Milton and Jones – This Life (This Christmas) / Love Actually (2018)

Milton and Jones - This Life

Too Many Fireworks
Buy: Bandcamp | A Very Cherry Christmas Vol. 13 CD

If you have been following my blog, placing pins on the map every time I go international, grab yourself a pin and find Poland… because we’re heading off to Warsaw! Indiepop producer and songwriter Neil Milton (The Frozen North) has teamed up with Seattle-born singer and screenwriter Jules Jones (Ephrata) to create this new 2-track single, which is also their first recordings together as Milton and Jones! “This Life (This Christmas)” is a 60’s-wall-of-sound-inspired celebration of the end of a relationship. “We’ll never meet again / not gonna be friends / this is a happy end / This life’s gonna start, / this Christmas.” This fantastic premise was driven by Jules’ research into holiday music for her film’s soundtrack, and how she couldn’t find anything that quite fit:

“Researching holiday music for our film’s soundtrack, I couldn’t find any empowering break-up songs. Everything out there was either, ‘I want you back for Christmas’ or ‘I’m so happy we’re together under the Christmas tree.’ If I ever took the opportunity to write a Christmas song, I knew I would write something for those better off leaving their crappy exes behind them. A few months later, Neil mentioned the single and I was ecstatic – here was the chance!”

“This Life (This Christmas)” is a brilliant celebration of failure, and truly a success in my book. The b-side is equally successful, and even has its own cinematic connection. As you might have gleaned from the title, this beautiful little ditty about a happy couple, snuggling together watching movies… ends with them on Christmas day watching the modern classic Love Actually. “It’s Christmas day, don’t go away. / We’ll spend the day in bed. / “A movie’s on TV tonight- / Love Actually,” you said.” This pitch-perfect indiepop sweetness has everything you might want – soft vocals, simple production, dreamy imagery and pop culture references. Fun fact that will also knock your Christmas socks off: “Love Actually” went from nothing to a fully-produced song in 37 minutes! This song is truly a Christmas miracle!

Now… I’m going to cover this more in-depth later, but I do need to mention that you can also pick up the fantastic A-side on the brand-new A Very Cherry Christmas Vol. 13

Bottom Line: Polish Indiepop perfection!

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Edit: Working on the embed. Sorry if you can’t see it 😛

 

The Catenary Wires “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)” (2018)

WIAIWYA
Buy: Bandcamp

Those in the indiepop know are already well aware of this upcoming record being released by Where It’s At Is Where You Are (WIAIWYA). Stars was teased in a e-mail back in September (when it was supposed to be a 10″ – it’s a 12″ now because the songs were too long!), and I pretty much flipped out. WIAIWYA’s last seasonal comp, Christmastime, Approximately, was a fantastic release, thus this one has a fine pedigree to build upon. The lead single, the Catenary Wires‘ “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)” is a stellar piece of indiepop that grows on you with every listen. It has that classic indiepop signature of terribly sad lyrics with beautiful music, which I obviously adore. The two narrators sing through a fog of melancholy as they guide us though their relationship, bookended by Christmas at each end. The Catenary Wires are Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, partners in music and life, as well as veterans of many notable indiepop bands such as Tender Trap, Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, and Marine Research. They seem to specialize in songs of fraught relationships, while maintaining a happy life in Kent. One would have to think that this is a form a therapy – kind of an exorcising the demons with an indiepop twist. I tell ya, those demons sound real pretty… This is only one song of an entire record (minus the tracks of bells – very nice tracks, but bells) of fantastic indiepop Christmas tunes found on this upcoming release, Stars. I’ll have to review that soon too… (Of note, those who create Christmas mixes, and take it seriously, will love Whoa Melodic’s “Christmas Stars.” Trust me.)

Bottom Line: Melancholy indiepop? That is practically the name of this blog!

