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.
The latest collection, in a long series of excellent indiepop Christmas releases, finds Charlie Darling’s Les Bicyclettes de Belsize in full-album form; Twelve more songs to add to an already large and excellent catalogue. On “Every Christmas Eve,” Charlie seems to be channeling a Clientele vibe, which is most certainly up my alley. “Bad Christmas Cover Version” and “Andy Partridge (From XTC)” have some of the fantastic band references that I’ve loved in previous LBdB classics like “A Very Indie Christmas.” The shared secrets and upbeat groove of “Under the Mistletoe” nicely blends sweet and saucy to create a warm feeling of nostalgic holiday romance. There truly are a lot of nice moments on The 12 Days of Christmas, which shine even brighter the more you believe in indiepop Santa.
Bottom Line: Les Bicyclettes de Belsize add some indiepop gems to their already substantial chest of Christmas tunes.
Too Many Fireworks
Buy: Bandcamp | A Very Cherry Christmas Vol. 13 CD
If you have been following my blog, placing pins on the map every time I go international, grab yourself a pin and find Poland… because we’re heading off to Warsaw! Indiepop producer and songwriter Neil Milton (The Frozen North) has teamed up with Seattle-born singer and screenwriter Jules Jones (Ephrata) to create this new 2-track single, which is also their first recordings together as Milton and Jones! “This Life (This Christmas)” is a 60’s-wall-of-sound-inspired celebration of the end of a relationship. “We’ll never meet again / not gonna be friends / this is a happy end / This life’s gonna start, / this Christmas.” This fantastic premise was driven by Jules’ research into holiday music for her film’s soundtrack, and how she couldn’t find anything that quite fit:
“Researching holiday music for our film’s soundtrack, I couldn’t find any empowering break-up songs. Everything out there was either, ‘I want you back for Christmas’ or ‘I’m so happy we’re together under the Christmas tree.’ If I ever took the opportunity to write a Christmas song, I knew I would write something for those better off leaving their crappy exes behind them. A few months later, Neil mentioned the single and I was ecstatic – here was the chance!”
“This Life (This Christmas)” is a brilliant celebration of failure, and truly a success in my book. The b-side is equally successful, and even has its own cinematic connection. As you might have gleaned from the title, this beautiful little ditty about a happy couple, snuggling together watching movies… ends with them on Christmas day watching the modern classic Love Actually. “It’s Christmas day, don’t go away. / We’ll spend the day in bed. / “A movie’s on TV tonight- / Love Actually,” you said.” This pitch-perfect indiepop sweetness has everything you might want – soft vocals, simple production, dreamy imagery and pop culture references. Fun fact that will also knock your Christmas socks off: “Love Actually” went from nothing to a fully-produced song in 37 minutes! This song is truly a Christmas miracle!
Now… I’m going to cover this more in-depth later, but I do need to mention that you can also pick up the fantastic A-side on the brand-new A Very Cherry Christmas Vol. 13!
Bottom Line: Polish Indiepop perfection!
Edit: Working on the embed. Sorry if you can’t see it 😛
Those in the indiepop know are already well aware of this upcoming record being released by Where It’s At Is Where You Are (WIAIWYA). Stars was teased in a e-mail back in September (when it was supposed to be a 10″ – it’s a 12″ now because the songs were too long!), and I pretty much flipped out. WIAIWYA’s last seasonal comp, Christmastime, Approximately, was a fantastic release, thus this one has a fine pedigree to build upon. The lead single, the Catenary Wires‘ “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)” is a stellar piece of indiepop that grows on you with every listen. It has that classic indiepop signature of terribly sad lyrics with beautiful music, which I obviously adore. The two narrators sing through a fog of melancholy as they guide us though their relationship, bookended by Christmas at each end. The Catenary Wires are Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, partners in music and life, as well as veterans of many notable indiepop bands such as Tender Trap, Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, and Marine Research. They seem to specialize in songs of fraught relationships, while maintaining a happy life in Kent. One would have to think that this is a form a therapy – kind of an exorcising the demons with an indiepop twist. I tell ya, those demons sound real pretty… This is only one song of an entire record (minus the tracks of bells – very nice tracks, but bells) of fantastic indiepop Christmas tunes found on this upcoming release, Stars. I’ll have to review that soon too… (Of note, those who create Christmas mixes, and take it seriously, will love Whoa Melodic’s “Christmas Stars.” Trust me.)
Bottom Line: Melancholy indiepop? That is practically the name of this blog!
Here it is! The world premiere of the video for the Catenary Wires’ “Christmas Tree (Burn Burn Burn)”
Dot Dash / Remote Control Records
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*
Chicago-area’s Brad Peterson has been releasing wonderful, one-off singles for a few years now… he may have even released one already this year! I had originally intended to highlight 2017’s excellent “All is Well” last year, but you know how things go – the holidays can get nuts. Having once shared stages with Radiohead and Jeff Buckley (what a lovely story btw), Brad suffered a spinal injury years ago that kept him for recording or performing. Thankfully, he has healed well enough to get back in the game. Brad writes and records in his little backyard garden shed, concocting these wonderfully written indiepop gems. “All is Well” approaches those memories of loss that can sometimes sneak up at Christmas, and as with an Irish funeral, turns it into an exercise in fond remembrance.
“If we’re fortunate, as we get older, we may recall in wistful reverie -an idyllic Christmas season surrounded by loved ones. For me, that blissful time, before experience and loss, can hurt to contemplate. Rather than the melancholic tendencies I’ve often fallen to, this year I choose to celebrate in fond remembrance, those absent loved ones.”
