Francis Lung “To Make Angels In Snow” (2019)

Memphis Industries
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Francis Lung is an alternative pop artist from Manchester, England, whose debut album, A Dream is U (still available on limited pink vinyl, amongst other formats), came out earlier this year on the always-excellent label Memphis Industries. Francis snuck a fantastic 3-song Christmas release by me last year (which I HAD planned to post a review of soon) titled A Francis Lung Xmas EP, but he was not so lucky this year! I’ve got you, Francis Lung! “To Make Angels in Snow” is a beautiful, perfectly timed (3:02- I love a short Christmas song), an alternative pop song that harkens back to the best of indie-Christmas legends Pas/Cal. The instrumentation is glorious – clarinet, tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet and a baritone sax line that brings up all my RIYL-Ezra Furman feelings of love. A breath of fresh air indeed.

Bottom Line: This song does not leave any room for boredom – the vocal harmonies and instrumentation paint every corner of the canvas. Francis Lung has outdone himself this year. Can’t wait for next year’s (hint, hint, Francis Lung).

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Messi “Charlemagne” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

Continuing from earlier in the month… when we all enjoyed an extremely short song about the end of Halloween… I bring you a beautiful and somewhat disturbing song that takes place around Christmas. Messi is a singer/songwriter from Gent, Belgium, with a beautiful, beautiful folk voice. I say folk voice, because she does not sing songs that stretch her capabilities, as you might find in pop music, but it does contain that one quality that is most necessary: personality. Messi’s voice has a warmth that soothes, even when she’s singing about eyes and dead flies. “Charlemagne” is a fun little folk tale about (IMO) an ex who is going to extreme lengths to get attention. Why did I add that IMO? Because I asked Messi, and she says that the song just wrote itself and was very open to my interpretation. So, don’t assume my opinion is the “right” one – take your own stab at finding meaning in this song. Thus is the subjective beauty of art.

Bottom Line: Messi’s voice draws me in on this one. The song’s imagery is quite odd for something that might end up on a Christmas mix, but isn’t that kind of awesome? Can’t you just picture your friends pausing for a second, wondering if what they heard was correct, then just losing themselves in the chorus anyway? Yeah… I sure can.

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Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews “We Won’t Be Lonely This Christmas” (2018)

Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews - We Won't Be Lonely This Christmas

Mano Walker Recordings
Buy: Apple Music | Google Play | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

There is no perfect release schedule when it comes to Christmas music. SO MUCH comes out in such a SMALL AMOUNT OF TIME, that no artist can be sure that their song will have the time to break through the flurry of competing songs. Last year’s fantastic track by Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews is a prime example of this problem. Here we have two notable artists collaborating on a fantastic song, and I didn’t hear a peep about it until stumbling upon it a few months ago. The song tells the story of immigrants trying to make a better life, but instead, get caught up in Trump’s child jails. You know, the kind of track to put next to “Santa Baby” on your mix.

Johnathan gave some context to the writing of this song on his Facebook page last December. You would think that after a year passed, things would be looking better… but alas, this story could have been written yesterday:

This song is a story I wrote with Jason Boesel and Courtney Marie Andrews. It’s about a child and his mother trying to make it to the other side of the border. Reasons beyond their control intervene, and they don’t make it. This song is my way of calling attention to the current humanitarian crisis taking place at our border with Mexico. Like many of you, I was devastated by the images in the press of mothers being gassed, of little children in cages sleeping on foil blankets. Believe me – as bad as those images are – the worst is yet to come if we do not act immediately.

A few months ago I traveled down to the U.S.-Mexico border with a group of like-minded people to learn more about the situation, and hear about how to help. I started writing this song on the bus ride home. It was recorded in LA a few weeks ago.

Johnathan finished his post with a pitch to donate to Al Otro Lado, whose border rights program “hosts know-your-rights training and legal orientation workshops in migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico, and provides direct legal representation to detained asylum seekers in Southern California.” So, if you are so inclined, you can donate here.

Bottom Line: The story is moving and Johnathan and Courtney’s voices blend beautifully. Should you want to add a little bit of humanity to a normally sugary-sweet holiday mix, look no further than this song.

