Joyful Noise Recordings’ Holiday Party Vol. 2 (2018)

Joyful Noise Recordings
Buy: 7″ Lathes | Bandcamp

Joyful Noise has done it again! Those delicious little lathe-cuts are back for a second season – only 100 of each song. You buy a snowflake, you get all the tunes! Or, you can pay $10 and just get the songs. Some highlights from this year are the Netherlands-based Eerie Wanda‘s cover of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow is Falling” and the Low Anthem‘s original “Fairy on Top of The Christmas Tree.” The crazy part about this whole project is that these songs are all tracked in one hour! They roll them in, figure out their parts (the bands also bleed over into each other’s tracks), and lay it down. In addition, 100% of the net proceeds will be donated to Second Helpings, a non-profit that rescues perishable food, to feed people in need, all while providing culinary job training for disadvantaged adults. Now that sounds like a plan!

Bottom Line: These snowflakes are for a good cause, and with a lineup like Kishi Bashi, Danielson, No Joy amongst many other notable purveyors of indie rock, it is certainly worth checking out.

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Grapes & Friends “Mrs. Claus” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Free on Soundcloud!

Now… how many times do I need to introduce these guys? I mean come on… they are awesome!! Grapes & Friends are an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-Christmas supergroup. If you live in the Austin, Texas area (or have the means to trave) – NEXT SATURDAY (Dec. 15) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Mrs. Claus” is ridiculously fun. That 70s R&B groove about grooving on a lady, but she won’t have anything to do with a “Christmas band”… and then that chorus hits! THAT CHORUS! You can’t help but get moving in your seat… but if you insist on sitting still – it’s your loss. This band sounds like SO. MUCH. FUN. I can only imagine what this party is like!!

Bottom Line: Grapes & Friends are the ultimate Christmas party band, and this might be a highlight of the night!

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Whyte Horses “Next Year Will Be Mine / Coldest Night of the Year” (2018)

CRC Records
Buy: Limited 7″ | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Truly, what more can I say about this record? First, Snowflakes Christmas Singles wrote a full history of them! If you dig this – then please go there and find out all about them… you’ll find that this is an indie super-project of sorts! That said – If there is one release this holiday season that all my blogger friends can seem to get behind, it is most certainly this one. Manchester’s Whyte Horses have put together a fantastic double-A-sided 7″, with one original and a perfectly-chosen cover on the flip. “Next Year Will Be Mine,” in all its Phil Spector-glory, will leave folks at your Christmas party asking “who sings this??” The mistakes, problems, and shit of the last year are a memory – replaced by a hope that this new year is going to be different. The content is pretty heavy at times, but the music wraps it up in beautiful paper, a wonderful dichotomy indeed. The cover, “Coldest Night of the Year,” is pitch-perfect. Lucy Styles and Natalie McCool’s vocals both have an uncanny Vashti Bunyan-quality, while the orchestration’s subtle changes are just beautiful. This whole thing is a standout of the season.

Bottom Line: Whyte Horses have laid down the first release that everyone I know loves, and since I know you… so you will love it too.

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Charlie’s Hand Movements “Lawns of Ivory” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

On a day when big(ish) names such as The Beths (I really dug their record) and Wavves have released…. disappointing Christmas records, I find myself rejuvenated by one of my favorite yearly traditions. Today is the release of Charlie’s Hand Movements‘ (I will now use CHM for brevity’s sake) yearly offering to the gods of underground Christmas music. No two CHM release feels quite the same to me – they manage to mix it up enough sonically to keep me forever guessing. This year’s is a slow, beautiful nostalgic burn, with much less orchestration than I’ve been accustomed to. This slightly stripped-back CHM does not skimp on lyricism though. The song starts off with this absolutely gorgeous line: “The seasons will surely change / as we stay the same, / recalling stories that mesmerize / still seeing through young eyes.” There is even some subtle politics worked in: “temperatures rising every year / maybe a summer souvenir.” Then how about the f*ing chorus (which appears to change slightly in the second instance): “Lawns of ivory/ Powdery patterns surrounded me / Beneath moonlit canopies / By the next morning, a drunken dream” So. Damn. Cool. This band really can’t miss.

Bottom Line: Charlie’s Hand Movements are an absolute treasure.

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Phoebe Bridgers featuring Jackson Browne “Christmas Song” (2018)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Phoebe Bridgers dazzled us last year with her beautiful rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” It truly was a highlight of the season, and in what appears to now be a seasonal tradition, Phoebe has returned, this time with Jackson Browne! Phoebe and Jackson have done what I desperately wish more bigger artists would do – cover smaller artists. “Christmas Song” was originally penned by Dan McCarthy of the band McCarthy Trenching. My dream is to help someone put together a Christmas record that, for the general public, would appear to be all originals. But the sneaky thing would be that most of them would be covers, killer, killer covers of amazing songs they had never heard. Phoebe – you are on the right track here.

One more thing – everyone is publishing the bit from the press release (I am much too small a blog to have them send it to me), and if this is your first exposure to the track, you need to read this too.

“McCarthy Trenching is singer/songwriter Dan McCarthy’s band. We played a show together in Omaha this last year. They named the band after the trenching company owned by Dan’s uncle so they could sell those t-shirts instead of having to make their own. The first time I heard this song it hit me like a ton of bricks. A lot of McCarthy Trenching songs do that. It’s not that often that I hear a Christmas song that doesn’t make me want to quit music. I played a show in L.A. around the holidays last year where I covered it for the first time. Jackson Browne was there, and he came up to me after the show to tell me how much he loved the song. A couple days later, Dan got a Bandcamp notification on his desktop computer that someone paid 50 bucks for his record and wrote a nice note and signed it Jackson Browne. He thought someone was fucking with him. So when I decided to record a version of the song, I knew who I wanted to sing on it. Plus, I have wanted to make music with Jackson as long as I’ve wanted to make music.”

