Young Mister "Christmas, Please Come Early"

Young Mister “Christmas, Come Early This Year” (2017)

Refresh Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Steven Fiore (aka Young Mister) has spent the past few years songwriting for the Universal Music Publishing Group and as a guest vocalist in Jeff Goldblum’s jazz band (yes!). He has struck out on his own, recording under the name Young Mister, and releasing his self-titled debut album back in January 2016. This year, he’s released two singles… the latest being a lovely Christmas single, “Christmas, Come Early This Year.” It’s a simple song, from a father to a son, one that in my third listen has me a little shook. It progresses from hanging lights with his young son holding the ladder, to having him all grown up, and clutching to the feeling of those early Christmases. The song is just beautiful, and conveys powerful emotions without resorting to schmaltz.

Bottom Line: Simple and beautiful, Young Mister has written a song that deftly highlights those feelings that parents hold at Christmas.

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Big Cloud "Christmas Presence"

Big Cloud “Christmas Presence” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Scotland’s Big Cloud describes themselves as “fearlessly boring groove-drone & ambient pop.” Descriptions are meant to give you a good general idea of what to expect, and that description left me baffled… and curious. On “Christmas Presence,” Big Cloud has a slow groove that I might best describe as RIYL Low/Spain. In fact, this song sounds like something either of those bands would likely cover beautifully. The ringing guitar notes and strolling beat frame some clever, and at times, rather militantly-secular lyrics (which I would obviously be into): “I don’t care about cards or treeses / I refuse to think of Jesus / Your presence is the greatest gift that there is.” There are many instances of clever turns of phrase, most obviously those inspiring the title of the song: “I don’t need your Christmas present / I just need your Christmas presence / Your presence is the greatest gift that there is.” There is some downright sweetness in this song, which when not handled right can drive a song into a ditch of crass sentimentality. Big Cloud easily navigates the sweetness and keeps “Christmas Presence” on a heartfelt, genuine, and despite their best efforts, interesting path.

Bottom Line: Big Cloud has written a truly sweet Christmas song that is just a few degrees off-center to make it that much more interesting.

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The Ornaments - Christmas Movie Marathon

The Ornaments “Christmas Movie Marathon” (2017)

Folkmonger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Last year’s track from the seasonal folk band The Ornaments, featured a passenger searching for Christmas music to listen to as his plane was going down. This year’s track, despite reassurances that both Mike and Lance (the Ornaments) are totally in the spirit this season, is even darker! The track is simply arranged, just guitar and Mike’s thoughtful vocals. The song follows a father and daughter as they watch some Christmas classics, each of which sparks either impossible, or uncomfortable questions.

What am I gonna tell my little one
when she says she wants a White Christmas?
“Not tonight. Go to sleep.”

What am I supposed to say when she asks my way,
“Why’d his parents leave him Home Alone? Do they not love him?”
“You’re good. You’re fine. I’ll never leave you behind.”

What’s a man to do as her tears roll down
as Frosty’s face melts into the ground?
“Why don’t we turn off the TV?”

What am I gonna tell my baby girl when she asks,
“Is Mom coming back?”
“How about we watch a Christmas movie.”

“Christmas Movie Marathon” is a brutal, evocative poem put to music, one which spares no expense when it comes to tearing at your heartstrings.

 Bottom Line: The Ornaments continue to mine the darker side of Christmas with yet another fascinating approach to seasonal music.

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the Christmas Cards

The Christmas Cards “Christmastime is Here” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

To what do my indiepop ears hear shuffling through my Soundcloud feed? Could that be a band formed by the members of “indie-pop darlings The Postcards and lo-fi teenage sensations Father?” Why by golly, it is! The Christmas Cards combined these two bands for a South London, basement recording session this past November and ran through 14 indiepop Christmas tunes! For those who love raw indiepop, this will be right up your alley. Being that it is a Saturday, and I have 3 different birthday/Hanukkah/Christmas parties to go to, I’m only going to single out one, “Christmastime is Here.” The Christmas Cards do it well – speeding up this classic in a jovial indiepop fashion.  It really was the handclaps that got me over the hump on this one being the track to highlight, as I then noticed that I was sincerely grooving and tapping my foot to their lovely cover. Of note, there are some solid, real deep cut covers in there too – but I think they’ll require multiple listens to really get into… so perhaps in a future post or two!

Bottom Line: A truly enjoyable cover for you indiepoppers out there! Check out the other tracks too if you like – some are great, others are good, and only one or two I wouldn’t press play on again (but Little Drummer Boy is pretty much my least favorite song ever). I threw all of them in a playlist below, for your perusing pleasure.

