Advance Base “Christmas In Nightmare City” (2018)

Advance Base - Animal Companionship

Run For Cover
Buy: Bandcamp | Run for Cover Records (all the vinyl options available)

Owen Ashworth has a long, long history of indie Christmas music. From his early years as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone to his most recent project, Advance Base, he has consistently released solid tunes, all of which (I believe) can be found on his CFTPA/AB Christmas Mixtape (as one long track though). Some of those songs are covers, most are originals, but all of those songs are explicitly about Christmas. Which leads me to this latest track, “Christmas in Nightmare City.” This song is not about Christmas… but it does have Christmas in the title, and is used as a simile in the lyrics. Thus, I could have easily passed, if not for the more adventurous rule-benders that I feel are definitely out there. Owen explains the inspiration for the song in a recent Talkhouse interview, where the song debuted:

“I remember one night in early December, making my way through Gary, Indiana with Pet Semetary on my Subaru’s stereo, passing under the blinking street lights of an abandoned downtown, and then getting lost in the industrial zone. I got pretty creeped out, so I turned off the stereo and just listened to the eerie hum of trains, factories, and refineries rolling past. I was struck by the grace of the industrial work lights, twinkling through the mist. They reminded me of Christmas, and I found it all strangely comforting. That was the feeling I tried to get at when I wrote “Christmas In Nightmare City.”

So, inspired in December, with Christmas on his mind – I say it qualifies. The simple piano melody that drives the song elicits a soft, but constant rain, setting a dreary mood that I’m sure we’ve all experienced during a lull in the holiday season. Owen’s seemingly stream-of-consciousness, narrative style is reminiscent of Mark Kozelek’s latest phase (Advance Base was on Mark’s a label for a while too), but IMHO, Owen’s brand of realism is far more concise and interesting; Owen knows the value of editing. The brevity of the song leaves you intrigued yet fulfilled; This is the sweet spot that all songwriters should aim for, especially with Christmas songs which are often consumed out-of-context to the larger concept of an album. Dreary, yet satisfying, I’m happy to see Owen/Advance Base continue to expand his excellent holiday catalogue.

Bottom Line: An overcast pleasure from one of indie Christmas’ most reliable songwriters.

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School Damage “Xmas Song” (2018)

Chapter Music
Buy: Bandcamp

Melbourne’s School Damage reside in what I would call Christmas Underground’s sweet spot – DIY, underground indie pop. Thus, you might have thought I would have been all over this record from the start! However, it is thanks to the ever-amazing No Love for Ned, that I am now well hipped to both their fantastic new record, A to X, and also to the fact that there is a Christmas song on it! School Damage’s angle into a holiday song is to write a song that is not necessarily about Christmas, which immediately piqued my interest. Musically, it is quite sparse, largely comprised of a pulsing beat, with the only real hint of Christmas contained in the simple melody that bookends the song. Despite not being Christmas-specific, it is the lyrics and the sentiment of the song that make “Xmas Song” a noteworthy addition to your holiday season. An interesting mixture of nostalgia (“Riding down your old street / the years pile up”), stark reality (“And it can be hard. / It will probably get worse.”), and hope (“And you will get through / the black and the blue, / the thick and the thin, / the losses and wins – / everything”), the track creates a sense of realism not found in many Christmas songs. After a year of tough losses, I found the voice of support and friendship in this song to be quite powerful.

I hear the fear in your voice. / I know that you are feeling disappointed. / Don’t let your heart sink / or worry about what they’ll think. / Don’t try to hide / your fire inside.

Riding down your old street, / the years pile up. / We don’t have to always agree, / by your side I will stay / even when I seem far away. / Don’t try to hide / your fire inside.

And it can be hard. / It will probably get worse. / It will happen again, / but it’s not the end – / nothing time cannot mend. / And you will get through / the black and the blue, / the thick and the thin, / the losses and wins – / everything.

Bottom Line: Raw and emotional indie pop from down under.

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Phosphorescent “Christmas Down Under” (2018)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

The latest “Christmas” tune to make the rounds on all the big boys (Stereogum/Under the Radar/Brooklyn Vegan/etc) is the second track to be released off the new Phosphorescent record, C’Est La Vie, due out Oct. 5 on Dead Oceans. It has been five years since the excellent Muchacho (with that brainworm “Song for Zula“), and this new record promises to be damn interesting. The first track, “New Birth in New England,” strikes as a stellar, upbeat Paul Simon track, while “Christmas Down Under” is an auto-tuned slow burn. Pedal steel and haunting lyrics forge the solemn atmosphere that permeates this song, yet not without revealing its own scuffed beauty.

Bottom Line: Phosphorescent’s end-run around what we expect from a “Christmas song” yields fascinating results.

