A Very Cherry Christmas 14 (2019)

Cherryade Records
Buy: Bandcamp

So, do you fancy yourself a collector of underground Christmas records? If you are like me, and began this extremely hip search back when Yahoo still ruled the internet and Facebook was but a baby website only opened to ivy leaguers… well then you’ve been a fan of this CD-only (physical media!) collection of the scrappiest, kookiest, raunchiest, and indiepoppiest Christmas songs available. The latest edition of A Very Cherry Christmas has great tracks by some folks I’ve previously showered with adoration (Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions, A Mild Peril), as well as some great songs from bands I’m just getting accustomed with (Jacqui and Geoff, Ballard). There is something for everyone – from the hilarious “What If Santa Claus Is Just 20 Ferrets In A Red Suit” to an exuberant satirization of consumerism with “Consume! Consume! Consume!” So take out your credit card (or your Paypal password), and celebrate the patron saint of buying shit… and fucking buy it! (Grab the few copies of older releases that are still available too!)

Bottom Line: A tradition for all the misfits, one to be celebrated and feared! ONLY 200 COPIES! You are warned.

 

 

L’Resorts – Trying to Christmas (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Let’s talk about records. I mean, an album as a full album. Some indie Christmas folks have done this well, creating an album of largely originals that you can listen to and critique as a whole – Chris Farren initially comes to mind. Milwaukee’s L’Resorts have created a lo-fi, tropical indiepop Christmas tour-de-force. Last year’s 4-song Christmas EP has expanded into an incredible collection of fascinating, cohesive Christmas tunes. Depending on your mood, you might find yourself humming the tropicala-infused “Shutdown Mode,” or the contemplative and confrontational “Christmas is a Time for Dreaming,” there is a song on here for everyone. Some of the lyrics are downright incredible too – such as my favorite line from “Christmas is a Time for Dreaming”, “Christmas is a time for screaming / into the pillow that nothing has meaning.” HA! This band has earned a spacious place in my heart. As a whole, one of the strongest Christmas albums of the season, without a doubt.

All proceeds from the sale of this album during the month of December will benefit The Black String Triage Ensemble, a group of classical musicians who play music at Milwaukee crime scenes after the law enforcement teams have left. So, buy early and often, because you are not only showing the band your appreciation, but also supporting a cause they feel close to.

Bottom Line: This may be the shortest review of a full record, only mentioning two songs and two lines of lyrics. Why? Because you don’t need to waste any more time not listening to this!

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Flyte “Won’t Be Home for Christmas” (2019)

Island Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play

I’ve been a fan of Flyte for a few years now, and have been following their tour of the US on Twitter – watching them go lots of places that aren’t near me, choosing city-specific covers to play in every town. I’ve gotten over the snub, I mean, not everyone can come to Charlottesville, VA (my closest city) I suppose. It was this Twitter monitoring that did tip me off to their latest Christmas song though, so we are cool now, Flyte. “Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is full of soaring vocals and harmonies that have me thinking a good bit about the Beach Boys, but not happy Beach Boys… DARK Beach Boys. This is Flyte’s “miserable fucking Christmas song,” but as sad as the lyrics truly are, the production dresses it up in shimmering clothes. I kind of liken the approach to what I normally love about Swedish indiepop – beautifully happy music with terribly sad lyrics. Thus, here were are, with a wonderfully sad song by Flyte on Christmas Underground. I’m pretty predictable I suppose.

FYI: Their other Christmas songs can be found through their Facebook page – a number of live videos – as well as on the It’s Coming on Christmas compilation put out by Daisy Digital a few years ago… which looks to have disappeared! Well, I sure learned my lesson… I hadn’t yet bought part 2 of that compilation…

Bottom Line: Gorgeous Beach Boys-inspired sadness, perfect for a holiday nightcap.

