Christmas Tape

Twaague Records’ Christmas Tape (2015)

Twaague Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know everyone is all about the NEW NEW NEW songs… throw a “2015” after a song and nobody wants to retweet it. BUT, when nearly all the seasonal releases come out in a month’s time, you are bound to miss some great stuff. Berlin-based Twaague RecordsChristmas Tape was one of those misses… released on December 12 of last year, this release certainly suffered from missing the “christmas” tag on Bandcamp, which made it nearly invisible to my search. (Bandcamp really needs to up their game on search – they limit results and don’t let you combine tags…) This was the tape that led me to Skiing! This was the tape that led me to Hanemoon! And this is the tape that will make you love Milwalkie. Get comfortable, I’m going to cover my personal highlights of this excellent release.

The tape leads off with “26th December,” originally appearing on Skiing’s excellent Generous Fire EP. Its anti-consumerism rhetoric is comfortable terrain for me, and the punk rock aesthetic is invigorating. A very strong start.

Colorado’s Kissing Party is no stranger to Christmas songs – they have 2 featured on their Bandcamp as I type this review. “Merry Christmas Darling (Maybe Next Year Things will Change)” was originally released as their 2014 single, and it remains a great indiepop downer.

Berlin’s Milwalkie contributes one of my favorite tracks on this release with “This Year (All I Want is You).” From what I understand, this begins a string of tracks exclusive to this release. What they might call cheesy (and they do), I call simple and nearly perfect. Playful and nostalgic, this song hits all the marks without getting too sweet; A wonderful, perfectly seasoned (pun!) Christmas tune.

Who would have expected Berlin to be a hotbed of amazing indie Christmas songs? My head has been stuck searching in London for years… should have been looking here! Berlin’s Man Behind Tree channel 90’s-era Merge Records indie rock and blends their jangly guitars, dark lyrics and understated vocals into a fantastic Christmas song, “I Was Santa Claus.”

Hanemoon, who we featured a week or so ago with his 2013 gem, has blessed us with the equally wonderful “My Bell Ride.” This is a driving indie rock Christmas song that I could imagine Yo La Tengo (or my much beloved Mendoza Line) just ripping shit up with; It has the kind of frayed edges that I am such a sucker for.

Strand Child (also from… Berlin!) contribute their dark electro-pop “Yer Feet.” Is this a Christmas song? No idea! But I like it. “I was drunk when I met you / I was drunk when you walked out the door.” It may take place during Christmas… as might the equally non-Christmas specific “F&f” by Berlin’s Mother of the Unicorn. They are a bit less confusing on their Facebook than Strand Child, as they address their song as “not so Christmassy really, but it is a bit sentimental, so that’s the same thing right?” They are tapping into the same deep emotional well as The National… which I consider a high compliment and comparison.

Finally, Farfara’s instrumental “Flying Pan” is also damn good. Again, it suffers by not having an explicit nod to Christmas, but overall a great track that, depending on your own personal mix rules, might still qualify for consideration. At the very least, this track proves them to be an excellent band, worthy of further listening.

Overall this release is extremely strong, and with few exceptions, immensely listenable and wholly enjoyable. I would consider 3-4 of these songs for my own personal mix, which is like scoring a hat trick… very, very hard to do on a Christmas compilation. Tapes are still available via their Bandcamp, as well a digital downloads for a very respectable €5!

Bottom Line: Berlin is just killing it right now. One of the strongest compilations of 2015, easy.

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Mark Kozelek sings Favorites cover

Mark Kozelek “O Holy Night” (2016)

Caldo Verde
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon UK MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I consider myself a Mark Kozelek fan, and despite the challenges he continues to send my way, I still maintain this status. Thus, when a new Koz Christmas tune sneaks out, I feel obligated to make at the very least, a small mention of it. Mark gave us an entire Christmas record only 2 years ago, has snuck Christmas tunes on multiple live records, and he thankfully seems determined to continue to churn out little Christmas baubles for us to enjoy. “O Holy Night” appears on Koz’s latest, Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, and simply said, it is quite lovely. The cover is certainly not a reinvention of the song (as I could somehow imagine Jose Gonzalez doing while not veering far from Koz’s guitar style), more so a faithful and lovely, traditional cover of this traditional song. The female vocal harmony provided by Mimi Parker (of the equally Christmas-loving Low) is that little bit of nutmeg that makes this eggnog tasty. Without Mimi, it might have been just a tiny bit… bland? Glad she is there.