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Here it is! The world premiere of the video for the Catenary Wires’ “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)”

Lola Kirke “Cross You Off My List” (2018)

lola Kirke

Downtown Records
Buy: 7Digital | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Lola Kirke, best known as an actress in projects such as Mozart in the Jungle and Gone Girl, is also a talented musician in her own right. Having released her first LP, Heart Head West, earlier this year, she has quickly followed it up with two seasonal tracks which debuted today. The first, “Little Drummer Girl,” flips the gender within the traditional song… but any reader will know how I feel about that song – so we will move on. “Cross You Off My List” is her first original Christmas song, and what a start! Originally written following the 2016 election, she tells PAPER Magazine, “It was a much more somber sounding song that set out to question how to celebrate Christmas in such a fraught environment. While we’re still conflicted about how to invoke the “spirit of Christmas” in today’s political climate, we decided to revise the song—set it to a more a upbeat chord progression and dash it with a bit more hope.”

There are some just killer lyrics too:

“There must be another day / to spend this holy holiday. / Maybe I should run away / or find a better way to stay.

All I want for Christmas / is to dance. / Forget romance, / I’ve made new plans / Maybe cause it’s Christmas, / I should take a stand, / and give my hand / to a better land.

All I want for Christmas / is to be less complicit / and love all those who need it. / You can take your kisses / and cross them off of my list.”

The song was co-written and beautifully produced by her partner Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, and together they have made one of the strongest songs of the season. I can’t wait to find out where you can pick it up – because right now, I got nothing!

Bottom Line: Great production with absolutely killer lyrics, this song deserves your ears.

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Spiral Perm “Santa at NASA” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

As many of my friends will attest, Australia’s indie rock scene is exploding right now. So much so that I have been finding myself almost exclusively going down(under) Facebook /Bandcamp rabbit-holes that are almost exclusively Australian… and thus… here we are. Spiral Perm are a three-piece, all-kick-ass indie rock band from Melbourne featuring Ali E (Damn Terran, Heavy Beach, Little Athletics, Mod Vigil, Ali E Band), Kate Koomen (Deep Scene, Bunny Monroe), and Rita Khayat. Their latest single has a track that jumped out at me – “Santa at NASA.” How exactly this track got its title is beyond me, as Santa is never mentioned… BUT I SAY IT COUNTS! I’m just going to assume that they are imagining that Santa is the one hanging out with them among the equations… so, I’m going to bend the rules to get something Australian and cool onto my blog.

EDIT: Confirmed! It is Santa! Spiral Perm posted on their Facebook about how the song came about: “Anywho, the title of this track came from a discussion about palindromes and thus A Santa at NASA was born.” Thanks Spiral Perm!!

Bottom Line: Science + attitude + Santa = Yeah – I’m going to feature this on my blog.

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Sufjan Stevens “Lonely Man of Winter” (2007/2018)

Asthmatic Kitty
Buy: Bandcamp | Vinyl 7″ (Limited to 1000) (Looks to be sold out at the label – in retailers Nov. 9)

WHAT?!?! HERE IT IS!

From Asthmatic Kitty:

In 2007, Sufjan Stevens wrote and recorded “Lonely Man of Winter” and, as part of a holiday marketing contest to promote Stevens’ Songs for Christmas boxset, traded ownership of the song to the winner, Alec Duffy. In turn Duffy gifted his song, “Every Day is Christmas,” to Stevens.

But instead of widely releasing “Lonely Man of Winter,” Duffy held listening sessions in his home and around the world, sometimes pairing the private listenings with cookies and hot chocolate.

In an end to that years-long project, Duffy – now founder/Artistic Director of the non-profit Brooklyn performance venue JACK – has decided to release the song “Lonely Man of Winter” on Asthmatic Kitty Records, digitally and on limited edition 7 inch, with funds going to support JACK’s mission of fueling experiments in art and activism.

So. I have heard it now. And yes, it is a Sufjan Stevens Christmas song, so it will obviously be much, much better than 97% of other Christmas songs. I particularly like the new mix – the electronic percussive touches especially. Had I only heard the first, original version, I might have come out and said that this could be a “filler track” on one of his Christmas EPs; It just didn’t hit me. This is the blessing and the curse of Sufjan, as he has raised expectations of his work by creating a vast, incredible back catalog with such amazing songs like “Christmas in the Room” and “Sister Winter.” Criticism in comparison to his previous work is frankly unfair; I certainly compare most songs against their Christmas music genre, rather than the artist’s past work. Don’t get me wrong, despite my waffling, I’m still damn pleased, and I am so happy to hear that mystery track from long ago. You know what would be an incredible finish to Sufjan’s holiday season though? How about a cover of Alec Duffy’s track, “Everyday is Christmas.” I kinda feel like Sufjan could knock that out of the park…

Bottom Line: Sufjan’s 2018 recording of this mysterious track from 2007 is indeed a worthy improvement.