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Sean Keller “Holy Fucking Shit It’s Christmas!” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Well fucking shit. This fucking Christmas song is a great time. I’ve decided that today is devoted to songs that you can’t play around your fucking kids. Sean Keller was kind enough to tweet his song at me overnight, and I’m fucking glad he did. Sean keeps a day job writing for television shows and writing/composing musicals like SLASHED! The Musical. Recently, his free time has involved getting together with friends to shout along to profane Christmas tunes; This man is living his best life. The song is a boozy romp that would nicely serve as the climax to your office-party playlist, provided everyone is drunk enough. Let’s shout-along together: “Holy fucking shit it’s Christmas / God I’m so glad it’s here again I’m sorry I was such a Scrooge / Holy fucking shit it’s Christmas / Everything is so holly jolly just so long as I have you.” I feel like I’ve joined the drunken choir. I’ll have another round, Sean!

Bottom Line: The song is fucking fun as hell.

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Spaceface “Xmas Party (Nice & Naughty)” (2019)

People in a Position to Know (PIAPTK) Recordings
Buy: PIAPTK (vinyl)

Memphis psych-rock taco afficianados Spaceface are quickly building a reputation for their badass Christmas songs. 2018 saw Spaceface release two holiday tracks, their woozy psych rendition of “Christmas Time is Here,” as well as their collaboration with LABRYS (Penny of Broncho), “Single Star,” which was a highlight from Fowler VW presents A Blackwatch Christmas Vol. VIII: The Sounds of the Season. This year (so far), they are releasing a lathe-cut, limited to 68 copies, naughty psych-rock jam called “Xmas Party (Nice & Naughty).” This song is an orgy for the ears, with a groove that recalls the kind of party music that Grapes and Friends throw down, combined with the naughty voiceover styles of Ryan Lindsey (of Broncho). Sandwich this song within a playlist, and who knows what is gonna happen. There does not appear to be a digital download of this… yet.

Bottom Line: This groove should sustain you all for a good while!

The Good Tidings “Christmas for Cowboys” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

The Good Tidings are the musical accompaniment to the Brooklyn-based Christmas movie series, The Christmas Club. While I believe the movies have continued since 2005, the band has remained quiet since 2013. That final round of releases included the excellent John Cale cover, “A Child’s Christmas in Whales,” which I wrote about back in the day. To my surprise, two new tracks popped up today, one of which I found just delightful. I rarely feature covers of John Denver’s classic “Christmas for Cowboys” tune on here, as nearly all the covers sound the same. The Good Tidings have thrown out the old formula and plugged in the synths. The production is beautiful and oddly soothing, with some standout brass synth solos to boot. The Good Tidings are back, and they brought their best stuff with them.

Bottom Line: A cowboy Christmas, basking in the light of a synthetic moon – a contrast that Christmas Underground can cosign.

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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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Wood Hitch “Auld Lang Syne (Don’t Waste My Time)” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

As we gear up for the Christmas season, I thought… what would be better than a New Year’s song? Hehe. My Christmas mix is a much more of a seasonal mix – I work in December, snow, New Year’s… I cast a wide net. A folk-pop duo from Los Angeles, Wood Hitch have blessed us with the first solid New Year’s song of the season, “Auld Lang Syne (Don’t Waste My Time).” The song is full of booze and regret, as every good NYE should be. They harmonize well together, with the rough edges of Brady Harris’ voice supporting the beautiful pipes of Rose Shawhan. I mean, try not to sit up straight that first moment that Rose’s vocals enter the song; she really has something. And with that, press play and drink up!

Bottom Line: Wood Hitch are serving the first, great pregame cocktail to our New Year’s party.

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Magne Furuholmen – White Xmas Lies (2019)

Drabant Music
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Drabant Music (CD/Vinyl) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.uk MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.de MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.fr MP3/CD/Vinyl

This record caught me completely off guard. The keyboardist and co-writer for most of the iconic hits from Norway’s pop-powerhouse a-ha, Magne Furuholmen has created one of the most interesting Christmas records I have heard in years. He walks this fine line between the avant-garde and accessible and manages to pull it off incredibly well. An album packed with largely all originals, Magne did not intend to create a normal holiday album; he wanted to make an album that was “an antidote to the ‘schmaltzy Christmas-music which is spewed out every year… a seemingly never-ending stream of cheesy versions of existing Christmas song.'” It was as if Magne was creating a Christmas music for me.

