Hans Pucket “I Don’t Know What To Get You For Christmas (Do I Really Love You​?)” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

Well, this is just a delight. Wellington, New Zealand’s Hans Pucket come in with this fantastic song and make me wish I hadn’t just made, handed out, and shipped 85 copies of my yearly Christmas mix. Well… be rest assured, this song about questioning whether you really love someone because you can’t think of what to get them for Christmas is going to be on next year’s. First, I love the angle they came at this song from; I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a Christmas song wrestling with such a question. THEN they add in those horns and I pretty much lose my mind. So… is your mix not quite finished? I’m jealous as shit.

There is a 7″ lathe cut of this amazing song (with a B-side I am not able to sample yet), but it does appear to be exclusively for New Zealanders… as their Facebook page and the shipping prices suggest.

Bottom Line: I do know what I want for Christmas… and it is this lathe cut. BLAST, such a good song.

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The Caraway – Another Christmas Will Come Around This Year (2020/2021)

blue-very label
Buy:
Bandcamp

Do you want some big, happy indiepop Christmas music? Well then! Tokyo’s The Caraway has jangly guitars, jingling bells, and a synth brass section that is destined to get you off your feet and bouncing around. “Another Christmas Will Come Around This Year” was recorded last year, but the indiepop hordes demanded a vinyl release (so I’m told by their Bandcamp page) and viola! Now you can pick up a sweet little 7″, which will give you a bonus seasonal song with a short, strolling version of “Silent Night,” casual whistling and everything! Two additional tracks on the b-side that are just fun, and are not holiday jams… so check them out at your peril!

Bottom Line: TOP-notch indiepop Christmas!

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Hiss Golden Messenger – O Come All Ye Faithful (2021)

Hiss Golden Messenger - O Come All Ye Faithful

Merge Records
Buy: Merge | Bandcamp | Amazon | Amazon.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.fr

We all have been there. An artist you really like releases a Christmas record, and you get very excited. Overly excited, as it is not very often that someone you listen to on a regular basis ALSO releases a Christmas record. Immediately after, the dread sets in – it is quite an emotional rollercoaster, these record announcements. The expectation rarely matches the result, but you just cannot kick those glorious, glorious expectations. However, I’m not going to make you read any longer, worrying about whether my heart was broken or not, as it most certainly has grown two sizes larger after listening to this record. Hiss Golden Messenger (M.C. Taylor) has dipped his toes into seasonal sounds in the past, but O Come All Ye Faith is his first dedicated holiday release. The tracklist is certainly interesting enough to make me excited – three originals, three traditional songs, and three unexpected covers. M.C. recorded the album last fall and talks a bit about his motivation in the press release: “Big, brash holiday music—the type that we hear in big-box stores in the middle of December—has never resonated with me, and this past year it felt absolutely dissonant. I wanted to make a seasonal record that felt more in step with the way that I, and so many others, experience this time of year: quiet, contemplative, searching and bittersweet. The intention was to make a seasonal record with vibe.”

Preach.

I am now awaiting my “Peak vinyl” version, which contains a 6-track dub reinterpretation of HGM titled The Sounding Joy: Hiss Golden Messenger Meets Revelators on South Robinson Street. However, I have jumped in and checked it out on Spotify, and you can probably already imagine my takeaways. First, you know I’m digging the originals. The lead track “Hung Fire” is lyrically haunting and beautiful, with life-affirming saxophones sprinkled throughout. “Grace” kicks in and you’ll be excused if you begin clapping your hands to the rhythm, as this is a spiritual, with a choir and everything. “By the Lights of St. Stephen” is a wonderful country trot, a story-song with a catchy chorus. All three are truly worthy of inclusion in any holiday mix, and the glutton inside me wants more, more, more. However, M.C. leaves us only with that snack. The rest of the meal might not have the spice of a brand-new holiday song, but don’t worry, his flavoring is truly inspired.