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Shadowlark “Christmas Time” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

You might think my Christmas music hunt is scientific – that I have specific terms and techniques that I use. In some ways, you are right. There is most definitely a place for an educated search. However, there is also a place for just clicking and clicking and clicking, going down the rabbit hole to see where it might lead. This time, it somehow lead me to somewhere familiar, and I discovered Shadowlark. The voice behind this band is Ellen Smith, previously of the much more folky Ellen and the Escapades. I would often check back in and see what they were up to, as I loved Ellen and the Escapades (they have been featured on CU before!). Yet somehow, time passed and I had completely missed this new project, the synth-heavy Shadowlark. To my surprise, they even released a Christmas song last year, “Christmas Time.” I listened… and it sounded quite familiar. The song is a rework of one of the final released recordings of Ellen and the Escapades, expanded from its stripped-back original with some more production and additional lyrics. There are qualities to both versions that I really love, and I would leave it to you to decide which one you prefer. They even released a video with an acoustic version, which is also quite good. Three versions to parse, to compare, to enjoy.

Bottom Line: I could listen to Ellen Smith sing Christmas songs all day long. Her originals are exquisite, and her covers are gorgeous. Should anyone ever come across her version of “Silent Night,” please do share.

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Stella Donnelly “Season’s Greetings” (2019)

Secretly Canadian
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Bandcamp (Full Album) | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The latest single off of Stella Donnelly’s latest, Beware of Dogs, is one of those sneaky, semi-hidden holiday songs. I did not realize this track existed until Consequence of Sound posted the new video for “Season’s Greetings”…  and this truly has me questioning my #xmasmusichuntingskillz. The song reminds us northerners that those in the southern hemisphere enjoy a summertime Christmas, something that Brutalligators highlighted last year with their wonderful “Christmas in July.” The song (and the video) present a summertime Australian Christmas picnic, and we get to sit back and watch it all fall apart. BONUS: Extra profanity for the profanity-starved.

Bottom Line: I think I busted my plugger I enjoyed this so much.

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Steven Branstrom “Christmas” (2011/2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I really should have posted this on November 1. Frankly, I’ve had this song in my pocket for YEARS. I meant to write about it way back in 2015. That’s at least when I sent Steven Branstrom a note on Soundcloud, in the hopes that he’d give me a bit more info beyond the 3 tracks on his account. (Of note… there is an additional account under the same name, with this song, that was posted way back in 2011!). Enough background, little information as it provided, let’s get into the song. “Christmas” may very well be the shortest song that I’ve ever featured, clocking in at only 40 seconds. BUT, it is a very nice 40 seconds, and with slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics coupled with a beautifully sincere delivery, transitioning us from Halloween to Christmas.

So let’s grab the spider webs and put away the skulls.
Clean up the fake blood that got splattered on the walls
Let’s put everything scary out of our sight
cause Santa’s coming baby in 54 nights.

Streaming-only… but there are ways, should you decide you need this little guy on your mix.

Bottom Line: And that’s it! Short and sweet!

Invisible Music “When the Lights” (2012)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

John Ralston, the frontman of Invisible Music, has previously been featured on this blog with his brilliant Jesus Christ/A Marigny Christmas 7″, as well as on my 2017 Christmas mix, Snow Man. Today, we round out his seasonal selections with the emotional “When the Lights,” from their 2012 self-titled album. This is an alt.country ballad about how the holidays can amplify how much you miss someone; a sentiment that, for most people, is quite relatable. The lyrics are quite beautiful:

When the lights start spinning / hold on tight, it’s just the beginning
I’ve been there before / my face on the floor / passed over and frozen in time / I loved you much more before you started to read me my rights

Christmas lights all shining / down on us with their good tidings / there’s a chill in the air / I forgot my coat there / on the hotel room chair by the door / I’m just not that sure that it’s possible to miss you much more

The song is simple, poignant, and relatable – super solid stuff. For you vinyl folks (like me!), you may be interested to know that you can pick up the entire record (limited to 300) for only $12. Even a miser a like Scrooge can’t complain about that price. (Hoping they might make it available as a single-track download, for now, it is part of the whole album. The record sounds great though!)

Bottom Line: John’s got a touch for these emotional Christmas songs. If you’re reading my blog, you likely appreciate that. Hope you enjoy.

