Sunturns “New Snow” (2022)

EASY Records
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Want a little bit of hope? It can feel like an uphill climb, that is for sure. Thankfully, we have the return of Sunturns, one of the preeminent seasonal supergroups (there are more than one!!). Comprised of members of Monzano, Making Marks, Little Hands of Asphalt, Moddi, and Einar Stray Orchestra, they get together every year or so to record some beautiful, original Christmas music. This year’s release is the absolutely lovely “New Snow,” which features Sjur on vocals, as well as Michael Barrett Donovan on bass and violin, Lars Lundevall (of the deLillos) on guitar, as well as much of the Sunturns crew. The song begins by acknowledging the shit we have all just lived through, but the turn from “puke in the snow” towards the hope of the future is simply wonderful.

I’ve been hitting these blue notes
Now there’s puke in the new snow
I’ve been feeling so down low
These past few years.

I’ve been going through these phases
Where everything changes
and we felt like strangers
These past few years.

But it’s not supposed to be this way
We’re putting it on display
With the darkest observations
there in the light of day.

Here’s a rhetoric
I want you to stay.

Erased it all with a few strokes
Hopeful footprints in new snow.
I’d been getting so down low.
These past few years.

Moving on through the ages
We’ll be up on stages
Singing everything changes
These next few years.

That turn where he sings “Here’s a rhetoric / I want you to stay,” comes with this beautiful brass line… and the tone switch is just gorgeous. Reminds me of the more orchestral leanings of Jens Lekman, which is a wonderful thought to spark. Quite beautiful indeed.

Bottom Line: Sunturns return with that bit of hope we all need.

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Herr Wade – Weihnachten​.​.​. Willkommen zur​ü​ck! (2022)

Platiruma!!!
Buy:
Bandcamp (CD/Digital) | Apple Music | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Jørn Åleskjær (The Loch Ness Mouse, Monobird, Sapphire & Steel) and Sebastian Voss (Nah…, The Fisherman and his Soul, Cinema Engines) have teamed up for some cross-cultural, Google-translatable Christmas tunes. I speak ein bisschen Deutsch, and no Norweigain, but I do speak indiepop and this is some lovely stuff. I’ve featured The Fisherman and his Soul multiple times here on Christmas Underground, so I knew there would be something here I was likely to really connect with. Perhaps it is my faint familiarity with the language that draws me to the German-language tracks, but I have to take special note of “Und sie tanzen I’m Himmel,” which translates to “And they dance in the sky.” I’m going to continue to utilize Google translate, so please give me some grace should Google screw it up a bit – but I loved these sweet lyrics.

can you remember?
It’s been a few years…
We looked up at the sky and
Then you said to me:

“I know a secret
And I’m happy to let you in on it.”
And I nodded, agreed, and suddenly it started snowing.

“Exactly! Here, that’s the point.” You said in a low voice.
“Every single flake is a little dancer.
And up there in the sky they dance day in and day out. And when they feel like it, it starts to snow.”

And they dance in the sky

The track also had that mid-tempo, jangly indiepop groove that I need at least every 3-6 months to survive, so that certainly plays into my love of this track as well. There are wonderful moments in the other songs as well, little choices like the beautiful banjo in “Domino,” and the sweetness of the leadoff track, “You’ve Come A Very Long Way (For Being Such A Close Friend),” are undeniable.

Bottom Line: There is a lot to love in a tiny little EP.

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Magne Furuholmen – White Xmas Lies (2019)

Drabant Music
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Drabant Music (CD/Vinyl) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.uk MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.de MP3/CD/Vinyl | Amazon.fr MP3/CD/Vinyl

This record caught me completely off guard. The keyboardist and co-writer for most of the iconic hits from Norway’s pop-powerhouse a-ha, Magne Furuholmen has created one of the most interesting Christmas records I have heard in years. He walks this fine line between the avant-garde and accessible and manages to pull it off incredibly well. An album packed with largely all originals, Magne did not intend to create a normal holiday album; he wanted to make an album that was “an antidote to the ‘schmaltzy Christmas-music which is spewed out every year… a seemingly never-ending stream of cheesy versions of existing Christmas song.'” It was as if Magne was creating a Christmas music for me.

