Mato vs Santa Claus “Jingle Bells Dub” (2022)

Stix Records
Buy:
Bandcamp (Digital/Vinyl)

I’m not often one for instrumentals, nor have I ever really featured any dub/reggae/etc on this site. But hey, there are really no rules on Christmas Underground – I just gotta like it. Mato is Thomas Blanchot, a French percussionist who has been making some really fantastic dub records under the moniker of Mato since 2006, my favorite being his reinterpretation of Daft Punk’s Homework. This year, he’s releasing a 7″ on the Paris label Stix Records, fashioning a dub treatment of “Jingle Bells” (which you can preview now) on the A-side, with “Sleigh Ride” on the flip. I could totally see it being a great fit at a Christmas party… so while it might not fit on my largely indie rock/pop-centered mix, this Mato vs Santa Claus record is most certainly worth your time.

Bottom Line: Dipping my toes in the dub shallows… who knows what other cool records are out there to pull me farther in!

LISTEN

The Martial Arts – Christmas With The Martial Arts (2020/2022)

wiaiwya
Buy:
Bandcamp (digital/lathe-cut vinyl)

Look at me… now I am REALLY just copying Christmas A Go Go as I essentially update and repost an older post with exciting new information (rather than have to write a whole new post… which is WORK!) The wonderful Where It’s At is Where You Are (wiaiwya) label has just dropped 50 lathe-cut, 10″ copies of The Martial Arts’ excellent Christmas EP, Christmas with the Martial Arts. And hey – it’s Bandcamp Friday, so Bandcamp isn’t even taking their cut! Go buy it now! And now, my original review:

I’m in a mood tonight. I want to just yell and swear (in a good way) about every record I find. You have no idea what I’ve already written and deleted for this review, but let your mind go crazy. Glasgow’s The Martial Arts is a project of Paul Kelly, whose CV is a murderers row of great bands (BMX Bandits / Carla J Easton / The Primary 5 / Ette / Radiophonic / Tuckshop / How to Swim / The Hector Collectors) has put together this just FUCKING FUN AND WONDERFUL Christmas EP, recorded over eight years and finished over lockdown. The first two bouncing, beautiful tracks, “Stockings” and “Snow Flakes,” just take off like a rocket and shoot sparklers out of their ass for four minutes a piece. I devoured every second, with a giant grin on my face. “My Christmas was in June” is a cover of a Ze Malibu (feat. members of Redd Kross and that dog) song, and while the tempo slows to a stroll, the scenery is gorgeous. The final track and the only one actually fully-recorded in 2020, “Blinded by the Night” takes me back to the 80’s, to an emotional moment in a movie with lots of driving in the rain and staring out the window. “Stare into my bright disco eyes,” god I love that line. Go buy this record, but wait a few hours for #Bandcampfriday, why don’t ya?

Bottom Line: This is an indie/power/retro pop mixture that, like the unholy concoction the Long Island iced tea, will fuck you up real good.

LISTEN

UPCOMING: Los Bitchos – Los Chrismos EP (2022)

City Slang
Buy:
Bandcamp (digital/flexi) | Official Store (flexi) | 7Digital FLAC/MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Howdy.

I suppose I’m back… gone much longer than I usually do. I often crash a day or two before Christmas, with a browser overloaded with open tabs that I stare at for a few months until I get the courage to finally sift through them. Well… a few months turned into more than a few months (does that make sense?). I suppose I’ll do my best this year, for what this might be worth, and try to hip you to some Christmas tunes I particularly like.

It does appear to be a bit early in the season, so I hope I can be forgiven for writing about something that “those in the know” already know about. Obviously, it is the new Los Chrismos EP by London’s premier surf/psych/rock quartet Los Bitchos. I don’t know what qualifies for an EP anymore, as with two songs, I might have called this a single! I’d like to dwell on that for a bit more, but even I am bored with me now. The lead track off the EP, “Los Chrismos” rides that seam between groovy and chill, exuding a great time from start to finish. Not that I’m completely scared off by an instrumental, but their giggling and chanting were engaging enough that I rather missed them when they weren’t there. I am quite curious what the b-side is going to sound like – but I’m sure at least this first track, “Los Chrismos,” is going to be on a lot of mixes this year.

For those (like me) who love a physical object, there is a flexi-disc of this single as added-bonus to their early-2022 debut, Let the Festivities Begin. So grab that “Los Chrismos Edition” of the vinyl LP and you’ll be the proud owner of a very limited and super-hip Christmas release that will likely make folks like me a bit jealous.

Bottom Line: Track one was fun, but it still leaves the question as to whether track two will bring on the apocalypse (or also be a fun Christmas song).

LISTEN

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.

LISTEN

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!

LISTEN

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.

LISTEN

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.

LISTEN

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

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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