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.

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

Thumper "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"

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” (2015)

Gloss - Gifts Received

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” (2015)

Sol Cat & Kansas Bible Company - Father Christmas

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 “Winter” (2014/2015)

aquatic-slime

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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MONEY “A Cocaine Christmas And An Alcoholic’s New Year” (2015)

Bella Union
Buy: BandcampSoundcloud (Live version is free!) | Band Site

So sometimes, while searching for Christmas songs, I stumble upon a band that transcends the holiday season, and enters into my everyday listening. I can think of many examples of this in fact, it’s a significant bonus to this particular obsession. So, while on a night of keyword searching on blogs I dig, I came across Manchester’s MONEY. They are raw emotion and the soaring music, channeled through Tom Waits (not necessarily literal voice, but the voice), all the while not feeling contrived and wholly genuine. I’m somewhat obsessed at the moment.

Their new album, Suicide Songs, comes out January 29th… and they have released some preview tracks. First came the spectacular “The Night,” which I cannot recommend enough. The most recent track is a live version of a deeper album cut, which I’ve been been particularly eyeing (and tweeting at the band about!), “A Cocaine Christmas And An Alcoholic’s New Year.” This is the track that really had me thinking Tom Waits – you can imagine Tom growling through this song beautifully.

and i’ve wasted all my time
on cocaine at christmas
and bottles of wine
and i’m as happy as a child
because you don’t have to ask me why

Darkness can sometimes bring you down, somehow MONEY’s travels in the darker corners of life can give you shivers – the good kind. I hope at least one or two of you agree… and preorder their new album. I do hope they have signed copies left after Christmas, when I might have some money!

Bottom Line: MONEY have channeled the very best of Tom Waits to create a new drunk, Christmas classic. They could not be kinder by releasing this beautiful live version for free on Soundcloud – even a WAV file!

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a Drift “Merry Xmas (War Isn’t Over) (2015)

a Drift - Merry Christmas

Jean Luc Tobine’s Offical Fan Club
Buy: Bandcamp

French indiepop band a Drift have just released what one might call a “response song” to John Lennon’s classic, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” While the original has a hopeful choir of children, this wonderfully acerbic new Christmas song resigns itself to reality, while wishing you to embrace your loved ones at Christmas, cause they’re all gonna die. This is a commentary on our current state, biting sarcasm dressed up in a beautiful indiepop robe.

War is not over but we’re not gonna fight,
so merry, merry Christmas.
Corporations won’t save us from the climate disaster,
so merry, merry Christmas.
Share your love with your friends,
cause sooner or later they’re all gonna die.
La lala la la lala la,
so merry, merry Christmas.

I think this song goes along quite well with the beautiful and poignant Sondre Lerche song from earlier in the season – for those who wish to add a bit of politics to their mix, as I often enjoy to do.

Bottom Line: Beneath the handclaps, a Drift highlights the reality, and one might argue, the futility of our current world situation. Love it.

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