Duover – Christmas Vol. 1​.​5 (2013)

Duover - Christmas 1.5

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I awoke to a pleasant surprise in my mailbox, a new Christmas record from DUOVER! They had mentioned that there was something in the works… but time was fleeting, and I wasn’t quite sure it was going to be this year. This band is one of those underrated Christmas songsmiths who (while they don’t make a record every year) fill their records with originals, ALWAYS a plus in my book. Their voices work so well together, especially when dealing in nostalgia, as in “The Ghost of Christmas Past.” There are some other standout tracks, such as the uptempo “Wintertime Blues,” and the “subdued “It’s Your Turn,” certainly worth your time and money. I do hope that we get to see the other .5 next year!

Bottom Line: Another excellent addition to their already strong Christmas catalog. Extra points for original tunes. 4.4/5

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Behind Sapphire “Diamonds” (2011)

Behind Sapphire - Diamonds

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Behind Sapphire are an experimental pop band from Vancouver, Canada, also known (to me) as the Sweden of North America. What is it about cold climates that breed such excellent, interesting pop music? From the Broken Social Scene of Toronto, to the many odd and wonderful bands of Montreal, Canadian cities are just rife with fantastic bands. I will include Behind Sapphire amongst them, and their circumstances are certainly impressive. Still unsigned, they have released 2 EPs, one full length, toured China (got detained in China too!), and have a production value that any signed band would love to have. “Diamonds” is the title track off their first EP, and I am billing this track as one of the more challenging songs on my 2013 mix, The Third Eye Santa. The vocals, the lyrics, and the movements that the song goes through are not for a mainstream pop radio audience. This is one of those tracks that I could see your family members skipping by, but could somehow become your secret, favorite song.

Bottom Line: For your more adventurous listener, perhaps those who enjoy the Parenthetical Girls Christmas tunes. 4.8/5

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The Miserable Rich “Everything You Wanted” (2013)

The Miserable Rich

Snowflakes Singles Club
Buy: Snowflakes SC | Bandcamp

Not breaking any news here, but good songs sometimes need a little cheerleading before someone will listen. One of my favorite tracks from this season has been The Miserable Rich‘s “Everything You Wanted.” It is one of those songs that took me a few listens to absolutely love, but those are the kind of songs that last. I particularly like the chorus, where the music rises and the horns come in. His voice has a great emotional quality to it, which I feel is just something you have – and can’t really learn.

This is just one of four releases from the Snowflakes Singles Club, an excellent new project that I hope we see more of next year. They still have some 7-inches left through the Miserable Rich’s Bandcamp, as well as over at Snowflakes SC (where there are a few sets with the now sold out Smoke Fairies 7″ still available).

Bottom Line: You need to invest a few listens. Then fork over your money. 5/5

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Geoffrey and the Livingstones – A Song is For Life and Not Just For Christmas (2013)

Geoffrey and the Livingstones

House vs. Home Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Geoffrey and the Livingstones have gathered their friends and recorded three indiepop originals for us this Christmas season. Their friend list is quite long, including members of Allo Darlin’, The Middle Ones, The Heliogoats, The Smittens, The School, Captain Dangerous, and the list goes on and on. I’d imagine that most of them are on the title track, “A Song is For Life and Not Just For Christmas,” because it is reminiscent of one of those “everyone takes a verse” classic Christmas tunes of yore. Its really a great little song, with some very odd lyrics for those of you who love that sort of thing (I would include myself in that category). “Christmas is the season / we miss old friends the most. / We’re not visited by wisemen, / we’re visited by ghosts. / But instead of kissing corpses / under the mistletoe, / lets raise a glass of eggnog / for a merry memorial toast.”

The other two tracks on the single are certainly the B-sides, but not to put them down, they are just of noticeably smaller scope. “Communist Christmas” is wonderfully clever, and will fit the bill for someone out there’s mix. I would post some lyrics, but you really need to experience them for yourself. “Little Donkey Kong” is a reimagining of “Little Donkey” as video game music. Not my thing, but hey, perhaps yours! It’s short, which is always a bonus.

Bottom Line: Hey, did I mention this is for charity, and totally worth the money? 4.8/5

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Christmas Aguilera “This Sky” (2013)

Christmas Aguilera - THe Sky

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Christmas Aguilera can pretty much do no wrong in my book… and with very little additional information as to who this mysterious group is, here they go and put out another wonderful Christmas tune. “This Sky” is the A-side to their brand-spanking-new charity digital single (as in, there is a B-side), and it is glorious. With their trademark sense of humor, and wonderful ability to find an intriguing hook, this tale of an economic misfortune cockblock (pardon my language) is not to be missed. Oh, and all the net profits go to Crisis, the national charity for the homeless in the UK. So don’t be a jerk and buy everything they’ve ever put out, OK?

Bottom Line: I LOVE THIS SONG. Well done guys. Please keep the tradition alive next year. 5/5

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Strayfolk “Christmas Day” (2008)

strayfolk

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

How about some wonderful Americana from Sweden for your Saturday morning? Strayfolk came into my radar back in 2008, courtesy of Swedesplease, and their “Christmas Day” immediately became part of my regular rotation. Long existing as an mp3 floating out in the ether of the internet, it now has a home on Bandcamp. Why would you go to Bandcamp, rather than just popping over to their website? Well, because you can now get a FLAC version, as well as show your appreciation for such a great song with a buck. Christmas Underground is all about supporting the artists that make our season happen.

Bottom Line: You and your country band are going to want to cover this song, so go buy it and start practicing. 5/5

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Colourmusic – A Very Special Colourmusic Christmas, Vol. 1 (2013)

A Very Special Colourmusic Christmas, Vol. 1

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Colourmusic has put together a very enjoyable, at times silly, collection of 7 original Christmas tunes for the 2013 Christmas season. As an added bonus, those of you who love a good piece of vinyl will be pleased – a limited translucent green vinyl edition is also available! There is really nothing on this record that I particularly dislike, and some tracks that I very much enjoy. I feel as though you could put this on at a party, and nobody would be a big whiner and ask you to change it.

Bottom Line: Certainly listenable, and you might just love it. 3.9/5

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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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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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