Pedro the Lion “Yellow Bike” (2019)

Pedro the Lion "Yellow Bike"

Polyvinyl Records
Buy: Bandcamp | Polyvinyl | 7Digital | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

David Bazan is no stranger to Christmas music, and even when he isn’t writing specifically-Christmas songs… he still sometimes writes an almost-Christmas song. “Yellow Bike” is the latest single from David’s recently resurrected Pedro the Lion project, and it is perfectly situated in the Venn diagram that is my life: Christmas songs and cycling. It begins…

“On a desert Christmas morning, 1981
One month shy of six years old
In the valley of the sun
My first two-wheel bicycle stood by the tree
My heart thumping in my chest
Though I’d tried, I couldn’t ride one yet”

The song is a beautiful tale of nostalgia, longing, and communion, facilitated by the memory of that first bike David got for Christmas. Just. Loved. It.

Bottom Line: Chapeau David, it’s a stunner. Lots of vinyl options out there for folks who want to pick up the entire album, which I would also recommend.

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Fowler VW presents A Blackwatch Christmas Vol. VIII: The Sounds of the Season (2018) + WIN SOME VINYL!

Fowler VW/Blackwatch Studios
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

This season has been… long. I’ve been working until 9:30 a bunch, and still have things like laundry, dishes and the various domestic duties that we do as we strive not to look like a hoarder. I’m beginning to see the sun, or normalcy at the very least. And as those clouds part, I begin to catch up… and I have the pleasure of basking in the ALWAYS excellent Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studios release! The Sounds of the Season is their best one yet – and that is a high bar to clear. And you know what, there isn’t a version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” anywhere to be found! These are originals! Now, lets talk favorites… WAIT A SECOND – I LIKE THIS WHOLE THING! From the 70s groove of Sports, to Home Alone-inspired indiepop of Chair Model and the relaxed indie rock of Spaceface featuring LABRYS – this record will take your party to wonderful places. There are a whole handful of tracks on here that I have on my shortlist for next year… this record is fantastic.

BUT WAIT – THERE IS MORE! I live in Virginia, but continually find myself jealous of everything going on in Norman, Oklahoma. Fowler VW and its ownership are incredibly involved in making their town a better place, often taking part in efforts to help fund the public schools, as well as being great patrons of the arts in their community. This holiday season, I’ve been watching them promote Wrap Up Homelessness. This program sells locally designed wrapping paper, and is coordinated by the Curbside Chronicle, which is a street paper that “provides employment and empowerment to men and women transitioning out of homelessness.” Last year they helped get 41 people off the street and back into housing, which is pretty damn incredible. You know what else is incredible? There is some wrapping paper designed by Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips! So, you know that paper is crazy awesome! I would like to take this moment and encourage you to order some paper, or simply donate some money to this fantastic cause. Fowler VW does so much for their local community, but they also do so, so much for our alternative Christmas music community as well. As an added bonus, if you order some wrapping paper or donate to Curbside Chronicle, then tweet me, FB me, or e-mail proof that you did (screenshot will do!), you will be entered to win a copy of THE SOUNDS OF THE SEASON on VINYL! I’ve got a couple copies sitting here for you… so lets all show some Christmas spirit, help those in need and give thanks to those who bring us this great music year after year.

THE FINE PRINT: I got these LPs a little later than I had hoped, as the mail lost the first shipment, so they are likely not going to get to you by Christmas. BUT YOU CAN JAME TO THIS 1) Whenever OR 2) NEXT CHRISTMAS! This contest will run from Dec. 17-21, and you can email me at christmasunderground(at)gmail.com, tweet at me @xmasunderground, or comment on the Facebook post for this entry. Please use the hashtage #fowlervwisawesome whenever entering, either in your tweet/FB post or email subject line. I will choose a few folks at random, and ship you some records. UNFORTUNATELY, this offer is NOT open to our international friends. It costs about $24 to ship ONE LP outside the country. I’m terribly sorry… I just can’t afford to do it.

