The Happy Somethings “It’s Christmas Time (We’re as Miserable as Sin)” (Bah Humbug Version) (2018/2019)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

My favorite track off of last year’s A Very Cherry Christmas 13 (still available!) has been re-released with a new “Bah Humbug” version! The Happy Somethings‘ ode to being miserable on Christmas an odd delight. I absolutely love the groove in this song. Putting together your mix? Need a dance break with bleak lyrics? Let me sell you this song!

Bottom Line: Indiepop misery at its finest! And it is free!

LISTEN

Brittain Ashford & Matt Bauer “Tinsel and Snow” (2018)

Commodore Trotter / Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly
Buy: Bandcamp

I am not the kind of blogger who seeks out a great voice. So many of my favorite singers couldn’t sing (How I miss David Berman), but even I can still fall for a voice. Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly is a fantastic blog and music-compiler based in Seattle, and their most recent release is Ball of Wax 58: The Ball of Wax Winter Spectacular, featuring this truly beautiful song by Brittain Ashford & Matt Bauer. Honestly, I’m having a tough time describing Brittain’s voice in a better manner than Ball of Wax did:

The teller of this tale is Broadway star and thematic alchemist* Brittain Ashford. With a voice that balances diaphragmatic force with childlike vulnerability, Ashford paints the sort of holiday portrait that those of us who suffer from melancholy particularly this time of year can appreciate and empathize with, and what’s more—what we need most during the dark season—she infuses every line with a tattered but palpable hope.

This song was almost too pretty for me… but those distinctive qualities of Brittain’s vocal delivery were undeniable. The music is also quite lovely, but after learning of composer Matt Bauer‘s folk and banjo background, I am SO intrigued to hear a version with banjo. Damn that could be cool.

Edit: Turns out this song was initially released in 2018 on an EP, Tinsel and Snow & Other Mid-Winter Missives. Go check it out!

Bottom Line: Like Messi’s “Charlamagne,” this song is defined by a beautiful and distinctive voice.

LISTEN

Dariynn Silver “Rest Ye Merry” (2018)

Dariynn Silver "Rest Ye Merry"

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I don’t normally write about straight-up Christmas carols. This is generally a pretty secular Christmas music blog… and if you want Christmas carols, there are a million other places to listen to them. That said, every so often, a treatment just hits me. British Columbia’s Dariynn Silver released a version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” last year that deserves some notice. The vocal melodies are great – her pacing and the words she highlights are truly unique. However, it may be piano in the bridge that just got me. It was just beautiful, and frankly, I thought you might think so as well.

Bottom Line: Who would have thought it? A honest-to-goodness Christmas carol on Christmas Underground. I am full of surprises today.

LISTEN

Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews “We Won’t Be Lonely This Christmas” (2018)

Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews - We Won't Be Lonely This Christmas

Mano Walker Recordings
Buy: Apple Music | Google Play | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

There is no perfect release schedule when it comes to Christmas music. SO MUCH comes out in such a SMALL AMOUNT OF TIME, that no artist can be sure that their song will have the time to break through the flurry of competing songs. Last year’s fantastic track by Johnathan Rice and Courtney Marie Andrews is a prime example of this problem. Here we have two notable artists collaborating on a fantastic song, and I didn’t hear a peep about it until stumbling upon it a few months ago. The song tells the story of immigrants trying to make a better life, but instead, get caught up in Trump’s child jails. You know, the kind of track to put next to “Santa Baby” on your mix.

Johnathan gave some context to the writing of this song on his Facebook page last December. You would think that after a year passed, things would be looking better… but alas, this story could have been written yesterday:

This song is a story I wrote with Jason Boesel and Courtney Marie Andrews. It’s about a child and his mother trying to make it to the other side of the border. Reasons beyond their control intervene, and they don’t make it. This song is my way of calling attention to the current humanitarian crisis taking place at our border with Mexico. Like many of you, I was devastated by the images in the press of mothers being gassed, of little children in cages sleeping on foil blankets. Believe me – as bad as those images are – the worst is yet to come if we do not act immediately.

A few months ago I traveled down to the U.S.-Mexico border with a group of like-minded people to learn more about the situation, and hear about how to help. I started writing this song on the bus ride home. It was recorded in LA a few weeks ago.

Johnathan finished his post with a pitch to donate to Al Otro Lado, whose border rights program “hosts know-your-rights training and legal orientation workshops in migrant shelters in Tijuana, Mexico, and provides direct legal representation to detained asylum seekers in Southern California.” So, if you are so inclined, you can donate here.

Bottom Line: The story is moving and Johnathan and Courtney’s voices blend beautifully. Should you want to add a little bit of humanity to a normally sugary-sweet holiday mix, look no further than this song.

LISTEN

Shadowlark “Christmas Time” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

You might think my Christmas music hunt is scientific – that I have specific terms and techniques that I use. In some ways, you are right. There is most definitely a place for an educated search. However, there is also a place for just clicking and clicking and clicking, going down the rabbit hole to see where it might lead. This time, it somehow lead me to somewhere familiar, and I discovered Shadowlark. The voice behind this band is Ellen Smith, previously of the much more folky Ellen and the Escapades. I would often check back in and see what they were up to, as I loved Ellen and the Escapades (they have been featured on CU before!). Yet somehow, time passed and I had completely missed this new project, the synth-heavy Shadowlark. To my surprise, they even released a Christmas song last year, “Christmas Time.” I listened… and it sounded quite familiar. The song is a rework of one of the final released recordings of Ellen and the Escapades, expanded from its stripped-back original with some more production and additional lyrics. There are qualities to both versions that I really love, and I would leave it to you to decide which one you prefer. They even released a video with an acoustic version, which is also quite good. Three versions to parse, to compare, to enjoy.

