Faye and the Scrooges “Christmas is Lit” (2019)

Faye and the Scrooges

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Faye and the Scrooges are one of those hidden gems that only our little community of weirdo Christmas music will ever know about. Why? Well, the band exists only in the context of these delicious, one-off Christmas singles, hopefully to be finished before the big day.  2019’s offering is classic Faye and the Scrooges, blending poppy melodies and profane language with equal parts of the bitterness and sugary sweetness found in the holiday season. I only wish I could have given them the last-minute PR bump “Christmas Is Lit” deserved… but alas, 2019 ended as a portent of things to come… with me quite sick and exhausted. Perhaps this little gem will help you claw your way out of the funk of 2020, as it has certainly helped me.

Bottom Line: Faye and the Scrooges don’t come out to play every year, but when they do, you know the song will certainly make it onto your playlist.

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The Strange Echo “We Can Weather Winter” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

After a long absence, Detroit’s The Strange Echo (fka Computer Perfection) have begun making fun noises again. Earlier in the year, they shared 2 tracks they recorded with Camelot Six, including a fantastic cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must be the Place (Naive Melody).” I saw this come through my Soundcloud feed, got very excited, but then saw that they were originally recorded back in 2010. Crestfallen, I sunk back into the Soundcloud black hole… hoping for a light to flicker once more. Then, a few weeks back, some instrumental tracks began showing up on their profile (since deleted). From the title… it really suggested a holiday/Christmas song. Well.. what do you know. The indiepop goodness of “We Can Weather Winter” was released today, and I’m quite happy to have The Strange Echo grace my blog once more. The steady drum beat, the walking keyboard melody, and the slow swing of the bassline evoke the calming slow repetition of falling snow. What a lovely return – may we have many more visits from you.

Bottom Line: In a day of comebacks (Cherry Ghost), The Strange Echo has returned with a beautiful wintery gift.

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Young War “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Manchester’s Young War is three-for-three so far, yet to miss. Tweeting out this morning with the kind of cover that I can seriously get behind, one that sounds nearly nothing like the original. In fact, it sounds so much like a Young War song, that I swear the intros to 2014’s brilliant “I Won’t Come Back for Christmas (I’m Serious),” (GO BUY THAT SONG NOW) and this Ramones cover are damn-near cousins. I’ve heard slowed down versions of this song, ones that attempt to chill-out one of Christmas’ rock classics, and they sometimes go way too dark. Not only has Young War not gone dark, but dammit if this isn’t the sweetest version of this song I’ve heard – from production to delivery, this song feels turned on its head, which is exactly where a Christmas cover should be.

Bottom Line: Make Christmas your own, like Young War does with this fantastic version of The Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”

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The Happy Somethings “It’s Christmas Time (We’re as Miserable as Sin)” (Bah Humbug Version) (2018/2019)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

My favorite track off of last year’s A Very Cherry Christmas 13 (still available!) has been re-released with a new “Bah Humbug” version! The Happy Somethings‘ ode to being miserable on Christmas an odd delight. I absolutely love the groove in this song. Putting together your mix? Need a dance break with bleak lyrics? Let me sell you this song!

Bottom Line: Indiepop misery at its finest! And it is free!

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PREMIERE: The Grapes & Friends “Christmas in My Neighborhood” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Spotify

There are three Christmas events that are on the top of my bucket list: Lost Map Records’ Christmas Baubles, the party that Fowler VW throws every year celebrating their latest amazing Christmas compilation, and of course, The Grapes & Friends’ Annual Christmas Extravaganza! This Austin, Texas tradition is going into an 11th year this year – and if the party is anything like the energy that the Grapes & Friends infuse into their songs every year… it just must be the biggest party of the year.

Now, for the uninitiated, Grapes & Friends come together like Voltron every year, joining together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically Christmas supergroup. “Christmas in My Neighborhood” is the 6th original Christmas song from the Grapes & Friends. Staying true to their mantra of “making Christmas sexy,” the band finds themselves immersed in the genres of 90s boy band R&B and yacht rock-style production. The song is rich with layered harmonies, bells, synths, and more. There’s even a special treat at the end!

The lyrics are all about finding a sense of community and love in a place where you thought you were alone.

From Chris Galis, one of the lyricists: “One of the first times of the year you notice that its really Christmas season is when the lights go up on your street. That’s when you feel it. That’s what we wanted this song to vibe with.”

The Grapes & Friends will be hosting their 11th Annual Christmas Extravaganza in Austin, TX at the Hole in the Wall on Saturday, December 7th. Should you be in walking, driving, train, plane or teleportation distance, the details are below:

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/11th-annual-grapes-and-friends-tickets-81387160187
RSVP on FB: https://www.facebook.com/events/440203936621398/

Bottom Line: The Grapes & Friends can always be relied on to spice up your Christmas, and this one is going to certainly entice your taste buds.