This album can be heartbreakingly beautiful. There are moments, such as in the leadoff track “There Goes Another Year,” where you can find these simple, evocative phrases that just hit you. “In the darkness of December / as the fire turned from spark to ember (<-Wow, what a line) / these are things I will remember / now xmas time is here / there goes another year.” And yet again, later in the song: “What we say but do not mean / every word and in-between / for every manhole in this town / there is someone falling down (<-Damn, loved that line!).” As you can see, Magne is going deep here, not necessarily celebrating the holiday in a fashion one might expect, as he talks about the album as being for those who might not have someone to keep them warm at Christmas.

I wanted to try and make an album which would be meaningful also to those who fall outside our commercial Christmas frenzy – an album which looks at the more melancholic, darker sides to Christmas: broken family ties, things we sweep under the rug, resentment hidden behind fake, jocular smiles – an album for holiday contemplation, not just sentimental decor.’

Magne does not rely on a spectacular voice (I have never been partial to amazing singers, but rather, amazing songwriters), he lets the synths and his lyrics do the heavy lifting. However, every so often his vocal melody just gets me. Like in the hungover “A Punch-up on Boxing Day,” Magne’s voice rises just after that first stanza, “you’re just wasting your time / yyeeaaahhhh,” and it brings this emotion to the song that I wasn’t anticipating. There are other moments where the music makes you sit up and go “shit, that is fantastic,” such as in the final verse of “Caprice Des Dieux,” which is one of the more slow and contemplative tracks on the record, as it explodes with musical color.

There are a few outliers on here as well, songs that does not appear to be connected to Christmas at all. The best example of would be “This is Now America,” a harsh portrait of America from an observer’s perspective – school shootings, border walls, drones and bad loans. “This is now America / oh how little have we learned / This is now America, is there no way to return?” So… not a Christmas song, and damn, quite disheartening to hear how we appear to others.

There are two covers on the record, AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” and The Kinks’ “Father Christmas.” The AC/DC cover appears to be part of the aforementioned outlier collection of songs, songs that aren’t normally connected to Christmas, but Magne is determined to bring them into conversation with the emotions of the season. The treatment itself is pretty damn interesting. Slowed down with synths providing a haunting melody, this is AC/DC much more along the lines of Mark Kozelek’s versions, should Mark have also utilized autotune. The Kinks’ cover is going to be released to the streaming community on a later date… so you’ll have to check back on that one.

This record is a damn interesting listen, one that I’d encourage anyone to experience, and hopefully with multiple listens. I for one, most certainly found new moments that I appreciated the second and third time around. Of note, Magne is also a very accomplished visual artist, and there is a vinyl edition of 200 that he hand-painted. They look to be truly beautiful, and if I had an extra €150… I might grab one. (Wait… they are all gone now!)

Bottom Line: One of the most surprising and satisfying Christmas albums I have heard in a long time.

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Sunturns – Colibri Heart / I Do (2017)

Arch Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The Sunturns are one of the preeminent Christmas indie-supergroups out there. Comprised of members of Monzano, Making Marks, Little Hands of Asphalt, Moddi, and Einar Stray Orchestra, they get together every year or so to record some beautiful, original Christmas music. This year, we are once again blessed with the new music, and I’ve been refreshing Facebook for what seems like days (even though I knew it was coming out today). “Colibri Heart” is a beautiful, banjo accented song about being in love at Christmas. “My heart is stashed under the tree there / hoping you won’t return it for now… tonight.” His heart beats like a colibri, like a hummingbird, keeping up the neighbors awake…. some beautiful imagery here. The B-side, sung by (if I am not mistaken), Little Hands of Asphalt’s Sjur Lyseid, is the kind of narrative song that I would expect from the writer of “Looks Like Styrofoam.” It is slow-burning and beautiful, melancholy and poetic, heartbreaking and hopeful all wrapped up in one, smart package. Yet another beautiful addition to the Sunturns ever-expanding Christmas catalogue.

Bottom Line: Two beautiful singles to slap you out of your jingle-belled Christmas music rut.

