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.

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Jagged Jaw “Pink Xmas Tree” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

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…

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Regal “Love Your Christmas” (2014)

Regal "Love Your Christmass" (2014)

Azbin Records
Buy: Bandcamp

There aren’t many Christmas songs that you could roll your windows down and jam to in 80-degree weather without getting weird looks. “Love Your Christmas,” however, demands those windows down, and the odd person walking by won’t think you are quite so odd… but maybe even awesome. The driving beat, the melody, the acerbic lyrics – Regal has found the sweet spot for cool, cranky Christmas music. Keep in mind… this Belgian band is so damn good, you are going to want to download their regular tunes too. So buy it early and you can enjoy the last bits of great weather with Regal.

Bottom Line: A splendid garage rock jam. If one listen doesn’t get you, try five and call me in the morning.

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Sapin “Christmas Eve” (2013)

Sapin - Christmas Eve

Retard Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Don’t you hate it when you find a band, get all excited, then find out that band has JUST broken up. Well… consider this fantastic garage rock anthem Sapin‘s final Christmas gift to us all. This four-piece garage country-rock band from the Rennes, France countryside demands that you move around in your seat. The youthful exuberance seeps out of every pore with this song – from the lyrics of anticipation and angst – to the driving music and carefree, raspy vocals. This song is just damn, damn fun. Prendre plaisir! (Google translate, don’t fail me now!)

Bottom Line: You are sitting on your couch, wearing your headphones, and your family begins to see you slightly convulse, legs wiggling, head bobbing, eyes wide. This sounds about right.

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Christmas in July – Christmas is a Feeling (2012)

Christmas in July - Christmas is a Feeling

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

As the sole proprietor of this humble little Christmas blog, most of my music research goes toward finding those delicious, spicey new tunes. I do, however, get as much (if not more) satisfaction from digging up gems from the past… and this nice little EP by Christmas in July is just that. Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek are the duo who slapped a holiday name on and released “Christmas is a Feeling” back in 2012. The duo would later release 2 EPs, A-Sides and B-Sides, two years later. This seems like a long tease to finally get to the fact that both Adrianne and Buck would eventually expand their musical universe, adding two more bandmates and starting one of the most interesting, prolific and distinctive bands of the past few years, Big Thief. Having recently released the much-lauded U.F.O.F. back in May, they just announced a follow-up, Two Hands, which had been recorded only days after finishing U.F.O.F.. Since 2016, Big Thief will have released 4 albums, with another acclaimed solo Adrianne Lenker album, abysskiss, released in 2018. They appear to be in the middle of one hell of a creative streak.

All that said… this IS a Christmas music blog, and there are five solid tracks on Christmas is a Feeling, two of which deserve more attention. The lone original on the EP, the folksy “Miss Mistletoe,” appears to be a wholly Buck Meek tune (at least, he appears to perform it alone). My favorite bit comes about halfway through:  “So pour the cider and stoke the coals / finish up the pie / what comes tomorrow, goodness knows / but tonight I’m by your side.” The airy production, with the guitar fluttering between both channels, flickers with the warmth of a fire; This song is a mix-worthy beauty. The other highlight is “Walking in the Air,” a cover of the modern-British classic from “The Snowman,” which blends the voices of Buck and Adrianne with the subtle beauty that you expect from this ethereal song. Simply stated, this is a gorgeous version of a wonderful song. There are three more covers of Christmas classics on here, and they are all quite good on the strength of their great voices, production, and taste level. However, they do not reinvent the classics, which can be great but isn’t as noteworthy. In summation, this release is one that can be listened to from front-to-back, which is no easy feat for a Christmas record. 

Bottom Line: How a Christmas release by members of such a notable (and fantastic) band has slipped under the radar for so long is beyond me. This EP is fantastic, and will no doubt help feed your hungry mixtapes this holiday season. If I were 4AD, I’d be slapping this thing on vinyl and releasing it. Please send me a copy if you do.

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Pedro the Lion “Yellow Bike” (2019)

Pedro the Lion "Yellow Bike"

Polyvinyl Records
Buy: Bandcamp | Polyvinyl | 7Digital | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

David Bazan is no stranger to Christmas music, and even when he isn’t writing specifically-Christmas songs… he still sometimes writes an almost-Christmas song. “Yellow Bike” is the latest single from David’s recently resurrected Pedro the Lion project, and it is perfectly situated in the Venn diagram that is my life: Christmas songs and cycling. It begins…

“On a desert Christmas morning, 1981
One month shy of six years old
In the valley of the sun
My first two-wheel bicycle stood by the tree
My heart thumping in my chest
Though I’d tried, I couldn’t ride one yet”

The song is a beautiful tale of nostalgia, longing, and communion, facilitated by the memory of that first bike David got for Christmas. Just. Loved. It.

Bottom Line: Chapeau David, it’s a stunner. Lots of vinyl options out there for folks who want to pick up the entire album, which I would also recommend.

