Parenthetical Girls – Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls (2012)

Parenthetical Girls - Good Christian Men Rejoice, It's Parenthetical Girls

Slender Means Society
Buy: Bandcamp

Parenthetical Girls never disappoint when it comes to Christmas tunes; They are ALWAYS interesting.  2012’s edition, Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls, does not have any of the sure-fire xmas singles that some of their early releases had, but the entire release is uniquely fantastic. This release is a fully-formed group of songs meant to be listened to as a set. After some basic research, I am led to believe that all these songs may very well be originals, but I just await that clarification from my better educated readers. For example, there are a bunch of “Christmas Mourning” tunes out there, but the Parenthetical Girls’ version rings original to me. My favorite track would have to be the gorgeous “The Salvation Army Bell.” Parenthetical Girls can be wonderfully abrasive, but this track is like a warm hug… at least, as warm as the Parenthetical Girls can be. The lyrics set such a vivid scene and very much suggest the short story that comes in the final 12-minute track, with lines like: “A cold day, the end of December / those bright bells chimed. / In a twin bed, we swore to each other / you’d show me yours, if I showed you mine.” Parenthetical Girls, please continue this tradition. You are in the top tier of Christmas songsmiths, and each release is a welcome addition to the underground Christmas canon.

Bottom Line: This release stands beautifully as a fully realized piece of art. Would be a perfect 5/5 if I could have just squeezed on single off it, which I am well aware, is antithetical to why I loved this record. 4.6/5

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How do you like receiving your Christmas Underground?

Nobody has noticed this yet, but I have created a Christmas Underground Facebook page to compliment the website and the Twitter account. So many ways to get your obscure(ish) Christmas tune fix. How do you like to get your CU updates? Feel free to choose and let me know. Oh, and btw, feel free to comment on my posts so I don’t feel so terribly, terribly alone. Single tear. Sniffle.

Oh, and I got a crazy amount of traffic from Facebook on Sunday – more than this modest site ever has received. Any idea where it all came from?

Lisa Bouvier – Live From Hendon Cathedral (2011)

Lisa Bouvier

Cath ‘N’ Dad Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Lisa Bouvier is presently the bassist in the excellent indiepop band The Proctors, but that does not stop her from releasing her own solo material. This simple, two track Christmas single, is released on Cath ‘N’ Dad Records, which allows you to name your own price on all their releases. The catch? All the proceeds go to the charity of the band’s own choosing. Lisa chose Popkollo, a Swedish (yes, she is Swedish – I’m such a sucker for the Swedes) charity best described by Lisa:

Popkollo started as a music summer camp for girls, and is now a nationwide collaboration of incredible female musicians who support girls all over Sweden in their musical endeavours.

As for the songs, they are short, sweet, and performed beautifully. Not quite sure they are the kind of vibe that I look for in my Christmas mix, but certainly would fit the bill for some of you. To the best of my knowledge, “Christmas Rain” appears to be Lisa’s own song. There are other songs with the same title, but not a match when I compared the lyrics. It is an excellent song, and the production value is of equal quality. The second and final song is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Covered by a million other singers, Lisa’s version does nothing to rewrite the script. However, she does it quite nicely.

Bottom Line: Lisa Bouvier’s Christmas single is short, sweet, well performed and produced, and all the proceeds go to charity. I think you’ll be quite pleased with your purchase. 4.3/5

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And for good measure, be sure to check out The Proctors, the band Lisa is presently touring the world with.

Peaks “Xmas Song” (2012)

Peaks "Love"

Sober & Gentle
Buy: RoW (as in… not available in the US, barely available to the world)

Did you enjoy Cocoon? Because if you did, you may like Peaks. Why? Because its one half of Cocoon (Morgane Imbeaud) singing a song that has nearly the same name! Officially released on their debut mini-album, Love, this song was also promoted as a Christmas gift from Peaks last year. I do not believe it was ever available for free download though…

As you can imagine, the music is quite lovely. It is unavoidable for a band associated with Morgane Imeaud. Now lets take a stab at the lyrics… if you guessed dark, you guessed right! The song finds the lead character lamenting how wonderful it would be if they were still in love and stuck inside together, while crying that her love is not there and not coming back again. So bring that mix back down to earth with this fuzzy little Christmas dirge.

