Al Riggs - Hell House

Al Riggs “Christmas Parade” (2017)

Bull City Records Presents
Buy: Bandcamp

Durham, North Carolina’s Al Riggs is one of the most prolific singer/songwriters I’ve come across on Bandcamp. You know those links that let you buy entire discographies? I can only imagine how much it would cost… because you would be about 70 releases! The record I want to highlight now is his latest, Hell House. Included on this warm recording of sad songs is the beautiful “Christmas Parade.” The song is a vignette of a moment right before Christmas, where just being with a friend means more than whatever you might be doing with them – “Neither of us like the Christmas parade / but it means a lot. / but it means a lot / ….” Al’s voice is not terribly pretty, it is genuine –  exactly how I like my singers (e.g. David Berman, Mark Eitzel, etc). This really is a beautiful song, the production matches the sentiment perfectly… wouldn’t change a thing. (Again – thanks Ned!)

Bottom Line: Al is not a stranger to Christmas tunes (When the Saints Go Stag, Good Reasons to Freeze to Death,Yulemen), and while I have only scratched the surface, I think you may dig what you find underneath.

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Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

UPCOMING: Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, 2017 Edition

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy: Bigcartel Shop

It may have been 85 degrees out (30 celsius for my international friends), but snow is in the air… as this past week or so has brought the announcement of the always-wonderful Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club lineup! For the uninitiated, the SCSC is a label that exclusively releases limited-edition Christmas 7″ vinyl singles, with the A-side being an original, and the B-side being a cover. Such a fantastic premise, and one that is realized beautifully by the hard work of our fellow underground-Christmas devotee, Robert.

This year’s crop is a doozy – starting with perhaps the biggest name to grace the SCSC, Bis! Bis have been releasing quality indiepop since 1994 (with a hiatus or two), and astonishingly enough… I think this may be their first Christmas release! How they missed releasing a Christmas single when they are both 1) an indiepop band and 2) Scottish, beats me. I just wrote about 2 Scottish indiepop bands last week!

Next up are the French garage-rock band The Limiñanas. Previously featured on Christmas Underground for their cover of “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” this year they are teaming up with Pascal Comelade for the deliciously-titled “Curse of Santa Claus,” as well as what I’m imagining will be an interesting take on “Silent Night.” Should be interesting!

Finally, St. Petersburg, Florida’s Seafang will lend their shoegaze/dreampop sounds to their original “Happy When it Snows,” as well as the Primatives’ “You Trashed My Christmas.” The Primitives cover could be great fit for Seafang – I’m curious how they’ll make it their own.

All-in-all, it promises to be another very strong year for the wonderful Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. I hope you check it out, order early and often, and help keep this tradition going!!

Bottom Line: Being that I haven’t heard a thing yet, I can’t really say – but I most certainly can say that I’M EXCITED.

 

 

Marble Gods “I Remember Xmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Scottish popsters Marble Gods somehow snuck a sweet little indiepop Christmas tune by me last year… and if I ever find out how, there will be hell to pay! They even have it tagged properly! “I Remember Xmas” is a lovely, jangly little indiepop song that is right up my alley. Upbeat guitars with a dash of melancholy in the lyrics… the perfect indiepop blend for your anorak Christmas. “Driving home I remember Christmas / when we were young. / We thought would last forever. / Oh how we were wrong / So it’s Christmas time, / and you’re everything I want. / But my only fear / is that you will break my heart.” Beautiful!

Bottom Line: Marble Gods’ “I Remember Xmas” is some finely chiseled, indiepop perfection.

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Minor Miracles - Christmas All Over Again

Minor Miracles “Christmas All Over Again” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (might come back) | Stream

Tom Petty’s death is a bigger blow to me than George Michael, Prince, David Bowie or any of the other legends that have passed in recent memory. I likely have listened to more Petty than all three of those legends combined over the years… not to take away from how much I loved them, just that Tom Petty was with me for a long time, and in heavy doses at different moments in my life. That said… I’ve never been the biggest fan of his modern (mini) classic, “Christmas All Over Again.” So, I began poking around for an interesting version, one that takes slightly different directions to get to the same place. Athens’ Minor Miracles have achieved this, covering Petty back in 2014 and releasing it on Bandcamp (presently gone) and Soundcloud. Normally a really upbeat song, lending itself to garage rock/lo-fi treatments, Minor Miracles have toned it down, added a drum machine, layered some lead vocals, sprinkled some synths, and made it their own. The chorus leadout with dueling keys is truly fantastic, and well worth the wait. I hope you dig it too.

Bottom Line: Minor Miracles dim the garage rock down to reveal a cool synth version of the Tom Petty classic. Of course… Stubby knew all about this back in 2014.

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Terry Malts "Our Love"

Kids on a Crime Spree “The Saddest Time Of The Year” (2017)

Emotional Response
Buy: Bandcamp (Full EP) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Jen and Stu over at Emotional Response Records have a well-known affinity for Christmas music. They released a bunch of records as Boyracer (including a wealth of Christmas tunes – google em), as well as two recent Christmas Comps, and they continue with this latest split by Terry Malts and Kids on a Crime Spree. As they said in the writeup of this 10″, they snatched a couple songs out from underneath Slumberland Records’ (TM & KoaCS’s usual label) watchful eye and luckily for us, one of those songs is a Christmas song! Kids on a Crime Spree’s “The Saddest Time of Year” is a great, lo-fi indiepop jam about desperately needing your love at Christmas. There is a beautiful simplicity to the main thesis of the song: “It’s the saddest time of year / and I want to make it clear /  you’re all I want and / always, like the setting sun, / and always, out of everyone.” A perfect palette cleanser if your mix has gotten a bit too optimistic and cheery… not quite a dirge, but not quite happy. Delicious! (and thanks to Bennett for the tip!)

