Sufjan Stevens “Lonely Man of Winter” (2007/2018)

Asthmatic Kitty
Buy: Bandcamp | Vinyl 7″ (Limited to 1000) (Looks to be sold out at the label – in retailers Nov. 9)

WHAT?!?! HERE IT IS!

From Asthmatic Kitty:

In 2007, Sufjan Stevens wrote and recorded “Lonely Man of Winter” and, as part of a holiday marketing contest to promote Stevens’ Songs for Christmas boxset, traded ownership of the song to the winner, Alec Duffy. In turn Duffy gifted his song, “Every Day is Christmas,” to Stevens.

But instead of widely releasing “Lonely Man of Winter,” Duffy held listening sessions in his home and around the world, sometimes pairing the private listenings with cookies and hot chocolate.

In an end to that years-long project, Duffy – now founder/Artistic Director of the non-profit Brooklyn performance venue JACK – has decided to release the song “Lonely Man of Winter” on Asthmatic Kitty Records, digitally and on limited edition 7 inch, with funds going to support JACK’s mission of fueling experiments in art and activism.

So. I have heard it now. And yes, it is a Sufjan Stevens Christmas song, so it will obviously be much, much better than 97% of other Christmas songs. I particularly like the new mix – the electronic percussive touches especially. Had I only heard the first, original version, I might have come out and said that this could be a “filler track” on one of his Christmas EPs; It just didn’t hit me. This is the blessing and the curse of Sufjan, as he has raised expectations of his work by creating a vast, incredible back catalog with such amazing songs like “Christmas in the Room” and “Sister Winter.” Criticism in comparison to his previous work is frankly unfair; I certainly compare most songs against their Christmas music genre, rather than the artist’s past work. Don’t get me wrong, despite my waffling, I’m still damn pleased, and I am so happy to hear that mystery track from long ago. You know what would be an incredible finish to Sufjan’s holiday season though? How about a cover of Alec Duffy’s track, “Everyday is Christmas.” I kinda feel like Sufjan could knock that out of the park…

Bottom Line: Sufjan’s 2018 recording of this mysterious track from 2007 is indeed a worthy improvement.

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UPCOMING: Say Sue Me – Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie (2018)

Say Sue Me - Christmas, It's Not a Biggie

Damnably
Buy: Vinyl + Digital at Bandcamp

I am terribly torn as to when I should write about this record, and have been putting it off for well over a week now. I have been wrestling with buying a copy, but just cannot bring myself to pay for the shipping. I’m feeling quite poor at the moment, and just can’t do it. I wish I knew of a place in the US that might be carrying this! I will sure update my post if I find one, that is for sure. All I am left with is hope; Hope that I might get a copy for Christmas – and that Santa grabs one before it inevitably sells out – BECAUSE IT WILL. Simply said… if Say Sue Me’s back catalogue is any indication of how good Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie might be – it is going to be stellar. EDIT: I ordered a copy! Bless you Jim!

For the uninitiated, Say Sue Me are an indiepop band from South Korea, and have released a string of fantastic EPs and full-lengths starting in 2014 on a South Korean label, Vitamin Entertainment, and more recently on Damnably out of London. Their most recent (and absolutely excellent) LP, Where We Were Together, is already on its fourth pressing… this band has some heat… and this Christmas EP is limited to 500. IT WILL NOT LAST LONG. Our only glimpse into what the record will sound like is with the title track, “Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie,” having appeared back in 2015 on the South Korean comp, 허수아비들의 성탄절 Heosuabi Christmas. That is one of those releases that I’ve had as a draft post for way too long… so long I forgot I had it as a draft post! Entire comps can bog me down when I normally have just 30 min here and there to try to knock out a post, and I have the thoroughly-encyclopedic Stubby as a role model, which gets me thinking I need to provide much more thoughtful, and complete information on every band. (I am full of tangents today.) Back to the song: The indie/surf pop is jangly and refreshing – a sorbet between courses of sorts – yet the lyrics are melancholy and detached. I totally dig it… but the thing is… I suspect that it is not going to be the best track on the record. Again – just based on how great their last record was, I think this EP is going to be a total highlight of the season.

Bottom Line: BLARG! I want to hear this thing. Perhaps I will do a proper (well, as proper as I do) review when I do.

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UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 7 (2017)

Blackwatch Christmas VII

Fowler VW/Blackwatch Studios
Buy: Bandcamp

It is that time of year… and Fowler VW has been hinting about their upcoming Christmas record on Twitter, much to my delight. There are few Christmas releases that have such a high level of quality, and each year that they keep the tradition alive, is a year that the entire alternative Christmas music community can give thanks. Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Breakup are given the honor of being the first track out to the public, and it is fantastic. The electro-pop jam about being together at Christmas has the kind of slinky groove that just might take your office Christmas party off the rails. Eyes meeting over the punchbowl, we all knew Jim and Pam were meant to be together, they just needed “Be With You” to seal the deal. Want to know the rest of the tracklist? Go to NewsOK and give them the clicks!

