Charles Cave "This Fucking Time of Year"

Charles Cave “This Fucking Time of Year” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Charles Cave, the bassist and lyricist for the British post-punk band White Lies, released a great, 80’s synth Christmas jam last December that is making the rounds again thanks to a new video. This song is dramatic in all the ways you want an 80’s synth Christmas song to be.

If you’re gonna leave,
Go on and leave;
Leave my heart in the cold snow
When you go.
But if I wanna drink,
Well then I’ll drink.
I’ll drink to forget I drink alone.
So alone.

‘Cos I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.
I don’t want to lose you
I don’t want to lose you, not again,
At this fucking time of year.

This is a hot track. It’s just what I needed when I woke up this morning… the montage was epic. There was singing into a hairbrush. There may have even been dramatic turns to a mirror. I put on a great, ill-fitting suit slicked back my hair and got into my Ferrari. My best friend Alf and I took off and headed for our Club Med vacation. We’ll see you all in the new year, 1987.

Bottom Line: Yeah yeah yeah, technically from last year, but I actually HEARD about it THIS year. And I love it. So there.

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Christmas Tape

Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Twaague Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know everyone is all about the NEW NEW NEW songs… throw a “2015” after a song and nobody wants to retweet it. BUT, when nearly all the seasonal releases come out in a month’s time, you are bound to miss some great stuff. Berlin-based Twaague RecordsChristmas Tape was one of those misses… released on December 12 of last year, this release certainly suffered from missing the “christmas” tag on Bandcamp, which made it nearly invisible to my search. (Bandcamp really needs to up their game on search – they limit results and don’t let you combine tags…) This was the tape that led me to Skiing! This was the tape that led me to Hanemoon! And this is the tape that will make you love Milwalkie. Get comfortable, I’m going to cover my personal highlights of this excellent release.

The tape leads off with “26th December,” originally appearing on Skiing’s excellent Generous Fire EP. Its anti-consumerism rhetoric is comfortable terrain for me, and the punk rock aesthetic is invigorating. A very strong start.

Colorado’s Kissing Party is no stranger to Christmas songs – they have 2 featured on their Bandcamp as I type this review. “Merry Christmas Darling (Maybe Next Year Things will Change)” was originally released as their 2014 single, and it remains a great indiepop downer.

Berlin’s Milwalkie contributes one of my favorite tracks on this release with “This Year (All I Want is You).” From what I understand, this begins a string of tracks exclusive to this release. What they might call cheesy (and they do), I call simple and nearly perfect. Playful and nostalgic, this song hits all the marks without getting too sweet; A wonderful, perfectly seasoned (pun!) Christmas tune.

Who would have expected Berlin to be a hotbed of amazing indie Christmas songs? My head has been stuck searching in London for years… should have been looking here! Berlin’s Man Behind Tree channel 90’s-era Merge Records indie rock and blends their jangly guitars, dark lyrics and understated vocals into a fantastic Christmas song, “I Was Santa Claus.”

Hanemoon, who we featured a week or so ago with his 2013 gem, has blessed us with the equally wonderful “My Bell Ride.” This is a driving indie rock Christmas song that I could imagine Yo La Tengo (or my much beloved Mendoza Line) just ripping shit up with; It has the kind of frayed edges that I am such a sucker for.

Strand Child (also from… Berlin!) contribute their dark electro-pop “Yer Feet.” Is this a Christmas song? No idea! But I like it. “I was drunk when I met you / I was drunk when you walked out the door.” It may take place during Christmas… as might the equally non-Christmas specific “F&f” by Berlin’s Mother of the Unicorn. They are a bit less confusing on their Facebook than Strand Child, as they address their song as “not so Christmassy really, but it is a bit sentimental, so that’s the same thing right?” They are tapping into the same deep emotional well as The National… which I consider a high compliment and comparison.

Finally, Farfara’s instrumental “Flying Pan” is also damn good. Again, it suffers by not having an explicit nod to Christmas, but overall a great track that, depending on your own personal mix rules, might still qualify for consideration. At the very least, this track proves them to be an excellent band, worthy of further listening.

Overall this release is extremely strong, and with few exceptions, immensely listenable and wholly enjoyable. I would consider 3-4 of these songs for my own personal mix, which is like scoring a hat trick… very, very hard to do on a Christmas compilation. Tapes are still available via their Bandcamp, as well a digital downloads for a very respectable €5!

Bottom Line: Berlin is just killing it right now. One of the strongest compilations of 2015, easy.