Bottom Line: A tasty glass of eggnog, thanks to Mimi Parker of Low. Certainly not my standard fare – doesn’t hate on Christmas, doesn’t have any swear words – this one’s for you traditionalists out there.

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Frontier Folk Nebraska - Drop the Ball, Waste Another Year 7"

Frontier Folk Nebraska – Drop the Ball, Waste Another Year 7″ (2013)

No Chaser Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I know, I’ve been doing some housecleaning, posting some songs that did not come out this year. Well… that’s ok, because this site is as much about what’s coming out this year, as it is about the great stuff that has been hidden in the past. Frontier Folk Nebraska are not a folk band and are not from Nebraska. So who the fuck are they? They are, simply said, a badass rock band from Kentucky. Some of the influences they point to are Sleepy Jackson, the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo and Guided By Voices amongst others… and I would have to agree (to a point). I mean… Sleepy Jackson? I haven’t listened to that first Sleepy Jackson record (Lovers) in a good while, and while I don’t hear a drop of that influence on this 7″, I’m psyched that they like them enough to be mentioned. I loved that record! Those other bands… much more in line with the sound of FFN.

Now to the record: Both tracks on this 7″ are fantastic – the hearty singalong “Ho Ho Ho & Away We Go,” with drinking, theft and lighthearted debauchery mixing together to wish us all a merry fucking Christmas. You can’t help but want to be there. The flip side find FFN at New Years, and “Happy New Year” takes it’s Replacements meets GBV vibe and tears through a rough New Years morning. Love the music, especially the guitar interplay. These songs are all wonderfully conceived and executed – truly stellar tracks from front to back.

Bottom Line: How this band has not sold out of their 275 copies of random, multicolored 7-inch vinyl records is an absolute mystery to me. 5/5

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Cocktails - The Most Wonderful Time (For a Beer)

Cocktails “The Most Wonderful Time (For a Beer)” (2012)

Father/Daughter Records
Buy: Bandcamp

I apologize for the language; I’m apparently quite fond of profanity in 2015.

San Francisco’s Cocktails are the perfect follow-up to that Pupppy track – they are both on the same label, Father/Daughter Records, and they both recorded drunk Christmas tunes. Shit really appears to be hitting the fan – girl is gone, transmission is busted, life has kicked them in the nuts. “I don’t hear the children singing / I don’t hear the sleigh bells ringing / Its the most wonderful time / Its the most wonderful time / for a beer.” The contrast of the shit situation with the upbeat, happy chorus makes for a great, interesting song from what could easily have been a throwaway with a good title.

Of note, Cocktails also appear on the Bay Bridged 2014 Holiday Compilation, previously talked about on the always-influential Stubby’s House of Christmas. Check it out – its another great power-pop Christmas song for your earholes.

Bottom Line: Clocking in at 2:07, shotgun this beer onto your mix if you want to pick up the pace. Maybe see them live with Wild Nothing on May 22nd too4.5/5

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Cleaners from Venus "Glammy Little Christmas"

Cleaners from Venus “Glammy Little Christmas” (2014)

Soft Bodies
Buy: Bandcamp

So, unfortunately, this post is going to be pretty minimal. I’m still fuming about it from a couple days ago… when WordPress somehow ate it. My apologies to the Cleaners from Venus.

The Cleaners from Venus are a legendary (to some), underground, proto-indie rock band, who had a slew of reissues come out in the past few years by Captured Tracks & Burger Records (amongst others I believe). Indeed, with such a long recording history, there has to be some Christmas tunes in their past, yes? Indeed sir, the wonderful “Christmas in Suburbia” is on Number Thirteen. Now, you can add one more to the list, “Glammy Little Christmas.” The lyrics suggest a recapturing of one’s youth, heading out for a glam Christmas. “There’s a cold wind in the doorway / and the weather’s more like Norway / and my platform heels are skidding underneath. / But there’s glitter on the paving / and your granddad’s come out raving / like he used to do in 1973.” That’s just the first bit, but you get the gist. Pair this what Glam Chops’ “Baby Jesus was the First Glam Rocker” and you’ve got a new mix theme going…

Martin Newell & Co. have a new record coming out in 2015 as well, on their favorite format of course (cassette!). So be on the look out for that at Burger Records, and elsewhere I’d imagine.