Bottom Line: I love a record you can enjoy all the way through. Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studio continue this glorious tradition, and somehow keep getting better!

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Joyful Noise Recordings’ Holiday Party Vol. 2 (2018)

Joyful Noise Recordings
Buy: 7″ Lathes | Bandcamp

Joyful Noise has done it again! Those delicious little lathe-cuts are back for a second season – only 100 of each song. You buy a snowflake, you get all the tunes! Or, you can pay $10 and just get the songs. Some highlights from this year are the Netherlands-based Eerie Wanda‘s cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow is Falling” and the Low Anthem‘s original “Fairy on Top of The Christmas Tree.” The crazy part about this whole project is that these songs are all tracked in one hour! They roll them in, figure out their parts (the bands also bleed over into each other’s tracks), and lay it down. In addition, 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to Second Helpings, a non-profit that rescues perishable food, to feed people in need, all while providing culinary job training for disadvantaged adults. Now that sounds like a plan!

Bottom Line: These snowflakes are for a good cause, and with a lineup like Kishi Bashi, Danielson, No Joy amongst many other notable purveyors of indie rock, it is certainly worth checking out.

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Whyte Horses “Next Year Will Be Mine / Coldest Night of the Year” (2018)

CRC Records
Buy: Limited 7″ | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Truly, what more can I say about this record? First, Snowflakes Christmas Singles wrote a full history of them! If you dig this – then please go there and find out all about them… you’ll find that this is an indie super-project of sorts! That said – If there is one release this holiday season that all my blogger friends can seem to get behind, it is most certainly this one. Manchester’s Whyte Horses have put together a fantastic double-A-sided 7″, with one original and a perfectly-chosen cover on the flip. “Next Year Will Be Mine,” in all its Phil Spector-glory, will leave folks at your Christmas party asking “who sings this??” The mistakes, problems, and shit of the last year are a memory – replaced by a hope that this new year is going to be different. The content is pretty heavy at times, but the music wraps it up in beautiful paper, a wonderful dichotomy indeed. The cover, “Coldest Night of the Year,” is pitch-perfect. Lucy Styles and Natalie McCool’s vocals both have an uncanny Vashti Bunyan-quality, while the orchestration’s subtle changes are just beautiful. This whole thing is a standout of the season.

Bottom Line: Whyte Horses have laid down the first release that everyone I know loves, and since I know you… so you will love it too.

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The Catenary Wires “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)” (2018)

WIAIWYA
Buy: Bandcamp

Those in the indiepop know are already well aware of this upcoming record being released by Where It’s At Is Where You Are (WIAIWYA). Stars was teased in a e-mail back in September (when it was supposed to be a 10″ – it’s a 12″ now because the songs were too long!), and I pretty much flipped out. WIAIWYA’s last seasonal comp, Christmastime, Approximately, was a fantastic release, thus this one has a fine pedigree to build upon. The lead single, the Catenary Wires‘ “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)” is a stellar piece of indiepop that grows on you with every listen. It has that classic indiepop signature of terribly sad lyrics with beautiful music, which I obviously adore. The two narrators sing through a fog of melancholy as they guide us though their relationship, bookended by Christmas at each end. The Catenary Wires are Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, partners in music and life, as well as veterans of many notable indiepop bands such as Tender Trap, Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, and Marine Research. They seem to specialize in songs of fraught relationships, while maintaining a happy life in Kent. One would have to think that this is a form a therapy – kind of an exorcising the demons with an indiepop twist. I tell ya, those demons sound real pretty… This is only one song of an entire record (minus the tracks of bells – very nice tracks, but bells) of fantastic indiepop Christmas tunes found on this upcoming release, Stars. I’ll have to review that soon too… (Of note, those who create Christmas mixes, and take it seriously, will love Whoa Melodic’s “Christmas Stars.” Trust me.)

Bottom Line: Melancholy indiepop? That is practically the name of this blog!