The first cover on the record is Spiritualized’s “Shine a Light,” is beautifully arranged and a welcome new track to be claimed by the holiday music canon. Woody Guthrie’s “Hanukkah Dance” is full of foot-stomping, hand-clapping, and fiddle solos – perfectly executed and joyous. If you haven’t already noticed the theme of light being at the fore of this record yet, then the cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “As Long As I Can See the Light” will… “shine a light” (callback!) on that for you. The waves of warmth exuding from this song would be one of those goosebump-inducing moments, should we ever be able to experience it live.

Here at Christmas Underground, I admit I shy away from traditional covers. We’ve all heard them, and rarely are they dressed up in interesting clothes. M.C., however, does not disappoint. Oddly, it is the title track, “O Come All Ye Faithful,” that stays closest to the melody and phrasing we might expect, while “Joy to the World” and most especially (and astoundingly) “Silent Night” sound incredibly new and fresh. M.C. makes these small choices, highlighting one word or another or ending phrases in unexpected places so frequently, that you leave feeling invigorated. Despite the gentle, beautiful production, your brain is buzzing and delights in the unexpected. Truly lovely stuff.

I feel like M.C. is one of us.

Bottom Line: Put this on and let it play. This record is one of the best, most listenable Christmas records I’ve heard in a good while.

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Jetstream Pony – Grief of a Frozen Sailor / Hit the Snow (2020)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy:
Bandcamp (FLAC/MP3) | 3-Single Pack | Rough Trade | Banquet Records | Juno Records | Piccadilly Records | Jumbo Records

Even during this COVID-plagued monstrosity, when wonderful traditions like the Fowler VW/Blackwatch Christmas compilation are on forced hiatus, the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club keep the fire burning. Each year, SCSC finds 3-4 bands that are game to record a new Christmas song A-side alongside a classic Christmas cover B-side, and then he unleashes the into the world in limited white vinyl glory. If you read this blog, you know that I often veer towards the indiepop goodies, and this year SCSC has offered a doozy. To describe Jetstream Pony as anything but an indiepop supergroup is absurd since the band features Beth Arzy (The Luxembourg Signal, Trembling Blue Stars, Aberdeen, Charlie Big Time, The Fireworks) on vocals, Shaun Charman (The Wedding Present, The Popguns, The Fireworks) on guitar and backing vocals, Kerry Boettcher (Turbocat) on bass and Hannes Müller (The BV’s, Endlich Bluete), who makes his debut on drums on this release. With a pedigree like that, you’d expect that the songs will be excellent, and I believe the expectations were beautifully met. The A-side original, “Grief of a Frozen Sailor,” begins those indiepop vocals and jangly rhythm guitars that I love until the reinforcements come in, and shoegaze guitars begin to rain down. Throw in some layered vocals and jingle bells, and this is a highlight of both the shoegaze/indiepop Christmas genre.

I’ve been waiting to write about this record until I could hear the b-side, as I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a cover of the absolutely stellar Aislers Set indie Christmas classic, “Hit the Snow.” Jetstream Pony’s version has added some meat to the production, with heavier guitars than the original, certainly making their mark on an already fantastic song. An unexpected result of my writing delay was that, as wonderful as this release is, everyone else appears to think similarly. The 7″ is sold out on Jetstream Pony’s Bandcamp, as well as for individual purchase through SCSC (still available within the 3-7″ set). However, I do believe I have found a few stores that may be getting some copies and have listed them above.

Be sure to check out the other 2 releases from this year, and if you are new to this alternative Christmas music game, all the other year’s previous releases at Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. There are some amazing tracks to be discovered, many of which have made my own personal Christmas mix (high praise!).

