As The Magnetic Fields are one of the bigger indie bands out there, and thus I am not going to be giving much background as to who they are… look them up if you are unfamiliar, and bask in their classic 69 Love Songs. I’m genuinely jealous of those who have no clue who they are and have the opportunity to listen to them for the first time. There are a number of excellent Magnetic Fields’ holiday-esque songs… “Everything is One Big Christmas Tree” may be the one I see most on playlists. Somewhat overlooked is the absolutely lovely “Have You Seen It in the Snow?” off of 2017’s 50 Song Memoir. Let’s change that.
Bottom Line: Have you read Christmas Underground in the snow? Bet it is as pretty as New York, which I can attest is quite lovely with a dash (not a TON) of snow, and Stephin Merritt paints a beautiful picture here.
Did you know… that Christmas can also be someone’s birthday? True story. I know this guy, legend has it he was born then. I’m sure that science and well known pagan traditions will not prove that wrong. However, there is a little-known fact that other folks also have their birthday on the 25th… it’s true (hehe). Well, we finally have a song for them! NYC indiepop band (well, one guy who sings and plays everything!) The Color Bars‘ released this great indiepop/doo-wop, supremely-secular Christmas/birthday song back in 2017, and I don’t shy away from digging back a few years to bring out the good stuff. I was initially not too sure about going full doo-wop, but after a couple listens, me and the boys began performing it for dimes on the corner, and it just stuck. Those first few lyrics are pretty great:
I’m not one for Christmas wreaths, eggnog or Christian beliefs
But I still love Christmastime and there’s one primary reason
Merry Christmas it’s your birthday, baby it’s true
I’m not talking bout Jesus, I’m talking bout you
‘Cause Christmas is your birthday and it’s almost here
And I’m giving my heart to you for Christmas this year
Merry Christmas it’s your birthday
Written for a woman who bears the burden of a December 25th birthday, “Merry Christmas It’s Your Birthday” is a pretty fantastic birthday (or Christmas? or both? I’ve just gone cross-eyed) present indeed.
Bottom Line: This song is certainly an excellent new approach to celebrating on the 25th, for whichever reason you happen to do so.
I recently discovered that Seth Pettersen (who has been featured here before) is in yet another great indie rock/punk/garage band, this one known as Sweet Reaper. I’ve recently gone down the rabbit hole of all the affiliated bands of Sweet Reaper (Massenger, Franklin for Short, The Spires, VNLVX), and you know what, I liked them all. So it may be of no surprise that I’m also digging Sweet Reaper. The first proper record as a group, (if we don’t consider Seth’s solo record Sweet Reaper) is the nearly self-titled (hehe) Street Sweeper. Yes, wrap your heads around that one. On that record is this great, garage-punk holiday song, “Holidaze.” The vibe reminds me of the Moonhearts, and the lyrics are wonderfully standoffish.
NOBODYS HOME FOR THE HOLIDAZE
IF YOU’RE AROUND YOU MIGHT
FIND YOURSELF A BETTER WAY
TO GET YOUR MIND OFF
PACK YOUR BAGS FOR
ANOTHER STATE OF TIME
LYING IN MY BED
A BULLET IN MY HEAD
WHAT WAS THAT YOU SAID?
STAY AWAY AWAY AWAY FROM ME
I asked Seth about where this song came from, and to my delight, he responded! “The song is meant for people like myself who’s families don’t get together anymore and the magic of Christmas is gone. That time of year is always a bit melancholy for a lot of people so it’s based on that.” Dark, indeed, but come on, this IS Christmas Underground.
Now, while I could see the line “bullet in my head” as perhaps a little too much for some folks, especially considering the culture of violence we are living in… I remind you that this is figurative, not literal. It is still quite dark – it is meant to highlight the suicidal thoughts that loneliness at Christmas might bring, but not the act itself. Hopefully, that dulls the edges just enough to enjoy it.
Bottom Line: Should you need something to set a tone on your mix that suggests that this record is not going to be like the others they have heard, “Holidaze” may just fit the bill.