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Peach Pit “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)” (2017)

Peach Pit "Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day?"

Kingfisher Bluez
Buy: Demo Version 7″ | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Kingfisher Bluez puts out at least one charity Christmas 7″ every year, and this year they put out two, single-sided 7″ singles to benefit 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC. Vancouver’s Peach Pit was the first of the duo, releasing a demo version of the Sufjan Stevens’ feel-good hit, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!).” The version is quite solid, and while it doesn’t not stray far from the feel of the original, this song isn’t covered very often and hasn’t worn out its welcome; Perform this song admirably, and I’ll likely be on board. Now, the fully-produced version that is available for digital download from the usual outlets (come on Bandcamp! come on 7Digital!), definitely benefits from the extra flourishes. The guitar lines replacing Sufjan’s keys add an extra edge that is certainly welcome for such a conflicted song. So, while I do prefer the fully produced version to the demo, I still strongly encourage you to pick up the demo 7″. Suicide prevention is extremely important, as anyone who has felt that particular pain can no doubt tell you.

Bottom Line: Peach Pit deliver a 1-2 of delicious Sufjan Stevens goodness.

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Porridge Radio “O. Christmas” (2017)

Porridge Radio "O. Christmas"

Art is Hard Records
Buy: 7″ Flexi | BandcampiTunes

DIY just premiered Porridge Radio‘s sloppy (in a good way) new Christmas single, “O. Christmas,” and it is a ramshackle delight. The frayed edges of nearly every instrument, vocals included, compliment the the sentiment perfectly, as “the song is the soundtrack to that Christmas Eve where you remember how much you hate your hometown and walk home alone in the rain.” Sure makes me wonder exactly how bleak Brighton can be! Readers of this blog, as well as my wife, know I love a good Christmas downer, which you’ll no doubt appreciate too as the song appropriately ends with: “The sun goes around again / It always starts again / I’ll break your heart again / I’ll break your heart again / I’ll break your heart again / Merry Christmas.” So just slap this track on if your over-enthusiastic aunt comes over. That’ll teach her. (If you want the flexi, go now, because there are only 300 of em!)

Bottom Line: This song is a ramshackle delight of a Christmas dirge. First time I’ve ever written that sentence!

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Polish Club – Xmas Single (2017)

Polish Club Xmas Single

Island Records Australia
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | zDigital (FLAC/MP3)

Polish Club are Australia’s answer to the Black Keys, a great, LOUD blues/indie rock two piece comprised of drums and guitars. They’re latest release following their 2017 full-length debut, Alright Already, is a double A-sided 7″ vinyl Christmas single appropriately titled, Xmas Single. Both tracks are foot stompers, with a bruising pace, crashing cymbals and buzzing guitars. “I Hate You But You Gotta Stay (On Christmas Day)” is about losing your cool with your significant other on Christmas. You’re fighting, but dammit, you’re not leaving me here with your family alone. A clever approach wrapped up inside a rocking song. The AA-side is an equally balls-out version of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” This song has been covered similarly by other bands, and Polish Club do it quite well and really sell it with the vocals. This is indeed a true double A-sided single, as both tracks are strong enough to be considered for any mix that needs a kick in the chestnuts.

Bottom Line: Certainly one of the more rocking-out Christmas releases of the season. Unfortunately, due to geo-restrictions, these tracks are hard to come by. I’ve done my best to provide some options, but it may be a week or so until it is available in more traditional venues, if ever.

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Susto “R.I.P. Santa” (2017)

Susto - Casual Christmas

Missing Piece Records
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I know I’m partial to synthesizers, depressing tunes and the Swedish, but I came across a great, domestic, alt.country song about the season that pairs well with a glass of spiked eggnog, and I thought I’d gather around the digital fire and tell you about it. Charleston, SC’s Susto’s alt.country, drinking song about the death of Santa Claus is yet another excellent approach to what can be a very predictable genre. I’m just loving some of these lyrics: “That jolly old mister was a north pole drifter. / I ran into him once or twice. / He’d say “Hey ain’t the weather / nice this time of year, / as long as you don’t slip on the ice…” / I met him at a diner, / he said he was a miner. / I could tell by the twinkle in his eye, / he was telling me a righteous lie. / That man was a saint.” The imagery at the diner is pretty damn fantastic; there is a spark of story in that small moment that I want to hear more about. The track itself has a great alt.country vibe, lots of nice piano lines and Justin Osborne’s vocals convey the story beautifully. Of note – this track is also available on a limited (to 300) vinyl picture disc, available on their website. The record includes “Feliz Navidad,” which is also featured on Amazon’s new Indie for the Holidays playlist, an acoustic version of the same track, also featured on an Amazon playlist (Acoustic Christmas). The final track is not a Christmas song, but yet another Amazon playlist entry, “Serial Monogamist,” which features on the Love Me Not playlist.

