When I’m solicited with a song… it has been my experience that the sender often has no clue what Christmas Underground is about, or what my taste might be. More often than not, it isn’t even a Christmas song… But enough blabbering from my grinch alter-ego. Yesterday I received an e-mail from someone who might actually have an idea of what I’m in to! Junkie Thrown, from my adopted hometown (cuz… I want to hang with Junkie Thrown & Jens Lekman, obviously) of Göteborg, Sweden, has written a beautiful, sorrowful, Christmas song about poverty and its contrast to the materialism of Christmas. In a season where I’m finding it hard to listen to happy Christmas music, and find myself searching for music with some deeper meaning, such as Sondre Lerche’s beautiful and poignant plea for Syrian refugees, Junkie Thrown’s sadness is cathartic.
Edit: Looks like this was originally released in 2014.
Bottom Line: Junkie Thrown’s voice is beautiful, the music equally so, and the subject matter meaningful. This is 2:31 that you, at the very least, will not regret; You may even love it.
Buy: 7Digital MP3 (US) | Amazon UK MP3
From the album Våra barns julfavoriter – Julmusik för barn (google translated: Our children’s julfavoriter – Christmas music for children) by Swedish singer-songwriter and frontman of Edson, Pelle Carlberg, and his family. I really have very little idea what they are saying, but I like Pelle enough to make mention of this particular track. The title of this song (Google translated) is “We Get a White Christmas When,” and Pelle’s voice and instrumentation make it a lovely little song. His kids sound great on here too, and I’m not normally a fan of children singing on my Christmas music. I wish I knew a bit more about what the heck they are saying though…
Bottom Line: I wish Pelle Carlberg made Christmas music for my English-speaking child. For those interested in hearing Pelle sing a Christmas song in English, buy his last record, The Lilac Time, and read the liner notes. 3.9/5
Parker Lewis (Emil Johansson) is one of my favorite Swedish Christmas music songsmiths. In fact, it was the Christmas tunes that got me in the door far enough to buy his latest record, and that’s all in Swedish (which I don’t speak – and its wonderful). Now, Emil has recorded a number of Christmas originals and covers in the past, so when he posted that he was sending out 10 CDr to a lucky few who responded to a FB post the other day, I got crazy excited and e-mailed immediately, asking if it might be Christmas songs. While it turned out that I was not one of the ten lucky recipients, he did not seem to suggest anything about a Christmas song in his response to me. Little did I know he had a Christmas song in his back pocket. “Merry Christmas” is a melancholy little song. The first line sets the tone. “I’m in love with you / even though you don’t call me anymore.” Don’t despair, while the melancholy remains, some wonderful lines sneak into this song that clocks in at barely over 2:00. For example, I really like the line “and I wished for impossible things each Christmas / none of which come true / So this year, baby / I wish for you.” Check it out for yourself, and especially check out his older Christmas songs if you haven’t already. I’ve included the ones I could find on Soundcloud in the box below, but there’s a cover of “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” and “All Alone on Christmas” out there too.
Bottom Line: Great melancholy indiepop Christmas if that’s your groove. Now with a download!! 4.1/5
Buy: 7Digital MP3
Red Sleeping Beauty returned from a long hiatus earlier this year, which was wonderful news in my world. To top it all off, for their first new song in 17 years, they recorded a new Christmas song! “Merry Christmas, Marie” sounds like classic RSB. This is high quality indie pop, and for those who love 1990s-2000s indie pop, a gift from a above.
Bottom Line: Red Sleeping Beauty have returned, doing what they do best. 4.5/5
Last year the wonderful German blog Lie in the Sound pointed me toward this beautiful folk EP by Sweden’s Crying Day Care Choir. The two best tracks, “Christmas Day Care Choir (Falala)” and “First Christmas” bookend the release, and led to a very tough decision when considering which one to include on this year’s mix. I finally decided to add “First Christmas,” which surprised me. Sweet Christmas songs have never really been my forte, and this is most certainly the sweetest to make a mix. The song is grounded in a reality that I found beautiful, and try as I might, I was unable to talk myself out of adding it. It was just too good.
