The Grubby Mitts “Come on Home for Christmas” (2014)

Grubby Mitts - Come On Home for Christmas

Lost Toys Records
Buy: Free!

“I know you really want me / I know you really want me / so come on home / it’s Christmas darling / so come on home. / I’ve seen the way you look at him, / all bleary-eyed and doughly-lipped. / Yeah, I’ve seen the way you look at him. / And you’re so cruel to him, / when it’s me you want / So come on home.”

“Come on Home for Christmas,” takes a very direct approach to the “it’s Christmas, please come home” trope. I don’t think I’ve heard a narrator have at one time have such a sad tone, but such confident lyrics; The vocal delivery is perfection. The walking piano and drums that lay the rhythm set a beautiful scene for all the instrumentation that creeps in by the second verse, and when you do notice, it’s damn beautiful. The Grubby Mitts recorded “Come on Home for Christmas” for Tom Ravenscroft’s BBC 6Music festive programme last year, so it was a late-season release that may have gotten overlooked by some who try to get their mix done early (like me!). Thankfully, they also released the track on Soundcloud for free download.

Bottom Line: Really an interesting, beautiful song that finds a new way to say “Baby, come home for Christmas.” 4.8/5

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Applennium “Just This Christmas” (2013) / “Is It Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream/Free

Buffalo’s Applennium have now released wonderful Christmas songs for two years in a row, and we can only hope there’s another coming in 2015. I’m getting antsy to write about the tracks… so here we go.

2013’s release, “Just this Christmas,” begins as the kind of song that my wife would roll her eyes at, as I have an affinity for a Christmas dirge, and she does not. “Santa, don’t bring me some silly toys / unless I can stomp on them. / No child could imagine the emptiness / of lack optimism.” Dark! But really beautiful. The music is a blend of indie rock, folk and alt country, pretty much hitting three favorites in 3:30. The song is not all dark clouds, though: “This holiday just made me believe / that there’s still hope in me.” Melancholy with a glimmer of hope? I’m hooked. (And its a free download on Soundcloud!)

2014’s effort, “Is It Christmas,” is nearly the polar opposite to “Just this Christmas.” “Tonight, begin to trust / begin to take less than you must / let go of sorrow / let in the good.” The music is soaring, echoing through the night and shimmering out of the speakers. As the track builds, the mandolin flutters into the background and the layered vocals float over the music, and you think, “Low would kill to have written this song.” Such wonderful production to a tremendous song. Loving it.

Bottom Line: These songs have grown on me over the past weeks or so, which is the mark of a winner. Everything about these songs, from the writing, to the music, to the production – truly exceptional. Check out their non-seasonal songs too – you won’t be disappointed. 5/5 (You readers seem to like the rating system.)

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Junkie Thrown “Fairy Christmas Day” (2014)

Junkie Throw Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Stream

When I’m solicited with a song… it has been my experience that the sender often has no clue what Christmas Underground is about, or what my taste might be. More often than not, it isn’t even a Christmas song… But enough blabbering from my grinch alter-ego. Yesterday I received an e-mail from someone who might actually have an idea of what I’m in to! Junkie Thrown, from my adopted hometown (cuz… I want to hang with Junkie Thrown & Jens Lekman, obviously) of Göteborg, Sweden, has written a beautiful, sorrowful, Christmas song about poverty and its contrast to the materialism of Christmas. In a season where I’m finding it hard to listen to happy Christmas music, and find myself searching for music with some deeper meaning, such as Sondre Lerche’s beautiful and poignant plea for Syrian refugees, Junkie Thrown’s sadness is cathartic.

Edit: Looks like this was originally released in 2014.

Bottom Line: Junkie Thrown’s voice is beautiful, the music equally so, and the subject matter meaningful. This is 2:31 that you, at the very least, will not regret; You may even love it.

