Blackaby “Plastic Mistletoe” (2021)

Hand in Hive
Buy:
Bandcamp

“Jesus soap will wash away your sins.”

The latest holiday track to pop up on all the “regular” music blogs that deserves attention is “Plastic Mistletoe,” a wonderful, touching, and hilarious new track from Blackaby. Grandpa sleeps through the holiday scene that develops around him, all with a wonderful indie pop/rock vibe. Super-solid and most certainly mix-worthy, with all proceeds are directed to the Refugee Community Kitchen – so buy it!

“His teeth hanging loooooooooooooose.”

Bottom Line: Blackaby’s smooth seasonal submission certainly succeeds smashingly. Thus ends this year’s “fun with alliteration!”

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Christmas Aguilera – All Wrapped Up / All I Want Is You (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp | Crowdfunder

I somtimes like to imagine a young music fan, who has just gotten this great idea to look for some different Christmas songs, and has found Christmas Underground. I am oddly jealous of this young person – to be able to hear these bands for the first time. They’ll look at my tag cloud, and not know what to make of the weird names on it… including this band, Christmas Aguilera, seeming more like a typo than a premier indie rock Christmas band. Christmas Aguilera are most certainly not a typo, and have returned once more with a new, double-A sided single to brighten our holiday season. Side A, “All Wrapped Up,” is a holiday gone to hell, but with a great chorus to sing along to. Side AA, “All That I Want is You,” is an extremely funny and sweet song about “only wanting you for Christmas.” The lyrics are too great to not give you a taste here:

Don’t write me any song
Don’t buy me the biography of Neil Armstrong
Don’t order me a piece of the moon
Don’t buy me a silvery spoon
And don’t knit me a sock
Don’t cut of all your hair and give me a lock
Don’t make me a strawberry milkshake
Don’t buy me a diamond, real or fake
I’ll never want a tv show
No sunflowers or any old Van Gogh
Don’t buy me any car, write it off
Don’t buy me anything that I can scoff

All I want is you
What Mariah said is true
All I want is you
Like ABBA sang you’re my Waterloo
Got me higher than Katmandu

Damn they are so f*ing clever. Christmas Aguilera are just so much fun to listen to, and I’m grateful for every year that I get a note in my inbox with more songs. Of course, all proceeds from these songs, just like all their other songs, go to benefit Shelter, a UK charity working to end homelessness. This year is a little bit extra-special, as Christmas Aguilera have created an additional Crowdfunder with some pretty great rewards. You can donate via the Crowdfunder and just buy the new songs, but throw in a little more and you can get a Christmas carol sung by Christmas Aguilera. Dig a bit deeper and they will record a Christmas song of your choice for you! Have deep pockets and live within 50 miles of London (not me!)? They will play your house! This is TOO COOL.

Man… what song should I request…

Bottom Line: Christmas Aguilera has been churning out these incredible Christmas tunes for so long that it almost makes you forget that WRITING A GOOD CHRISTMAS SONG IS HARD. This band has the spirit, and it just feels effortless.

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Gold Baby “Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

Yes, I do have more Australian Christmas/Holiday/New Years songs ready… but I think we can all agree that was getting ridiculous. So lets take a quick break and head back to the OG colonizer, England! Last year, London’s Gold Baby put out an extremely nice Bing Crosby cover, which of course was not technically written by Bing – but lets not get too far into the weeds here. The harmony and instrumentation feel just as cozy and warm as the lyrics, which on this first day of sub-40 degree weather in Virginia, has been most appreciated. I also like that this isn’t one of the Bing classics that get extremely overplayed, though perhaps that’s my experience, not yours. Either way – and extremely nice cover by a truly lovely band.

ALSO, the proceeds benefit the Campaign to End Loneliness, which makes this song choice even more appropriate. Well done.

Bottom Line: Pick a good song and do it well – Is that so hard? Gold Baby sure doesn’t think so!

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The Romantidote “(Have Yourself) A Very Maudlin Christmas​!​!” (2019)

The Romantidote " community (Have Yourself) A Very Maudlin Christmas​!​!"

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Well, hi. It has been a while.

Someone has managed the previously unimaginable… gotten me off my ass to write about Christmas music. Berlin’s The Romantidote drew me in with that clever-as-fuck name, then kept me listening with those clever-as-fuck lyrics. He hears the same old trite music, observes the fascist bloviating of his uncle and the drunkenness of his dad, and yet still finds that moment of hope and cheer.

“Change the channel over to a choir of children
Their voices singing faces smiling ear to ear
No that’s a snowflake melting just below my eye dear
It’s not a yearly drop of sentimental seasonal good cheer

See your drunken family round the dinner table
Look out through the window as the snowfall starts
There are so many other days to be a humbug
So maybe just for this one you could show the world a bit of heart”

The music is big, full of color and momentum. It is not like I don’t like the treatment, but I would love to hear a stripped-down version as well. After hearing his voice on some other tracks (check out his Soundcloud!), I feel like the sugary-sweet instrumentation can make his voice sound almost too sweet at times. I dunno… just a thought. This song could go from really good to fucking great with a tweak or two.

