Rubber Band Gun & Katy Rea – Quick Themes from a Christmas iPhone (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Kevin Basko (Rubber Band Gun) is back, and this time he is bringing Katy Rea along for the ride! First off, I cannot believe that these two songs were recorded on an iPhone 6. These sound way better than most of the junk I listen to on Bandcamp. Kevin recorded one of the more out-there and enjoyable Christmas records of 2017 with Festive as Hell, and while those interesting edges remain exposed, these two tracks with Katy Rea are much more slimmed-down and straightforward. The first track “I’ll Be Good” is a love song to Santa, an entreaty to Santa for an extramarital fling in New York. I honestly don’t know if I’ve heard a song quite like it. I certainly believe I’ve heard love songs to Santa, but rarely (if ever) do they acknowledge Mrs. Claus, let alone suggest she is annoying. Hehe. The second song, “Willow St,” is a beautiful song, a tableau of a simple, warm and loving Christmas shared together in a house on Willow Street. The fact that they sing this song together, two voices blending perfectly, makes the song that much more vivid. This song is about sharing Christmas with a loved one, and having both there voices there sharing the song, underlines the sentiment. A beautiful song wonderfully executed.

Bottom Line: These two songs, recorded on iPhones, have justified the technology that has addicted us all.

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The Stargazer Lilies “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (Free!)

Ethereal.

(The rest of this review is an aside. Up there… that is my one-word review. Pennsylvania’s The Stargazer Lilies have taken the dreamy Galaxie 500 cover and thrown on a glamour shot-shimmery sheen to this John & Yoko classic. This also provides all you mixmasters with a shoegaze version that comes in under 5 minutes! Perhaps you had forgotten that the wonderful Galaxie 500 version clocks in around 8 minutes…a bit long for me. Also of note, The Stargazer Lilies also have a new record coming out Nov. 1, Occabot, produced by Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow!)

Bottom Line: This song’s soothing glow eased my wordy proclivities… (sort of).

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Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions “It’s Christmas All Around” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I must start with a quick confession. Stafford’s Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions immediately garnered a bit of goodwill with me… simply because I fucking loved their name. To my relief, their two-track Christmas single is enjoyable, especially the lead track, “It’s Christmas All Around.” The song has a Waterboys’ feel, even more so as the horn line comes in. The lyrics are clever with a healthy dash of dread: “There’s no snow / there’s no hope / and I’m trying to avoid it / but it’s Christmas all around.” There are some other great lines as well, but let that be a teaser for you to take a sip of your own. Cheers!

Bottom Line: You all know I like to celebrate the dark edges of Christmas, and this song is most certainly chilling in that gray.

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Stephen Solo “War is Never Over (Even if you want it)” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

For those bands out there who want to write a Christmas song, but don’t know where to begin – let me pose two options for you. The first would be found in Bossy Love’s reinterpretation of the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” where they updated the song to be more of-the-moment. The second approach would be to write a response song. A good example of this approach can be found in Stephen Solo‘s “War is Never Over (Even if you want it).” Back in 2015, the British had begun participating in airstrikes in Syria, and from Stephen’s perspective back in Glasgow… beginning a new chapter of an unending war. So, he took his phone (as he does) and recorded this brutal condemnation of the action, hung on the frame of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”

“Let the Big Ben bells ring out for bombs this Christmas / the only peace we’ll get this year is pieces of skulls and baby bones. / War is never over even if you want it.”

Stark indeed. Extremely well-produced, yet tough to listen to, as you are forced to reflect on what violence means to you when it happens so far away.

Bottom Line: Stephen Solo’s “Christmas” song will likely feel quite contemporary, renewed by humanity’s skillful violence, for many years to come.

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A Mild Peril “I Hear the First Strains (of Christmas Music)” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Glasgow’s A Mild Peril, like the previously-featured Bossy Love, have alumni from the excellent (and missed) Dananananaykroyd. While that first band didn’t record any Christmas tunes, the very first song by A Mild Peril is a wonderfully meta-Christmas song. On occasion, I have been called a grinch. Sure, I am barely green, and only slightly fuzzy. And while my heart remains its normal size, “I Hear the First Strains (of Christmas Music)” may just make this grinch-ish heart swell. I mean… this is a fantastic indiepop song is about how much they love Christmas music. I must love Christmas music… I spend enough time thinking, listening and writing about it. Wait for a second… I think I love Christmas music. You did it, A Mild Peril. Now, off to urgent care.

Bottom Line: Scottish indiepop celebrating a love of Christmas music? Perhaps if A Mild Peril were Swedish, that would be the only way to be even more on-brand for Christmas Underground. Now, go download it and get in the mood for Christmas. It’s only going to be about 85 degrees today – perfect Christmas music weather IMHO.

