Olive Grove Records
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 🙂
Slumberland / Alcopop! Records
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.
Scotland’s Big Cloud describes themselves as “fearlessly boring groove-drone & ambient pop.” Descriptions are meant to give you a good general idea of what to expect, and that description left me baffled… and curious. On “Christmas Presence,” Big Cloud has a slow groove that I might best describe as RIYL Low/Spain. In fact, this song sounds like something either of those bands would likely cover beautifully. The ringing guitar notes and strolling beat frame some clever, and at times, rather militantly-secular lyrics (which I would obviously be into): “I don’t care about cards or treeses / I refuse to think of Jesus / Your presence is the greatest gift that there is.” There are many instances of clever turns of phrase, most obviously those inspiring the title of the song: “I don’t need your Christmas present / I just need your Christmas presence / Your presence is the greatest gift that there is.” There is some downright sweetness in this song, which when not handled right can drive a song into a ditch of crass sentimentality. Big Cloud easily navigates the sweetness and keeps “Christmas Presence” on a heartfelt, genuine, and despite their best efforts, interesting path.
Bottom Line: Big Cloud has written a truly sweet Christmas song that is just a few degrees off-center to make it that much more interesting.
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3
Glasgow’s Catholic Action had a nice track “New Year” on their recent debut, In Memory of, this past year. Checked it out, dug it, but for some reason didn’t find myself compelled to write that very moment. Then, they whip out this holiday single with a brand new track, “No Angels,” along with a new mix of “New Year,” and I just gotta. “No Angels” throws the bar down immediately – “You can’t have sex at Christmas / you can’t make love or screw / celebrate as he intended / with television and food.” Who doesn’t like a Christmas song with attitude? This song has attitude to spare, but hidden amongst that swagger are some damn clever turns of phrase: “I’m old enough to know better / but young enough to want more.” So, the A-side is fantastic, what about the B-side, “New Years – Christmas Miracle Mix?” This song rocks more than “No Angel’s” dirty walk, with dirty guitars raising up the shout-worthy chorus. “Casiotone I’m painfully alone, I’m pining over you.” Even a namecheck for one of the legends of indie rock Christmas! This band obviously know the indie-Christmas canon they are joining, and what an entrance.
Bottom Line: Perhaps the strongest 1-2 punch of the season. I don’t know what held me back before, but this pairing is just what I needed to see the light.
Glasgow’s Laurence Made Me Cry (aka Jo Whitby) bought some sleigh bells, and now we all have a great new Christmas song! Which gives me an idea… who should I send sleigh bells to? I’m creating a list… OK, back to the review. This track is a “song for when you’d rather be alone at Christmas,” which I think we can all relate to at some points during the season. The music somehow tickles my late 90s-early 2000’s indie rock funny bone, as the lyrical guitar lines suggest Pavement-meets-Pinkerton-era Weezer? Am I crazy? But truly, it’s Jo’s voice that seals the deal for me. Love it. If you need any more convincing, all proceeds go to Community Christmas, “who believe that no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be.”
Bottom Line: I’m sure happy Jo bought some sleigh bells, and that she shook them for charity!