Bottom Line: Two sides of absolutely stellar indiepop/shoegaze Christmas tunes. This record is going to be one of those folks are going to be hunting down in a decade…

LISTEN

Sharon Van Etten – Silent Night / Blue Christmas (2020)

Jagjaguwar
Buy:
7Digital MP3/FLAC | 7″ Vinyl | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I love, love, love Sharon Van Etten. Some records I would put up in my top 20 of all time… but I did not always feel that way. SVE had to grow on me… and these two songs, perhaps they need more time too. I’ve heard them before on other comps (these are nothing “new”), but this is the first time they’ve been neatly packaged together. Sharon is fighting an uphill battle with these song choices, as they are songs we’ve heard a million times. She does make some nice choices though, especially with organ and trans-inducing, metronomic baseline on “Silent Night.” The “Blue Christmas” B-side has some interesting vocal phrasing, which I can also appreciate. Overall, these two tracks are stronger than the usual suspects I run across, but I desperately want to know what SVE could create on her own.

Bottom Line: Solid versions of those songs you know, which only make you want a genuine, Sharon Van Etten original. That said… had they released this on vinyl, I would have bought it. They are good enough to own, but borderline mixworthy depending on your mix.

Edit: This has been released as a 7″ vinyl single. So… I bought it.

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UPCOMING: Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box (2020)

Memphis Industries
Buy:
Bandcamp | Banquet Records | Norman Records | Piccadilly Records | Jumbo Records | Rough Trade UK

Last year I found myself stressing out, trying to get a shot at one of those Field Music Christmas 7-inches that were at the Independent Label Fair in London. Tweeting back and forth, seeing what connections I could muster… but alas… it was not to be. They hinted that it would have a proper release this year, so…. I waited, and Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box will be waiting under the tree for me (once I buy it). I haven’t heard much off this record, with exception of the Francis Lung track which I reviewed last year. A track or two has been previously out there in some fashion (Field Music and Cornshed Sisters) from off the top of my head), but there do appear to be some new tracks here for sure. If you are really, really curious, you can go digging on each band’s twitter feed, and you are bound to bump in to some 15 second samples of these songs. That Rachael Dadd track sounds bbbeeeeauuuuttttiiiifffuuullll.

Lost Christmas: A Memphis Industries Festive Selection Box (Release Date: December 4)
1. Field Music – Home For Christmas
2. Haley – Like Ice and Cold
3. Warm Digits – Good Enough For You This Christmas
4. Rachael Dadd (with Rozi Plain and Kate Stables) – We Build Our Houses Well
5. Stats – Christmas Without You
6. The Phoenix Foundation – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
7. Francis Lung – To Make Angels In Snow
8. Jesca Hoop – White Winter Hymnal
9. The Go! Team – Look Outside (A New Year’s Coming)
10. The Cornshed Sisters – Have a Good Christmas Time

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Richard Edwards and the Velvet Ocean “Happy Christmas (the whole world has changed)” (2020)

Profound Discomfort
Buy:
Bandcamp | 7Digital | Apple Music | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play

Richard Edwards, known in a previous life as the lead singer and songwriter for Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, has been releasing some pretty beautiful records for the past few years (largely on Joyful Noise), and his latest, The Soft Ache and the Moon” is no exception. He has teased us with a Christmas-ish song in the past with a cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” on the Joyful Noise Snowflathe series, but never quite so explicit as “Happy Christmas (the whole world has changed.” This song is raw emotion. The lyrics are vivid, brutal, and deeply personal. You can take it from me, or from Richard himself:

“Maybe my favorite song on the album and the most difficult to write in certain ways. It was a little too raw and painful for me, but Dave Palmer, the brilliant piano player got me to do it. And I’m glad he did, even if it hurts a little.”

Richard Edwards

This song is full of dream imagery, scenes filled with fog on the edges – suffering, atonement and just squeaking by. It is not your normal Christmas song, but this is not your normal Christmas site. Settle in.

Bottom Line: Some songs make you both wish the writer never had to write this song, while appreciating the beauty of what they created; This is one of those songs.

