An Indiecater Christmas (2008)

an Indiecater Christmas

Indiecater Records
Buy: Bandcamp7Digital MP3

An Indiecater Christmas was Indiecater Records‘ first foray into Christmas tunes, beginning a streak that ended in 2011. But wait… set your clocks for December 1, because 2013’s edition is not far away! But I digress – 2008 felt like a moment in time where a wealth of comprehensive indie Christmas comps were coming out (as opposed to the single tracks that I see more frequently now), and An Indiecater Christmas is one of those must-have releases of yesteryear.

There are plenty of good songs on this record, but I will call out a few for review’s sake. The Very Most, purveyors of generally excellent Christmas tunes, give us the jingle-bell heavy “This Year, Christmas Came on November 4th.”  A solid tune, that could sneak its way onto anyone’s Christmas mix without much trouble.

Jape and David Kitt (YES!) contribute an appropriately titled “I Will Cry this Christmas.” While I do enjoy the vibe, and even the song in general, I can’t bring myself to put it on a mix. Perhaps your mix will have different needs – because its an excellent song – and I f*ing love David Kitt. I wish he would do another Christmas tune…

My Teenage Stride‘s “Is it Christmastime Already,” has a vibe and production value that makes you think that it is already a Christmas classic. Any major-label band that wants to pick it up, cover it, and throw it on their platinum-selling Christmas record will likely make this song a holiday staple.

There are many other good songs on this record – but when it comes to large compilations, and with my job/child/computer problems, brevity shall be my mantra.

Bottom Line: Great price, great songs, why not? 4/5

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For Folk’s Sake it’s Christmas 2012 (2012)

For Folk's Sake 2012

For Folk’s Sake
Buy: Bandcamp

For Folk’s Sake has been putting out Christmas compilations for (including this year) four years now, and I do hope it continues into infinity. I can easily say that Folk Folk’s Sake it’s Christmas 2012 was the best compilation that I purchased last year. Entirely listenable with some complete gems, this comp was worth every cent. I was one of the lucky few with an actual CD, as I do love physical media, and that just adds to the luster in my eyes.

While I feel there are many 3’s and 4’s on this record, I don’t have enough time to go track-by-track. However, I will most certainly highlight my absolute favorites. Please keep in mind, some of those songs I don’t mention at this very moment may indeed, one day, become a favorite that should stand with these… but I cannot see the future.

Ellen and the Escapades “By the Fireside” has that classic percussion + jingle bells that we have all come to expect from Christmas songs, which is not a knock at all – its the Darlene Love formula, but updated to their own, modern purposes. This song is good enough to be covered for years to come… and while I can’t imagine a different production being better than this one… perhaps a stripped down, banjo version would do the trick. Beautiful song. Can’t stress that enough.

Gibson Bull and Carmen have made me a believer in “The Holly and the Ivy.” I’ve heard versions from Los Campensinos (a good one, maybe even a great one) that come close, but not as good as this. Their voices are good, but not TOO good, which means they don’t overpower the song. They compilment each other so well – his early Dylanish tone and her soft tone wrapping that like a scarf on a cool winters night – true perfection.

Tom Williams‘ “Christmas (So Much Better When You’re Here)” reminds me of Mason Jennings’ lackluster contributions to the Brushfire Christmas comps… and how much better they would be if he took Mr. Williams approach. Stripped down, melancholy and utterly beautiful, this track is for that late-middle section of your mix, before you pick it up a bit in the latter half. It might just be someone’s favorite song, if they are a Handsome Family fan or something of the sort.

I’ve been glowing about these early songs, but you and your buddies in Spinal Tap will have to turn the glow up to 11 for this one. Gerard & the Watchmen’s “The Road” was very much one of my favorite Christmas tunes of the last five years. Comparison is useful for description, so please don’t think that I’d rather have these artists perform the song… but if Bon Iver had released this song, everyone would have (pardon my vulgarity) shit their pants in approval. I love it when a song’s ending is my favorite part.

So, with very few exceptions (mainly the really traditional stuff… but that’s a personal preference), For Folk’s Sake 2012 is one of the strongest compilations in years. Do yourself a favor, send them some money and download it right now.