Bottom Line: I must admit – the title had me skeptical. However, with some great lyrical imagery, this drinking song about the death of Santa is quite engaging and enjoyable. Digging it for sure.

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Joyful Noise Recordings’ Holiday Party Vol. 1 (2017)

Joyful Noise Holiday Party, Vol. 1

Joyful Noise Recordings
Buy: 7″ Lathe Cut Vinyl Snowflathes with Digital Download | Bandcamp

Joyful Noise Recordings has a wonderful concept for their new release, Holiday Party Vol. 1. Each track is pressed on a single, lathe cut 7″ (a Snowflathe!), limited to 100 snowflathes each, and costs $20 for one. Wait a second – that is crazy expensive! I am going to have to spend $180 on the entire album! Yes, but no. Buy one 7″ for $20, and you get a MP3/WAV download of the entire record. THAT, and all proceeds go to The Fund for Global Human Rights. So, this is starting to sound cooler, eh? Want it to get even cooler? YES? Well, these tracks were recorded live at the Joyful Noise holiday party!! They all sound beautiful, full studio-recording quality, with highlights by Richard Edwards covering Big Star’s “Jesus Christ,” and Psychic Temple’s Curtis Mayfield cover, “We Got to Have Peace.” This whole thing is pretty damn strong (and sometimes weird, but still well done), and very much worth your time and money, especially if you are a Christmas vinyl collector – Pick your poison!

Bottom Line: Great concept, wonderful cause and solid tunes.

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Couples Skate Only feat. Zebra Zebra “Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)” (2017)

Couples Skate Only feat. Zebra Zebra

Gotta Groove Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Gotta Groove Records has been sending 7″ records to their customers (they are primarily an indie vinyl pressing plant – check them out!) for the past seven years, and thankfully, Tim Thorton (half of Couples Skate Only and an employee at Gotta Groove Records) has posted a few copies on their Bandcamp for the past few years. Back in 2015, when I discovered this wonderful little tradition through the Couples Skate Only Bandcamp, they still had copies left of their 2013 release, featuring a track by Tim and his wife Cari, who together are known as Couples Skate Only (a wonderful band name, IMHO). This track, “First Christmas,” is absolutely fantastic, and when I saw that 2017 features Couples Skate Only again, I was psyched. I purchased it, song unheard, and sit here ready to plug what I thought, and confirmed, would be a damn fun song. “Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)” follows “First Christmas'” wall-of-synths production, and once again features Cari’s lovely indiepop vocal stylings. The song involves a couple trying to find their way to a winter solstice party, which is of particular note as I’ve been making a mix for 13 years now and this my be the first solstice song I can remember. Please know, I’m sure there are many more, but I can’t honestly peg any at this moment, which makes this song even more interesting. As for Zebra Zebra’s contribution, I’m guessing that the sampled shouts were either Laura and Eileen Thorton, AKA Zebra Zebra. I know that Laura is a toddler/big girl (I have a 4 year old “big boy”), so perhaps Eileen is a baby? This is indeed a family affair, which makes it all the more adorable.

Bottom Line: A synth-drenched indiepop treat indeed. Couples Skate Only have the potential to be one of the indiepop Christmas greats, alongside Christmas Aguilera, Charlies’s Hand Movements, etc, etc.

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Tamu & J’aime – Cantan a la Navidad (2017)

El Nébula Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp (Vinyl/Digital)

This day can’t get any better. (That is a challenge to you, Universe!) Our friends over at @Popcasting hipped me to a project he’s been working on, and what do you know? It is FANTASTIC. Granted, I have very little idea as to what is being said, but I do recognize a “navidad” here and there. You see, back in high school, Spanish was my best subject when we tried out foreign languages, but there were lots of cute girls taking German, and thus, Deutsch! Alas, I remember very little, as I use Google Translate every time I visit Lieinthesound.de! The first track, “Without You There’s No Christmas (Sin ti no hay Navidad)” has a classic feel, with jangly guitars and a strolling beat. The guitars ring out, evoking a country-feel at times, and I totally dig it. “Christmas without You (Navidades sin ti)” sounds much more contemporary, with beautifully layered vocal melodies and some absolutely stellar guitar accents. The ending builds in a mist of reverb, voices rising from the background to join the fray, leading to a beautiful payoff. As an added bonus, those readers who love some good xmas vinyl will be happy to buy (quickly) one of the 250 copies they just got in. Tell em Christmas Underground sent ya.

Bottom Line: A fantastic single – front to back – from our friends at El Nébula and @Popcasting. Perfecto!

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