Bottom Line: You guessed it. I’m a fan. Loses points because of the extreme lengths you may have to go through to actually purchase this song. Sober & Gentle will not ship to the US, and I can’t find it on Amazon/iTunes. 4.2/5

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Cocoon “Christmas Song” (2007)

Cocoon All My Friends

Sober & Gentle
Buy:  iTunes | 7Digital MP3 | RoW

Santa Clause won’t come tonight.
He is never late.
The reindeer may have been shot in the skies of the USA.

For a long time I have been told lies.
Am I dumb?
Am I blind?
I am feeling so fine.
Oh so fine.

Now. If that is the kind of Christmas song you can get behind, then venture forth good sir, because I love this gloomy little song. The French duo Cocoon released this acoustic number on their suggestively dark All My Friends Died in a Plane Crash in 2007. The music is cheery, like you might find in an adorable TV commercial about a new eco-friendly car… then you listen to the lyrics and BOOM! Love it.

Bottom Line: A great song for those who don’t want Christmas to be all candy-canes and gumdrops. 5/5

LISTEN

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UytNeEa9G7s] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oQCoFy3LQA]

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

A Very Radiant Christmas (2010)

Radiant
Buy: Free!

Hailing from New South Wales, all these songs were performed live on Radiant Radio, and thus, you can expect a bit less of a stretch when it comes to overall performance and product.

It starts with a deep-voiced gentleman, Kirin J. Callinan, working through “Merry Christmas,” a song he just wrote. Tough to get through, but to be expected for a song he’s only worked through on his way there.

Packwood’s “Oh Holy Night” is a ramshackle folk performance that comes in and out of tune and key, but that rawness directed to a song that you normally heard sung by a huge voice and soaring orchestra might just be what the doctor ordered.

The Maple Trail and A Casual End Mile & R. Somerset each do covers of traditional songs as well, and none of them are notable enough to highlight. They are both perfectly fine, but the song and the performance just don’t lend themselves to comment.

The Preachers “Run Run Rudolph” is notable for the single fact that you’ve got a woman covering a Chuck Berry tune that is most often covered by dudes. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, you got a twist. Otherwise, nothing too crazy. Excellent guitar playing, but not exactly what I’m looking for.

The Holy Soul’s “Six White Boomers” is a original, normally a bonus a cover (Stubby has corrected me, it is apparently a Rolf Harris tune)… and the production value (e.g., the sound… not everyone is mic’d well) torpedos it. I can’t say that I think the song is very good either. If you are an Aussie, you might enjoy it a bit more; I doubt I get the humor, especially when it sounds like they are having sex in the middle of a song.

Side Note: This is the second review where I have missed a cover version and assumed it was an original. I either have to take more time doing research (which I likely will not have time for) or you will just have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: Overall, not something you need to take the time with unless something I described above sounds particularly appealing. 1.5/5

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UPCOMING: Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club (2013)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

I will no doubt be talking more about this upcoming project as it unfolds, but just to wet your appetite, a repost below from their website, with handy hyperlinks to the featured bands. Thank you Robert for sending this my way, and best of luck with this AMAZING project.

From snowflakes-christmas-singles.blogspot.nl

In November, the four singles of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, edition 2013, will be released.

All singles come in a full colour picture sleeve on white vinyl, limited to 500 copies. On the A-side, the singles will have an original, on the B-side a cover.

On the first single, London folk/blues duo Smoke Fairies, joined on violin by Neil Walsh, sing about how celebrating Christmas with friends and loved ones makes one feel at home in their ‘Simple Feeling’. On the flipside they do a haunting and beautiful rendition of ‘I Wonder As I Wander’, a Christmas carol written by singer John Jacob Niles, based on some lines of a folk song he once heard a little girl sing in a small village in Appalachian North Carolina.