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Deep Cuts “Advent Ansiedad” (2014)

Deep Cuts "Advent Ansiedad" (2014)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Houston’s Deep Cuts… I just want to say, damn this song is good. “Advent Ansiedad” (translated Advent Anxiety) twists the charm of the holiday season into seeing patterns in the lights, hearing terrifying noises on the rooftop, and receiving mysterious letters from people who somehow know where you live. The premise is perfect, the lyrics are clever, and the music is amazing. I picked it up on the Tape Deck the Walls charity comp put out by Chill Mega Chill Records – so there is that option too… either way, you need this song in your life. Edit: Looks like it is no longer on Deep Cuts’ Bandcamp, so go to the comp above.

Bottom Line: A short, sweet review for a perfect song. Sorry for the love-fest lately… but you know… its hard to write about stuff you’re not crazy into, unless you spent a bunch of money on it. 5/5

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Andrew Bird “So Much Wine” (2014)

Andrew Bird - Things are Great Here... Sort of

Wegawam Music
Buy: BandcampAmazon.UK MP3 | Amazon.DE MP3 | 7Digital (US)

How in the world did I miss THIS track last year? Released on Andrew Bird‘s 2014 release, Things Are Really Great Here…Sort Of, this fantastic cover of the Handsome Family not only does the song justice, but makes it his own. Andrew’s phrasing led me to believe that I was actually listening to a different song in that first verse. This haunting, beautiful and tragic song is one of those songs that sticks with you. I almost feel like writing about it takes away from the impact it can have…. one last thing though: Thank god that Andrew has brought Tift Merritt into the fold; Her harmonies are truly gorgeous.

Bottom Line: Andrew Bird honors the Handsome Family, handsomely. 5/5

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Niagara Balls – Jingle Balls (2014)

Niagara Balls - Jingle Balls

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Just based on the titles, I knew I was at least going to like Niagara Balls. Then I heard them… and I was right! I do enjoy a slightly fucked up Christmas song, and “Don’t Be a Dick At Christmas” is exactly that. Not only does it have a good message, but throwing in some PG-13 language is refreshing in Christmas music! “I’m not saying / you can’t party / I’m just saying / Don’t be shitty.” Words to live by.

“Casual Racism at the Dinner Table” showcases once again Niagara Balls’ spectacular ability to lure me in with a great title. This is a story-song about Boxing Day that leaves no family member unscathed. The one truth that I can specifically relate to is that yes, everybody should like Michael Caine. Solid, but not as… charming?… as the first track, IMHO.

The final track, “Christmas ’96,” is a completely unexpected electronic dance track that samples Biggie’s classic “Juicy.” Most certainly apples to oranges. I dig it, just can’t find a compelling reason to consider it on a Christmas blog beyond the title.

Bottom Line: There’s some great stuff here. “Don’t Be a Dick on Christmas” will most certainly find it’s way onto someone’s mix. 3.8/5

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The Ornaments – What A Merry Christmastime It Was 7″ (2014)

The Ornaments - What A Merry Christmastime It Was 7"

Folkmonger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Hailing from the snowy cheese-fields (right? hehe) of Madison, Wisconsin, The Ornaments intend to be an annual Christmas music project that will “release one 7″ and play one show each December from now until the end of time.” Sounds promising! Comprised of Mike Behrends & Lance Owens, the Ornaments are the kind of Yuletide band I look for – nonreligious! I know, I know… but if you want religious Christmas music, look up… look down… you’re swimming in it already. These guys were just looking for a reason to get together, as I look to my Christmas mix as a means to keep in touch with those in my life. So far, so good. On to the songs.

The songwriting is certainly original. The A-side, “Santa’s Existential Crisis,” captures a conflicted Santa Claus who isn’t quite sure he wants to work anymore. He’s worn-out, he’s sick of all the stuff, and he really just needs to take a break. I dig the music too, perhaps more than the lyrics. Everything rests easily on the bed of Hammond organ and drums, with guitar and bell flourishes nicely sprinkled throughout. A very solid start.