Austin’s Summer Salt have this mix-worthy, summery (just listen) Christmas jam just sitting there on their Bandcamp, waiting for you to name-your-own price and download it. Wonderful melody, great vocals with an original story. The song is about an abominable snowman, enjoying a beautiful Christmas. I listen to enough Christmas music to know that I haven’t heard of a song like this before. Below are the lyrics to the whole song, because they just tickled me.
There’s a big log cabin
High above the junction
Near a broken down roller coaster park
There’s a mountain breach
High above the creek
Where I’ll be hanging up some Christmas lights tonight
Now I know this is all I’ve ever wanted to call my home
But I don’t know if this is all that I need
Soon I’ll come again
Running amok under the moon
Soon I’ll need a friend
Living the life of an abominable snowman
There’s some roaring thunder
Miles among the tundra
There’s a pack of wolves singing songs beside a fire
There’s a faucet leak
To give the pipes some heat
There’s an avalanche I’ll be surfin’ tonight
Bottom Line: A great, summery-sounding tune about an abominable snowman Christmas. A sentence I never thought I would write in my entire life. Really, really enjoy this one.
Edit: Stubby beat me to this song by well over a year. Based on the 61K listens on Soundcloud, so did a lot of you. In my defense, it has been on my “to do” list since before last Christmas!
Chicago’s Bobby Lord and his Jagged Jaw project are a bit of a mystery to me. Bobby’s an audio engineer, musician, and composer for Gimlet Media. He’s worked with some great artists such as Brendan Benson, Jenny Lewis and Jack White. When you listen to his work, it all adds up – these Jagged Jaw records sound absolutely fantastic. What does NOT make sense are the scant-few reviews of his incredible 2017 record, Pink Xmas Tree. The entire record is fantastic – a funk/psych/indie rock blend that you will enjoy from the first second to the last; I would buy this thing on vinyl if given the opportunity. Yet somehow, with minimal press from both regular music blogs and none from our alternative Christmas music community, this title track has worked its way onto Tidal’s A Very Alternative Christmas playlist. Amongst a lineup of Beach Boys, Coldplay, T. Rex, and the usual alt-Christmas suspects, it makes you wonder “How the heck did they find this track?” Well, thank goodness they did – hopefully more listeners will discover this amazing record. “Pink Xmas Tree” is filled with funky beats, bouncing synth lines and beautiful, floating vocals. The groove and production are perfection and will leave you powerless to avoid it shimmying into your head to set up camp. This song, along with Jagged Jaw’s entire output, is worth your time and money.
Of note, while the title track appears to be the only explicitly Christmas-ish song on Pink Xmas Tree, though “Scrooge (Kleptomaniac)” could stretch as one too (the lyrics don’t quite back it up though).
Bottom Line: Stone-cold mixworthy track that nearly made it on my mix last year. That is not a judgment on quality, simply a result of timing, pacing, etc. Some perfect tunes need that perfect spot…
The fine folks over at Jean Luc Tobine’s Official Fan Club hipped me to this amazing track about a year ago… but I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. It is just such a massive song. The Slow Sliders are this wonderful french 4-piece who decided to jam on a fantastic Beach House-esque shoegaze Christmas song (“Merry Christmas”) for a whole hour, thirty-six minutes and fifty-five seconds. I would say that you could use this one song for your entire mix, but being that I am a Christmas mixer still attached to physical media and its constraints… that would be too long! The gentle rhythm combined with a mesmerizing organ melody, this song becomes a Christmas lullaby interrupted only by bursts of soaring, fluttering vocals. What I would give to hear a proper, 4-5 minute version…
Bottom Line: The pure audaciousness of this song. I somehow love it. I have caught myself listening to this one song for over 40 minutes before, and I still liked it. I’m a little baffled myself.