Stockholm, Swedens’ indie poppers The Garlands have rearranged and rerecorded their ‘Christmas Song’, prevously released as a download only in 2008, for the second single. This Chrismas love song has the sound of the swinging 60s, with bells, piano, sweet harmonies and all. Their cover of ‘I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You’, written in 1967 by Margo Guyan for French actrice, singer and dancer Claudine Longet, is a perfect fit with their original song, has the same hip 60s vibe, but still with a indiepop bite.

The third single has chamber popband The Miserable Rich from Brighton with an uplifting original, ‘Everything You Want’, in which singer James is out to buy a Christmas present for this lover and finds himself – and the present – with friends in the pub at the end of the day. The Miserable Rich cover the antiwar protest song ‘Stop The Cavalry’, written and made into one of the most loved Christmas songs from the early 1980s by Jona Lewie.

Surf pop band The Silhouettes from Amsterdam are featured on the fourth single. The Silhouettes have written an very Christmas sounding song, about looking forward to sit with your lover ‘Under The Mistletoe’. They back it with a surf version of the Christmas standard ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and first sung by the legendary Judy Garland in the classic 1944 musical ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’.

Pre-orders going up later this month!
Check http://snowflakes-christmas-singles.blogspot.nl/ or http://www.facebook.com/Snowflakes.Christmas.Singles for updates!

Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

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Don’t Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape (2012)

Don't Stay Home Alone This Christmas: A Select Music Xmas Mixtape

Select Music
Buy: Free!

One of my most recent finds, this free compilation from Sydney-based Select Music is an extremely solid compilation that is wholly listenable; A fine effort that I hope they continue to pursue in the future.

Step-Panther‘s version of “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight tonight)” begins and ends with a skit, which I’m sure you could edit out quite easily. The delivery of the actual song makes me think of a bunch of 16-17 year olds rolling through this classic Ramones tune, which could be exactly the vibe you’re looking for… I, however, don’t feel like this song is good enough (as in, the song, not the performance) for simply a serviceable cover. Asobi Seksu’s version is different enough to enjoy over multiple listens, but Step-Panther’s, while not bad, just doesn’t quite break the mold of the original.

Wax Witches‘ “Forgot Me” is a solid indie-rock Christmas tune. I am always partial to originals, and the Wax Witches effort is certainly in the upper 10% of the pack. It actually grows on me a bit with each listen… not quite sure if its going to get to the level where it will be mix-worthy, but a great effort no matter.

The Cairos rendition of “Sleigh Ride” is about as good as it can be. I would never consider this song for my mixes to begin with, but if I HAD to find a version to play for someone, this would certainly be an option. They do their best with what they’re working with.

Millions take a stab at the modern-classic, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and they do it admirably. Its kind of a fusion of indie rock with an alt-country beat and the twangy guitar of an earlier time. Their arrangement really makes the song their own, and thus it is immensely listenable. This is one of the songs that you need this compilation for… and hey, its free.

The Preatures take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and they follow the Millions lead-in with a similarly unique take on a classic tune. They lighten the mood, add some dirty edges, and throw their version onto the top of the pile. Short, sweet, and spot on.

Finally, Jonti‘s “Christmas Worm” makes an appearance at the end of this short compilation. If you read my blog, you are well aware of how much I enjoy this song. I will no doubt be writing more about this song as the season develops, as I have also found a cover from a few years ago as well. So… enjoy this release and the FREE FLAC that it offers.

Bottom Line: There are three great songs, and three good songs. If every other Christmas compilation could be so fortunate. 4.5/5

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Bandcamp

I just wanted to take a moment and say how much I love Bandcamp. Bandcamp is the first digital provider that I don’t feel ripped off by – giving me the opportunity to download lossless audio, as well as, at times, buy a physical object (which I often do!). I like the simple layout, the relatively-new collection feature that shows what you and others have bought (great for going down that rabbit hole), and the ever-expanding ability to surf through the entire Bandcamp library with greater ease. I would like to encourage every band I know to get onto Bandcamp, to take advantage of their better percentages (10-15% vs. the 30% iTunes takes!) and lack of any startup or maintenance fees. Please… if you have released a fantastic Christmas tune and offered it up for free on your website, continue doing so. But for those of us who would love a FLAC… we will pay for that. Throw it on there – what do you have to lose?? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was happy to pay for music again, even when they are paying for downloads?