Stephan & Johnny “Too Broke for Presents” (2016)

The Flowershop
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Santapalooza noted this release on twitter a week or so ago, noting that while it was from 2016, it was “new to us.” Indeed, it was new to us. I’m not sure it was on Bandcamp before, but I could easily be mistaken. What got me was the cover… It was terrible but fantastic. The band is composed of members of two Chicago punk bands, Stephan (Nervous Passenger) and Johnny (Rat Hammer). Their unholy alliance produced three songs – two covers and an original, “Too Broke for Presents.” The covers… let’s just pretend they don’t exist. They are fine, but they are songs that are so over-covered that need to be amazing to be even acknowledged. The original, “Too Broke for Presents,” is another story altogether. The sound is what you’d expect from these guys – it has attitude, humor and a chorus that demands crowd participation – shout out that shit! “Yeah, I’m to broke for presents and I’ve got nothing for you/ I’m too broke for presents and I hope that we’re still cool. / Cause I don’t have a job to buy you anything / but I hope we’re still cool / I totally think you rule.” Yesssss.

Bottom Line: Their energy is infectious, and in a pandemic year, let’s hope that this song is the only thing you catch.

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They Is They Is They Is ” Your Kind of White Christmas Sucks” (2016)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I really, really wish I had found this little gem, “Your Kind of White Christmas Sucks,” by They Is They Is They Is (gonna call them TITITI to make things easier) back in 2016. I love a Christmas song that has a message beyond the usual “Boy I can’t wait to come home for Christmas and/or I wish you were with me for Christmas” that so many Christmas songs sink into, and these lyrics are a perfect time capsule of the anxiety swirling through a world flying out of control:

“Grubby little opportunists are stirring a rage
They come bearing hate in the post-factual age
But Jesus was a dark-skinned, socialist Jew
Who died in the name of peace, love and truth
So if ever there’s a Christmas to think of the meek
It’s 2016 with the havoc we’ve wreaked.”

Just thinking about that time, immediately post-Brexit vote and post-Trump election… I recall driving to work in a detached haze, not knowing what the future was going to look like in a way that I had never experienced before. To be faced with that, and to still find hope, as TITITI does in the chorus, is both surprising and encouraging:

“I’ll be hopeful this Christmas
Won’t give into fear
I’ll be wishing this Christmas
For a kinder new year

We’ve got to cohere
I’m really sincere
Now pass me a beer”

This song highlights those seeds of resistance, those seeds of kindness that were planted back in 2016. I would like to believe these sentiments have been slowly growing over the past four years, and may have begun to block out some of those weeds. Not that everything is fixed, and it is unlikely to ever truly be perfect, but we still have kindness and hope. They haven’t taken that away.

Had I begun writing this review a week ago… I think it would have had a significantly different tone. Still… a great song, with a beautiful sentiment.

EDIT: A lovely reader of Christmas Underground actually recommended this to me – but not quite understanding the new “Business Suite” (like this is a business) app, I hadn’t seen it! Thank you Konstadina – you have my taste pegged. I only wish I had seen it back in October!

Bottom Line: They Is They Is They Is crafted a thoughtful (yet oddly funny), beautiful (but not in the traditional sense) song that signaled the beginning of the Christmas music resistance.

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Virgin of the Birds “Christmas in the Borough of Our Birth” (2019/2016)

Abandoned Love Records
Buy: Bandcamp

GTFO. This song F*ING RULES. San Francisco’s (or is it, as Facebook states, Seattle’s) Virgin of the Birds has written the BEST Destroyer-yet-not-Destroyer Christmas song I have ever heard, and I am including the Destroyer Christmas songs in this calculation. From the fascinating lyrics (Brutalist doesn’t mean what you think it does / Hosanna wasn’t over when you wished it was / Kiss me on the mouth, it’s Christmas Eve / I have stars in my eyes, I have winter seeds), to the see-saw vocal melodies and guitar solos, this song is a breath of fresh air. Their description of the song is succinct and wonderful as well:

“Christmas in the Borough of our Birth” is a song about hope, lust and regret set during the holidays with references to midnight mass and a second-hand sighting of American character actor M. Emmett Walsh. Plus a righteous dude choir made up of Bart CameronLevi Fuller & the LibraryCasey Ruff Music and Sam Russell & The Harborrats.”

This track is going to come out on Black Friday, but you can still jam to the stream until then. Of course… you can buy it anytime though!

EDIT: So… there was an earlier version of the song on the Home for the Holidays: A Christmas Songbook compilation, which came out in 2016. The earlier version feel closer to a demo version when compared with the 2019 version… I’m truly glad they revisited it.

Bottom Line: Thirty seconds in and I was grinning from ear-to-M*F*-ear. Why am I not saying the dirty words this morning? Fucking shit I’m slipping.

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The Stargazer Lilies “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (Free!)

Ethereal.

(The rest of this review is an aside. Up there… that is my one-word review. Pennsylvania’s The Stargazer Lilies have taken the dreamy Galaxie 500 cover and thrown on a glamour shot-shimmery sheen to this John & Yoko classic. This also provides all you mixmasters with a shoegaze version that comes in under 5 minutes! Perhaps you had forgotten that the wonderful Galaxie 500 version clocks in around 8 minutes…a bit long for me. Also of note, The Stargazer Lilies also have a new record coming out Nov. 1, Occabot, produced by Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow!)

Bottom Line: This song’s soothing glow eased my wordy proclivities… (sort of).

