How far along is everyone?

So, I’ve created an extensive spreadsheet to track the creation of this year’s mix. I’m looking at about 10 locked-in tracks, and 30 or so on the list for consideration. How is everyone else doing? Are you waiting for the week after Thanksgiving for what will hopefully be a flurry of new releases (I know I am!)?

Now if only the Apple Store would give me my computer back. Blarg!

The Wave Pictures “I Love You Like a Madman” (2008)

Wave Pictures - Instant Coffee Baby

Moshi Moshi / Little Teddy
Buy: Discogs (CD/LP) | 7Digital MP3 | iTunes

Every so often, I strike gold and pull out a double, as in I love the Christmas song and also find that I love the band. The Wave Pictures are indeed one of those true finds, that hooks me in the xmas and reels me in for the rest of their catalog. Their 2008 release, Instant Coffee Baby, contains “I Love You Like a Madman,” one of the most interesting and enjoyable Christmas songs I have ever experienced. Their style is as if Jonathan Richman had listened to a good bit of Dexys Midnight Runners while reading Raymond Carver stories (I am stretching here… I can’t find the perfect combo). The chorus begins with “The air in here is dead / But we’re not finished yet / Throw the back door open / Let me see your breath.” Its this kind of simple, visceral visual that I find in Evan Dando at his best and David Berman at his most poignant, and is indeed, a large part of why I love music.

Bottom Line: Like a weird short story that you can’t help but see yourself in. 5/5

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Haze “The River” (2013)

Haze

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I don’t consider this a blog that is there to inform you of HOT NEW MUSIC. The goal of Christmas Underground is more to ferret out those hidden gems that might have passed you by, or give an alternate take on a record that others have likely loved… not necessarily posting new stuff coming out with any real voracity.

However, I did come across a rather intriuging cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” that I thought I might share. Yes, yet another cover of “River.” However, I think Haze does a pretty great job with this song. Stripped down, with layered backing vocals that for a split second reminded me of Glasser, she takes “River” and with slight changes, does appear to make it her own. While the song normally bores me, she does little things to keep me engaged.

Bottom Line: While I’m not a huge fan of the song to begin with, Haze does it justice with a excellent arrangement. 4/5

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Spottiswoode and His Enemies “Chelsea Boys” (2008)

Spottiswoode and His Enemies - Salvation

Self-Released
Buy: BandcampiTunes

This song is amazing. I’m going to step back and let Spottiswoode explain it though:

“My recollection is that i wrote the opening two melodic lines with the clear intention of composing a Christmas carol (only realizing later that the melody was, of course, similar to “Hark The Herald”). and then the words for the first two lines came out:

Boys in Chelsea holding hands
Whistle as they watch us dance.

“Had I intended to write a gay carol? i don’t remember. My guess is that after mouthing those two lines my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to see where the song would go. i understand that many people may dismiss the tune as a novelty song or just think that’s it’s a little clever and twisted ditty, but to me it’s an achingly romantic song. it’s a love song. it’s not just a love song to the girl the singer is addressing who is about to share a dance with some leather-clad homosexuals in the snow. it’s a love song to gay New York and thereby, in Christmas spirit, to human brotherhood.”

Listen to this song. Its beautiful.

Bottom Line: One of my favorite finds, ever. 5/5

LISTEN

Christmas Underground (2001)

christmas-underground

bumbleBEAR/Planting Seeds Records
Buy: Discogs Good luck!

It was only a matter of time until I reviewed the inspiration for my blog’s title. Christmas Underground was a 2001 release by Planting Seeds Records & bumbleBEAR Records, with the 30+ tracks (some are just greetings) shared by both their indiepop/lo-fi rosters. I wish I could say that it was the gem that I was hoping it would be. The main reason I hunted this comp down was the slight overlap with Kindercore Records Christmas 2, one of my absolute favorite Christmas records of all time. When I say slight, I truly mean slight – I think one band overlaps, The Wee Turtles. Their track, “By Golly, They’ve Dehydrated Christmas,” is one of two tracks that I can come back to. The other is The National Splits “Let’s Wrap Each Other,” which is a frolicking song that begins with “My nose just started to bleed / and there’s grass stains on my jeans / aw, there’s your red and your green.” I just like the attitude that comes off that song. Bugs Eat Books also contribute “Waiting on the Sun,” which has a nice atmosphere and contains the title amongst its lyrics. The rest of the album has some somewhat passable originals and traditional songs (which I normally find quite boring), but it also has some stuff that I just can’t listen to for more than 15 seconds.

Bottom Line: Could be the victim of high expectations – I can admit that. That doesn’t change the fact that I just don’t enjoy most of this record.  2.3/5

LISTEN

The National Splits – Let’s Wrap Each Other

Peace on Earth (2007)

Peace on Earth

Hard to Find a Friend
Buy: Maybe here?

The first of two compilations by the much-missed blog, Hard to Find a Friend. Somehow, this blog was able to assemble exclusive songs by some relatively big names (indie big), to benefit Toys for Tots. This is a good-enough release that it would certainly sell, and make more money for Toys for Tots if it were available on Bandcamp. I have made an effort to contact them in the past, but to no avail. So, the link for vol. 1 is still “live,” but I have no idea if the purchase will work. Perhaps they will find my post and remedy the situation…

There are plenty of tracks to highlight from this release… so I’m going to rattle off a few of them quickly, with embedded tracks where available.