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Aviva Skye - Walipini

Aviva Skye – Walipini (2015)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

NYC’s Aviva Skye snuck this “Christmahannukah” release out last year, but you know what… it’s never too late to be featured on Christmas Underground! This lovely 3-track EP of seasonal-ish songs reminds me of the wonderful Glasser + Lia Ices, and at times, a stripped-down Feist. For my money (and it is name-your-own-price), the highlight of this release is the atmospheric leadoff track, “Snow.” The shimmering guitar recalls the swirling path of a falling snowflake, as Aviva’s vocals layer upon each other, as if accumulating on a windowsill. Close your eyes and watch it fall. Truly lovely.

The rest of the EP is quite good too – I could see some readers finding the uptempo “Jerusalem” right up their alley. The wonderful use of brass accents really takes this song to the next level. The final song, “Wait for Yourself,” may be the biggest stretch for those looking to round out their Christmas mix. I can’t find any thematic connection to the season… but as with most of Aviva’s stuff, still worth a listen.

Bottom Line: Atmospheric slow jamz for chilly nights – a sure-fire soundtrack to your more introspective moments. Definitely recommended.

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Hanemoon Christmas

Hanemoon “The Smells and Bells of all Christmas Songs” (2013/2015)

Self-Released
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

I know next-to-nothing about Hanemoon, other than that he claims to be from Tirana, Albania, and that he has some seriously great Christmas songs. Yes, I said songs… there are more… you may find out from me (or others) later. “The Smell of Bells and Christmas Songs” seems to smash together Summerteeth-era Wilco and American Analog Set at their most poppy into a groovy little synthesizer-dusted, melancholy Christmas tune. The song starts out with some lovely imagery, “Staring at the sea was fun / and surfing till the waves were gone. / Now they’re working on a silver sun to replace the gold one.”  But it quickly gets darker as the chorus kicks in, “The smells and bells of all Christmas songs / sound so wrong / and taste like waste / till New Year’s day.” I don’t have much context, but perhaps its about the emotional letdown that can come after Christmas has passed, leaving you staring at Christmas decorations that you need to take down. That’s just my take. I certainly do not have a full understanding of this song… but I very much enjoy the atmosphere it creates.

EDIT: So, at times, I have a hard time hearing words from beneath the music. Of course, I saw Hanemoon’s Christmas playlist on his page, and listened to all the tracks multiple times, but initially didn’t hear the references. Thus, I thought they were not necessarily Christmas songs… but I have heard them now! “Mushrooms” specifically references Santa and reindeer! I’m don’t see the connection to “I’d prefer the mammals,” nor “Save Projects,” but I’ve inquired and am trying to get some lyrics to better review the whole collection as a whole.

Bottom Line: Hanemoon is as mysterious as their Christmas songs, and who doesn’t love a good mystery!

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Faye and the Scrooges

Faye and the Scrooges “Work Christmas Party” (2015/2016)

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Faye and the Scrooges are back (with last year’s song)! “Work Christmas Party” has all the hilarity that you might imagine from a send-up of the the time-honored convention of the work Christmas party. What sets Faye and the Scrooges apart from others who tackle Christmas with humor, is their exceptional production and… well… general level of taste; They simply make wonderful choices. So enjoy this early (or would you call it late?) Christmas present, and have a wonderful, Faye and the Scrooges Christmas. And don’t punch the guy at reception.

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges continue to amaze with their wonderful Christmas catalogue.

Thumper "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"

Thumper “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (2015)

Self-Released
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!) | Bandcamp (NYOP)

Somehow, this Dublin noise-pop band Thumper snuck by me last year… I have no clue how, but they did. Despite my best efforts scouring Bandcamp and Soundcloud, this solid, scuzzy cover of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” remained hidden in a corner of the net that I just couldn’t see. Thankfully, here we are, and Thumper have cooked up this nice slice of Phil Spector Christmas pie, using their own dirty pan. They add a sense of urgency to the song that you very, very rarely hear. Check out their other stuff… they have this huge, dirty sound that is f*ing great.

Edit: Also part of the A Co-Present Christmas compilation of Irish bands and featuring CU favorites Blades Club and Sleep Thieves. Gotta check that one out soon!

Bottom Line: An urgent, noisy treatment of a Christmas classic that just might make its way on to your mix this year. Hopefully they’ll decide to put another song in our stocking this year…

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Totally Righteous Holiday Special (2015)

Chill Mega Chill / Very Jazzed Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Chill Mega Chill’s comp from last year, Tape Deck the Halls, had some real solid Christmas tunes, and largely originals! This past year was more of the same… WHICH IS AWESOME. This (hopefully) Christmas tradition is turning into one of the most interesting, original comps out there.

Totally Righteous kicks off with an extremely beautiful, somber song by Guess Genes that, had it been sung by Ryan Adams, would have turned Stereogum on fire. The collaged audio layer adds texture to the shimmering guitar and fluttering piano, and the vocals have a sincerity to them that makes you BELIEVE. Simply wonderful.

