The Martial Arts – Christmas With The Martial Arts (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I’m in a mood tonight. I want to just yell and swear (in a good way) about every record I find. You have no idea what I’ve already written and deleted for this review, but let your mind go crazy. Glasgow’s The Martial Arts is a project of Paul Kelly, whose CV is a murderers row of great bands (BMX Bandits / Carla J Easton / The Primary 5 / Ette / Radiophonic / Tuckshop / How to Swim / The Hector Collectors) has put together this just FUCKING FUN AND WONDERFUL Christmas EP, recorded over eight years and finished over lockdown. The first two bouncing, beautiful tracks, “Stockings” and “Snow Flakes,” just take off like a rocket and shoot sparklers out of their ass for four minutes a piece. I devoured every second, with a giant grin on my face. “My Christmas was in June” is a cover of a Ze Malibu (feat. members of Redd Kross and that dog) song, and while the tempo slows to a stroll, the scenery is gorgeous. The final track and the only one actually fully-recorded in 2020, “Blinded by the Night” takes me back to the 80’s, to an emotional moment in a movie with lots of driving in the rain and staring out the window. “Stare into my bright disco eyes,” god I love that line. Go buy this record, but wait a few hours for #Bandcampfriday, why don’t ya?

Bottom Line: This is an indie/power/retro pop mixture that, like the unholy concoction the Long Island iced tea, will fuck you up real good.

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Cecilia Ebba & Emma Miller – Winter EP (2019)

Emma Miller and Cecilia Ebba - Winter EP

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Spotify

If you did a quick survey of what I’ve been writing about lately, a lot of the music has been a bit critical, sad, profane and perhaps a bit silly at times. Yeah, I do like that stuff, no doubt about it. Just hook me up and feed it to my veins directly.

But… as I do… I am also a sucker for music that feels wonderfully genuine. 2019’s Winter EP is exactly this – beautiful and genuine. Cecilia Ebba and Emma Miller are two extremely talented writers and vocalists, and they sound so good together that you could easily be mistaken to believe that they do this all the time! But no, London-based Swede Cecilia Ebba and Scotland-based Emma Miller have only collaborated on this one-off Christmas EP! The songs are thoughtful, loving, nostalgic, and fucking beautiful. The leadoff track, “Snowy Roads,” is simple in premise, and brilliant in execution. The vocal lines make turns that you wouldn’t expect, but love, and then the chorus begins and in come these beautiful strings. While I was already taken with the vocals in “Snowy Roads,” we haven’t even seen what these two voices can do together until the second track, “Apple Tree.” This lullaby to an apple tree is a fantastic premise to create a beautiful visual of a calm, snowy winter night, made only more spectacular by their interwoven voices. “December” sounds like a sister to “Snowy Roads,” with its spare piano bed and scaled-back harmonies (in comparison to “Apple Tree”). This one might get you, with its lyrics of lost love, but the holidays are gonna do that to you anyways, and it might as well sound this good. The finale (to me) is actually the next-to-last track, “Winter.” I don’t think there is an instrument on this track, it is all their beautiful layered vocals. This song has some of their best lines as well: “The aches and pains of yesterday unravel in the warmth. / So lay me down in winter snow / and watch it all melt away.” That is some truly gorgeous stuff.

So yeah, they also have a very nice version of “Silent Night” as well. Technically that is the closer… but I’m here for the originals.

If there is justice in the world, this record will be released by a fantastic label on a beautiful 10″ record. I’ve added it to my vision board, now it is up to you, universe.

Bottom Line: Front to back, this record is undeniably good. To have an EP with four original songs that are this strong… this record deserves both your attention and your money because you are going to want to listen to this for years to come.

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I am adding Soundcloud embeds so that they can be indexed by sites like the Hype Machine, but you really need to look up the entire EP on your preferred streaming/buying service. Remember, buying means WAY more than streaming, so go buy.

Michael M “Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)” (2020)

Michael M - Humans Are Not Worth Saving (Merry Christmas)

Last Night from Glasgow
Buy:
Bandcamp

Glasgow’s Michael M. has written a “quick song about Santa Claus having an existential crisis,” and fuck if it isn’t one of my favorite little ditties of the year. Just bask in these lyrics and smile.