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Jagged Jaw “Pink Xmas Tree” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Chicago’s Bobby Lord and his Jagged Jaw project are a bit of a mystery to me. Bobby’s an audio engineer, musician, and composer for Gimlet Media. He’s worked with some great artists such as Brendan Benson, Jenny Lewis and Jack White. When you listen to his work, it all adds up – these Jagged Jaw records sound absolutely fantastic. What does NOT make sense are the scant-few reviews of his incredible 2017 record, Pink Xmas Tree. The entire record is fantastic – a funk/psych/indie rock blend that you will enjoy from the first second to the last; I would buy this thing on vinyl if given the opportunity. Yet somehow, with minimal press from both regular music blogs and none from our alternative Christmas music community, this title track has worked its way onto Tidal’s A Very Alternative Christmas playlist. Amongst a lineup of Beach Boys, Coldplay, T. Rex, and the usual alt-Christmas suspects, it makes you wonder “How the heck did they find this track?” Well, thank goodness they did – hopefully more listeners will discover this amazing record. “Pink Xmas Tree” is filled with funky beats, bouncing synth lines and beautiful, floating vocals. The groove and production are perfection and will leave you powerless to avoid it shimmying into your head to set up camp. This song, along with Jagged Jaw’s entire output, is worth your time and money.

Of note, while the title track appears to be the only explicitly Christmas-ish song on Pink Xmas Tree, though “Scrooge (Kleptomaniac)” could stretch as one too (the lyrics don’t quite back it up though).

Bottom Line: Stone-cold mixworthy track that nearly made it on my mix last year. That is not a judgment on quality, simply a result of timing, pacing, etc. Some perfect tunes need that perfect spot…

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Regal “Love Your Christmas” (2014)

Regal "Love Your Christmass" (2014)

Azbin Records
Buy: Bandcamp

There aren’t many Christmas songs that you could roll your windows down and jam to in 80-degree weather without getting weird looks. “Love Your Christmas,” however, demands those windows down, and the odd person walking by won’t think you are quite so odd… but maybe even awesome. The driving beat, the melody, the acerbic lyrics – Regal has found the sweet spot for cool, cranky Christmas music. Keep in mind… this Belgian band is so damn good, you are going to want to download their regular tunes too. So buy it early and you can enjoy the last bits of great weather with Regal.

Bottom Line: A splendid garage rock jam. If one listen doesn’t get you, try five and call me in the morning.

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Bossy Love “Christmas Rapping” (2014)

Bossy Love - Christmas Rapping

Something In Construction
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

Back in 2014, the Scottish duo Bossy Love premiered their reinterpretation of the Waitress’ “Christmas Wrapping” on the always-excellent The Line of Best Fit. I somehow missed it… and I thought I was on my game back in 2014! Though featured on their Under the Covers mixtape, the song (and the mixtape) has nearly disappeared in the intervening 5 years. Not on Spotify, not on Soundcloud (well, at least this one song is technically available, but hidden), not on Bandcamp, nor available for purchase on Amazon. This may very well be your last time to find this track. I managed to hunt it down from a direct link still available on their Facebook page, but who knows how long they will keep that alive. Back to the actual song! The track is far more dance-pop than the original, which is to be expected from a Bossy Love-treatment. Well executed, but not something I hadn’t heard before. What DOES make this track stand out is the updated lyrics – a character arc of a fuck-up who gets her shit together for Christmas. The story references blogs, iPhones, DUIs, and Youtube – a “Christmas Wrapping” for a 21st century.

Bottom Line: I’m digging this approach. I would love to see more modern reinterpretations of the classics, rather than just straightforward covers. Universe, make this happen!

Sapin “Christmas Eve” (2013)

Sapin - Christmas Eve

Retard Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Don’t you hate it when you find a band, get all excited, then find out that band has JUST broken up. Well… consider this fantastic garage rock anthem Sapin‘s final Christmas gift to us all. This four-piece garage country-rock band from the Rennes, France countryside demands that you move around in your seat. The youthful exuberance seeps out of every pore with this song – from the lyrics of anticipation and angst – to the driving music and carefree, raspy vocals. This song is just damn, damn fun. Prendre plaisir! (Google translate, don’t fail me now!)

Bottom Line: You are sitting on your couch, wearing your headphones, and your family begins to see you slightly convulse, legs wiggling, head bobbing, eyes wide. This sounds about right.

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Lor “Christmas Morning: Busza’s in the Garage” (2017/2019)

Lor "Christmas Morning: Busza’s in the Garage"

TBA Music / Wydawnictwo Agora
Buy: 7Digital MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Discogs (CD)

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.

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