The Last Astronaut‘s “Street Lights” may not be as timeless as the Guess Genes track, but its modernity makes it a welcome addition to the Christmas cannon. The chorus is what makes this song really swing… but it makes me wish the whole song was like that!

Deep Cuts return for back-to-back Christmas Christmas classics with “Comatose Come Christmas.” This 80’s jam has the biting lyrics and sense of humor that I’ve come to love from Deep Cuts. I’m also partial to a nice drunken Christmas tune… and this song may get you contact drunk.

Grandwolves‘ “‘Zat You, Son Of God” is my first exposure to this great Houston band, and I’m going to need more. A great layering of male/female vocals amongst killer drums and some shrieking guitars provide the basis for some awesome turns of phrase: ‘Zat You, Son of God? / Asleep in the evergreen, / Next to an old tv. / Sharing your branch, with gold garland, / And a Charlie Brown ornament.” Indie rock Christmas at its finest.

Gangplans break out the drum machines and synthesizers to create their own warm cup of Christmas bitters with “Skipping Christmas.” Peppered with samples from It’s a Wonderful Life, this production duo have succeeded in making me feel warm and happy, nestled amongst their warm beats and dark lyrics.

Benjamin Andrew’s “For a Moment” for some reason makes me think of a stripped down Low – the layered vocals, the fingers squeaking on the metal strings. Bleak, beautiful and wrapped in a sweater.

LA’s Seaweed Salad scored a f*ing slam dunk with “You Won’t See Me.” Fuzzed out vocals surrounded by a cacophony of indie pop orchestration. I can barely hear what they are saying, but I don’t care at all; I loved the music too much to give a shit.

There are a few more tracks on the comp that I haven’t covered. Music is such a personal thing – what is one’s treasure is another’s trash. While none of the remaining tracks were trash whatsoever, they did not grab me nearly as much, despite some very intriguing titles.

Bottom Line: Well hot damn. There could be more than one track from this release finding its way onto my mix this year. Two years in a row, this label has just knocked it out of the muthaf**ing park. Please, while it is a free, name-your-price download, all proceeds go to Make-a-Wish. 

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Gloss - Gifts Received

Gloss “Gifts Received” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Minneapolis’ Gloss have made the best Joy Division/New Order Christmas song of the year all time! From the baseline, to the vocals, to the lyrics, Gloss have hit the nail on the head when it comes to writing a dark, pulsing, disturbing Christmas song. Sonically, this song is most certainly a departure from the Captured Tracks-esque indie rock of their Front Porch debut, which I loved. Team this track up with the MONEY track, and you are looking at a very gloomy, awesome, Christmas mix.

Bottom Line: Jingle bells, deep synth lines and clashing guitars… Merry Christmas!

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Sol Cat & Kansas Bible Company - Father Christmas

Sol Cat & Kansas Bible Company “Father Christmas” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have a title in mind for my blog this season: The year Jim wrote about the same bands he wrote about last year. Don’t fret though… I’m actually pretty pumped about it. Apparently, I’ve stumbled across a bunch of bands that want to put out great Christmas music every year! So my happy hunting this morning ended quickly, with yet another fantastic cover by Sol Cat & Kansas Bible Company, the Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” This is the third time these two bands have gotten together for a seasonal hit, beginning with 2013’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” and 2014’s “This Christmas,” which you may have learned about here! Once again, they have infused a modern Christmas classic with youthful energy and fantastic production. They make small, but wonderful choices, both their phrasing and instrumentation to make this a particularly great version. I also appreciate the fact that they don’t want a machine gun

Bottom Line: Perhaps my favorite version of “Father Christmas” from the past 5 years. Realllllly digging this.

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aquatic-slime

Aquatic Slime “Winter” (2014/2015)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud

Aquatic Slime have awoke from their winter slumber… and released all the Christmas tracks they’ve had piling up since 2006! There is even this curious track… which they abandoned because it was deemed “too slow/terrible drums.” Well… lets think about this. I do not agree with it being too slow; It’s slower track, but Aquatic Slime have great instincts, and it works quite well. I’ve come to expect a certain sound from Aquatic Slime, and had someone played this track, with the plinking electronic flourishes, organ synths and beautiful female vocals, I probably would have been able to peg it. Granted, there is something that happened in the drums/production that appears to have caused some clipping, but fix that, and you’ve got a winner.

I look forward to checking out all the other tracks that Aquatic Slime dropped too! Some intriguing titles too: “A Rave in a Manger,” “God Rest Ye Badass Gentlemen” – Awesome!

Bottom Line: I hear ya Aquatic Slime, and I understand why you did what you did… but throw a new coat of paint on this baby and you’ve got a new car!

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