Brad Peterson “All is Well” (2017)

Brad Peterson "All is Well"

Self Released
Buy: Free!

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.

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Quilt “Blue Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

“Blue Christmas” has never been a favorite of mine, so the source material is already (and unfortunately) placing this track on a slightly lower branch on my Christmas tree. However, there are some qualities to Quilt’s take on this ol’ chestnut that I’d like to chat about. Their casual country-psych rock approach does not reinvent the song, but the small touches they add, such as the woodsy, chirping noises, contrasted by the a buzzing synth melody that appears late in the track, keep things interesting. Brevity is also their friend, keeping the track just barely over two minutes – especially important with such a (IMHO) boring and overplayed song. Simply stated, this is a perfectly fine version of “Blue Christmas,” one that might fit the bill for those folks out there who don’t have such issues with the original.

Bottom Line: Quilt’s subtle choices are solid – imagine what they could do with a better song!

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Roders “Julen 92” (2014/2017)

roders - Julen 92

Self Released
Buy: Stream

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.

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Olympians “Leaving You at Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have been thinking a good bit about what my 2018 Christmas mix might be like. Last year, I gave myself a bit more room to use profanity and politics, saying that it would be an every-so-few-years loosening of standards. I’m a father of a young kid, a lot of my friends have young kids, and I like the idea of being able to listen to the mix around them. However, I am quite undecided as to the tone of this year’s mix. I suppose everything will be decided in November, as to whether this mix will follow the darkest timeline, or will show shreds of hope. That said, should I consider the darker timeline, this track from Norwich->London’s Olympians could fit nicely. Recorded a few years prior to release, they remembered they had this Christmas song and dropped it back in 2014 – completely overlooking the fact that they could have let someone (ahem) know about it! I love a good song about drinking and watching TV on Christmas – and this one has both in spades. The song’s narrator is sitting there, in his girlfriend/boyfriend’s folks house, having a terrible time, drinking to pass the time while he wishes to go home and watch TV. Stuck there for a week, he begins to ponder leaving… only to decide in a crescendo of Weezer (when they were good) wall-of-sound that indeed he will. Any readers of this blog know we love the dark stuff as much as the light, and this one is a solid, deep gray.

Bottom Line: I’d love to see if the Olympians could dig up another Christmas song, because this indie-rock downer is damn solid.

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The Undercuts “The Grunge Who Stole Christmas” (2018)

The Undercuts "The Grunge Who Stole Christmas" (2018)

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Wellington, New Zealand’s The Undercuts have created a ramshackle gem of a weirdo Christmas song with “The Grunge Who Stole Christmas.” Electronic voices part to make room for a funky beat and vocals that remind me of the greatly-missed The Rapture, which I would consider a high compliment. While I would love to dissect the lyrics a bit more – they aren’t quite distinguishable… but that has never stopped me from liking a song! However, they do finish it up with a quite understandable and urgent “MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE.” A deliciously distressed Christmas song for a distressingly disturbed time.

Bottom Line: Need to mess up your mix a bit? This rough ditty by The Undercuts might be the perfect fit.

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Street Joy “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” (2017)

Street Joy

Self Released
Buy: Stream

“Two jews can still appreciate a good Christmas jingle.” LA’s Street Joy are indeed this – two jewish dudes who just released a fantastic cover of “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?.” In my brief research, this track doesn’t appear to be covered very often, and thus this may be your first experience hearing the song (unless you watch Narcos). The original was sung by a 12-year-old Augie Rios, backed by the Mark Jeffrey Orchestra, and actually sounds better than you’d imagine a child singing a novelty song might. In their version, Street Joy keep some basic melodies, but the dance beat, the synthesizers, and the fuzzy bass line completely transform this song; they have managed to perfectly modernize this novelty song from 1958, and make the song cooler than I ever thought it could be.

Bottom Line: Who knew “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” could sound this awesome?

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POP ETC – A POP ETC Christmas (2017)