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UPCOMING: Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, 2017 Edition

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy: Bigcartel Shop

It may have been 85 degrees out (30 celsius for my international friends), but snow is in the air… as this past week or so has brought the announcement of the always-wonderful Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club lineup! For the uninitiated, the SCSC is a label that exclusively releases limited-edition Christmas 7″ vinyl singles, with the A-side being an original, and the B-side being a cover. Such a fantastic premise, and one that is realized beautifully by the hard work of our fellow underground-Christmas devotee, Robert.

This year’s crop is a doozy – starting with perhaps the biggest name to grace the SCSC, Bis! Bis have been releasing quality indiepop since 1994 (with a hiatus or two), and astonishingly enough… I think this may be their first Christmas release! How they missed releasing a Christmas single when they are both 1) an indiepop band and 2) Scottish, beats me. I just wrote about 2 Scottish indiepop bands last week!

Next up are the French garage-rock band The Limiñanas. Previously featured on Christmas Underground for their cover of “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home),” this year they are teaming up with Pascal Comelade for the deliciously-titled “Curse of Santa Claus,” as well as what I’m imagining will be an interesting take on “Silent Night.” Should be interesting!

Finally, St. Petersburg, Florida’s Seafang will lend their shoegaze/dreampop sounds to their original “Happy When it Snows,” as well as the Primatives’ “You Trashed My Christmas.” The Primitives cover could be great fit for Seafang – I’m curious how they’ll make it their own.

All-in-all, it promises to be another very strong year for the wonderful Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. I hope you check it out, order early and often, and help keep this tradition going!!

Bottom Line: Being that I haven’t heard a thing yet, I can’t really say – but I most certainly can say that I’M EXCITED.

 

 

Okay Kaya “Holiday Song” (2016)

Okay Kaya "Holiday Song"

Self Released
Buy: Stream

NJ->Norway->NYC singer/songwriter Okay Kaya (aka Kaya Wilkins) released this little gem on YouTube last season, and it was deservedly touted by my Christmas-music-blogger-in-arms Christmas-A-GoGo. Her voice is beautiful, yet with a mournful quality, and the message, while not your typical cheery Christmas romp, is most certainly relatable. My favorite line is, “I want to talk, I want to talk, I don’t want to talk, I want to talk loud and confidently.” There is something refreshing to the honesty found in the struggle embedded in the lyrics. I don’t think I’m far off-base to say that a quick glance at the central premise of this song might lead a listener to quickly dismiss it (as I think it would be terrible as either the pop-punk or twee song I imagined in my head), the line “All I want for Christmas is therapy,” threatens to be both trite and precious in equal parts, but Okay Kaya does a wonderful job to fully develop this song into a beautiful and complicated view of the other side of Christmas.

Bottom Line: Okay Kaya built upon a concept that I was almost reflexively suspicious of, and made me a believer.

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Christmas for Cowboys (2016)

Christmas for Cowboys

Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP)
Buy: Stream | Amazon.de MP3

How about some country music from Norway? Because that makes total sense right? Everything makes sense right now! Well, actually Norway, Sweden and the like have long had a healthy Americana/Country scene. The folks over at Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions (CCAP) gathered four Norwegian country bands (The Brigade, Helldorado, Flying Shoes and the Tramps), and each band chose two songs by prominent country and americana bands and songwriters. Songs featured on this release were originally recorded by the Handsome Family, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Jackson Browne, John Prine, The Band, Buck Owens, Chris Hillman and Glen Campbell. Those are some big names indeed, though my favorite is perhaps the smallest name (Handsome Family). That said, I am having a tough time singling out specific tracks to feature, because truly, the quality level is high enough on each of these tracks. The entire release is certainly worth your time. For extra credit, check out The Brigade’s Beyond Christmas Day EP from 2014.

Bottom Line: These Norwegians really love this country music, and it comes through.