The record begins with “Shepherd’s Song” by The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. What a band name! Well, I am led to believe that this track is not exclusive, because they released a Christmas EP years ago which is well out-of-print. Certainly a beautiful tune that is worth your time.

Quiet Company give a rocking rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is not something you tend to hear. A great treatment that doesn’t fit into the traditional mold.

Great Lake Swimmers‘ “Gonna Make it Through This Year” is a FANTASTIC song that made a mix of mine a few years ago. Lucky for us, they have made it available elsewhere!

Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin & Sweetwater Abilene‘s “The Wheels are Off” is equally wonderful – and just like the GLS track, much more focused on the end of the year, rather than Christmas… but that’s fine by me!

David Karsten Daniels‘ rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter” is as slow and haunting as one would expect, and while it does not reinvent the version that many like to attempt, it may be one of the best of the bunch.

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone‘s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is an instrumental rendition of the song, with a hip-hop beat behind it that adds much more interest than I would expect. Certainly a good version if you’re into the more traditional stuff, with a very nice twist.

The Winston Jazz Routine‘s “Through the Snow” is a gorgeous acoustic song that would fit perfectly in that contemplative section of your mix.

The Long Winters‘ “Sometimes You have to Work on Christmas” is a great indie rock Christmas song, reminding me of when all my friends worked in coffee shops, restaurants and record stores.

Ohtis‘ “American Christians” is a fantastic track… and I can’t find THIS version anywhere. They have 2 other version on their website, free for download. They vary slightly, the one on their proper record, and the one on their demos record. I am particular to this version… but below is the LP version.

Aaron Robinson‘s “End of the Year” completes the trifecta of great year-ending themed songs. This is a fantastic tune, and I do hope that Aaron hunts it down for his Bandcamp site soon (It may have been lost in a hard drive crash!).

Some songs, such as the Chris Walla track, left me undwhelmed, but I have to say, that feels like a MINORITY of tracks. There are still some great tunes I didn’t highlight, but those above are my favorite ones. Certainly the tracks by Via Audio, TW Walsh, and American Music Club are worth checking out (Full tracklist here). If you try to buy it, and are successful, please let me know in the comments.

Bottom Line: One of the top Christmas compilations I have – so many good songs, and for a good cause. Wish it was as easy as a Bandcamp site to purchase though. 4.5/5

Jesse Malin “Fairytale of New York” (2008)

One Little Indian
Buy: Discogs (CD) | iTunes

Jesse Malin has been on my radar since his first solo record, The Fine Art of Self Destruction (which also has a Christmas tune…). Yes, I missed his days in D Generation, but I am not Superman, and I give myself a pass. In 2008, Jesse put out a covers record, and I dutifully picked it up. To my delight, track 12 became my absolute favorite cover of “Fairytale of New York” that I’ve ever heard. Jesse Malin and Bree Sharp have a grittiness to their version that I love about the original, but Malin’s distinctive voice and phrasing really gives his version its own life. Again, this is one of Jesse’s multiple Christmas tunes (which I may cover later), so if you are intrigued, certainly do a bit more digging.

Bottom Line: Makes it his own, without washing the bits of grit and grime from the original. Loses points only because that .2 goes to the original. 4.8/5

This Christmas (with Anthologies and Hide & Seek) (2012)

This Christmas (with Anthologies and Hide & Seek) (2012)

Anthologies / Hide & Seek Records
Buy: Donate

A very admirable, and higher quality (than most) charity compilation by Anthologies has come out two years in a row now, and I do hope it becomes a yearly seasonal occurrence. Donation amounts are left up to the giver, and all proceeds go towards supporting the homeless.

While I must admit, there was nothing that I fell in love with, I found it a very listenable compilation. The Birthday Kiss‘ “Sentimental Christmastime” was released outside of this compilation first, but is certainly a welcome addition. I happen to be a fan of The Lodger, so a Lodger side-project (The Birthday Kiss) will always garner a bit more attention from me. Dancing Club’s “Silent Night” brings new phrasing and instrumentation to what I normally find a very boring song. His voice is odd, yet good enough to be interesting – and I do love a banjo. Finally, These Men‘s “How Come You’re Only Nice to Me at Christmas,” is another to check out – great lyrics, nice music and short – always a bonus. The rest of the record is certainly listenable, and your personal song preferences will likely direct you to like songs that I might simply cross off out of my personal prejudices. For example, I hate “Wonderful Christmastime.” HATE it. So, that’s me.

Bottom Line: Good cause and overall very listenable. Keep em coming Anthologies. 3.8/5

LISTEN

Jens Lekman “I Don’t Know What to Do With This Information” (2011)

Jens Lekman

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Its been a whopping week or so since I’ve written about Jens Lekman. What can I say, he’s top-5 all-time for me. However, this may be my last post about Jens for a good while, in that I don’t know of any other Jens’ Christmas tunes. Please feel free to correct me, and subsequently, make me forever in your debt.

“I Don’t Know What to Do With This Information” has only been performed live so far, with a very high quality version coming from a Maida Vale Session back in 2011. Such a sad song, not in the sentimental way that “Christmas Shoes” (BARF) is, but with a realism that brings it a little close to home, even if you haven’t specifically lived through something like that. Its called empathy and Jens brings it out well.

Bottom Line: So, so very sad. I can’t bring it over 4 because I just can’t listen to such a sad song over and over again. 3.9/5

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