The Royal Landscaping Society – Frost (2020)

Matinée Recordings
Buy: Matinée Shop | Bandcamp (maybe later?) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Seville’s The Royal Landscaping Society may have released the excellent A-side, “Frost,” on their 2014 self-titled album, but am I glad they brought this back to my attention. With its head-bobbing beat and classic indie pop vocals, the vibe of the song is so on target for this blog. Perhaps even more notably, it is rare that I enjoy an ending to a song so thoroughly, but that guitar line is positively beautiful and is the star of the show.

The B-side, “The Gift,” is a They Go Boom!! cover, originally released on Somewhere in England, A Sunday Records Tribute to They Go Boom!!. This track sounds like the indiepop I first got into – jangly guitars, light airy vocals with humming keys in the background. As for the lyrics – you’ve got me, as I’m not terribly familiar with They Go Boom!! and there aren’t many resources for their lyrics. But hey… you put a track called “The Gift” on your mix, who is really going to sit down and pick it apart. The song sounds great and has a nice vibe – that is what really matters!

Bottom Line: Solid 2-track seasonal single package from some of Spain’s finest purveyours of indie pop.

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Jacklen Ro “C U Christmas Day” (2020)

Lolipop Records
Buy:
Bandcamp (maybe?) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Not much out there about this fantastic indiepop duo Jacklen Ro, but do you really need much more context than they have cut one of the best indiepop songs of the year? “C U Christmas Day” blends their voices perfectly, singing in response to each other before coming together for this big, beautiful chorus.

I’m making my move
to get close to you
I always do, I always do

Cause baby I can’t wait
to see you Christmas day
Cause you’ll look just the way
I remember from my dreams

The perfect memory
where you’re right next to me
Cause you’re all I want, baby.

This chorus does exactly what a chorus should do – it demands that you sing along. As I sit in my basement in a Peter, Bjorn and John t-shirt and underwear (a peek behind the curtain!), I am on my eighth listen and not only am I singing along, but I’m imagining myself singing along in my car at a later date. Why you ask? Because I fantasize about leaving the house these days. Yes, this song is mix-worthy… so I hope you haven’t finished your final playlist.

Bottom Line: Jacklen Ro have crafted one of my favorite songs of the season, no doubt about it. This is indie pop Christmas perfection, and I’ll fight anyone who disagrees. I should probably get dressed first…

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael “I Won’t Hesitate (This Christmas)” (2020)

DROMA Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

Five years in, and Stafford, England’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael are settling in as one of those bands that you can rely on for excellent new Christmas music. You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 is a particularly fraught year, and we’ve seen a whole lot of different directions that folks have gone. Some songs are specifically addressing COVID (see Christmas A Go Go’s ongoing posts chronicling that phenomenon), while others are looking for hope and grasping on to those tiny lights, flickering in the dark. “I Won’t Hesitate (This Christmas)” falls squarely in that hope category, as Don’t Call Me Ishmael are grasping for that human touch. While the song could certainly be mistaken for suggesting that you just kiss under the mistletoe without regard for safety, it is much more aspirational rather than prescriptive. In fact, I confirmed this fact with the songwriter, Jack Tasker, over email:

I would say it initially came out of the desire to hug and kiss the people you love after a year of separation (my wife and I had our first child this year and it’s been so hard not to fully share that with my family and friends), but then drifted into that aspirational world of ‘what would a perfect christmas look like after a year of distance’. Gary added the “Feed the World” reference as a bit of light relief. When I started writing it the vibe was very Mountain Goats – really fast palm muted acoustic chords, but it mellowed out as the rest of the band joined in.

Don’t Call me Ishmael will take your worst jumper, your driest turkey, your cheesiest song – they just want to connect. That is a feeling that we all can plug into, no doubt about it. The production is fantastic, despite the challenges of socially-distant recording, and that chorus is catchy as hell. Be on the lookout for their “12 Days of Ishmas,” twelve days of videos which they’ll be posting on their Facebook beginning December 12, because this band fucking loves Christmas.

Bottom Line: Don’t Call Me Ishmael keep the spirit alive once more with their most epic song to date. Also… I kinda want to hear that Mountain Goats-esque demo 🙂

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Hanemoon “Christmas Time Goes By” (2020)

Jigsaw Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

Hanemoon has returned! Always a favorite on Christmas Underground, Hanemoon’s latest, “Christmas Time Goes By” is yet another fantastic addition to his ever-growing indie pop/indie rock seasonal catalogue. Feeling like 90’s-early 2000s indie rock, the groove is right there in my sweet spot. Frankly, when Hanemoon gave me a yell that he had a new song, I was 95% sure I was gonna love it because I just really dig his sound. The only thing that he could do is sing about how COVID shouldn’t be a concern or something (ugh… The Heathen and the Holy, why???) to keep me from loving it. So, gather up all the Hanemoon and Man Behind Tree Christmas songs, and you’ve got one of the best indie rock Christmas releases of the decade.