Bottom Line: Kids on a Crime Spree have slipped a great lo-fi Christmas song under the Christmas tree, and a bit early too!

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Prints Jackson - Reindeer Reindeer

Prints Jackson “Reindeer Reindeer” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Prints Jackson‘s epic task, to write a song every month till he dies, may have ended (is he still alive??) in February, but before the streak ended (36-months in), he did produce three Christmas tunes for your enjoyment. Each has its own indie-rock charm, but my favorite is certainly last year’s “Reindeer Reindeer.” Why you ask? Well, I love how the song builds from the pulsing synth, bringing in indie rock colors of all sorts as it progresses. But what really drew me in are the lyrics. They are clever, funny, and at times political (“Sweet baby Jesus, / what with Brexit? / It’s hard to have faith / when the President’s a sexist. / Do we still pretend he’s a circus clown? / Let liberal kids knock him down and make yellow snow.”). So, check out this excellent original Christmas tune, as well as Prints Jackson’s back catalogue, because it is all pretty damn great.

(Author’s note: Those who have been reading this blog most certainly have a clue as to my political leanings, and if you have just come across it, and find yourself offended by this track… well, just don’t listen to this song, or go somewhere else? Free society is freedom of choice. I certainly wouldn’t be hanging out on a site that was saying any of the million “Trump Train” songs were any good. Also… because none of them are!)

Bottom Line: Prints Jackson may have ended his run of a song a month, but we are most certainly lucky that he was still writing in December 2016.

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Diane Coffee - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Diane Coffee “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” (2015)

Western Vinyl
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

Take a song that feels rather formulaic, one where 1 + 1 obviously equals two… and to throw a wrench (and maybe a tab of acid) in the works. Diane Coffee‘s rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is just this… it nudges the classic formula gently off the cliff and all of a sudden you are in the middle of this amazing fuzzed-out guitar, and you’ve forgotten how to count. For those unfamiliar with Diane Coffee, he has released two fascinating art-pop records on Western Vinyl (most notably the original home of Dirty Projectors), as well as being the initial drummer for friends (and sonic brothers) Foxygen. This one-off track was released in 2015, and is still available for free on Soundcloud, which is extremely generous. This track is good enough to be released on its own… perhaps Diane Coffee should record another xmas tune this year and release a 7″? I’d buy it, no doubt. For now, we’ll have to settle for a non-holiday 7″, as his new release Peel will be out on Polyvinyl on October 20th.

Bottom Line: It’s beginning to look a lot like art-pop Christmas, Diane Coffee, and I’m totally cool with it. Let’s get freaky.

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MC Paquin "Noël Song" (2016)

MC Paquin “Noël Song” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Montreal’s MC Paquin’s “Noël Song” is one of the more breezy Christmas tunes I’ve heard in a long time. Splitting time between solo work and being a member of the folk-pop band Jolie Jumper, MC Paquin’s finds the sweet spot between folk-pop and indiepop with “Noël Song.” The airy production, strolling beat, and lovely brass accents will leave you tapping your foot (unless you have no feet). Readers of this blog will know I normally gravitate toward the rougher edges of Christmas tunes, looking for those tracks that don’t quite buy into everything being perfect and snow-covered. However, lines like, “Drove all those miles just to leave them with a smile,” capture a particular sentiment that I just haven’t heard before… and I loved it.

Bottom Line: I’ve always known that Montreal is a hotbed for fantastic music, and MC Paquin has not let her city down. (However, her city let me down this summer when my car was stolen on the FIRST NIGHT OF VACATION. Booooo Montreal, BOOOOOO!)

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Follies "Grave Matters"

Follies “Christmas Day” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Random strokes of luck, that is often what Soundcloud feels like to me. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE SOUNDCLOUD, and would be lost without it. But anyone who has ever done a keyword search knows my pain. Thankfully, every so often you strike silver and gold (Christmas pun!). Kate Siefker, also known as Follies, has fought her perfectionist tendencies and released a bunch of tracks that she was working on in 2013-14 under the title Grave Matters (2013-2014). Included amongst these beautifully layered tracks is, yes, a Christmas song! “Christmas Day” is a beautifully raw track, with ukulele, (maybe guitar too?), beats and handclaps circling each other for just over two minutes. It is certainly not your usual ukulele fare, so those expecting the expected… you may be pleasantly surprised.

Bottom Line: Short, raw and beautiful. Best of luck with your move Kate (if you see this.)

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Okay Kaya "Holiday Song"

Okay Kaya “Holiday Song” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

NJ->Norway->NYC singer/songwriter Okay Kaya (aka Kaya Wilkins) released this little gem on YouTube last season, and it was deservedly touted by my Christmas-music-blogger-in-arms Christmas-A-GoGo. Her voice is beautiful, yet with a mournful quality, and the message, while not your typical cheery Christmas romp, is most certainly relatable. My favorite line is, “I want to talk, I want to talk, I don’t want to talk, I want to talk loud and confidently.” There is something refreshing to the honesty found in the struggle embedded in the lyrics. I don’t think I’m far off-base to say that a quick glance at the central premise of this song might lead a listener to quickly dismiss it (as I think it would be terrible as either the pop-punk or twee song I imagined in my head), the line “All I want for Christmas is therapy,” threatens to be both trite and precious in equal parts, but Okay Kaya does a wonderful job to fully develop this song into a beautiful and complicated view of the other side of Christmas.

Bottom Line: Okay Kaya built upon a concept that I was almost reflexively suspicious of, and made me a believer.

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