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Traveller “Christmas Eve at Kroger” (2018)

Traveller - Western Movies

Refuge Foundation for the Arts
Buy: Vinyl & CD | iTunes | Google Play MP3 | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Traveller, the Americana supergroup comprised of Robert Ellis, Cory Chisel and Jonny Fritz, may have taken three years to follow up the release of their first track, “Western Movies,” but I would contend… this is most certainly worth the wait. Robert Ellis has released four solo records, including his latest self-titled album, Robert Ellis, in 2016. Cory Chisel has toured for years with Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, releasing seven records since 2004. Jonny Fritz (AKA Jonny Corndawg) first came to my attention with a gift from a friend, a glow-in-the-dark LP copy of the endlessly entertaining Dad Country. So when you put all three of these already-accomplished alt.country/country/Americana artists together for a proper full-length (also called Western Movies), you are likely going to get something pretty special. And to my surprise, there is the added bonus of an absolutely stellar Christmas song on there – “Christmas Eve at Kroger.” I’ve been listening to this track for a few months now, and the first time my wife heard it – she began to tear up. I certainly wasn’t surprised; This song has a bunch of these little, deceptively-powerful moments. The lyrics are so simple and real, that they feel as though they could have come right out of your own mind. I was hooked upon hearing them name-check Cracklin’ Oat Bran and “watching Die Hard with my mom.” While I would not have watched Die Hard, I most certainly ate that cereal and snuggled with my mom as a kid on many, many occasions. Cracklin’ Oat Bran was that little indulgence that my mom would give herself back when my family was young, and I remember those days like it was yesterday. I may be a bit of a humbug at times, and I know I find interest in the bitterness of the holiday, but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t also secretly (and sometimes openly) love Christmas – and you can tell these guys do too.

Bottom Line: The heart found in the lyrics compliment the warmth of the recording, as all three singer-songwriters trade off verses in this beautifully delicious song.

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UPCOMING: Say Sue Me – Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie (2018)

Say Sue Me - Christmas, It's Not a Biggie

Damnably
Buy: Vinyl + Digital at Bandcamp

I am terribly torn as to when I should write about this record, and have been putting it off for well over a week now. I have been wrestling with buying a copy, but just cannot bring myself to pay for the shipping. I’m feeling quite poor at the moment, and just can’t do it. I wish I knew of a place in the US that might be carrying this! I will sure update my post if I find one, that is for sure. All I am left with is hope; Hope that I might get a copy for Christmas – and that Santa grabs one before it inevitably sells out – BECAUSE IT WILL. Simply said… if Say Sue Me’s back catalogue is any indication of how good Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie might be – it is going to be stellar. EDIT: I ordered a copy! Bless you Jim!

For the uninitiated, Say Sue Me are an indiepop band from South Korea, and have released a string of fantastic EPs and full-lengths starting in 2014 on a South Korean label, Vitamin Entertainment, and more recently on Damnably out of London. Their most recent (and absolutely excellent) LP, Where We Were Together, is already on its fourth pressing… this band has some heat… and this Christmas EP is limited to 500. IT WILL NOT LAST LONG. Our only glimpse into what the record will sound like is with the title track, “Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie,” having appeared back in 2015 on the South Korean comp, 허수아비들의 성탄절 Heosuabi Christmas. That is one of those releases that I’ve had as a draft post for way too long… so long I forgot I had it as a draft post! Entire comps can bog me down when I normally have just 30 min here and there to try to knock out a post, and I have the thoroughly-encyclopedic Stubby as a role model, which gets me thinking I need to provide much more thoughtful, and complete information on every band. (I am full of tangents today.) Back to the song: The indie/surf pop is jangly and refreshing – a sorbet between courses of sorts – yet the lyrics are melancholy and detached. I totally dig it… but the thing is… I suspect that it is not going to be the best track on the record. Again – just based on how great their last record was, I think this EP is going to be a total highlight of the season.