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Spaceface “Xmas Party (Nice & Naughty)” (2019)

People in a Position to Know (PIAPTK) Recordings
Buy: PIAPTK (vinyl)

Memphis psych-rock taco afficianados Spaceface are quickly building a reputation for their badass Christmas songs. 2018 saw Spaceface release two holiday tracks, their woozy psych rendition of “Christmas Time is Here,” as well as their collaboration with LABRYS (Penny of Broncho), “Single Star,” which was a highlight from Fowler VW presents A Blackwatch Christmas Vol. VIII: The Sounds of the Season. This year (so far), they are releasing a lathe-cut, limited to 68 copies, naughty psych-rock jam called “Xmas Party (Nice & Naughty).” This song is an orgy for the ears, with a groove that recalls the kind of party music that Grapes and Friends throw down, combined with the naughty voiceover styles of Ryan Lindsey (of Broncho). Sandwich this song within a playlist, and who knows what is gonna happen. There does not appear to be a digital download of this… yet.

Bottom Line: This groove should sustain you all for a good while!

The Good Tidings “Christmas for Cowboys” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud (Free!)

The Good Tidings are the musical accompaniment to the Brooklyn-based Christmas movie series, The Christmas Club. While I believe the movies have continued since 2005, the band has remained quiet since 2013. That final round of releases included the excellent John Cale cover, “A Child’s Christmas in Whales,” which I wrote about back in the day. To my surprise, two new tracks popped up today, one of which I found just delightful. I rarely feature covers of John Denver’s classic “Christmas for Cowboys” tune on here, as nearly all the covers sound the same. The Good Tidings have thrown out the old formula and plugged in the synths. The production is beautiful and oddly soothing, with some standout brass synth solos to boot. The Good Tidings are back, and they brought their best stuff with them.

Bottom Line: A cowboy Christmas, basking in the light of a synthetic moon – a contrast that Christmas Underground can cosign.

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Messi “Charlemagne” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud (FREE!)

Continuing from earlier in the month… when we all enjoyed an extremely short song about the end of Halloween… I bring you a beautiful and somewhat disturbing song that takes place around Christmas. Messi is a singer/songwriter from Gent, Belgium, with a beautiful, beautiful folk voice. I say folk voice, because she does not sing songs that stretch her capabilities, as you might find in pop music, but it does contain that one quality that is most necessary: personality. Messi’s voice has a warmth that soothes, even when she’s singing about eyes and dead flies. “Charlemagne” is a fun little folk tale about (IMO) an ex who is going to extreme lengths to get attention. Why did I add that IMO? Because I asked Messi, and she says that the song just wrote itself and was very open to my interpretation. So, don’t assume my opinion is the “right” one – take your own stab at finding meaning in this song. Thus is the subjective beauty of art.

Bottom Line: Messi’s voice draws me in on this one. The song’s imagery is quite odd for something that might end up on a Christmas mix, but isn’t that kind of awesome? Can’t you just picture your friends pausing for a second, wondering if what they heard was correct, then just losing themselves in the chorus anyway? Yeah… I sure can.

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Shadowlark “Christmas Time” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

You might think my Christmas music hunt is scientific – that I have specific terms and techniques that I use. In some ways, you are right. There is most definitely a place for an educated search. However, there is also a place for just clicking and clicking and clicking, going down the rabbit hole to see where it might lead. This time, it somehow lead me to somewhere familiar, and I discovered Shadowlark. The voice behind this band is Ellen Smith, previously of the much more folky Ellen and the Escapades. I would often check back in and see what they were up to, as I loved Ellen and the Escapades (they have been featured on CU before!). Yet somehow, time passed and I had completely missed this new project, the synth-heavy Shadowlark. To my surprise, they even released a Christmas song last year, “Christmas Time.” I listened… and it sounded quite familiar. The song is a rework of one of the final released recordings of Ellen and the Escapades, expanded from its stripped-back original with some more production and additional lyrics. There are qualities to both versions that I really love, and I would leave it to you to decide which one you prefer. They even released a video with an acoustic version, which is also quite good. Three versions to parse, to compare, to enjoy.

Bottom Line: I could listen to Ellen Smith sing Christmas songs all day long. Her originals are exquisite, and her covers are gorgeous. Should anyone ever come across her version of “Silent Night,” please do share.

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Steven Branstrom “Christmas” (2011/2015)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I really should have posted this on November 1. Frankly, I’ve had this song in my pocket for YEARS. I meant to write about it way back in 2015. That’s at least when I sent Steven Branstrom a note on Soundcloud, in the hopes that he’d give me a bit more info beyond the 3 tracks on his account. (Of note… there is an additional account under the same name, with this song, that was posted way back in 2011!). Enough background, little information as it provided, let’s get into the song. “Christmas” may very well be the shortest song that I’ve ever featured, clocking in at only 40 seconds. BUT, it is a very nice 40 seconds, and with slightly tongue-in-cheek lyrics coupled with a beautifully sincere delivery, transitioning us from Halloween to Christmas.

So let’s grab the spider webs and put away the skulls.
Clean up the fake blood that got splattered on the walls
Let’s put everything scary out of our sight
cause Santa’s coming baby in 54 nights.

Streaming-only… but there are ways, should you decide you need this little guy on your mix.

Bottom Line: And that’s it! Short and sweet!