An added bonus to this track – all proceeds go to Tiny Changes, the mental health charity started in the memory of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson, who I miss terribly.

Bottom Line: Isn’t it amazing that we live in a time where we are acknowledging the creep of fascism in Christmas songs? Crazy times. The Romantidote has crafted a really good track for your mix, which will lighten the sonic mood, as well as make a jab at any of your relatives who might have strayed from the path of our shared humanity.

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Cherry Ghost “Blue Christmas” (2019)

Heavenly Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS.

Manchester’s Cherry Ghost is back with his first track in five years. Hell, Wikipedia has the entire entry in the past tense, so, apparently, this return is more unexpected than anticipated. Their return is a whopper though, with the cheekily-titled “Blue Christmas.” I know, you and I both thought… this must be another crap cover. NO! This is one of the more explicitly political songs of the season. Written only 24 hours before the announcement of the final results of the UK election, Cherry Ghost (Simon Aldred) lays down a song of sarcastic, fantastical hopes shouted into a bag and doused in jingle bells. Dig this first verse:

I hope that Santa Claus gets you a conscience this Christmas
I hope he leaves a beating heart underneath your tree
I hope you wake up to the taste of your hypocrisy
So when you proudly raise a toast to humanity
You realize you turned a blind eye to the cruelty

We all know that isn’t going to happen. But even as brutal as this song is, there is some hope at the end.

We’re only as strong as the weakest among us
We’ll be alright just as long as we have love
We have love

All proceeds go to Lifeshare, helping homeless and vulnerable people in Manchester and Salford. I’m sure Boris is quite concerned about those folks… (how do I properly express sarcasm in print…. hmmm…)

Bottom Line: A short, sharp, political gem indeed. I doubt it will shame anyone into changing their minds… but it is a cathartic listen nonetheless.

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Lie in the Sound’s Christmas Wish

Adam

Greetings readers. Our dear blogger-friends Lieinthesound.de have a Christmas wish this season. For years they have been active refugee supporters, and have recently found themselves even more personally involved. I will let Brigitte and Christoph tell the story:

Late September 2016 whilst browsing through Facebook Brigitte found the urgent scream for help of a young African refugee. He had gotten his deportation note with a fix date, time and already booked flight. A year later he is still living in Berlin (Germany). It’s been quite a task but we managed to stop the deportation. Adam has grown to be family for us. We are still fighting to get him a full legal status. At the moment he only has a “ban of deportation” (German: Duldung). He’s not allowed to work nor go to school. He’s going to a school run by volunteers though. Adam is part of a group which is under special protection from the protestant church. This doesn’t keep him safe from harm but gives us hope and some support to build a future for him. At the moment we are paying for a room in a shared flat and there’s other expenses for things like meds, tickets for public transportation. We also help his mother and sister, who live in a refugee camp in Darfur (Sudan). Adam’s father died while fighting against the army of the dictator of Chad. Neither Adam nor his mother and sister can go back to Chad as their family is well known for being part of the political opposition.

This fall Adam introduced us to Ali + Fatima and their seven beautiful children. Their situation is  difficult to say the least. We are still busy doing all the research to fully understand the legal aspects. At the moment they are put up in a refugee shelter outside of Berlin. The whole family of nine people has only two rooms. We are trying to find a flat for them. This means we have tons of appointments at different public offices, that’s why we need money to buy train tickets. We also need money to fund a good lawyer for them.

So, I just donated to help Adam, Ali + Fatima, so that they might have a better future for their families, themselves, and those yet to come. Brigitte and Christoph help light up your Christmas season every year, I hope if you find yourself with a couple of bucks, you’ll consider doing the same. Please help spread the word if you can. I’m sure there’s a tastemaker out there with more followers than all of our little Christmas blogs combined… I’m looking at you @awesomeperson.

PLEASE DONATE – It’s easy!

UPCOMING: Fowler VW Presents A Blackwatch Christmas Volume 7 (2017)

Blackwatch Christmas VII

Fowler VW/Blackwatch Studios
Buy: Bandcamp

It is that time of year… and Fowler VW has been hinting about their upcoming Christmas record on Twitter, much to my delight. There are few Christmas releases that have such a high level of quality, and each year that they keep the tradition alive, is a year that the entire alternative Christmas music community can give thanks. Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Breakup are given the honor of being the first track out to the public, and it is fantastic. The electro-pop jam about being together at Christmas has the kind of slinky groove that just might take your office Christmas party off the rails. Eyes meeting over the punchbowl, we all knew Jim and Pam were meant to be together, they just needed “Be With You” to seal the deal. Want to know the rest of the tracklist? Go to NewsOK and give them the clicks!

The entire album will be available for stream/download on Black Friday, or better yet, #BlackwatchFriday, and for those lucky enough to live in the Norman, OK area, there is a big, free party on Dec. 8 at Stash, where the first 200 attendees get a free copy of it on VINYL. Yes, there are copies out there on vinyl… I am the proud owner of 2014’s “The Naughty List,” but these things are tough to come by. They have never sold them online – you gotta grab them from local Norman, OK venues like Fowler Volkswagen, Guestroom Records, The Social Club, STASH, and Tree & Leaf Clothing.

