Strayfolk “Christmas Day” (2008)

strayfolk

Self-Released
Buy: Bandcamp

How about some wonderful Americana from Sweden for your Saturday morning? Strayfolk came into my radar back in 2008, courtesy of Swedesplease, and their “Christmas Day” immediately became part of my regular rotation. Long existing as an mp3 floating out in the ether of the internet, it now has a home on Bandcamp. Why would you go to Bandcamp, rather than just popping over to their website? Well, because you can now get a FLAC version, as well as show your appreciation for such a great song with a buck. Christmas Underground is all about supporting the artists that make our season happen.

Bottom Line: You and your country band are going to want to cover this song, so go buy it and start practicing. 5/5

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Jens Lekman “I Don’t Know What to Do With This Information” (2011)

Jens Lekman

Self-Released
Buy: Stream

Its been a whopping week or so since I’ve written about Jens Lekman. What can I say, he’s top-5 all-time for me. However, this may be my last post about Jens for a good while, in that I don’t know of any other Jens’ Christmas tunes. Please feel free to correct me, and subsequently, make me forever in your debt.

“I Don’t Know What to Do With This Information” has only been performed live so far, with a very high quality version coming from a Maida Vale Session back in 2011. Such a sad song, not in the sentimental way that “Christmas Shoes” (BARF) is, but with a realism that brings it a little close to home, even if you haven’t specifically lived through something like that. Its called empathy and Jens brings it out well.

Bottom Line: So, so very sad. I can’t bring it over 4 because I just can’t listen to such a sad song over and over again. 3.9/5

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Annie Hall / Gonzo48K – Goldenbread (2007)

Goldenbread cover

Pipolla Music
Buy: CD (Italy)

High hopes are never a good place to start. Though I know you should never judge a book by its cover, a swedish indie pop band named Annie Hall checks three of my boxes: Swedish, indiepop and a Woody Allen reference. How could it go wrong? Well, first off, this thing was a huge pain to get ahold of. You can’t order from the label (they do not ship to the US), and thus I had to get it from France, and pay more in shipping than the CD cost. Not looking good already, because if you know this blog, cost to obtain certainly plays into the overall rating.

Annie Hall begins the disc with “Morning News,” a fine-enough little song that I can’t for the life of me figure out how its seasonal. Their second song, “Walk Around,” does begin with “It’s Christmas time / Here’s an old song / for a new year.” They also mention snowballs… but really, its a bit of a downer right out of the gate with the dour music. Not something I really want to listen to again. Bummer.

Gonzo48K is the Japanese wildcard of this release – I really had no expectations, as I don’t listen to much Japanese indiepop. “Snowman’s Tears” has the kind of music that I wish Annie Hall had – upbeat, poppy, certainly in a Swede-pop vein. The lyrics, well… “So darling / You make me colder / you make me older / you close my folder?” Not exactly what I’m looking for, but really, english is their second language and they write better songs in English than I do in Japanese. “Turn off the Radio” is a much better attempt. It may even be on a shortlist for future mixes… I dig the backing beat, and the lyrics are much better: “Walk through the street light / in the Christmas time / Back to the starlight / Where the children write / Turn off the Radio / Turn off the Radio.” Still not quite telling a story, but certainly evocative when complimented by the contemplative backing track. I can’t find it posted anywhere, but you can preview 30 seconds of it on Last.fm.

Bottom Line: Good luck trying to buy it, especially in the US. Certainly not worth the price it cost to import, with only one possible song. Loses points for all the wrong reasons. 1.2/5

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Jens Lekman – Christmas in San Francisco (2011)

Jens-Lekman

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

Lets get this ball rolling again.

This is the second of my series of Jens Lekman posts. What prompted me to so quickly dive back into the Jens Lekman catalogue? Well, he updated his website yesterday, and seems to suggest that he sold only 16 records last year. While I find this absolutely baffling, I would still like you to take a moment and discover Jens’ music if you haven’t already. If you are already a fan, you may be excited to know that he is presently accepting orders directly from his home for signed CDs at a “pay what you wish” price point, as long as you also cover postage. Normally I would jump all over this, but I already have all his records, and had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago and he graciously signed my 12″ of When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog.

Enough exposition about Jens and why he needs the support of those who love him, and those who have yet (but most certainly will) to love him. Back in 2011, Jens surprised us with a small present on his Smalltalk blog, a modest, 3-song zip file of holiday piano pieces he wrote in San Francisco back in 2005 – hence the title. They are all instrumental, but each quite lovely. Certainly a worthy pickup for its price: Free. Take that money you saved by not having to buy anything and buy one of his other records, for yourself or for a friend.