How damn cool is that?!

Bottom Line: This song surpasses last year’s, and suggests that we might have many more years of incredible Christmas covers from Phoebe + Crew. Hell, I’m down with her teaming up with Jackson on every single one – they sound spectacular together.

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Spiral Perm “Santa at NASA” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

As many of my friends will attest, Australia’s indie rock scene is exploding right now. So much so that I have been finding myself almost exclusively going down(under) Facebook /Bandcamp rabbit-holes that are almost exclusively Australian… and thus… here we are. Spiral Perm are a three-piece, all-kick-ass indie rock band from Melbourne featuring Ali E (Damn Terran, Heavy Beach, Little Athletics, Mod Vigil, Ali E Band), Kate Koomen (Deep Scene, Bunny Monroe), and Rita Khayat. Their latest single has a track that jumped out at me – “Santa at NASA.” How exactly this track got its title is beyond me, as Santa is never mentioned… BUT I SAY IT COUNTS! I’m just going to assume that they are imagining that Santa is the one hanging out with them among the equations… so, I’m going to bend the rules to get something Australian and cool onto my blog.

EDIT: Confirmed! It is Santa! Spiral Perm posted on their Facebook about how the song came about: “Anywho, the title of this track came from a discussion about palindromes and thus A Santa at NASA was born.” Thanks Spiral Perm!!

Bottom Line: Science + attitude + Santa = Yeah – I’m going to feature this on my blog.

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Adam Arcuragi “The Belgian” (2008)

High Two Records
Buy: Bandcamp (Vinyl) | Label (Vinyl/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

As the world commemorated WW1 this past week (there was rain – eek!), I began to think about this fantastic song that Adam Arcuragi included on his wonderful mini-album Soldiers for Feet back in 2008. “The Belgian” references that famous 1914 Christmas armistice, where soldiers along the western front ceased fighting and celebrated Christmas. It is a truly beautiful song – one that I have mentioned before, but never featured. I always imagined it was one that was meant to be discovered… but you know… let this be your point of discovery.

Bottom Line: Adam Arcuragi is three-for-three when it comes to Christmas songs. Just saying – I’d buy whatever he’s selling.

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Jeremy Neale “Christmas (Turn This Around)” (2017)

Dot Dash / Remote Control Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Aussie Jeremy Neale LOVES Christmas. His first Christmas single, 2016’s “Christmas Time (Is My Favourite Time Of The Year)” pretty much sums up his holiday attitude. (That track is great too, maybe I’ll need another post.) His 2017 Christmas single, “Christmas (Turn This Around),” finds Jeremy giving a holiday humbugger a pep talk – they have never found happiness in Christmas, but he is going to turn their holiday around. The driving power-pop rhythm culminates in a flurry of brass and congas that will not be denied, making this perhaps the happiest Christmas song that I can possibility stand at the moment. I mean, can’t you tell I’m falling apart here? I am writing about HAPPY MUSIC. I’m desperately trying to be positive. GO VOTE.

Bottom Line: This song is so happy it could turn a grinch into a Who! GO VOTE. *smooches*

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Shame “Feliz Navidad” (2018)

Shame - Feliz Navidad

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

I did not wake up this morning hoping to hear autotune in a cover of this classic José Feliciano song, but dammit, I should have. London’s Shame have managed to inject this sometimes dusty old song with new spirit, bringing some of the background melodies into the fore and inexplicably incorporating autotune with excellent results. This is Dead Oceans’ second holiday release this season (and it is only OCTOBER!), following Khruangbin’s “Christmas Time is Here,” announced earlier this week. Simply said, keep it coming Dead Oceans!

Bottom Line: Shame shine up an old song to sound all sparkly and new.

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Steady Hands “Christmas at the ‘Vous” (2018)

Lame-O Records
Buy: Vinyl | Bandcamp

Perhaps Sean Huber is better known as the drummer to the punk/emo/indie rock (who really knows these days) band Modern Baseball, but as MB is on indefinite hiatus, we should all now consider him primarily the frontman and songwriter of the Philadelphia indie rock band Steady Hands. After a string of EPs and a compilation release of those EPs, Steady Hands’ have just released (Oct 19) their first true full-length LP, Truth in Comedy, which Christmas Underground is happy to find has a Christmas(ish) song as its closer. The grunge-influenced “Christmas at the ‘Vous” is one of those songs that happens at Christmas, but isn’t necessarily about the holiday – which is just the kind of stuff I like here. I’ll let Sean explain from the track-by-track that he did with Punk Rock Theory:

For a few years, when my older family members were still around and living near Philly, I used to spend Christmas day visiting them, then my family would drop me off at my apartment and I’d go out in the city. It was always quiet and relaxing and felt like you got away from reality for one night. I’ve spent a bunch of nights like this with one of my friends after getting off the road – and catching up at home. The verses are all about moments from touring, and at the chorus I’m back home, living a normal life. A bar in Philly was nice enough to charge us by the lot rather than per drink after a particularly indulgent night and we ended up saving some money that way.

I like the approach, I dig the music, and I think you might to.

Bottom Line: Super-solid indie rock from one of the country’s best incubators of fantastic rock bands, Philadelphia.

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