and the intro’s finger picking and layered vocals set a thoughtful, yet powerful mood. However, when the pace picks up and the bass kicks in, this song truly blooms. This journey they set the listener on culminates with both a feeling of power and serenity – it is truly impressive. Once again, Saintsenica prove that they are in the top tier of underground, original Christmas music.

Bottom Line: Add this track onto the pile of wonderful Saintseneca holiday songs – and check out their new full-length LP, Pillar of Na, only released about a week ago!

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Pre Nup “War, On Christmas” (2018)

Pre Nup - Oh Well

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.)

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Olympians “Leaving You at Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have been thinking a good bit about what my 2018 Christmas mix might be like. Last year, I gave myself a bit more room to use profanity and politics, saying that it would be an every-so-few-years loosening of standards. I’m a father of a young kid, a lot of my friends have young kids, and I like the idea of being able to listen to the mix around them. However, I am quite undecided as to the tone of this year’s mix. I suppose everything will be decided in November, as to whether this mix will follow the darkest timeline, or will show shreds of hope. That said, should I consider the darker timeline, this track from Norwich->London’s Olympians could fit nicely. Recorded a few years prior to release, they remembered they had this Christmas song and dropped it back in 2014 – completely overlooking the fact that they could have let someone (ahem) know about it! I love a good song about drinking and watching TV on Christmas – and this one has both in spades. The song’s narrator is sitting there, in his girlfriend/boyfriend’s folks house, having a terrible time, drinking to pass the time while he wishes to go home and watch TV. Stuck there for a week, he begins to ponder leaving… only to decide in a crescendo of Weezer (when they were good) wall-of-sound that indeed he will. Any readers of this blog know we love the dark stuff as much as the light, and this one is a solid, deep gray.

Bottom Line: I’d love to see if the Olympians could dig up another Christmas song, because this indie-rock downer is damn solid.

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Space Raft “Another Holiday is Here” (2017)

Space Raft "Another Holiday is Here"

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Milwaukee’s Space Raft have crafted a wonderful (and perhaps the greatest) Christmas party/drinking song with 2017’s “Another Holiday is Here.” If you were crafting a Christmas party playlist, you would want to time this song to be about 2/3s into the party… not too early, and not too late, because you want maximum party when this jam comes on. The chorus lends itself to shouting, which every non-singer in the room can most certainly join in on: “So break out the wine / It’s Christmas time / Another glass of gin before we begin / Another holiday is here.” The song stinks of booze and fun, which are two qualities I most certainly look for in a Christmas tune.

Bottom Line: As if grown in a lab to liven up your Christmas party, “Another Holiday is Here” is a drunken-holiday-funtimes bullseye.

 

 

The Undercuts “The Grunge Who Stole Christmas” (2018)

The Undercuts "The Grunge Who Stole Christmas" (2018)

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Wellington, New Zealand’s The Undercuts have created a ramshackle gem of a weirdo Christmas song with “The Grunge Who Stole Christmas.” Electronic voices part to make room for a funky beat and vocals that remind me of the greatly-missed The Rapture, which I would consider a high compliment. While I would love to dissect the lyrics a bit more – they aren’t quite distinguishable… but that has never stopped me from liking a song! However, they do finish it up with a quite understandable and urgent “MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE.” A deliciously distressed Christmas song for a distressingly disturbed time.

Bottom Line: Need to mess up your mix a bit? This rough ditty by The Undercuts might be the perfect fit.

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