Finally, isn’t it great that these albums are free? And if the generosity of Fowler VW and Blackwatch Studios makes you so very happy… then, as you download this year’s new record, why not throw them a few bucks toward Norman Public Schools elementary music programs, because that is where 100% of donations go!

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Laurence Made Me Cry “It’s Not You, It’s Christmas” (2017)

Laurence Made Me Cry

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Laurence Made Me Cry (aka Jo Whitby) bought some sleigh bells, and now we all have a great new Christmas song! Which gives me an idea… who should I send sleigh bells to? I’m creating a list… OK, back to the review. This track is a “song for when you’d rather be alone at Christmas,” which I think we can all relate to at some points during the season. The music somehow tickles my late 90s-early 2000’s indie rock funny bone, as the lyrical guitar lines suggest Pavement-meets-Pinkerton-era Weezer? Am I crazy? But truly, it’s Jo’s voice that seals the deal for me. Love it. If you need any more convincing, all proceeds go to Community Christmas, “who believe that no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be.”

Bottom Line: I’m sure happy Jo bought some sleigh bells, and that she shook them for charity!

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Delicious Clam Records presents Delicious Christmas (2014)

Delicious Clam Christmas

Delicious Clam Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Delicious Clam Records‘ first release is Delicious Christmas, a 6-track (largely) Christmas compilation benefitting the Sheffield homeless teenager charity Roundabout.

Best Friends totally knocked it out of the park last year with their original, “When Christmas Comes.” Hopefully starting a tradition that will continue for many more years, they offer yet another Christmas song, a cover of Macca’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Yes, I know. Truly awful song. So, what does one do with a turd, but dress it up in new clothes and make you believe that its a Baby Ruth. Best Friends have succeeded in convincing me that I just stepped in chocolate – I dig it. They have an attitude that exudes from their music that I enjoy enough for me to probably like a version of Little Drummer Boy, should they attempt that awful song. 

Pjaro’s cover of East 17’s “Stay Another Day” isn’t really a Christmas cover… it’s a Christmas #1 cover. So… I’m not really going to talk about it.

Radical Boy‘s cover of Shakin’ Stevens’ “Merry Christmas Everyone” mixes it up enough with a punk rock edge. To start, I do dig this song – and they do make it their own. I would have done without the hardcore cookie monster growl at the end… for me, it makes the song funny, and I suppose I wasn’t looking for funny.

Pet Rock‘s cover of “Walking in the Air” from The Snowman is one of the more rocking versions I’ve heard. I wasn’t expecting to hear any crunchy guitars on this track, and there they were. Certainly the only version of “Walking in the Air” that you might want to put on a more rocking-out Christmas mix.

“Have a Very Misfits Christmas” is a deceptive title for a cover of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Its a solid, punk rock version of the oft-covered classic. The only thing holding it down is the fact that so many people cover this song.

Avida Dollars‘ “I Am The Christmas Ghost” is the only original on this release, and it is quite an interesting tune. What other Christmas song do you know that has “hide all your nazi gold” in the lyrics. It starts slow, then turns into an old school Oi! punk/hardcore song. I wish I could make out more of the lyrics, because what I can make out has me intruiged.

Bottom Line: For a punk rock Christmas release, pretty damn strong. It’s only £2 and benefits homeless kids – I’d say that’s a bargain. 4.2/5

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Pdxmas 2014 (2014)

PDXMAS 2014

PDXMAS
Buy: Bandcamp

PDXMAS is back for its third installment since its debut in 2009. Those old tracks from 2009 & 2010 can also be found on their revitalized Bandcamp page. As I recall, when I originally hunted the PDXMAS comps down, they had a full, standalone website. They then disappeared, then reappeared on Bandcamp with a very incomplete tracklist – but everything appears back now. The third installment benefits a charity, as most of these local comps do, specifically Mercy Corps NW. This fact leads me to want to talk up the compilation a bit more than I likely would. Honestly, I find most Christmas comps so hit-and-miss, that I would equate baseball batting averages as comparable (as in .300+ batting average is stellar). PDXMAS 2014 however, just can’t get above that Mendoza line. There are some notable names on here, Typhoon being perhaps the most recognizable outside the Portland, OR area. Their take on “Silent Night” is just fine, but certainly nothing to write home about. The lone standouts (for me) are Ben Darwish‘s soulful “All I Need,” and Timmy Straw‘s mournful “Hard Times.” There are certainly other songs that were fine, just not many that spoke to me. I am most certainly not the final word on taste, so please judge for yourself. I have been known to be wrong… I remember when I didn’t quite get Father John Misty. Then, one day I did, and my world became better for it. Perhaps a song lives on PDXMAS that I’ll come back to, and truly love.

Bottom Line: There are a few special tunes on here, and its for a good cause. Listen for yourself and support some local Portland communities. 3/5

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