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Here it is! The world premiere of the video for the Catenary Wires’ “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)”

Adam Arcuragi “The Belgian” (2008)

High Two Records
Buy: Bandcamp (Vinyl) | Label (Vinyl/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

As the world commemorated WW1 this past week (there was rain – eek!), I began to think about this fantastic song that Adam Arcuragi included on his wonderful mini-album Soldiers for Feet back in 2008. “The Belgian” references that famous 1914 Christmas armistice, where soldiers along the western front ceased fighting and celebrated Christmas. It is a truly beautiful song – one that I have mentioned before, but never featured. I always imagined it was one that was meant to be discovered… but you know… let this be your point of discovery.

Bottom Line: Adam Arcuragi is three-for-three when it comes to Christmas songs. Just saying – I’d buy whatever he’s selling.

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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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Traveller “Christmas Eve at Kroger” (2018)

Traveller - Western Movies

Refuge Foundation for the Arts
Buy: Vinyl & CD | iTunes | Google Play MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Traveller, the Americana supergroup comprised of Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel and Jonny Fritz, may have taken three years to follow up the release of their first track, “Western Movies,” but I would contend… this is most certainly worth the wait. Robert Ellis has released four solo records, including his latest self-titled album, Robert Ellis, in 2016. Cory Chisel has toured for years with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, releasing seven records since 2004. Jonny Fritz (AKA Jonny Corndawg) first came to my attention with a gift from a friend, a glow-in-the-dark LP copy of the endlessly entertaining Dad Country. So when you put all three of these already-accomplished alt.country/country/Americana artists together for a proper full-length (also called Western Movies), you are likely going to get something pretty special. And to my surprise, there is the added bonus of an absolutely stellar Christmas song on there – “Christmas Eve at Kroger.” I’ve been listening to this track for a few months now, and the first time my wife heard it – she began to tear up. I certainly wasn’t surprised; This song has a bunch of these little, deceptively-powerful moments. The lyrics are so simple and real, that they feel as though they could have come right out of your own mind. I was hooked upon hearing them name-check Cracklin’ Oat Bran and “watching Die Hard with my mom.” While I would not have watched Die Hard, I most certainly ate that cereal and snuggled with my mom as a kid on many, many occasions. Cracklin’ Oat Bran was that little indulgence that my mom would give herself back when my family was young, and I remember those days like it was yesterday. I may be a bit of a humbug at times, and I know I find interest in the bitterness of the holiday, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t also secretly (and sometimes openly) love Christmas – and you can tell these guys do too.

Bottom Line: The heart found in the lyrics compliment the warmth of the recording, as all three singer-songwriters trade off verses in this beautifully delicious song.

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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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Steady Hands “Christmas at the ‘Vous” (2018)

Lame-O Records
Buy: Vinyl | Bandcamp

Perhaps Sean Huber is better known as the drummer to the punk/emo/indie rock (who really knows these days) band Modern Baseball, but as MB is on indefinite hiatus, we should all now consider him primarily the frontman and songwriter of the Philadelphia indie rock band Steady Hands. After a string of EPs and a compilation release of those EPs, Steady Hands’ have just released (Oct 19) their first true full-length LP, Truth in Comedy, which Christmas Underground is happy to find has a Christmas(ish) song as its closer. The grunge-influenced “Christmas at the ‘Vous” is one of those songs that happens at Christmas, but isn’t necessarily about the holiday – which is just the kind of stuff I like here. I’ll let Sean explain from the track-by-track that he did with Punk Rock Theory:

For a few years, when my older family members were still around and living near Philly, I used to spend Christmas day visiting them, then my family would drop me off at my apartment and I’d go out in the city. It was always quiet and relaxing and felt like you got away from reality for one night. I’ve spent a bunch of nights like this with one of my friends after getting off the road – and catching up at home. The verses are all about moments from touring, and at the chorus I’m back home, living a normal life. A bar in Philly was nice enough to charge us by the lot rather than per drink after a particularly indulgent night and we ended up saving some money that way.

I like the approach, I dig the music, and I think you might to.

Bottom Line: Super-solid indie rock from one of the country’s best incubators of fantastic rock bands, Philadelphia.

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