Bottom Line: Hanemoon has solved the equation for excellent indie rock Christmas tunes. So yes, I like these apples.

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Jetstream Pony – Grief of a Frozen Sailor / Hit the Snow (2020)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy:
Bandcamp (FLAC/MP3) | 3-Single Pack | Rough Trade | Banquet Records | Juno Records | Piccadilly Records | Jumbo Records

Even during this COVID-plagued monstrosity, when wonderful traditions like the Fowler VW/Blackwatch Christmas compilation are on forced hiatus, the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club keep the fire burning. Each year, SCSC finds 3-4 bands that are game to record a new Christmas song A-side alongside a classic Christmas cover B-side, and then he unleashes the into the world in limited white vinyl glory. If you read this blog, you know that I often veer towards the indiepop goodies, and this year SCSC has offered a doozy. To describe Jetstream Pony as anything but an indiepop supergroup is absurd since the band features Beth Arzy (The Luxembourg Signal, Trembling Blue Stars, Aberdeen, Charlie Big Time, The Fireworks) on vocals, Shaun Charman (The Wedding Present, The Popguns, The Fireworks) on guitar and backing vocals, Kerry Boettcher (Turbocat) on bass and Hannes Müller (The BV’s, Endlich Bluete), who makes his debut on drums on this release. With a pedigree like that, you’d expect that the songs will be excellent, and I believe the expectations were beautifully met. The A-side original, “Grief of a Frozen Sailor,” begins those indiepop vocals and jangly rhythm guitars that I love until the reinforcements come in, and shoegaze guitars begin to rain down. Throw in some layered vocals and jingle bells, and this is a highlight of both the shoegaze/indiepop Christmas genre.

I’ve been waiting to write about this record until I could hear the b-side, as I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a cover of the absolutely stellar Aislers Set indie Christmas classic, “Hit the Snow.” Jetstream Pony’s version has added some meat to the production, with heavier guitars than the original, certainly making their mark on an already fantastic song. An unexpected result of my writing delay was that, as wonderful as this release is, everyone else appears to think similarly. The 7″ is sold out on Jetstream Pony’s Bandcamp, as well as for individual purchase through SCSC (still available within the 3-7″ set). However, I do believe I have found a few stores that may be getting some copies and have listed them above.

Be sure to check out the other 2 releases from this year, and if you are new to this alternative Christmas music game, all the other year’s previous releases at Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. There are some amazing tracks to be discovered, many of which have made my own personal Christmas mix (high praise!).

Bottom Line: Two sides of absolutely stellar indiepop/shoegaze Christmas tunes. This record is going to be one of those folks are going to be hunting down in a decade…

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JW Francis “Christmas Heartache” (2020)

Sunday Best Recordings
Buy:
Bandcamp

You think there is a method to my searching? Well, there is SOME method, but a hell of a lot of it is just random searches. I hadn’t heard of JW Francis until a few weeks ago, when I was scouring DIY and caught a whiff of a possible Christmas song. JW Francis looked right up my alley, as lo-fi indie rock from New York is just about enough description to get my head spinning with possibilities. So I checked out We Share Similar Joy, his non-Christmas record (because people feel compelled to do write non-seasonal songs – go figure!), and it was awesome. Flash forward a few weeks, and JW has released a 4-song EP, JW Christmas. The record contains three covers, with “Wonderful Christmastime” being the strongest of the bunch. But I live for new, original Christmas tunes, and “Christmas Heartache” delivers. The jangly groove, the odd vocal drops (WHO DOES THAT REMIND ME OF?! IT IS DRIVING ME NUTS!), the simplicity, brevity and interesting choices make it a fantastic bite-sized snack of a song. Kick those covers to the curb, I’d love to hear some more originals from JW.

Bottom Line: Short, sweet and interesting lo-fi indie rock from JW Christmas Francis.

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Marcos y Molduras “La de Navidad” (2018/2019)

Discos de Kirlian
Buy:
Bandcamp

Madrid’s Marcos y Molduras decided to revisit “La de Navidad,” which featured on their first single in 2018, and give it a full makeover… which as you know, can go either way…

facebook has reminded us that ‘a day like today …’ a year ago we published for the first time “worse would be to kill”, which included this anti-Christmas carol that, at these dates, we cannot continue to ignore.

so we have re-done it, this time with a little more affection and with less uncertainty about what our friends will think about it. We already know they like it, we hope you do too 🙂

Marcos y Molduras, Bandcamp

Well, as you might assume, the procedure was a smashing success. Sometimes I am all about lyrics, sometimes I’m all about FEELING. This song just FEELS SO GOOD. I do not speak Spanish (I took German in high school), but that has certianly never stopped me from jamming to some incredible spanish-language Christmas songs. I did some Google translate, and I’m even down for the anti-Christmas message. The food is too expensive, the families are loud and the businessmen are obnoxious. Christmas in the big city can be pretty shitty, especially without you.