Truly a lovely sentiment, wrapped in excellent indiepop production.
Bottom Line: Brad’s always one to watch when the holidays come around – and this will no doubt be the first of many mentions on CU.
Buy: Vinyl + Digital at Bandcamp
I am terribly torn as to when I should write about this record, and have been putting it off for well over a week now. I have been wrestling with buying a copy, but just cannot bring myself to pay for the shipping. I’m feeling quite poor at the moment, and just can’t do it. I wish I knew of a place in the US that might be carrying this! I will sure update my post if I find one, that is for sure. All I am left with is hope; Hope that I might get a copy for Christmas – and that Santa grabs one before it inevitably sells out – BECAUSE IT WILL. Simply said… if Say Sue Me’s back catalogue is any indication of how good Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie might be – it is going to be stellar. EDIT: I ordered a copy! Bless you Jim!
For the uninitiated, Say Sue Me are an indiepop band from South Korea, and have released a string of fantastic EPs and full-lengths starting in 2014 on a South Korean label, Vitamin Entertainment, and more recently on Damnably out of London. Their most recent (and absolutely excellent) LP, Where We Were Together, is already on its fourth pressing… this band has some heat… and this Christmas EP is limited to 500. IT WILL NOT LAST LONG. Our only glimpse into what the record will sound like is with the title track, “Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie,” having appeared back in 2015 on the South Korean comp, 허수아비들의 성탄절 Heosuabi Christmas. That is one of those releases that I’ve had as a draft post for way too long… so long I forgot I had it as a draft post! Entire comps can bog me down when I normally have just 30 min here and there to try to knock out a post, and I have the thoroughly-encyclopedic Stubby as a role model, which gets me thinking I need to provide much more thoughtful, and complete information on every band. (I am full of tangents today.) Back to the song: The indie/surf pop is jangly and refreshing – a sorbet between courses of sorts – yet the lyrics are melancholy and detached. I totally dig it… but the thing is… I suspect that it is not going to be the best track on the record. Again – just based on how great their last record was, I think this EP is going to be a total highlight of the season.
Bottom Line: BLARG! I want to hear this thing. Perhaps I will do a proper (well, as proper as I do) review when I do.
Sauna Cool Records
Should you break down the content of this entire blog, you would probably find that I’ve written 50% of my posts about indie pop. Well, make it 51%, as this new track from Japan’s figure is a beautiful, early Wild Nothing-esque indie pop groove that deserves your attention. Figure is the indie pop project of Yoshinobu Hasebe, and “Christmas Eve of 1992” is off his first release in four years, Parakalein. The song starts off with that wistful, indie pop lofi production (which I love), but what really hooked me is when the song swells with emotion as drums and bass kick in. The production does bury the lyrics enough to honestly have no real clue what Yoshinobu is singing about (presumably Christmas Eve of 1992) here… but the vibe itself is enough for me to love this song.
Bottom Line: Japan has always been fertile ground for indie pop fandom, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear fantastic Japanese indie pop bands releasing underground Christmas indie pop gems. I suspect figure is only the tip of the iceberg for 2018.
Readers into Swedish indiepop are likely familiar with the underground indiepop legend Nixon. However, those only familiar with Pitchfork-famous indiepop likely don’t, but you may know Sally Shapiro’s “Anorak Christmas,” the main single off their excellent Disco Romance. Well… that is a Nixon cover. Nixon has been around since the 90s, when Roger Gunnarsson set up his home recording studio, and is largely considered Roger’s first major musical project. However… one band predates Nixon, Roders, though it does not get mentioned in Roger’s Swedish-language Wikipedia entry. Roger and his cousin Anders Nilsson started Roders back in 1982 when they were eight, and it also appears to be the only Roger Gunnarsson project that is presently active (despite any Nixon releases you might see coming out of the Nixon Archives). Roger recently (well, this has been a draft for a while, so not quite so recently) released this lovely, Swedish-language indiepop tune on his Nixon Archives Soundcloud feed, and while the production is more traditional pop than the lo-fi indiepop I expect from a Nixon track, the qualities of the vocals maintain the indiepop roots. Snippets of the video that inspired the song combine with a wistful melody, as this song beautifully invokes the Christmas of these two eighteen-year-olds, celebrating a Christmas on the border of childhood and adulthood. This is just the tip of the Nixon/Roders/Garlands/etc Christmas iceburg… so feel free to dig into the feed, or just wait for me to stumble through my reviews.
Bottom Line: Roger Gunnarsson has a long history if quality indiepop Christmas tunes, and the sweet “Julen 92” is a welcome addition.
Dinosaur City Records
Dinosaur City Records… what can I say? Why would you release such a great Christmas release only 3 days before Christmas? This record is PACKED with excellent indie pop (naturally), indie rock, electro-pop, as well as some that forcefully eschew categorization. This comp deserves more than 3 days of listening! I am finding myself fighting the urge to get too specific, to single out any tracks I particularly enjoy, and I want to simply highlight the general strength of the whole damn thing. There is likely a song on here for everyone… and I want you to buy the whole thing. Lets to encourage Dinosaur City Records to do this thing again, because this whole release has left me smiling.
Bottom Line: There are few Christmas compilations that make me feel so warm and fuzzy about them… this is one. I wish I had found it before they sold out of cassettes…