Bottom Line: I could listen to Ellen Smith sing Christmas songs all day long. Her originals are exquisite, and her covers are gorgeous. Should anyone ever come across her version of “Silent Night,” please do share.

LISTEN

The Turtlenecks – The Turtlenecks Do Christmas (2018)

Sea Speak Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT THIS BAND! I mean come on! Searching, and searching, and searching. The label is nearly as mysterious as the band, but they at least have a Bandcamp! This little Christmas EP by the elusive The Turtlenecks is a damn pleasant trio of lo-fi indiepop holiday tunes. Catch me on the right day, and one of these simple, synthesizer-driven tunes might just sneak their way onto a mix of mine. From the chill repetition of “With Care,” to the pulsing “Snowblind,” or the boozy fun of “Christmas Bender,” pop on The Turtlenecks Do Christmas, chill out, and let these tunes soothe your DIY-jones.

Bottom Line: Three solid tracks by some band from somewhere, released on a label that might be from Louisville. Occam’s razor would suggest that it must, therefore, have been recorded by me, in my sleep, with no musical training. Enjoy!

I should have contacted them before writing this piece – but I’ll update it if they write me back 🙂

LISTEN

Stuck in the Sound “Marry Me On Christmas Day” (2018)

Stuck in the Sound - Marry Me On Christmas Day

Self Released
Buy: Stream

French indie rock band Stuck in the Sound did an odd little thing back in January 2018… they released a Christmas single! “Marry Me on Christmas Day” throws me back to my college days listening to Travis’ The Invisible Band, as the vocals are quite pretty, and the lyrics equally sentimental. Nearly too sugary-sweet for my older, crustier ears, this understated song benefited from multiple listens, listens that reminded me of the pleasure a sweet song could bring.

Bottom Line: Hey, there is plenty of shit going on right now. Here is 3:30 of kindness to smooth out your wrinkles. Unfortunately, this track only exists on YouTube… but you know… there are ways to get it onto your mix, should you need to.

LISTEN

Rubber Band Gun & Katy Rea – Quick Themes from a Christmas iPhone (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Kevin Basko (Rubber Band Gun) is back, and this time he is bringing Katy Rea along for the ride! First off, I cannot believe that these two songs were recorded on an iPhone 6. These sound way better than most of the junk I listen to on Bandcamp. Kevin recorded one of the more out-there and enjoyable Christmas records of 2017 with Festive as Hell, and while those interesting edges remain exposed, these two tracks with Katy Rea are much more slimmed-down and straightforward. The first track “I’ll Be Good” is a love song to Santa, an entreaty to Santa for an extramarital fling in New York. I honestly don’t know if I’ve heard a song quite like it. I certainly believe I’ve heard love songs to Santa, but rarely (if ever) do they acknowledge Mrs. Claus, let alone suggest she is annoying. Hehe. The second song, “Willow St,” is a beautiful song, a tableau of a simple, warm and loving Christmas shared together in a house on Willow Street. The fact that they sing this song together, two voices blending perfectly, makes the song that much more vivid. This song is about sharing Christmas with a loved one, and having both there voices there sharing the song, underlines the sentiment. A beautiful song wonderfully executed.

Bottom Line: These two songs, recorded on iPhones, have justified the technology that has addicted us all.

LISTEN

Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions “It’s Christmas All Around” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I must start with a quick confession. Stafford’s Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions immediately garnered a bit of goodwill with me… simply because I fucking loved their name. To my relief, their two-track Christmas single is enjoyable, especially the lead track, “It’s Christmas All Around.” The song has a Waterboys’ feel, even more so as the horn line comes in. The lyrics are clever with a healthy dash of dread: “There’s no snow / there’s no hope / and I’m trying to avoid it / but it’s Christmas all around.” There are some other great lines as well, but let that be a teaser for you to take a sip of your own. Cheers!

Bottom Line: You all know I like to celebrate the dark edges of Christmas, and this song is most certainly chilling in that gray.

LISTEN

A Mild Peril “I Hear the First Strains (of Christmas Music)” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Glasgow’s A Mild Peril, like the previously-featured Bossy Love, have alumni from the excellent (and missed) Dananananaykroyd. While that first band didn’t record any Christmas tunes, the very first song by A Mild Peril is a wonderfully meta-Christmas song. On occasion, I have been called a grinch. Sure, I am barely green, and only slightly fuzzy. And while my heart remains its normal size, “I Hear the First Strains (of Christmas Music)” may just make this grinch-ish heart swell. I mean… this is a fantastic indiepop song is about how much they love Christmas music. I must love Christmas music… I spend enough time thinking, listening and writing about it. Wait for a second… I think I love Christmas music. You did it, A Mild Peril. Now, off to urgent care.

Bottom Line: Scottish indiepop celebrating a love of Christmas music? Perhaps if A Mild Peril were Swedish, that would be the only way to be even more on-brand for Christmas Underground. Now, go download it and get in the mood for Christmas. It’s only going to be about 85 degrees today – perfect Christmas music weather IMHO.

LISTEN