The B-side, “Christmas Dinner,” does not go where you think it is going to go. The song is essentially about a glorious Christmas feast for a mother and her children… and what a bloody mauling it was. Ha! Great stuff – I’ll be on the lookout for 2015’s release, no doubt!

Bottom Line: Unique songwriting, great production and EXTREMELY limited (10 copies!), clear, square, 7″ lathe-cut vinyl. (4.4/5)

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Young War “I Won’t Come Back For Christmas (I’m Serious)” (2014)

Young War "I Won't Come Back For Christmas (I'm Serious)"

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Young War‘s “I Won’t Come Back For Christmas (I’m Serious)” is a great blend of indie rock and R&B. I love the whole concept of the song – he is not coming back for Christmas just so you know he’s serious. Its beautifully done, and very much worth your time. But don’t take my word for it. Take Lie in the Sound or Christmas A-Go-Go’s advice, and give it a listen (and/or download it via some nefarious Firefox plugin… or something). They gave it so much love last year, so much that I didn’t really find myself needing to help too much. I saw this on numerous mixes last year – it was certainly deemed a highlight of the season. That said, the song is good enough that I knew I’d be compelled to write about it at some point. Hey Young War – I hope this comes back around next year via Bandcamp.

Bottom Line: Wonderfully produced, great lyrics, great vocals and (was) free. 4.8/5

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Young War has been kind enough to give me permission to upload and stream their wonderful Christmas song. It had previously been a free download via their Soundcloud page, but they took it down from their own feed.

Tvillingarna, Truls & jag “Får vi en vit jul då” (2014)

Våra barns julfavoriter - Julmusik för barn

Alfie
Buy: 7Digital MP3 (US) | Amazon UK MP3

From the album Våra barns julfavoriter – Julmusik för barn (google translated: Our children’s julfavoriter – Christmas music for children) by Swedish singer-songwriter and frontman of Edson, Pelle Carlberg, and his family. I really have very little idea what they are saying, but I like Pelle enough to make mention of this particular track. The title of this song (Google translated) is “We Get a White Christmas When,” and Pelle’s voice and instrumentation make it a lovely little song. His kids sound great on here too, and I’m not normally a fan of children singing on my Christmas music. I wish I knew a bit more about what the heck they are saying though…

Bottom Line: I wish Pelle Carlberg made Christmas music for my English-speaking child. For those interested in hearing Pelle sing a Christmas song in English, buy his last record, The Lilac Time, and read the liner notes. 3.9/5

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Legends of Country – It’s A Long Way Back From A Dream (2014)

The Legends of Country - Its' a Long Way Back from a Dream

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

This little gem has popped up last year on Stubby’s, and I really wish I had noticed the subject matter of the release earlier than I did (I’m on their e-mail list!!). The Legends of Country are the indie-pop/country hybrid brainchild of Jof Owen from The Boy Least Likely To. Jof’s voice can make any country song sound indie-pop, so no amount of twang can take the indie-pop heart out of these tunes. Both tracks feature seasonal fare: the title track “It’s a Long Way Back from a Dream” is a twangy tale that spins the story of Richie Burnett, world champion darts player, as he heads to defend his title on New Years Eve. The imagery is sad & beautiful, and when the trumpet enters the mix, the instrumentation engulfs you. It’s pretty spectacular.

While the A-side takes us on a New Years journey, the B-side brings us back home to Christmas. “From St. George to Snowflake” is another beautiful story-song that tells of a Christmas Eve car ride. The lyrics present a modest and beautiful tale of love and Christmas. Its not hard to place yourself directly inside the verses, and the warmth it exudes is palpable. Finally, there is a wonderful guitar line that shimmers throughout this song… and it gave me goosebumps. Lovely.

Bottom Line: The indie-Christmas pedigree could not be ignored, and astoundingly, the Legends of Country have exceeded my already high expectations with these two incredible tales. 5/5

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