This album can be heartbreakingly beautiful. There are moments, such as in the leadoff track “There Goes Another Year,” where you can find these simple, evocative phrases that just hit you. “In the darkness of December / as the fire turned from spark to ember (<-Wow, what a line) / these are things I will remember / now xmas time is here / there goes another year.” And yet again, later in the song: “What we say but do not mean / every word and in-between / for every manhole in this town / there is someone falling down (<-Damn, loved that line!).” As you can see, Magne is going deep here, not necessarily celebrating the holiday in a fashion one might expect, as he talks about the album as being for those who might not have someone to keep them warm at Christmas.

I wanted to try and make an album which would be meaningful also to those who fall outside our commercial Christmas frenzy – an album which looks at the more melancholic, darker sides to Christmas: broken family ties, things we sweep under the rug, resentment hidden behind fake, jocular smiles – an album for holiday contemplation, not just sentimental decor.’

Magne does not rely on a spectacular voice (I have never been partial to amazing singers, but rather, amazing songwriters), he lets the synths and his lyrics do the heavy lifting. However, every so often his vocal melody just gets me. Like in the hungover “A Punch-up on Boxing Day,” Magne’s voice rises just after that first stanza, “you’re just wasting your time / yyeeaaahhhh,” and it brings this emotion to the song that I wasn’t anticipating. There are other moments where the music makes you sit up and go “shit, that is fantastic,” such as in the final verse of “Caprice Des Dieux,” which is one of the more slow and contemplative tracks on the record, as it explodes with musical color.

There are a few outliers on here as well, songs that does not appear to be connected to Christmas at all. The best example of would be “This is Now America,” a harsh portrait of America from an observer’s perspective – school shootings, border walls, drones and bad loans. “This is now America / oh how little have we learned / This is now America, is there no way to return?” So… not a Christmas song, and damn, quite disheartening to hear how we appear to others.

There are two covers on the record, AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” and The Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” The AC/DC cover appears to be part of the aforementioned outlier collection of songs, songs that aren’t normally connected to Christmas, but Magne is determined to bring them into conversation with the emotions of the season. The treatment itself is pretty damn interesting. Slowed down with synths providing a haunting melody, this is AC/DC much more along the lines of Mark Kozelek’s versions, should Mark have also utilized autotune. The Kinks’ cover is going to be released to the streaming community on a later date… so you’ll have to check back on that one.

This record is a damn interesting listen, one that I’d encourage anyone to experience, and hopefully with multiple listens. I for one, most certainly found new moments that I appreciated the second and third time around. Of note, Magne is also a very accomplished visual artist, and there is a vinyl edition of 200 that he hand-painted. They look to be truly beautiful, and if I had an extra €150… I might grab one. (Wait… they are all gone now!)

Bottom Line: One of the most surprising and satisfying Christmas albums I have heard in a long time.

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Francis Lung “To Make Angels In Snow” (2019)

Memphis Industries
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Francis Lung is an alternative pop artist from Manchester, England, whose debut album, A Dream is U (still available on limited pink vinyl, amongst other formats), came out earlier this year on the always-excellent label Memphis Industries. Francis snuck a fantastic 3-song Christmas release by me last year (which I HAD planned to post a review of soon) titled A Francis Lung Xmas EP, but he was not so lucky this year! I’ve got you, Francis Lung! “To Make Angels in Snow” is a beautiful, perfectly timed (3:02- I love a short Christmas song), an alternative pop song that harkens back to the best of indie-Christmas legends Pas/Cal. The instrumentation is glorious – clarinet, tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet and a baritone sax line that brings up all my RIYL-Ezra Furman feelings of love. A breath of fresh air indeed.

Bottom Line: This song does not leave any room for boredom – the vocal harmonies and instrumentation paint every corner of the canvas. Francis Lung has outdone himself this year. Can’t wait for next year’s (hint, hint, Francis Lung).

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