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wejzak – Merry Christmas! (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I know I have been strolling down the dark alleys of Christmas music of late, but I happened to stumble upon a brief ray of sunlight (despite the news’ best efforts). Will Ejzak released a short Christmas EP back on December 30, 2016, which through unfortunate timing, got lost in the shuffle. But then again… this release wasn’t really for us; Will wrote and recorded these songs as a Christmas gift for a very lucky Lauren. Three tracks of tender guitar, each accented sparsely with violin, provide a lovely bed for Will’s layered vocal harmonies. I can’t help to think that this is how Anohni’s Christmas demos might sound… which is high praise in my book. Bravo.

Bottom Line: These songs are simply adorned, yet perfectly dressed for the occasion.

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Lab Coast “Yule See” (2016/2017)

Lab Coast "Yule See"

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Originally released last year on Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada VII, Calgary’s Lab Coast have generously re-released this killer track on Bandcamp for our FLAC-downloading fun! This is one of the most interesting approaches to a Christmas song I’ve heard in the past few years. There are no cliches, no “baby, please come home,” rather, the narrator is wondering why they are still loved. Many of you have likely felt inadequate, when faced with someone who loves you more than you think you deserve. “How did I become the apple of your eye? / I don’t know now.” So he walks around, thinking, “Would you still love me as I am / It’s not 1993 / I’m so broke I might as well / wrap myself under your tree.” It’s a powerful song, wrapped up in 2:06 of RIYL Real Estate-indie rock. This is pretty much written for my sensibilities, and thus, here we are. Enjoy.

Bottom Line: This is short enough, interesting enough, and rocking enough to (spoiler alert) make my mix. Maybe yours too! Now with extra FLAC-goodness!

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The Just Joans – The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet (2010/2016)

WeePOP! Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Way back in 2010, the wonderful Scottish band The Just Joans released The Just Joans’ Seasonal Greet, a limited mini CDr Christmas EP, on the wonderfully-titled WeePOP! Records. And it looks like just about every holiday season, they would pop a track out here or there, released on Soundcloud or as a live recording on Youtube. However, it appears that in December 2016, the whole EP became readily-available again via their Bandcamp page! This is a wonderful turn of events, as there are some excellent tunes on here for those who like a melancholy, slow-tempo Christmas. “Card from a Multipack” is (for me) the strongest of the bunch, as the approach is interesting and the delivery feels genuine – there is some pain in this track. My second favorite would be the vaguely indie-folk rendition of the classic “Last Christmas,” where their Scottish brogue and gently strummed banjo give this stale song a fresh feel. Certainly worth your time and money.

Bottom Line: The Just Joans are due for another Christmas EP… just throwing it out there 🙂 But until they do, I’m happy to have “Seasonal Greet” to tide me over.

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Marble Gods “I Remember Xmas” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Scottish popsters Marble Gods somehow snuck a sweet little indiepop Christmas tune by me last year… and if I ever find out how, there will be hell to pay! They even have it tagged properly! “I Remember Xmas” is a lovely, jangly little indiepop song that is right up my alley. Upbeat guitars with a dash of melancholy in the lyrics… the perfect indiepop blend for your anorak Christmas. “Driving home I remember Christmas / when we were young. / We thought would last forever. / Oh how we were wrong / So it’s Christmas time, / and you’re everything I want. / But my only fear / is that you will break my heart.” Beautiful!

Bottom Line: Marble Gods’ “I Remember Xmas” is some finely chiseled, indiepop perfection.

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Prints Jackson “Reindeer Reindeer” (2016)

Prints Jackson - Reindeer Reindeer

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Prints Jackson‘s epic task, to write a song every month till he dies, may have ended (is he still alive??) in February, but before the streak ended (36-months in), he did produce three Christmas tunes for your enjoyment. Each has its own indie-rock charm, but my favorite is certainly last year’s “Reindeer Reindeer.” Why you ask? Well, I love how the song builds from the pulsing synth, bringing in indie rock colors of all sorts as it progresses. But what really drew me in are the lyrics. They are clever, funny, and at times political (“Sweet baby Jesus, / what with Brexit? / It’s hard to have faith / when the President’s a sexist. / Do we still pretend he’s a circus clown? / Let liberal kids knock him down and make yellow snow.”). So, check out this excellent original Christmas tune, as well as Prints Jackson’s back catalogue, because it is all pretty damn great.

(Author’s note: Those who have been reading this blog most certainly have a clue as to my political leanings, and if you have just come across it, and find yourself offended by this track… well, just don’t listen to this song, or go somewhere else? Free society is freedom of choice. I certainly wouldn’t be hanging out on a site that was saying any of the million “Trump Train” songs were any good. Also… because none of them are!)

Bottom Line: Prints Jackson may have ended his run of a song a month, but we are most certainly lucky that he was still writing in December 2016.

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MC Paquin “Noël Song” (2016)

MC Paquin "Noël Song" (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes

Montreal’s MC Paquin’s “Noël Song” is one of the more breezy Christmas tunes I’ve heard in a long time. Splitting time between solo work and being a member of the folk-pop band Jolie Jumper, MC Paquin’s finds the sweet spot between folk-pop and indiepop with “Noël Song.” The airy production, strolling beat, and lovely brass accents will leave you tapping your foot (unless you have no feet). Readers of this blog will know I normally gravitate toward the rougher edges of Christmas tunes, looking for those tracks that don’t quite buy into everything being perfect and snow-covered. However, lines like, “Drove all those miles just to leave them with a smile,” capture a particular sentiment that I just haven’t heard before… and I loved it.

Bottom Line: I’ve always known that Montreal is a hotbed for fantastic music, and MC Paquin has not let her city down. (However, her city let me down this summer when my car was stolen on the FIRST NIGHT OF VACATION. Booooo Montreal, BOOOOOO!)

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