LISTEN

UPCOMING: Murder by Death – Lonesome Holiday (2020)

Murder by Death - Lonesome Holiday

Tentshow Records
Buy:
Vinyl | Bandcamp

Louisville’s Murder by Death released a fantastic, 2-song Christmas single back in 2014 appropriately titled 2014 Christmas Cover Songs. In 2020, they’ve collected those two tracks and added a healthy 9 more release what promises to be a truly fantastic (though melancholy) Christmas record. I’m really looking forward to hearing more, as hopefully they will preview a few more tracks in the coming weeks. Either way, this is one to look out for.

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UPCOMING: Mark Lanegan – Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020 (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Rough Trade Exclusive LP

Well well well… this popped up on my radar, either by fate or coincidence…. Mark Lanegan is re-releasing his tour-only Christmas EP, Dark Mark Does Christmas 2012, as a full-length Christmas album – the appropriately titled Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020. Lord knows that 2020 is a year for a dark Christmas record…

From Rough Trade (who have an exclusive version, perhaps THE exclusive version?)

2020 has been a dark year and so to end the year Mark Lanegan returns as Dark Mark and releases a full Christmas album. Five tracks were released as a tour only 12″ in 2012 which is now rare and impossible to find. He has recorded five more tracks recently and turned it into a full length album. Lanegan successfully takes some traditional Christmas songs, some Christmas covers plus some originals and twists them into a dark, melancholic affair. Standouts include Burn The Flames, originally recorded by Roky Erickson and Lanegan makes this sinister song, even more sinister. The Everley Brothers Christmas Eve Can Kill You is stripped back and haunting whilst the Lanegan original A Christmas Song is delicate and heartbreaking. 2020 is going be a dark Christmas.

Rough Trade

LISTEN (to the 2012) version

Zach Malm – The Darkest Time of Year (2017/2020)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

2020 Addition: This COVID/anxiety-riddled/dumpster fire of a year has brought few bright moments. Today is an exception (for the moment), as one of my favorite Christmas records of the past few years is reintroduced to the world on beautiful, red-marbled vinyl. Zach Malm‘s The Darkest time of Year has been released in a limited pressing of 100 copies, and I strongly suggest that one of those copies should be yours. Heck, there is even a bonus song that wasn’t on the original release! This is your chance to have a fantastic private-press Christmas record that future generations of weirdo Christmas music fans will be alllllll about. Let us take a moment to look back upon my 2018 review of this beautiful record that completely floored me.

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December can overwhelm a tired Christmas-music blogger. Often, the casualties of a lack of time and a wealth of music, are the large compilation and the full album. Singles are so much quicker to consume and write about. Seattle’s Zach Malm was a casualty of last year, as he put out a very interesting experimental, electronic pop record that I did not get to, and most certainly deserves our 2018 ears. There are some damn interesting songs on here, many of which are awash in a Novation Bass Station II synth. Zach’s cover of “Walking in the Air” has a fantastic buzzing bassline powered by that synth, as well as these great fluttering melodies interspersed throughout; It is truly beautiful. Zach’s wonderful original “Magical Night,” is much less electro, bringing in guitars while crafting a beautifully sweet song about a child’s anticipation of Christmas. It is simple, poignant and wholly mix-worthy. Zach’s other originals, “Christmastime is Always,” “The Darkest Time of the Year,” and “Half the Fruit” all reflect the album’s title in a way the sweet “Magical Night” did not. They are dark, but with these brilliant moments of light, such as this line in “Half the Fruit:”

If nothing else, we still have Christmas
If nothing else, we still have Jesus
And even though the meaning changes
If nothing else, we still have Christmas

Zach has created a true album – the “Kid Conversation” tracks are great on their own, but not really “songs” – but they work beautifully, stitching together this wonderful collection of largely original, both in content and approach, Christmas tunes. Zach has nailed it with this one, and you should check it out (as well as forgive me for not getting to this fantastic record last year).

Bottom Line: Zach Malm has created a wonderfully cohesive record – a true Christmas album – beautiful to listen to in its entirety.

LISTEN