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Gaptooth Grin – Far Away / Bye Bye Santa (2018)

Gaptooth Grin - Far Away / Bye Bye Santa (2018)

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

On this somewhat stressful morning of Mueller-report-anticipation, I thought I’d take a second and write about some fun Christmas tunes. I think I got going (well, for a bit) around this time last year as well… a good pre-Easter Christmas-song surge. Yellow Springs, Ohio’s Gaptooth Grin put out a fantastic 2-song single last December, and it is about time you heard them. The A-side, “Far Away,” is a breezy stroll of a song which reminds me of a particularly beloved (by me) band, Little Joy. I really enjoyed that first line, as it sets the scene perfectly: “It must be Christmas / cause I see stardust / on my television / outside you’d think it’s July / but I know it’s snowing somewhere / far, far away.” The B-side, “Bye Bye Santa,” dips its toes into powerpop, with some sugary-sweet “ba-bas” bopping around in the background, which beautifully plays along with the hilarious and political lyrics. Here is a taste: “Daddy’s been telling you that Santa’s coming some snowy night, / but those kids at school been telling you since you were five / that some fat man flying reindeer with presents on his sleigh, crosses into US airspace, / it might be judgment day. / Yes its goodbye Santa, / bye-bye Santa. / So long Santa Claus. / You’ve seen all those pretty presents beneath the tree, / but how do you make it past your daddy’s AR-15? / Those jackboots on the corner with their red hats and their ties, / they all put up picket fences and locked themselves inside / singing goodbye Santa …. ” I love a good political Christmas song, and this track has scratched that itch perfectly. I know that some folks don’t appreciate bringing politics into Christmas… but frankly, I’ve been doing this for a while and have come to understand that the vast majority of this weird tiny minority of alternative Christmas music obsessives… well… we often find ourselves paddling in the same boat. So… paddle on, and enjoy.

BONUS: “Far Away” actually appeared on a solid little compilation EP, The Gaptooth Wonderful’s Christmas Birthday (which I may review as well at a later date), back in 2015 and you can pick up for FREE.

Bottom Line: Two killer Christmas tracks to brighten up an uncertain future. These tracks are bound to make a Christmas mix or two next year…

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The Aux – Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Sometimes I do feel like I’m writing about the same bands, year after year. Well, that is a great problem to have, as so many of the bands I dig keep on putting out great Christmas music! I haven’t hit Mike Nevin’s The Aux releases every single year, but I am on a pretty good, every-two-year schedule. The latest EP, Christmas Isn’t the Root of My Problems, is Mike’s most personal release. After years of hilarious, dark and often bitter Christmas songs, he has found himself in a spot of sincerity. Mike presents these songs as such:

“this year was both the least creative and most solitary year of my life so far. so this is what has come out of it. i hope you enjoy these genuine christmas songs that i mean from the bottom of my heart. sorry that they’re not as funny as they used to be!”

He is indeed right – these songs are not as funny as they used to be. But that humor has been replaced by a true candor, best felt in his autotuned confessional, “A Real Santa,” where Mike owns up for being a bad friend at times. The ending is genuinely touching:

“cuz santa just wants to feel like he exists
and i know that i could be more like him if i gave a shit
if i’ve treated you like santa
i promise i’ll start acting less like the grinch
and fulfill your christmas wish
i will be a real santa that exists”

Mike goes pretty deep on these songs, and while the subject matter highlights his perceived faults and battles with loneliness and depression, it is refreshing to hear someone so connected to his feelings. These are deeply personal Christmas songs, thrown into a sea of seasonal cheer. You hear these things and the sugary-sweet artifice of the season begins to make your teeth hurt. Sometimes a little pain feels good.

Bottom Line: This year’s brutal honesty (and hope) is quite refreshing, while still remaining true to The Aux’s trademark bitter charm.

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Dearnley “Christmas in a Strip Club” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

David W. Dearnley has managed to take a provocative title, which many a song relies on exclusively, and surprises the hell out of me. The song does not just being and end with that title – it is the little details that make this song so damn special. However, this song  would not be possible with David’s voice, which has a quality that can’t be denied. It is one of those voices that sounds lived in, one with a patina that grows more beautiful under bar lights. Stubby wrote about this record earlier in December, and he rightly loved this track as well. He loved the twist as much as I… that the protagonist is recapturing childhood memories at the strip club, the one “where the Stuckey’s used to be.” You’ll have to listen to the whole thing to get it, and even when you know the reveal is coming, it is still so very worth it. “Christmas in a Strip Club” is a dirty, sad, thoughtful, beautiful song that is worth your money… so bring a stack of singles.

Bottom Line: This song reminds me of a Raymond Carver short story – dark, personal, and fascinating. Highly recommended.

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Brutalligators “Christmas in July” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I do not know to what I owe the honor. Brutalligators gave me a yell earlier in the week and let me hear their spectacular new Christmas track. Recorded last week in Norway with Sjur Lyseid from Sunturns, “Christmas in July” is a lamentation on the differences between Christmas in the UK compared to Christmas in Australia. The writer of this beautiful song is an Aussie ex-pat, Luke Murphy-Wearmouth, and wow, this song is vivid. The smell of fake snow and sunscreen. Drinking mulled wine in July, as the sun sets at 3:30. This is a pitch to his love, culminating in a simple refrain, “Just move / back home / with me.” This song feels authentic, from the lyrics, to the vocals, down to the beautiful melody that supports the song. So. Damn. Good.

Bottom line: Brutalligators got on my radar after Sunturns began promoting a show they were going to play with them, and then I immediately saw they had a version of Frightened Rabbit’s “My Backwards Walk” on their Bandcamp. This band was out of the gate, 2-for-2 with me. I absolutely adored Frightened Rabbit, and the Sunturns are one of the greatest Christmas bands ever. These guys have great taste, and it shows in their music – this song is phenomenal.

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