Bottom Line: These kinds of releases make my life infinitely more enjoyable. 4.7/5

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The Christmas Club “Child’s Christmas In Wales” (2013)

Christmas Club 2013

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

The Christmas Club is back for another year! Sneaking up on me in my Soundcloud feed, The Christmas Club’s most recent release for 2013 (they have already done an… interesting… version of Fairytale of New York) is a cover of Dylan Thomas & John Cale’s “Child’s Christmas in Whales.” The result is an excellent version of a wonderful song. While I may still be partial to the Superchunk version, The Christmas Club have found that grittiness that this song needs to really seal the deal. I’ll be looking forward to whatever else they have instore for us this holiday season. They will likely be setting up a donation for City Harvest again, so if you like it and download it, be sure to check back to see how you can help.

Bottom Line: A well-produced, excellent cover of a wonderful song. 4/4

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The Wave Pictures “I Love You Like a Madman” (2008)

Wave Pictures - Instant Coffee Baby

Moshi Moshi / Little Teddy
Buy: Discogs (CD/LP) | 7Digital MP3 | iTunes

Every so often, I strike gold and pull out a double, as in I love the Christmas song and also find that I love the band. The Wave Pictures are indeed one of those true finds, that hooks me in the xmas and reels me in for the rest of their catalog. Their 2008 release, Instant Coffee Baby, contains “I Love You Like a Madman,” one of the most interesting and enjoyable Christmas songs I have ever experienced. Their style is as if Jonathan Richman had listened to a good bit of Dexys Midnight Runners while reading Raymond Carver stories (I am stretching here… I can’t find the perfect combo). The chorus begins with “The air in here is dead / But we’re not finished yet / Throw the back door open / Let me see your breath.” Its this kind of simple, visceral visual that I find in Evan Dando at his best and David Berman at his most poignant, and is indeed, a large part of why I love music.

Bottom Line: Like a weird short story that you can’t help but see yourself in. 5/5

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Haze “The River” (2013)

Haze

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I don’t consider this a blog that is there to inform you of HOT NEW MUSIC. The goal of Christmas Underground is more to ferret out those hidden gems that might have passed you by, or give an alternate take on a record that others have likely loved… not necessarily posting new stuff coming out with any real voracity.

However, I did come across a rather intriuging cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” that I thought I might share. Yes, yet another cover of “River.” However, I think Haze does a pretty great job with this song. Stripped down, with layered backing vocals that for a split second reminded me of Glasser, she takes “River” and with slight changes, does appear to make it her own. While the song normally bores me, she does little things to keep me engaged.

Bottom Line: While I’m not a huge fan of the song to begin with, Haze does it justice with a excellent arrangement. 4/5

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Spottiswoode and His Enemies “Chelsea Boys” (2008)

Spottiswoode and His Enemies - Salvation

Self-Released
Buy: BandcampiTunes

This song is amazing. I’m going to step back and let Spottiswoode explain it though:

“My recollection is that i wrote the opening two melodic lines with the clear intention of composing a Christmas carol (only realizing later that the melody was, of course, similar to “Hark The Herald”). and then the words for the first two lines came out:

Boys in Chelsea holding hands
Whistle as they watch us dance.

“Had I intended to write a gay carol? i don’t remember. My guess is that after mouthing those two lines my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to see where the song would go. i understand that many people may dismiss the tune as a novelty song or just think that’s it’s a little clever and twisted ditty, but to me it’s an achingly romantic song. it’s a love song. it’s not just a love song to the girl the singer is addressing who is about to share a dance with some leather-clad homosexuals in the snow. it’s a love song to gay New York and thereby, in Christmas spirit, to human brotherhood.”

Listen to this song. Its beautiful.

Bottom Line: One of my favorite finds, ever. 5/5

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Peace on Earth (2007)

Peace on Earth

Hard to Find a Friend
Buy: Maybe here?

The first of two compilations by the much-missed blog, Hard to Find a Friend. Somehow, this blog was able to assemble exclusive songs by some relatively big names (indie big), to benefit Toys for Tots. This is a good-enough release that it would certainly sell, and make more money for Toys for Tots if it were available on Bandcamp. I have made an effort to contact them in the past, but to no avail. So, the link for vol. 1 is still “live,” but I have no idea if the purchase will work. Perhaps they will find my post and remedy the situation…

There are plenty of tracks to highlight from this release… so I’m going to rattle off a few of them quickly, with embedded tracks where available.

The record begins with “Shepherd’s Song” by The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers. What a band name! Well, I am led to believe that this track is not exclusive, because they released a Christmas EP years ago which is well out-of-print. Certainly a beautiful tune that is worth your time.

Quiet Company give a rocking rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is not something you tend to hear. A great treatment that doesn’t fit into the traditional mold.

Great Lake Swimmers‘ “Gonna Make it Through This Year” is a FANTASTIC song that made a mix of mine a few years ago. Lucky for us, they have made it available elsewhere!