Bottom Line: BLARG! I want to hear this thing. Perhaps I will do a proper (well, as proper as I do) review when I do.

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Shame “Feliz Navidad” (2018)

Shame - Feliz Navidad

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

I did not wake up this morning hoping to hear autotune in a cover of this classic José Feliciano song, but dammit, I should have. London’s Shame have managed to inject this sometimes dusty old song with new spirit, bringing some of the background melodies into the fore and inexplicably incorporating autotune with excellent results. This is Dead Oceans’ second holiday release this season (and it is only OCTOBER!), following Khruangbin’s “Christmas Time is Here,” announced earlier this week. Simply said, keep it coming Dead Oceans!

Bottom Line: Shame shine up an old song to sound all sparkly and new.

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Steady Hands “Christmas at the ‘Vous” (2018)

Lame-O Records
Buy: Vinyl | Bandcamp

Perhaps Sean Huber is better known as the drummer to the punk/emo/indie rock (who really knows these days) band Modern Baseball, but as MB is on indefinite hiatus, we should all now consider him primarily the frontman and songwriter of the Philadelphia indie rock band Steady Hands. After a string of EPs and a compilation release of those EPs, Steady Hands’ have just released (Oct 19) their first true full-length LP, Truth in Comedy, which Christmas Underground is happy to find has a Christmas(ish) song as its closer. The grunge-influenced “Christmas at the ‘Vous” is one of those songs that happens at Christmas, but isn’t necessarily about the holiday – which is just the kind of stuff I like here. I’ll let Sean explain from the track-by-track that he did with Punk Rock Theory:

For a few years, when my older family members were still around and living near Philly, I used to spend Christmas day visiting them, then my family would drop me off at my apartment and I’d go out in the city. It was always quiet and relaxing and felt like you got away from reality for one night. I’ve spent a bunch of nights like this with one of my friends after getting off the road – and catching up at home. The verses are all about moments from touring, and at the chorus I’m back home, living a normal life. A bar in Philly was nice enough to charge us by the lot rather than per drink after a particularly indulgent night and we ended up saving some money that way.

I like the approach, I dig the music, and I think you might to.

Bottom Line: Super-solid indie rock from one of the country’s best incubators of fantastic rock bands, Philadelphia.

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UPCOMING: Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert – Ghost Stories for Christmas (2018)

Rock Action
Buy: Preorder | Preorder + Tickets to the release show if you live in/near Glasgow

Aidan Moffat (ex-Arab Strap) and RM Hubbert (ex-El Hombre Trajeado), both known for their prolific solo careers as well as their past bands, have hooked up of late, releasing the excellent Here Lies the Body back in May. Certainly Aidan is no stranger to Christmas songs, with Arab Strap releasing a few throughout their run, as well as having his own solo Christmas EP back in 2011. Thus, the two began with an idea for one Christmas song, meant to be a one-off seasonal treat. It soon developed into an EP, and eventually ballooned into a full album. The description sounds fascinating:

“These are the ghosts of love, haunting happy homes and fairy-lit bars; these are the ghosts of memory, of haunted mirrors, pagan festivities, and unforgettable friends. As with this year’s critically acclaimed debut album, Here Lies The Body, Moffat’s quiet, pensive storytelling finds a perfect partner in Hubbert’s intimately intricate, flamenco-flavoured guitar. Across eight new original compositions and two deftly executed covers, here they offer an alternative view on the Season To Be Jolly.”

This is certainly one to be checked out! Available for preorder now and will be released on Dec. 7, which is unfortunately a bit late for my mix. However, if you live in the Glasgow area, you can order from Monorail Music and grab a ticket to their special Christmas release party on Dec. 6!

Unfortunately, they have not released a true Christmas song to preview, only a cover of Yazoo’s “Only You,” which was a Christmas #1 in the UK. The original intended one-off, “A Ghost Story for Christmas,” is the forthcoming single and will likely be released in short order. BTW, I don’t consider Christmas #1’s to be appropriate holiday listening… their version here is very nice, but it should have been a digital extra or something 🙂

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