It’s Christmas time and a cold wind appears
The snow isn’t falling down
Because the Earth is misbehaving
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Humans are not worth saving

And it breaks my heart in two to know it’s down to you
Resurrected annually to highlight wealth inequality
Humans are not worth saving

Merry Christmas, please let me die

The song sounds like it should have been one of those coveted b-sides from Blue Album/Pinkerton-era Weezer, which I consider a high, high compliment. (Side note – It is so unfortunate that you have to designate which Weezer records as to not insult the band you like, because looooorrrrrdddd, they break my heart to this day.) You can’t listen to this thing and not smile – it is infectious (too soon?). Short, sharp perfection.

Bottom Line: The vibe, the lyrics, every damn thing about this song reminds me of why I started this silly blog – to bring weirdo Christmas songs like this to my weirdo friends. Enjoy.

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Randolph’s Leap “Christmas, Burn it All” (Featuring the Olive Grove All-Stars) (2019)

Olive Grove Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Scottish! Horns! Politics! Beloved musicians! Randolph’s Leap and the Olive Grove All-Stars have checked off every single required box for me to love them. “Christmas, Burn it All” is a cathartic release of frustration with a big chorus. “It’s Christmas time and all your heroes are dead / So love yourself, your family and friends tonight instead / It’s Christmas time and all your dreams are gone / But Santa’s on his way to bring a new and hopeful dawn.” EPIC! You think this thing is going to be bleak, and only bleak when you hear that first line – but then bam! – there is Love. In two short lines, your perception of what this song is going to be is flipped. I haven’t even gotten to the part that truly hooked me. The verse with Daniel Johnston was just so damn touching, I continue to be destroyed by it. “It’s Christmas time and all your heroes are dead / The ghost of Daniel Johnston came and hovered by my bed / We talked about some random things then finally he said / Merry Christmas and True Love Will Find You In The End.” That verse made this song undeniable. AND THEN CAME THE ENDING. Horns ring out with “Burn it all, throw it all in the fire / It’s Christmas day / a new age is on the way!” To finish with an explosion is pretty much the best way to go.

Bottom Line: This song is the first EPIC Christmas song of 2019, and perhaps the last and greatest one of the decade.

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Stephen Solo “War is Never Over (Even if you want it)” (2015)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3

For those bands out there who want to write a Christmas song, but don’t know where to begin – let me pose two options for you. The first would be found in Bossy Love’s reinterpretation of the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” where they updated the song to be more of-the-moment. The second approach would be to write a response song. A good example of this approach can be found in Stephen Solo‘s “War is Never Over (Even if you want it).” Back in 2015, the British had begun participating in airstrikes in Syria, and from Stephen’s perspective back in Glasgow… beginning a new chapter of an unending war. So, he took his phone (as he does) and recorded this brutal condemnation of the action, hung on the frame of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”

“Let the Big Ben bells ring out for bombs this Christmas / the only peace we’ll get this year is pieces of skulls and baby bones. / War is never over even if you want it.”

Stark indeed. Extremely well-produced, yet tough to listen to, as you are forced to reflect on what violence means to you when it happens so far away.

Bottom Line: Stephen Solo’s “Christmas” song will likely feel quite contemporary, renewed by humanity’s skillful violence, for many years to come.

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A Mild Peril “I Hear the First Strains (of Christmas Music)” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Glasgow’s A Mild Peril, like the previously-featured Bossy Love, have alumni from the excellent (and missed) Dananananaykroyd. While that first band didn’t record any Christmas tunes, the very first song by A Mild Peril is a wonderfully meta-Christmas song. On occasion, I have been called a grinch. Sure, I am barely green, and only slightly fuzzy. And while my heart remains its normal size, “I Hear the First Strains (of Christmas Music)” may just make this grinch-ish heart swell. I mean… this is a fantastic indiepop song is about how much they love Christmas music. I must love Christmas music… I spend enough time thinking, listening and writing about it. Wait for a second… I think I love Christmas music. You did it, A Mild Peril. Now, off to urgent care.

Bottom Line: Scottish indiepop celebrating a love of Christmas music? Perhaps if A Mild Peril were Swedish, that would be the only way to be even more on-brand for Christmas Underground. Now, go download it and get in the mood for Christmas. It’s only going to be about 85 degrees today – perfect Christmas music weather IMHO.