Someone Still Love You Boris Yeltsin & Sweetwater Abilene‘s “The Wheels are Off” is equally wonderful – and just like the GLS track, much more focused on the end of the year, rather than Christmas… but that’s fine by me!

David Karsten Daniels‘ rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter” is as slow and haunting as one would expect, and while it does not reinvent the version that many like to attempt, it may be one of the best of the bunch.

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone‘s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is an instrumental rendition of the song, with a hip-hop beat behind it that adds much more interest than I would expect. Certainly a good version if you’re into the more traditional stuff, with a very nice twist.

The Winston Jazz Routine‘s “Through the Snow” is a gorgeous acoustic song that would fit perfectly in that contemplative section of your mix.

The Long Winters‘ “Sometimes You have to Work on Christmas” is a great indie rock Christmas song, reminding me of when all my friends worked in coffee shops, restaurants and record stores.

Ohtis‘ “American Christians” is a fantastic track… and I can’t find THIS version anywhere. They have 2 other version on their website, free for download. They vary slightly, the one on their proper record, and the one on their demos record. I am particular to this version… but below is the LP version.

Aaron Robinson‘s “End of the Year” completes the trifecta of great year-ending themed songs. This is a fantastic tune, and I do hope that Aaron hunts it down for his Bandcamp site soon (It may have been lost in a hard drive crash!).

Some songs, such as the Chris Walla track, left me undwhelmed, but I have to say, that feels like a MINORITY of tracks. There are still some great tunes I didn’t highlight, but those above are my favorite ones. Certainly the tracks by Via Audio, TW Walsh, and American Music Club are worth checking out (Full tracklist here). If you try to buy it, and are successful, please let me know in the comments.

Bottom Line: One of the top Christmas compilations I have – so many good songs, and for a good cause. Wish it was as easy as a Bandcamp site to purchase though. 4.5/5

Jesse Malin “Fairytale of New York” (2008)

One Little Indian
Buy: Discogs (CD) | iTunes

Jesse Malin has been on my radar since his first solo record, The Fine Art of Self Destruction (which also has a Christmas tune…). Yes, I missed his days in D Generation, but I am not Superman, and I give myself a pass. In 2008, Jesse put out a covers record, and I dutifully picked it up. To my delight, track 12 became my absolute favorite cover of “Fairytale of New York” that I’ve ever heard. Jesse Malin and Bree Sharp have a grittiness to their version that I love about the original, but Malin’s distinctive voice and phrasing really gives his version its own life. Again, this is one of Jesse’s multiple Christmas tunes (which I may cover later), so if you are intrigued, certainly do a bit more digging.

Bottom Line: Makes it his own, without washing the bits of grit and grime from the original. Loses points only because that .2 goes to the original. 4.8/5

Super Furry Animals “The Gift that Keeps Giving” (2007)

Super Furry Animals - Hey Venus

Rough Trade
Buy: Discogs (CD/LP) | 7Digital FLAC/MP3 | iTunes

Super Furry Animals have a wonderful little Christmas song hidden away on their 2007 release, Hey Venus, which you need to become aquatinted with. Also released as a Dec. 25, 2007 free download from their website, “The Gift that Keeps Giving” is the Christmas single that Gruff Rhys believed needed to be on a SFA “pop record.” Its such a sweet song, but of course, Gruff Rhys and the SFA can’t be believed as sweet, sentimental artists. The video certainly expresses their true intentions, a disturbing sendup of commercial Christmas, which makes it much more fun.

Bottom Line: Love this song. Love this band. Buy the whole record: It’s all good. 5/5

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Fireflies “Xmas Song” (2007)

Fireflies

Music is My Girlfriend
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes | CD (Discogs)

A beautiful indiepop Christmas tune is hard for me to ignore. Fireflies hit the nail on the head with “Xmas Song” back in 2007, and was featured on my 2010 mix, Write About Xmas. The melancholy, the atmosphere, the brevity… it has it all. While it certainly borders on twee, its so good that those twee-phobes you are friends with may even find this song palatable. As an added bonus (and what prompted me to write this entry), Fireflies has added At Home to his Bandcamp. At Home is a collection demos, alternate version and unreleased songs, and at “name your own price” is a wonderful place to begin. On this record you will find a demo version of “Xmas Song,” along with two other mix possibilities, “Snowstorm (Original Demo)” and “Winter Has Come.”

I’ll get back to the tougher reviews when I get a bit more free time.

Bottom Line: Pure indiepop gold. 5/5

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