The entire album will be available for stream/download on Black Friday, or better yet, #BlackwatchFriday, and for those lucky enough to live in the Norman, OK area, there is a big, free party on Dec. 8 at Stash, where the first 200 attendees get a free copy of it on VINYL. Yes, there are copies out there on vinyl… I am the proud owner of 2014’s “The Naughty List,” but these things are tough to come by. They have never sold them online – you gotta grab them from local Norman, OK venues like Fowler Volkswagen, Guestroom Records, The Social Club, STASH, and Tree & Leaf Clothing.

Finally, isn’t it great that these albums are free? And if the generosity of Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studios makes you so very happy… then, as you download this year’s new record, why not throw them a few bucks toward Norman Public Schools elementary music programs, because that is where 100% of donations go!

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UPCOMING: Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, 2017 Edition

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

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.

 

 

UPCOMING: Dude York – Halftime for the Holidays (2017)

Hardly Art
Buy: CD/Digital via Hardly Art | Bandcamp

Seattle’s Dude York is early to the game, premiering their new track “Break Up Holiday” today on Stereogum – the site where every notable indie rock band seems to release Christmas tracks. (Someday, Stereogum, I will beat you to the punch… someday…) Turns out they are actually releasing a whole EP, Halftime for the Holidays! Nine tracks, nearly all of them originals… this looks (and sounds) promising. The first track, “Break Up Holiday,” is a bitter and funny tale of having to see an ex at the holidays. A dash of pop-punk with a healthy dose of Weezer at their poppiest, I’m curious if the rest of the album will sound like this, rather than the less poppy (though not without pop), more indie rock style that I’m used to. I await more tracks!

Bottom Line: Too soon to tell, but promising!

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UPCOMING: Jay Stansfield & SAY – Christmas is… (2017)

Jay Stansfield's "Christmas is..."

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (Preorder)

Popping over to Bandcamp for a second to find something new on the top of the new arrivals list, I don’t normally expect to find something I haven’t seen (there is not a lot of turnover this time of year), let alone something this promising. I often judge Christmas tunes by their covers, and it rarely surprises me. Jay Stansfield‘s Christmas is… sports a simple cover of the decapitated snowman, which was odd enough to get me curious, even as I thought the typography could be a bit more interesting (sorry Jay, I can’t get the graphic design snob out of me). The cover may have gotten me in the door, but it was the description that convinced me to press play.

“Over the years I have written many happy, optimistic Christmas songs featuring death, homelessness, zombies and old people burning alive. This album celebrates those moments along with four miserable tracks from the SAY Archives.”

Well that sounds interesting! Only two tracks are available to preview, and both are solid. The Beach Boys’ harmonies of “Wake up the Children” bloom into some lovely holiday sentiment that could inspire any Grinch to feel optimistic. The second track, “The Man in Red” has moments when you imagine Vampire Weekend has put out a Christmas record, which would no doubt light up any indie-kid’s holiday season. Both these tracks are really strong – from the lyrics, to the music and the production – this may be the Winterval of 2017. (Of note, Jay’s got another from 2014, “Christma$ Twenty Fourteen,” and while it has its moments, it is not quite as strong as these two tracks… but worth a listen too!)

Bottom Line: Two tracks in and I’m willing to call Jay Stansfield’s Christmas is… a winner. Can’t wait to hear more, but we’ll have to wait till Dec. 1.

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UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 5 (2015)

Fowler VW Volume 5

Fowler Volkswagon
Buy: Bandcamp

YES YES YES! After what I erroneously feared was an end to the Fowler VW/Blackwatch Christmas tradition (silent social media and a few bounced e-mails), I was kindly corrected by the wonderful folks over at Fowler VW that one was indeed in the works – and here it comes! The first track was just released, a fantastic cover of “Mele Kalikimaka” by Oklahoma City’s Horse Thief. The song has a great swagger to it, perhaps only matched by Golden Boots’ version from the Comfort & Joy comp. These Fowler VW/Blackwatch compilations get better and better every year, and this tracklist has me salivating. BRONCHO makes an appearance as a full band this year, along with Barcelona, Bronze Radio Return, Sherree Chamberlain, Jacob Tovar, Samantha Crain, Brine Webb, Sports and Hector Comancho. I truly can’t wait – and I won’t have to wait long, since the full release is supposed to drop later today!

For those who live in the Norman, Oklahoma area, Fowler VW will host a free concert and Christmas party Dec. 13 from 8 p.m. to midnight at Stash, 412 E Main St., in Norman. The first 50 people will get a free copy on vinyl!!

Bottom Line: Too soon to tell, but these guys are killer.

