Bjéar “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World” (2015)

Bjéar Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Things are getting weird around these parts. We’re all about to get nuked, and I’m sitting here writing the second post in threee days about an instrumental Christmas song. Adelaide, Australia’s Bjéar has a Soundcloud stream full of solid, RIYL Bon Iver/Sufjan Stevens indie folk/rock. I initially heard his excellent Sufjan-esque “Big Sky” and really loved it; I think it was one of those “Soundcloud chooses another song” situations. So I click through to the profile, and discover these two Christmas songs – “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” These are two songs that rarely make appearances on this, very secular Christmas blog. However, there is a quality to them that leads me to this moment. Bjéar’s arrangements are the obvious strength of these songs. “Joy to the World” has subtle variations on the melodies you’d expect, and yet it sounds fresh to my bitter ears. “Silent Night” is extremely simple – pretty much a solo piano effort for the first minute. Then, more colors enter, and it opens up. Neither track reinvents these classic songs, but Bjéar’s choices have a sensibility that indie rock fans such as myself will certainly appreciate.

Bottom Line: I find myself in uneasy, instrumental and religious Christmas song waters, but Bjéar helps me swim.

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Diane Coffee “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” (2015)

Diane Coffee - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Western Vinyl
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

Take a song that feels rather formulaic, one where 1 + 1 obviously equals two… and to throw a wrench (and maybe a tab of acid) in the works. Diane Coffee‘s rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is just this… it nudges the classic formula gently off the cliff and all of a sudden you are in the middle of this amazing fuzzed-out guitar, and you’ve forgotten how to count. For those unfamiliar with Diane Coffee, he has released two fascinating art-pop records on Western Vinyl (most notably the original home of Dirty Projectors), as well as being the initial drummer for friends (and sonic brothers) Foxygen. This one-off track was released in 2015, and is still available for free on Soundcloud, which is extremely generous. This track is good enough to be released on its own… perhaps Diane Coffee should record another xmas tune this year and release a 7″? I’d buy it, no doubt. For now, we’ll have to settle for a non-holiday 7″, as his new release Peel will be out on Polyvinyl on October 20th.

Bottom Line: It’s beginning to look a lot like art-pop Christmas, Diane Coffee, and I’m totally cool with it. Let’s get freaky.

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Bitter’s Kiss and Blue Stone “These Bells Will Ring” (2015/2016)

Bitter's Kiss & Blue Stone - These Bells Will Ring

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC)Amazon MP3 | Amazon.UK MP3 | Amazon.DE MP3 | Amazon.FR MP3 | iTunes

Weehawken NJ’s Chole Grace, formerly known as Bitter’s Kiss and now professionally known as Baker Grace (and apparently signed to Republic Records), collaborated with electro-pop group Blue Stone with “These Bells Will Ring.” It’s a call for peace in the holiday season; You can’t get much simpler than that. It is short, poignant and beautiful. I have a version from 2015 that is 30 seconds shorter and with MUCH less production value than the slightly celtic version that adorns this video… and I prefer the stripped-down version a bit more. Still dig the new one, just not as much.

Bottom Line: Short, thoughtful and beautiful. Make the original version available again and I’ll be a happy, happy blogger. It’s back!

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HEY! Look! The original version!

The Grapes & Friends “Christmas Crush,” “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” and “I Wish it Would Snow in Austin” (2016/2015/2012)

Grapes and Friends - Christmas Crush

Self Released
Buy: Amazon MP3 | Amazon.UK MP3 | Amazon.DE MP3 | Amazon.FR MP3iTunes

Here is something I had been meaning to write about since well before Christmas… but you know what? There is only so much time in the day, and you know… family, work, and all that other shit.  That, and Christmas A Go Go already covered it! Not that I don’t write about things that other folks do – I just feel less urgency about actually doing it. I think I just had a breakthrough! Thanks for listening guys and girls. I’ll see you all next week.

Oh yeah – review.

Grapes and Friends are an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of Dangeresque, The Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are like the Austin version of our friends the Sunturns, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. They combine to throw a Christmas party (have for eight years now) and it sounds like a fucking blast; I would love to go. This year they released the fantastic “Christmas Crush” as a teaser to get you to come to their holiday shindig, and what jam! I don’t know if I quite agree with C-a-Go-Go (Hall & Oates meets Ween), I find it to be equal parts Young Americans-Bowie and Midnight Vultures-Beck as the recipe for this cheeky holiday romp. The music is groovy, the lyrics are clever, the whole thing just makes me want to (Christmas) party.

They also released “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)? in 2015,” which is still a ton of fun, just a bit goofier. Smooth and silly, it is something that wouldn’t be out of place in a fireside seduction scene on Flight of the Concords. “Can I Come Home with you for Christmas / Can I get stoned with you for Christmas? / make you feel alright pretty baby, maybe.” Some fun shit indeed.

BUT WAIT, there is one more! The final track is “I Wish it Would Snow in Austin,” released in 2012 and accented with beautiful horns and lots of love. It reminds me of Yoko-era Beulah, which is a band I fucking love. (What’s with all the profanity today?) I truly dig this one too – battling with “Christmas Crush” for my favorite by these Grapes folks. Can’t wait for this year’s!! (fingers crossed)

Bottom Line: The Grapes and Friends are a welcome indie-Christmas supergroup that would be amazing on a double bill with their Norwegian counterparts… just imagine that one… what a party! Love this band!

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The Wild Raspberries “Together On Christmas Day” (2016) and “A Christmas Song” (2015)

The Wild Raspberries

Self Released
Buy: Stream

First off… big, big shout out to The Christmas Chaos Radio Show for hipping me to this fantastic new Dutch band, The Wild Raspberries. How they snuck past the Christmas music radar that I have eternally pointed at northern Europe, I have no clue. Their 2016 track, “Together on Christmas Day,” isn’t even their first seasonal rodeo; They are now two years into this seasonal tradition! And yes, I’m going to say tradition in the hopes that they will continue putting out these gorgeous songs. To describe these songs is to close your eyes and imagine what an amazing Mojave 3 Christmas album might sound like. I consider this a huge compliment, because I own every single Mojave 3 record, and to remind me of them… specifically the best moments of them… is huge. On both these tracks, the Wild Raspberries’ ethereal vocals and the ringing guitar lines lead to some beautiful fingerpicked lyrical imagery:

From Together on Christmas Day: “Cause it’s a long way home and I miss you / It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed you / but all the roads lead to be with you / so it’s all ok / we’ll be together on Christmas day.”

From A Christmas Song: “On Christmas day / I fell asleep next to the fire / In my dreams you called my name / You never changed / you held my hand and I believed you / when you said ‘all is ok'”

Each song has its own moment that made me sit up and marvel. There is the moment in “A Christmas Song” when Keez’s vocals join Hannah’s (goosebumps), and then there’s that initial guitar line that joins the opening synth in “Together on Christmas Day” (beautiful) – each solidifying these songs as essentials in my seasonal repertoire. Perhaps you will find your own, different moments… because there are many more to choose from. The Wild Raspberries are worth your time, and hopefully in the future, your money. You can support them by listening on Spotify as we all await whatever they have in store.

Bottom Line: The Wild Raspberries have created some spectacular Dutch dream folk Christmas tunes that you really need to listen to.

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

Charles Cave "This Fucking Time of Year"

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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Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Christmas Tape

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 (2015)

Aviva Skye - Walipini

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

Hanemoon Christmas

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 “Work Christmas Party” (2015/2016)

Faye and the Scrooges

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.