So with that, Merry Christmas and try not to smile… even though you know the gist of the lyrics. I dare ya… Just feels too good eh? This is a stone-cold Christmas-mix hit.

Bottom Line: “La de Navidad” is bound to lead to involuntary movement of your feet, legs, head and mouth. Buy it, listen to it four times, and tweet at me in the morning.

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They Is They Is They Is ” Your Kind of White Christmas Sucks” (2016)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I really, really wish I had found this little gem, “Your Kind of White Christmas Sucks,” by They Is They Is They Is (gonna call them TITITI to make things easier) back in 2016. I love a Christmas song that has a message beyond the usual “Boy I can’t wait to come home for Christmas and/or I wish you were with me for Christmas” that so many Christmas songs sink into, and these lyrics are a perfect time capsule of the anxiety swirling through a world flying out of control:

“Grubby little opportunists are stirring a rage
They come bearing hate in the post-factual age
But Jesus was a dark-skinned, socialist Jew
Who died in the name of peace, love and truth
So if ever there’s a Christmas to think of the meek
It’s 2016 with the havoc we’ve wreaked.”

Just thinking about that time, immediately post-Brexit vote and post-Trump election… I recall driving to work in a detached haze, not knowing what the future was going to look like in a way that I had never experienced before. To be faced with that, and to still find hope, as TITITI does in the chorus, is both surprising and encouraging:

“I’ll be hopeful this Christmas
Won’t give into fear
I’ll be wishing this Christmas
For a kinder new year

We’ve got to cohere
I’m really sincere
Now pass me a beer”

This song highlights those seeds of resistance, those seeds of kindness that were planted back in 2016. I would like to believe these sentiments have been slowly growing over the past four years, and may have begun to block out some of those weeds. Not that everything is fixed, and it is unlikely to ever truly be perfect, but we still have kindness and hope. They haven’t taken that away.

Had I begun writing this review a week ago… I think it would have had a significantly different tone. Still… a great song, with a beautiful sentiment.

EDIT: A lovely reader of Christmas Underground actually recommended this to me – but not quite understanding the new “Business Suite” (like this is a business) app, I hadn’t seen it! Thank you Konstadina – you have my taste pegged. I only wish I had seen it back in October!

Bottom Line: They Is They Is They Is crafted a thoughtful (yet oddly funny), beautiful (but not in the traditional sense) song that signaled the beginning of the Christmas music resistance.

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UPCOMING: Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box (2020)

Memphis Industries
Buy:
Bandcamp | Banquet Records | Norman Records | Piccadilly Records | Jumbo Records | Rough Trade UK

Last year I found myself stressing out, trying to get a shot at one of those Field Music Christmas 7-inches that were at the Independent Label Fair in London. Tweeting back and forth, seeing what connections I could muster… but alas… it was not to be. They hinted that it would have a proper release this year, so…. I waited, and Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box will be waiting under the tree for me (once I buy it). I haven’t heard much off this record, with exception of the Francis Lung track which I reviewed last year. A track or two has been previously out there in some fashion (Field Music and Cornshed Sisters) from off the top of my head), but there do appear to be some new tracks here for sure. If you are really, really curious, you can go digging on each band’s twitter feed, and you are bound to bump in to some 15 second samples of these songs. That Rachael Dadd track sounds bbbeeeeauuuuttttiiiifffuuullll.

Lost Christmas: A Memphis Industries Festive Selection Box (Release Date: December 4)
1. Field Music – Home For Christmas
2. Haley – Like Ice and Cold
3. Warm Digits – Good Enough For You This Christmas
4. Rachael Dadd (with Rozi Plain and Kate Stables) – We Build Our Houses Well
5. Stats – Christmas Without You
6. The Phoenix Foundation – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
7. Francis Lung – To Make Angels In Snow
8. Jesca Hoop – White Winter Hymnal
9. The Go! Team – Look Outside (A New Year’s Coming)
10. The Cornshed Sisters – Have a Good Christmas Time

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Ratigan “The Rights to Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

“Santa Claus is sponsored by / Applebees and Light Rock 105. / Coca-Cola bought the rights to Christmas. / Coca-Cola bought the rights to Christmas.”

That… fuckin… chorus. Hook… line… sinker. Boy, I do love some snark in my Christmas pudding.

Providence, Rhode Island’s Ratigan has written this scruffy, barely Christmas-adjacent song that just made me smile. The production and delivery had me thinking of a close neighbor of his, Boston’s wonderful Soltero (who also has at least one xmas gem too), as his clever lyrics and nearly talk-singing style would most certainly hang out in the same circle of friends. This is bedroom pop as I imagine bedroom pop should sound – intimate, clever, and just a little rough around the edges. Hopefully you’ll feel so too.

Bottom Line: Sup. Wanna hang out and listen to some tunes? Want to smile and not think about out impending doom? Niiiiiicccce.

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