Sweet Reaper “Holidaze” (2017)

Sweet Reaper cover

Burger Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I recently discovered that Seth Pettersen (who has been featured here before) is in yet another great indie rock/punk/garage band, this one known as Sweet Reaper. I’ve recently gone down the rabbit hole of all the affiliated bands of Sweet Reaper (Massenger, Franklin for Short, The Spires, VNLVX), and you know what, I liked them all. So it may be of no surprise that I’m also digging Sweet Reaper. The first proper record as a group, (if we don’t consider Seth’s solo record Sweet Reaper) is the nearly self-titled (hehe) Street Sweeper. Yes, wrap your heads around that one. On that record is this great, garage-punk holiday song, “Holidaze.” The vibe reminds me of the Moonhearts, and the lyrics are wonderfully standoffish.

NOBODYS HOME FOR THE HOLIDAZE
IF YOU’RE AROUND YOU MIGHT
FIND YOURSELF A BETTER WAY
TO GET YOUR MIND OFF
THE WINTERTIME
PACK YOUR BAGS FOR
ANOTHER STATE OF TIME

LYING IN MY BED
A BULLET IN MY HEAD
WHAT WAS THAT YOU SAID?
STAY AWAY AWAY AWAY FROM ME

I asked Seth about where this song came from, and to my delight, he responded! “The song is meant for people like myself who’s families don’t get together anymore and the magic of Christmas is gone. That time of year is always a bit melancholy for a lot of people so it’s based on that.” Dark, indeed, but come on, this IS Christmas Underground.

Now, while I could see the line “bullet in my head” as perhaps a little too much for some folks, especially considering the culture of violence we are living in… I remind you that this is figurative, not literal. It is still quite dark – it is meant to highlight the suicidal thoughts that loneliness at Christmas might bring, but not the act itself. Hopefully, that dulls the edges just enough to enjoy it.

Bottom Line: Should you need something to set a tone on your mix that suggests that this record is not going to be like the others they have heard, “Holidaze” may just fit the bill.

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Stuck in the Sound “Marry Me On Christmas Day” (2018)

Stuck in the Sound - Marry Me On Christmas Day

Self Released
Buy: Stream

French indie rock band Stuck in the Sound did an odd little thing back in January 2018… they released a Christmas single! “Marry Me on Christmas Day” throws me back to my college days listening to Travis’ The Invisible Band, as the vocals are quite pretty, and the lyrics equally sentimental. Nearly too sugary-sweet for my older, crustier ears, this understated song benefited from multiple listens, listens that reminded me of the pleasure a sweet song could bring.

Bottom Line: Hey, there is plenty of shit going on right now. Here is 3:30 of kindness to smooth out your wrinkles. Unfortunately, this track only exists on YouTube… but you know… there are ways to get it onto your mix, should you need to.

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Rubber Band Gun & Katy Rea – Quick Themes from a Christmas iPhone (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Kevin Basko (Rubber Band Gun) is back, and this time he is bringing Katy Rea along for the ride! First off, I cannot believe that these two songs were recorded on an iPhone 6. These sound way better than most of the junk I listen to on Bandcamp. Kevin recorded one of the more out-there and enjoyable Christmas records of 2017 with Festive as Hell, and while those interesting edges remain exposed, these two tracks with Katy Rea are much more slimmed-down and straightforward. The first track “I’ll Be Good” is a love song to Santa, an entreaty to Santa for an extramarital fling in New York. I honestly don’t know if I’ve heard a song quite like it. I certainly believe I’ve heard love songs to Santa, but rarely (if ever) do they acknowledge Mrs. Claus, let alone suggest she is annoying. Hehe. The second song, “Willow St,” is a beautiful song, a tableau of a simple, warm and loving Christmas shared together in a house on Willow Street. The fact that they sing this song together, two voices blending perfectly, makes the song that much more vivid. This song is about sharing Christmas with a loved one, and having both there voices there sharing the song, underlines the sentiment. A beautiful song wonderfully executed.

Bottom Line: These two songs, recorded on iPhones, have justified the technology that has addicted us all.

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The Stargazer Lilies “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (Free!)

Ethereal.

(The rest of this review is an aside. Up there… that is my one-word review. Pennsylvania’s The Stargazer Lilies have taken the dreamy Galaxie 500 cover and thrown on a glamour shot-shimmery sheen to this John & Yoko classic. This also provides all you mixmasters with a shoegaze version that comes in under 5 minutes! Perhaps you had forgotten that the wonderful Galaxie 500 version clocks in around 8 minutes…a bit long for me. Also of note, The Stargazer Lilies also have a new record coming out Nov. 1, Occabot, produced by Tobacco of Black Moth Super Rainbow!)

Bottom Line: This song’s soothing glow eased my wordy proclivities… (sort of).

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Stephen Solo “War is Never Over (Even if you want it)” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

For those bands out there who want to write a Christmas song, but don’t know where to begin – let me pose two options for you. The first would be found in Bossy Love’s reinterpretation of the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” where they updated the song to be more of-the-moment. The second approach would be to write a response song. A good example of this approach can be found in Stephen Solo‘s “War is Never Over (Even if you want it).” Back in 2015, the British had begun participating in airstrikes in Syria, and from Stephen’s perspective back in Glasgow… beginning a new chapter of an unending war. So, he took his phone (as he does) and recorded this brutal condemnation of the action, hung on the frame of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”

“Let the Big Ben bells ring out for bombs this Christmas / the only peace we’ll get this year is pieces of skulls and baby bones. / War is never over even if you want it.”

Stark indeed. Extremely well-produced, yet tough to listen to, as you are forced to reflect on what violence means to you when it happens so far away.

Bottom Line: Stephen Solo’s “Christmas” song will likely feel quite contemporary, renewed by humanity’s skillful violence, for many years to come.

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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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The Slow Sliders “Merry Christmas” (2017)

The Slow Sliders Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Youtube

The fine folks over at Jean Luc Tobine’s Official Fan Club hipped me to this amazing track about a year ago… but I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. It is just such a massive song. The Slow Sliders are this wonderful french 4-piece who decided to jam on a fantastic Beach House-esque shoegaze Christmas song (“Merry Christmas”) for a whole hour, thirty-six minutes and fifty-five seconds. I would say that you could use this one song for your entire mix, but being that I am a Christmas mixer still attached to physical media and its constraints… that would be too long! The gentle rhythm combined with a mesmerizing organ melody, this song becomes a Christmas lullaby interrupted only by bursts of soaring, fluttering vocals. What I would give to hear a proper, 4-5 minute version…

Bottom Line: The pure audaciousness of this song. I somehow love it. I have caught myself listening to this one song for over 40 minutes before, and I still liked it. I’m a little baffled myself.

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Is this what a 4-minute version might sound like? 🙂

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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