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UPCOMING: Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums – It’s Not Christmas Anymore (2015)

Bill Botting & The Two Drink Minimums - It's Not Christmas Anymore

Fika Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

Fika Recordings has blessed us with yet another seasonal release this year! Bill Botting and the Two Drink Minimums’ It’s Not Christmas Anymore features so many folks from bands that I love, including: Bill Botting & Paul Rains (Allo Darlin’), Hannah Botting (Owl & Mouse) Darren Hayman (Hefner, Papernut Cambridge, amongst a million other bands) and David Tattersall & Jonny Helm (Wave Pictures). Look at that lineup!! Those are some Christmas music all-stars!!

The only track that you can preview is the title track, “It’s Not Christmas Anymore,” and it is fantastic. I wish I could go on a bit more about the track, but I’m at my inlaws, my son is running around shouting, and I need to let you know about this ASAP… cause there are cassettes, and only 100 of them. Had I gotten home before midnight last night, and not been gone all day, I would have mentioned this record earlier… So listen and BUY!

Bottom Line: Only heard one song, loved it and bought it.

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UPCOMING: Cassie Ramone – Christmas in Reno (2015)

Cassie Ramone - Christmas in Reno

Burger Records
Buy: Burger Records (Colored LP/LP/Cass) | Amazon.UK (LP/Dig) | Amazon.DE (LP/Dig)

Ex-Vivian Girls’ guitarist/singer Cassie Ramone has announced a new Christmas covers album, Christmas in Reno, and it has been shouted out from the rooftops of Pitchfork, Stereogum and the meat-and-diary-free Brooklyn Vegan to name a few. I also tweeted about it. Thus, I doubt this is news to anyone. However, should this be finding you today, on a day when writing about Christmas music seems pretty damn inconsequential, maybe it’ll bring you some happiness, and that’s worth something. 10 covers, with some cool choices (Run Run Rudolph) and some terrible ones (Wonderful Christmastime), I’m really interested into hearing how this lo-fi Christmas comes together. “Run Run Rudolph” has a chilled-out, shimmering vibe, which makes it extremely enjoyable. I truly love the music, as it tickles the part of me that absolutely love Real Estate, and that would be the biggest RIYL if I were to go down that path.

For those interested in picking up this records, the preorders have begun. Burger has the colored & regular vinyl, as well as their classic format, cassette. Amazon also has the cassette and an LP listed (for cheaper than Burger), which I assume its the black vinyl. Amazon around the world is also listing the LP, so I’m not guessing the black vinyl is going to be ultra-limited.

Bottom Line: I’ve only heard one song. So no.

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UPCOMING: Sunturns – Christmas I & II (2015)

Sunturns - Christmas I & II

Fika Recordings
Buy LP: Bandcamp | Norman Records | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Jigsaw Records (US)
Buy Digital: 
Bandcamp | Amazon UK MP3 | Amazon DE MP3

The Swedish indie-supergroup Sunturns put out a fantastic Christmas record a few years ago, simply titled Christmas and released on CD (and digital) to the delight of the masses (of underground Christmas fans). Comprised of members of Making Marks, Moddi (had previously made a mix of mine), The Little Hands Of Asphalt (ditto), Psyence Fiction, Monzano and Einar Stray Orchestra, these are some Norwegian pop heavyweights. The album was packed with great songs, including my personal favorite, “Looks Like Styrofoam.” Now… would this be considered a cover if it was recorded earlier by Little Hands of Asphalt, if the person singing it was indeed… also Sjur Lyseid, aka Little Hands of Asphalt? Chicken? Egg? I’ve gone crosseyed.

Enough! Let’s talk about this NEW record! Christmas II is upon us! Being released by Fika Recordings, those Christmas-loving folks in the UK. They normally spend their time releasing records by CU favorites the Wave Pictures & their associates (god I love the Wave Pictures), but somehow they found some time in their day to release this lovely Norwegian pop Christmas record!  10 new songs and a Ramones cover!

Now, I know you are asking, “I have all this money hanging around in my pocket and I want to throw it at something… what should I do?” Here’s the scoop. There are 300 copies of this baby on red and white vinyl, presently available from Fika Recordings (Bandcamp), Norman Records, Amazon UK, Amazon DE and in the US… Jigsaw Records (Coming Dec. 4!). It not only includes this new record, Christmas II, but also the classic Christmas! For folks that are financially-challenged, such as myself, you may want to opt for the cheaper, download-only version. You can find these at all the links above, but I strongly encourage the Bandcamp option, as the artist gets paid more and you get a FLAC.

You know what… I haven’t even talked about the songs yet! Sunturns has released 2 tracks ahead of the proper album release on December 4. I honestly have already spent enough energy talking about the record, that I haven’t much more left for these fabulous songs. “Would You” reminds me of the best parts of The Stars… the layered vocals, the rising music, the drama. Beautiful. “The Axis Tilt” is a wonderful piece of songwriting, and that voice has to be Sjur Lyseid, right? He’s got a way with a turn of phrase, and boy can he work in some basic physics into a song!

Bottom Line: Buy it early and often. But perhaps not for $43 from Fika shipped to the US… shop around. If you’re looking for a value, Norman Records is your best bet at the moment. 🙂 5/5

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