Bottom Line: Great song by an underground legend. How about a few more… hint hint. 3.9/5

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The Magic Numbers Christmas

The Magic Numbers “I Don’t Care If Its Christmas” (2014)

Caroline
Buy: Amazon UK MP3

The Magic Numbers are a bit bigger than most of the bands I feature on Christmas Underground. They are not quite as well known in the states, so I’ll use that as an excuse to post here! They just announced a new Christmas single today, and its a good one. “I Don’t Care if it’s Christmas” is a classic “Christmas is awful since you left me” scenario, but they do it wonderfully, and with a fantastic chorus. “Honey honey, are we throwing this all away,” – great stuff. The songwriting is excellent, from the lyrics to the different motions and emotions the song travels through. I knew this was coming, but much thanks to Christian for the heads up that it dropped!

They will also be selling a very limited amount of vinyl at shows this week. So check their tour dates at the link above!

Bottom Line: Excellent melancholy Christmas done by a group of consummate, professional songwriters. 4.5/5

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If the song below doesn’t play, go to this link.

http://www.official.fm/tracks/9c3F?aspect=flat

and a live version…

Beans & Fatback "Tonight Girl I'm Coming Back Home"

Beans & Fatback “Tonight Girl I’m Coming Back Home (X-Mas Edit)” (2010)

Excelsior Recordings
Buy: Stream

The Netherlands’ own Beans & Fatback have just dropped a (I stand corrected – thanks Christmas A Go Go!) have a Christmas edit of “Tonight Girl I’m Coming Back Home,” and its a rocking, bar-band R&B good time. While it wasn’t originally a Christmas song, it very much works in the “Coming home for Christmas” milieu. They’ve even adjusted the lyrics very slightly to place it at Christmas, and it works perfectly. Check out this tune, then go down the rabbit-hole to their other stuff – its really pretty great.

Bottom Line: Solid Christmas R&B that could easily find a place on your mix. Points shaved off for no obvious way of purchasing or downloading this great song! 4.6/5

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Nick D' and the Believers

Nick D’ and the Believers “Christmas in the City” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Damn! It is ramping up huh?? Columbus, Ohio’s Nick D’ & the Believers soulful “Christmas in the City” is a really solid Christmas tune. I really enjoy the harmonies, and find the lyrics simple and honest (always a plus). I don’t know how much more I need to say… its got a great vibe. Listen.

Bottom Line: Great song – Keep ’em coming. 4.5/5.

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Sugar & Tiger - Noel Christmas

Sugar & Tiger “Noël Christmas” (2011/2014)

Atmosphériques
Buy: Amazon UK | Band’s Webstore | Amazon FR MP3 | Bandcamp

Sugar & Tiger‘s “Noël Christmas” has been around since 2011, but the song was not properly released until this year on their debut, Télévisage. An extremely fun tune, sung largely in French with some English in the chorus, these Parisians expertly straddle the pond. They list their influences as the Ramones, the Raveonettes and Phil Spector… so it makes perfect sense that they recorded a rockin’ Christmas song.

Bottom Line: Upbeat with that certain, I don’t know what (hehe) that makes me want to listen to it multiple times. If only it were easier to purchase as a single song! 4.1/5

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Comes with a Smile: Protect Our Secret Handshake

Gordon Downie “Christmastime in Toronto (Alt. Version)” (2003)

Comes with a Smile
Buy: Discogs

Gordon Downie is best known as the lead singer for the Tragically Hip – so while you may not know him, that name likely rings a bell. This is one of my ultimate finds… because this version of “Christmastime in Toronto” lives in only one place and is not available digitally. Comes with a Smile was a magazine + CD that specifically curated tracks unavailable anywhere else. It was a wealth of interesting bands, alternate takes, one-off covers, and the world is lessened with its folding in 2006. If you are so inclined to pick up Magazine #13 (with comes with CD #9, Protect Our Secret Handshake), you will be treated to this alternate version, which in my estimation, is vastly superior to the version that made it onto the record (the alternate version ROCKS the F* OUT). I always hesitate to give away free music when it wasn’t given away free to begin with, so I will have to defer to your own personal motivation… if you want it, you gotta get it yourself. I am not heartless though – if you want to hear it, head over to my mix from 2006, Fold Your Hands Santa, You Walk Like an Elf, and wait for track #9.

Bottom Line: Dig and you shall find a winner. 5/5