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Dylan Mondegreen “The Ghost of Christmas Past” (2016)

Dylan Mondegreen - Ghost of Christmas Past

Shelflife Records
Buy: Bandcamp | 7Digital | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

If you know me at all, or read this blog, you know I have a particular affinity for Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, etc. To top it off, I also have a particular love for indiepop, as well as the Shelflife label. Thus, when I saw that Norwegian singer-songwriter Dylan Mondegreen had a Christmas-ish song, “The Ghost of Christmas Past,” on his new album, Every Little Step, I jumped in and gave it an immediate listen. While these are not going be big name checks that everyone will be familiar with (unless you read this blog), I found this particular track to share equal parts Pelle Carlberg and Jens Lekman. Dylan has a quality to his voice that matches quite well with Pelle, and the flute flourishes felt like the Bacharach-influenced tracks of Night Falls on Kortedala-era Jens Lekman. The songwriting is also very clever; It’s a song about visiting yourself as the ghost of Christmas past, and realizing that you’d do it over again. Certainly worth a listen!

Bottom Line: Solid indiepop that will please indiepop fans.

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UPCOMING: Sunturns – Christmas I & II (2015)

Sunturns - Christmas I & II

Fika Recordings
Buy LP: Bandcamp | Norman Records | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Jigsaw Records (US)
Buy Digital: 
Bandcamp | Amazon UK MP3 | Amazon DE MP3

The Swedish indie-supergroup Sunturns put out a fantastic Christmas record a few years ago, simply titled Christmas and released on CD (and digital) to the delight of the masses (of underground Christmas fans). Comprised of members of Making Marks, Moddi (had previously made a mix of mine), The Little Hands Of Asphalt (ditto), Psyence Fiction, Monzano and Einar Stray Orchestra, these are some Norwegian pop heavyweights. The album was packed with great songs, including my personal favorite, “Looks Like Styrofoam.” Now… would this be considered a cover if it was recorded earlier by Little Hands of Asphalt, if the person singing it was indeed… also Sjur Lyseid, aka Little Hands of Asphalt? Chicken? Egg? I’ve gone crosseyed.

Enough! Let’s talk about this NEW record! Christmas II is upon us! Being released by Fika Recordings, those Christmas-loving folks in the UK. They normally spend their time releasing records by CU favorites the Wave Pictures & their associates (god I love the Wave Pictures), but somehow they found some time in their day to release this lovely Norwegian pop Christmas record!  10 new songs and a Ramones cover!

Now, I know you are asking, “I have all this money hanging around in my pocket and I want to throw it at something… what should I do?” Here’s the scoop. There are 300 copies of this baby on red and white vinyl, presently available from Fika Recordings (Bandcamp), Norman Records, Amazon UK, Amazon DE and in the US… Jigsaw Records (Coming Dec. 4!). It not only includes this new record, Christmas II, but also the classic Christmas! For folks that are financially-challenged, such as myself, you may want to opt for the cheaper, download-only version. You can find these at all the links above, but I strongly encourage the Bandcamp option, as the artist gets paid more and you get a FLAC.

You know what… I haven’t even talked about the songs yet! Sunturns has released 2 tracks ahead of the proper album release on December 4. I honestly have already spent enough energy talking about the record, that I haven’t much more left for these fabulous songs. “Would You” reminds me of the best parts of The Stars… the layered vocals, the rising music, the drama. Beautiful. “The Axis Tilt” is a wonderful piece of songwriting, and that voice has to be Sjur Lyseid, right? He’s got a way with a turn of phrase, and boy can he work in some basic physics into a song!

Bottom Line: Buy it early and often. But perhaps not for $43 from Fika shipped to the US… shop around. If you’re looking for a value, Norman Records is your best bet at the moment. 🙂 5/5

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Short Skirts “Christmas Depends on You” (2013)

Short Skirts - Christmas Depends on You

Self Released
Buy: Free!

I love the rabbit hole that is Soundcloud. If I find a song I like, I’ll explore all the playlists that its been added to, in the hopes that the listener has equally good taste as that particular selection. At some point, this journey led me to Short Skirts, a fantastic garage rock band from Norway. “Christmas Depends on You” brings in Ida Horpestad from Blomst on vocals, and her touch really brings this garage/surf Christmas song to the next level. The lyrics are fantastic – I really don’t want to ruin them for you before you listen. To top off an already great song… they are offering it as a free (WAV) download on Soundcloud.

Bottom Line: This song is good enough to be covered for years to come. 5/5

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