a POP ETC Christmas

Pop Etc Records
Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

POP ETC have been thinking about recording a Christmas songs for years, but kept getting too busy around the holidays and would eventually let the idea fall away. That was then, and this is now… when POP ETC is releasing not one, but three Christmas songs! The EP contains two covers, which bookend the release, leading off with the classic Vince Guaraldi classic “Christmas Time is Here.” Their version is very faithful to the original in most aspects – pacing, emphasis, etc. – with Christopher’s vocals floating on top of their minimal orchestration. This leadoff is quite nice, and nicely tees up their original tune, “All I Want for Xmas (Just My Baby).” The pace picks up a bit as Christopher kicks into the song that he’s been singing around the house since the day after Thanksgiving; This is not surprising, as the track is a subtle earworm. It’s a classic “I just want you for Christmas” jam, wrapped wonderfully with POP ETC’s excellent pop taste. Finally, POP ETC tackle the McCartney classic, “Wonderful Christmastime,” and their drummer Julian takes over vocal duties. Thankfully, they don’t go full Macca, and tone down those sugary-sweet moments to create a perfectly nice version. Believe me, that last sentence was a high compliment. In fact, there are some excellent vocals, as well as backing vocal harmonies on this track, and the ending is genuinely beautiful. Had I not heard Slow Dancer’s dramatic reinterpretation from the Amazon Indie for the Holidays playlist, I would likely be adding in even more flowery language in trying to describe this strong cover of a (IMHO) bad song. With three strong tracks on this EP, POP ETC’s first foray into Christmas tunes was worth the wait.

Bottom Line: POP ETC’s Christmas EP is strong throughout, with touches of true brilliance and beauty, and most certainly worth your time.

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The Christmas Cards “Christmastime is Here” (2017)

the Christmas Cards

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

To what do my indiepop ears hear shuffling through my Soundcloud feed? Could that be a band formed by the members of “indie-pop darlings The Postcards and lo-fi teenage sensations Father?” Why by golly, it is! The Christmas Cards combined these two bands for a South London, basement recording session this past November and ran through 14 indiepop Christmas tunes! For those who love raw indiepop, this will be right up your alley. Being that it is a Saturday, and I have 3 different birthday/Hanukkah/Christmas parties to go to, I’m only going to single out one, “Christmastime is Here.” The Christmas Cards do it well – speeding up this classic in a jovial indiepop fashion.  It really was the handclaps that got me over the hump on this one being the track to highlight, as I then noticed that I was sincerely grooving and tapping my foot to their lovely cover. Of note, there are some solid, real deep cut covers in there too – but I think they’ll require multiple listens to really get into… so perhaps in a future post or two!

Bottom Line: A truly enjoyable cover for you indiepoppers out there! Check out the other tracks too if you like – some are great, others are good, and only one or two I wouldn’t press play on again (but Little Drummer Boy is pretty much my least favorite song ever). I threw all of them in a playlist below, for your perusing pleasure.

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Premiere: The Grapes & Friends “Wishlist” (2017)

Grapes & Friends "Wishlist"

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Let me quickly introduce you to the Grapes and Friends, as there is the slight possibility that some of you have not been reading my blog all year. (FYI, I write about Christmas music all year… because I have problems, obviously).   an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. TOMORROW NIGHT (Dec. 9) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Wishlist” is exploding with cheeky funk, that special kind that will both get your ass moving and put a big smile on your face. When they bust this out at their xmas party – shit is going down. The song pairs perfectly with last year’s “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” tickling those Midnight Vultures-era-Beck feelings of carefree youth. And those vocals…  that delivery suggests something naughty is going down, and you know what? It just might. The day is just beginning… the possibilities are endless, and this is your holiday soundtrack.

Bottom Line: Slam your beer and start jumping around… or start evaluating whether you have any life left inside you – you choose. (Shit got deep there for a second.)

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Pauline Andrès “Christmas from Paris, TN” (2017)

Pauline Andrès "Christmas in Paris, TN"

Self Released
Buy: Stream | Bandcamp

Originally “born in France a coal miner’s daughter,” then a Berlin-based country artist, Pauline Andrès has found a new home in Nashville to record her latest album, due in 2018. In the meantime, she has recorded this excellent new Christmas tune, “Christmas in Paris, TN.” The song begins as a intriguing title, and quickly expands into a melancholy, country-rock standout of this Christmas season. One would think that a track about Christmas in Paris would be a song of beauty, lights and romance – but add that Tennessee onto the end and you’ve got a wholly different scene. This song is about being extremely lonely on Christmas, where every reminder of Christmas makes it worse. So, she writes her family a postcard, “Alone for Christmas, Alone in Paris.” It takes a round or two of that line before she adds “Tennessee,” and that delay is so clever and effective – just wonderfully crafted. Her voice shares qualities with Lucinda Williams, and as with Lucinda, the rough edges compliment the lyrics beautifully. The production is wonderful, and the addition of country organ is the icing on the cake. I’m sure this song will find a place on someone’s mix out there, no doubt.

Bottom Line: Pauline has a very dark approach toward Christmas songs (check out her 2015, A Happy Christmas Song EP), and with “Christmas in Paris, TN,” she’s delivered her strongest song yet. Beautifully crafted, on all fronts.

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