Is this what a 4-minute version might sound like? 🙂
Polish folk group Lor may have released their heartbreaking track “Christmas Morning: Busza’s in the Garage” back in 2017, but this humble blogger didn’t stumble across it until their first proper album, Lowlight, was dropped earlier this year. I’ve been piecing together a bit about the band, largely from translated Polish websites, and I must admit a wry smile crossed my face when I saw they had cited recent CU favorite Tom Rosenthal as an early inspiration. These four girls, Julia Skiba, Paulina Sumera, Jagoda Kudlińska and Julia Błachuta, are still teenagers, and when you press play below, you will be somewhat astounded. “Christmas Morning” is a delicate song, deeply sad, yet somehow comforting. Written about a man who spends Christmas alone, Lor draws you gently into this scene. Then there is the video, shot and directed by Mateusz Mleczko (you can see the full credits on the Youtube page), which adds even more to the drama of an already emotional song and compliments it beautifully. They teamed up with Anna Dymna’s Against the Odds Foundation (donate here), who “help intellectually disabled adults by giving them a place where they can be happy and have a substitude (sp?) of home,” and this connection feels wholly appropriate with this song. This is a heavy one, but very much worth your time.
Bottom Line: To be teenagers, already opening for the likes of Rhye, and displaying this level of talent, taste, and sophistication… incredible.
December can overwhelm a tired Christmas-music blogger. Often, the casualties of a lack of time and a wealth of music, are the large compilation and the full album. Singles are so much quicker to consume and write about. Seattle’s Zach Malm was a casualty of last year, as he put out a very interesting experimental, electronic pop record that I did not get to, and most certainly deserves our 2018 ears. There are some damn interesting songs on here, many of which are awash in a Novation Bass Station II synth. Zach’s cover of “Walking in the Air” has a fantastic buzzing bassline powered by that synth, as well as these great fluttering melodies interspersed throughout; It is truly beautiful. Zach’s wonderful original “Magical Night,” is much less electro, bringing in guitars while crafting a beautifully sweet song about a child’s anticipation of Christmas. It is simple, poignant and wholly mix-worthy. Zach’s other originals, “Christmastime is Always,” “The Darkest Time of the Year,” and “Half the Fruit” all reflect the album’s title in a way the sweet “Magical Night” did not. They are dark, but with these brilliant moments of light, such as this line in “Half the Fruit:”
If nothing else, we still have Christmas
If nothing else, we still have Jesus
And even though the meaning changes
If nothing else, we still have Christmas
Zach has created a true album – the “Kid Conversation” tracks are great on their own, but not really “songs” – but they work beautifully, stitching together this wonderful collection of largely original, both in content and approach, Christmas tunes. Zach has nailed it with this one, and you should check it out (as well as forgive me for not getting to this fantastic record last year).
Bottom Line: Zach Malm has created a wonderfully cohesive record – a true Christmas album – beautiful to listen to in its entirety.
So many Aussies, so little time. Pond is a fantastic psych rock band from Perth who are the spiritual brothers of Tame Impala, even sharing members at times. “All I Want for Xmas (Is a Tascam 388)” came off of Pond’s excellent LP The Weather, released way back in May of 2017. I know Jim, you’ve known about this for a while, why now? Well, I got nothing – time is a fickle beast, and who knows when our time (or a song’s time) will come. This is a psychedelic delight with wonderful layers of synths, chunky beats, and a deep yearning for that Tascam mixer. Clocking in at just about 2:30, it also doesn’t overwear its welcome; Brevity is essential for a Christmas song that really only has one point to make. Santa, go grab that guy a Tascam 388!
Bottom Line: Mixing it up a bit with some psychedelic Christmas tunes, which can be hard to come by. Pond are top tier psych, and this is a pretty fun song.
My friend Kurt over at Festive! wrote a great post about the search for “Christmas (Not Christmas)” songs the other day, and not only did I immediately see myself in those paragraphs, but it got me thinking much more about those gems of the past that skirt around the edges of Christmas. One of particular note is the spectacular “Snow” by Sweet Tempest. Those chilly, not-quite-Christmas tunes always find a way into my heart, and this standout by Richard Walters, “The First Snow in Years,” has done so as well. The synth brass lines create an interesting ground for the fingerpicked melody to float over. Richard’s voice is beautiful, as is the imagery: “Midnight / standing still / streetlight / paints my shadow onto the white ground / the whole world is white. / See how it covers everything. / See how it covers everything. / The first snow in years. / The first snow in years.” Gorgeous.
Bottom Line: I write this as the election results trickle in… and this song has calmed me. No small feat. Let’s all wake up to a better tomorrow.