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Sweet Reaper “Holidaze” (2017)

Sweet Reaper cover

Burger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I recently discovered that Seth Pettersen (who has been featured here before) is in yet another great indie rock/punk/garage band, this one known as Sweet Reaper. I’ve recently gone down the rabbit hole of all the affiliated bands of Sweet Reaper (Massenger, Franklin for Short, The Spires, VNLVX), and you know what, I liked them all. So it may be of no surprise that I’m also digging Sweet Reaper. The first proper record as a group, (if we don’t consider Seth’s solo record Sweet Reaper) is the nearly self-titled (hehe) Street Sweeper. Yes, wrap your heads around that one. On that record is this great, garage-punk holiday song, “Holidaze.” The vibe reminds me of the Moonhearts, and the lyrics are wonderfully standoffish.

NOBODYS HOME FOR THE HOLIDAZE
IF YOU’RE AROUND YOU MIGHT
FIND YOURSELF A BETTER WAY
TO GET YOUR MIND OFF
THE WINTERTIME
PACK YOUR BAGS FOR
ANOTHER STATE OF TIME

LYING IN MY BED
A BULLET IN MY HEAD
WHAT WAS THAT YOU SAID?
STAY AWAY AWAY AWAY FROM ME

I asked Seth about where this song came from, and to my delight, he responded! “The song is meant for people like myself who’s families don’t get together anymore and the magic of Christmas is gone. That time of year is always a bit melancholy for a lot of people so it’s based on that.” Dark, indeed, but come on, this IS Christmas Underground.

Now, while I could see the line “bullet in my head” as perhaps a little too much for some folks, especially considering the culture of violence we are living in… I remind you that this is figurative, not literal. It is still quite dark – it is meant to highlight the suicidal thoughts that loneliness at Christmas might bring, but not the act itself. Hopefully, that dulls the edges just enough to enjoy it.

Bottom Line: Should you need something to set a tone on your mix that suggests that this record is not going to be like the others they have heard, “Holidaze” may just fit the bill.

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Stuck in the Sound “Marry Me On Christmas Day” (2018)

Stuck in the Sound - Marry Me On Christmas Day

Self Released
Buy: Stream

French indie rock band Stuck in the Sound did an odd little thing back in January 2018… they released a Christmas single! “Marry Me on Christmas Day” throws me back to my college days listening to Travis’ The Invisible Band, as the vocals are quite pretty, and the lyrics equally sentimental. Nearly too sugary-sweet for my older, crustier ears, this understated song benefited from multiple listens, listens that reminded me of the pleasure a sweet song could bring.

Bottom Line: Hey, there is plenty of shit going on right now. Here is 3:30 of kindness to smooth out your wrinkles. Unfortunately, this track only exists on YouTube… but you know… there are ways to get it onto your mix, should you need to.

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Summer Salt “Abominable Snowman” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Austin’s Summer Salt have this mix-worthy, summery (just listen) Christmas jam just sitting there on their Bandcamp, waiting for you to name-your-own price and download it. Wonderful melody, great vocals with an original story. The song is about an abominable snowman, enjoying a beautiful Christmas. I listen to enough Christmas music to know that I haven’t heard of a song like this before. Below are the lyrics to the whole song, because they just tickled me.

There’s a big log cabin
High above the junction
Near a broken down roller coaster park
There’s a mountain breach
High above the creek
Where I’ll be hanging up some Christmas lights tonight

Now I know this is all I’ve ever wanted to call my home
But I don’t know if this is all that I need

Soon I’ll come again
Running amok under the moon
Soon I’ll need a friend
Living the life of an abominable snowman

There’s some roaring thunder
Miles among the tundra
There’s a pack of wolves singing songs beside a fire
There’s a faucet leak
To give the pipes some heat
There’s an avalanche I’ll be surfin’ tonight

Bottom Line: A great, summery-sounding tune about an abominable snowman Christmas. A sentence I never thought I would write in my entire life. Really, really enjoy this one.

Edit: Stubby beat me to this song by well over a year. Based on the 61K listens on Soundcloud, so did a lot of you. In my defense, it has been on my “to do” list since before last Christmas!

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