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Bossy Love “Christmas Rapping” (2014)

Bossy Love - Christmas Rapping

Something In Construction
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

Back in 2014, the Scottish duo Bossy Love premiered their reinterpretation of the Waitress’ “Christmas Wrapping” on the always-excellent The Line of Best Fit. I somehow missed it… and I thought I was on my game back in 2014! Though featured on their Under the Covers mixtape, the song (and the mixtape) has nearly disappeared in the intervening 5 years. Not on Spotify, not on Soundcloud (well, at least this one song is technically available, but hidden), not on Bandcamp, nor available for purchase on Amazon. This may very well be your last time to find this track. I managed to hunt it down from a direct link still available on their Facebook page, but who knows how long they will keep that alive. Back to the actual song! The track is far more dance-pop than the original, which is to be expected from a Bossy Love-treatment. Well executed, but not something I hadn’t heard before. What DOES make this track stand out is the updated lyrics – a character arc of a fuck-up who gets her shit together for Christmas. The story references blogs, iPhones, DUIs, and Youtube – a “Christmas Wrapping” for a 21st century.

Bottom Line: I’m digging this approach. I would love to see more modern reinterpretations of the classics, rather than just straightforward covers. Universe, make this happen!

Modern Studies “It’s Winter” (2018)

Fire Records
Buy: Bandcamp

On occasion, folks have thought this might be a Scottish blog. I take that as a great compliment, and I fully understand why one might assume this. I LOVE SCOTTISH BANDS. Well, tack Modern Studies up on the ol’ evidence board, but keep them at the edge, because they are technically from Scotland-via-Lancashire. Now, Modern Studies latest LP “Welcome Strangers” contains a stunning winter-themed song, appropriately titled “It’s Winter.” With orchestration and vocal harmonies that make me feel like they dig the Dirty Projectors, Modern Studies has crafted an atmosphere that evokes winter. The strings often flutter in and out, as if gusts of snow across your windows. I am sucker for winter songs, as they are a break from Christmas… an aperitif to cleanse the palate, and “It’s Winter” does so beautifully. And as for me being Scottish, I should probably take my address off the site to add to the mystery…

Bottom Line: I’d snuggle up by the fire with this song.

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UPCOMING: Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert – Ghost Stories for Christmas (2018)

Rock Action
Buy: Preorder | Preorder + Tickets to the release show if you live in/near Glasgow

Aidan Moffat (ex-Arab Strap) and RM Hubbert (ex-El Hombre Trajeado), both known for their prolific solo careers as well as their past bands, have hooked up of late, releasing the excellent Here Lies the Body back in May. Certainly Aidan is no stranger to Christmas songs, with Arab Strap releasing a few throughout their run, as well as having his own solo Christmas EP back in 2011. Thus, the two began with an idea for one Christmas song, meant to be a one-off seasonal treat. It soon developed into an EP, and eventually ballooned into a full album. The description sounds fascinating:

“These are the ghosts of love, haunting happy homes and fairy-lit bars; these are the ghosts of memory, of haunted mirrors, pagan festivities, and unforgettable friends. As with this year’s critically acclaimed debut album, Here Lies The Body, Moffat’s quiet, pensive storytelling finds a perfect partner in Hubbert’s intimately intricate, flamenco-flavoured guitar. Across eight new original compositions and two deftly executed covers, here they offer an alternative view on the Season To Be Jolly.”

This is certainly one to be checked out! Available for preorder now and will be released on Dec. 7, which is unfortunately a bit late for my mix. However, if you live in the Glasgow area, you can order from Monorail Music and grab a ticket to their special Christmas release party on Dec. 6!

Unfortunately, they have not released a true Christmas song to preview, only a cover of Yazoo’s “Only You,” which was a Christmas #1 in the UK. The original intended one-off, “A Ghost Story for Christmas,” is the forthcoming single and will likely be released in short order. BTW, I don’t consider Christmas #1’s to be appropriate holiday listening… their version here is very nice, but it should have been a digital extra or something 🙂

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The Spook School “Someone To Spend Christmas With” (2017)

The Spook School CHRISTMAS

Slumberland / Alcopop! Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Glasgow’s The Spook School have a new record coming out, Could it Be Different, which is news in itself… but to add a fantastic Christmas single to the mix too??? That is when ol’ Jim here starts getting a bit loopy. “Someone to Spend Christmas With” is yet another great, new Christmas song that takes a wholly new approach to the season. The Spook School describes it as “A song about figuring out how you want to conduct your own relationships when it feels like the world is full of conflicting advice about the “best” way to do it. Whether that be monogamy, polyamory or something else. The refrain relates to the ideal of having one important person in your life with whom you’ll always spend your special occasions.” We don’t have all the answers – We have to figure it out for ourselves, lean on those who care about us, and rock out to some sweet, sweet indiepop. (They’ve got another one on their Bandcamp too, “Bah Humbug” from 2011, for those who want to delve deeper.)

Bottom Line: The Spook School have released a stone-cold Christmas mix lock with this wonderful indiepop jam.

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