Bottom Line: Simple, beautiful folk music and harmonies from Sweden. 4.8/5
Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | 7″ Vinyl Bandcamp | 7Digital MP3 (US) | Amazon UK MP3
The Garlands‘ contribution to last year’s inaugural Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club is a perfect indie pop Christmas single. For the uninitiated, the SCSC format is 7″ records with an original A-side, and a cover B-side. The Garlands A-side, “Christmas Song,” is as beautiful as anything they’ve ever done. These Swedes can do English-indie pop better than most native speakers. I find myself liking it more with every listen – there is this part where the tone takes a somber dip, and damn I love it. The B-side cover of Claudine Longet classic is equally pretty, as they somehow found a way to pour more sugar on an already sweet song. Claudine would be proud.
You can still pick up this release, but there are only 500, so I’d get it sooner than later.
Bottom Line: Indiepop Christmas at its finest. 4.6/5
But Is It Art? Records/Self-Released
Friday Bridge is a (Can you guess the country? Do you read my blog?) Swedish pop duo comprised of Ylva Lindberg and Niklas Gustafsson (of the Higher Elevations). Back in 2012, they released a Christmas tune on Youtube, and a good one at that. I dig the atmosphere of the song – and while I can’t make out many of the lyrics, I don’t really care. Short, with a f*ing fantastic title… it might just sneak onto your mix.
Bottom Line: No way to download this song without getting creative… good tune, listenable, but may need to grow a tiny bit more to claw up into my favorites. 3.8/5
Buy: Discogs CD-R | 7Digital MP3 | iTunes
In 2004, El Perro Del Mar was pretty much only known to the outside world as that singer who shared a split 7″ with Jens Lekman. Thankfully, things have changed in the past decade, and Sarah Assbring (her real name) has released a handful of wonderful, critically acclaimed and challenging records. One of her very first releases (her second if I am not mistaken) was a Christmas CD-R on the Swedish Hybris label. Limited to 200 copies, this CD-R had a fantastic A-side in “Oh What a Christmas!” and an equally enjoyable B-side with “Shake it Off.” Only one of those tunes was Christmas-related, I’ll leave it to you to guess.
“Oh What a Christmas!” has since become somewhat of an indie-christmas classic, showing up on the wonderful It’s Not Like Christmas… and of course, countless 8tracks mixes. This attention is well deserved, as the song is pretty wonderful – the music harkens back to the drum beat of 60’s pop, while layering on her ever-so-distinctive vocals to create a great 3 minutes of Swedish retro-pop. Of note, in 2009, she dipped her toes back into season fare with Auld Lang Syne – and really puts the El Perro Del Mar stamp on that old chestnut as well.
Bottom Line: If you aren’t turned off by her voice to start with, then this song is likely for you. 4.5/5
Like my fellow friend-in-Christmas Stubby, I too believe that the Swedish country-punk band, The Linedance Fever, have recorded one of the most wonderful and original versions of the oft-covered Wham! classic, “Last Christmas.” I have included a few covers of this song on my mixes in the past, each one quite distinct from the other… and this version joins the Erlend Oye version as the best that you can find. (They also have another Christmas tune, 365 Days of Christmas, and I may review that at some point… and I do hope they make some more.)
Bottom Line: A gem. If you have any taste, you’ll think so too. 🙂 5/5
Marsh-Marigold (EP) / Siesta (Compilation)
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Associated with the wonderful Acid House Kings (in that they share one member), Red Sleeping Beauty
were active from 1992-1997 are recently back in the swing of things with a new track (a cover) on the bonus disc of Alpaca Sports’ debut release. For those, like me, who have followed that Swedish indie-pop rabbit hole down a good ways, this is good news.
Red Sleeping Beauty, like the Acid House Kings, dabbled in a seasonal tune on their first release. Amazingly enough, both songs were titled “Christmas,” and were released in the same year (1992) on the same record label (Marsh-Marigold). However, one song is significantly better than the other – and my (unfortunate) distaste for the AHK song left me with quite low expectations for the RSB tune. I was, however, quite pleasantly surprised. Red Sleeping Beauty recorded a perfectly fine indie-pop Christmas tune, very much in the style of the genre, but with a nice bed of fuzz to build the male/female vocal interplay upon. Originally released on their 1992 debut EP, Pop Sounds, it is much easier located on 2000’s Siesta singles compilation appropriately titled, Singles.
Bottom Line: Solid indie-pop from Sweden gets my vote. As I live with this tune some more, it might get a few more points… we’ll see. 3.9/5