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Susto - Casual Christmas

Susto “R.I.P. Santa” (2017)

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 Holiday Party, Vol. 1

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

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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Grapes & Friends "Wishlist"

Premiere: The Grapes & Friends “Wishlist” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Let me quickly introduce you to the Grapes and Friends, as there is the slight possibility that some of you have not been reading my blog all year. (FYI, I write about Christmas music all year… because I have problems, obviously).   an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. TOMORROW NIGHT (Dec. 9) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Wishlist” is exploding with cheeky funk, that special kind that will both get your ass moving and put a big smile on your face. When they bust this out at their xmas party – shit is going down. The song pairs perfectly with last year’s “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” tickling those Midnight Vultures-era-Beck feelings of carefree youth. And those vocals…  that delivery suggests something naughty is going down, and you know what? It just might. The day is just beginning… the possibilities are endless, and this is your holiday soundtrack.

Bottom Line: Slam your beer and start jumping around… or start evaluating whether you have any life left inside you – you choose. (Shit got deep there for a second.)

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LA Wise Man "All I Want for Xmas Is Rock & Roll"

LA Wise Man (featuring LA Priest) “All I Want for Xmas Is Rock & Roll” (2017)

Domino Recording Co.
Buy: iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3

LA Priest (aka Sam Dust/Samuel Eastgate) has become LA Wise Man for this seasonal song, and WHAT A FUCKING TREAT. This delicious slice of indie rock is yet another track up for “song of the season,” as the muddy bass line pairs perfectly with wailing guitars and some great lines like: “They say this buzz will be the death of us, / but we’re young and free, so we gotta be / We hear that tone when we’re all alone / and we set on fire instinctively.” That lyric is even more appropriate, as this song will burn down the Christmas tree and light your gifts on fire. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bottom Line: LA Wise Man has released a scorcher of a Christmas song, and if you read this blog, you’re probably going to love it.

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Nelson Can "On Christmas Night"

Nelson Can “On Christmas Night” (2017)

Alcopop! Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3)

Copenhagen’s incredible, all-female indie rock trio, Nelson Can, snuck a ridiculously fantastic Scandinavian Christmas anthem onto Soundcloud today. How it snuck on, I have no clue. They have over 8,000 followers on Facebook, far more than most bands that make it onto these digital pages. Yet somehow, I’m listener 40-43. Go figure! I am honestly feeling way too lazy to do much more than say, “It’s fucking great.” I’ll leave most of the exposition to them, and perhaps add more in the morning. You shouldn’t expect high levels of professionalism from a blog who, during most days of the year, gets about 20-25 views in a world of BILLIONS.

“The song is about Christmas from a Scandinavian point of view. The further up north you go, the darker the days are during Christmas and the increasing hours of sunlight after Winter Solstice (December 21st or 22nd) still plays a very central role in the Christmas celebrations here. Hence the chorus “Solstice in sight! We don’t have to wait anymore. We will be bathed in light on Christmas night. We wanted to make a Christmas song that combined the Christmas we know from modern day western culture with the old hedonistic celebration of the return of the sun.”

Update: This song gets better with every listen. When I said “anthem,” I meant it. The song starts off simple, with this gentle rocking beat framing Selena’s voice, but hit that chorus and they go big! The hooks are huge – there is even the perfect amount of whistling… yeah, you heard me. Truly a stellar song with an interesting point-of-view (ANOTHER SOLSTICE MENTION TOO!) and most certainly worth multiple listens.

Bottom Line: Nelson Can scored a winner, pretty much hitting all fronts: Scandinavian + indie rock + original song + short + great production + wonderful voice + great chorus + fantastic finish = Weeeeee!

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Christmas Mix 2017: Snow Man

Christmas Mix 2017: Snow Man

This year’s mix began taking shape at the end of 2016, its direction was solidified the moment I heard Mac McCaughan’s “Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again).” This year would have some four letter words, sexual situations, whatever might come, as I decided to allow myself this freedom every few years and not play it around my kid. I’ve done my best to remember to mark which songs have the fucks and the shits (hehe), but alas, I may have missed one; that oversight would certainly be classic me. As for the rest of the content, there are some angry songs, some sad songs, and some damn sweet songs, the highlight of the latter being Charlie’s Hand Movements’ “Until the 25th.” Damn, I love the ending to that song. Hopefully you’ll dig it, as this moment is really why I do this blog. I created Christmas Underground largely as a resource to keep track of my own search for music. By sharing, perhaps others would also share with me and not make it such a long, hard slog. I’ve met many wonderful people who have done just that – and I hope to hear from even more of you in the future. So, the blabbing is over, the listening begins.

http://8tracks.com/mixes/8733729/player_v3_universal

Snow Man from sixtywatt on 8tracks Radio.