Bottom Line: Simple, thoughtful piano pieces from one of my absolute favorite artists. For the price, it cannot be beat. In the right context, I might even sneak it on to a mix. 5/5

Jens Lekman “Run Away with Me” (2005)

Jens Lekman - USA October 2005

Self-Released
Buy: Free!

So, this is the first in a series of Jens Lekman Christmas tunes I plan on posting. If you are familiar with the Swedesplease.net Christmas rundown, than you know and love this particular song already. If not, please do enjoy your first listen.

Jens Lekman released this little gem on the appropriately titled October 2005 : USA Tour EP. There are only 200 of these handmade CDrs out there, and one day I hope to be in that elite group. For now, I will have to settle for an MP3 (though I did suggest to his management that some of us would love a Bandcamp site). “Run Away with Me” starts off extremely strong – jingle bells and the driving beat that those familiar with Jens’ earlier, more uptempo work will absolutely love. The lyrics are also classic Jens. Since its a short song, I thought I might post them all:

What are you gonna do on Christmas Eve
Please don’t spend it with your family
I know you love your mommy
But she’s more like a mummy

She’s so empty,
She’s so empty
So run away with me

She’s so empty
She’s so empty
So run away with me

Yeah I know it’s been a bad year
And I can trace every tear
Back to your little life
But I can see a future for you and I

Because we’re not empty
We’re not empty
So run away with me

We’re not empty
We’re not empty
So run away with me now baby

If you make a mix that is at all along the lines of mine, then this song is either already on one, or NEEDS TO BE. What a weird, dark, beautifully orchestrated Christmas song.

Bottom Line: This is one of my favorites. I really, really, really need a higher source than the MP3 that Jens’ website offers. Anyone out there want to help a guy out? christmasunderground(at)gmail.com. 5/5

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Lisa Bouvier – Live From Hendon Cathedral (2011)

Lisa Bouvier

Cath ‘N’ Dad Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Lisa Bouvier is presently the bassist in the excellent indiepop band The Proctors, but that does not stop her from releasing her own solo material. This simple, two track Christmas single, is released on Cath ‘N’ Dad Records, which allows you to name your own price on all their releases. The catch? All the proceeds go to the charity of the band’s own choosing. Lisa chose Popkollo, a Swedish (yes, she is Swedish – I’m such a sucker for the Swedes) charity best described by Lisa:

Popkollo started as a music summer camp for girls, and is now a nationwide collaboration of incredible female musicians who support girls all over Sweden in their musical endeavours.

As for the songs, they are short, sweet, and performed beautifully. Not quite sure they are the kind of vibe that I look for in my Christmas mix, but certainly would fit the bill for some of you. To the best of my knowledge, “Christmas Rain” appears to be Lisa’s own song. There are other songs with the same title, but not a match when I compared the lyrics. It is an excellent song, and the production value is of equal quality. The second and final song is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Covered by a million other singers, Lisa’s version does nothing to rewrite the script. However, she does it quite nicely.

Bottom Line: Lisa Bouvier’s Christmas single is short, sweet, well performed and produced, and all the proceeds go to charity. I think you’ll be quite pleased with your purchase. 4.3/5

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And for good measure, be sure to check out The Proctors, the band Lisa is presently touring the world with.

UPCOMING: Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club (2013)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club

I will no doubt be talking more about this upcoming project as it unfolds, but just to wet your appetite, a repost below from their website, with handy hyperlinks to the featured bands. Thank you Robert for sending this my way, and best of luck with this AMAZING project.

From snowflakes-christmas-singles.blogspot.nl

In November, the four singles of the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club, edition 2013, will be released.

All singles come in a full colour picture sleeve on white vinyl, limited to 500 copies. On the A-side, the singles will have an original, on the B-side a cover.

On the first single, London folk/blues duo Smoke Fairies, joined on violin by Neil Walsh, sing about how celebrating Christmas with friends and loved ones makes one feel at home in their ‘Simple Feeling’. On the flipside they do a haunting and beautiful rendition of ‘I Wonder As I Wander’, a Christmas carol written by singer John Jacob Niles, based on some lines of a folk song he once heard a little girl sing in a small village in Appalachian North Carolina.

Stockholm, Swedens’ indie poppers The Garlands have rearranged and rerecorded their ‘Christmas Song’, prevously released as a download only in 2008, for the second single. This Chrismas love song has the sound of the swinging 60s, with bells, piano, sweet harmonies and all. Their cover of ‘I Don’t Intend To Spend Christmas Without You’, written in 1967 by Margo Guyan for French actrice, singer and dancer Claudine Longet, is a perfect fit with their original song, has the same hip 60s vibe, but still with a indiepop bite.

The third single has chamber popband The Miserable Rich from Brighton with an uplifting original, ‘Everything You Want’, in which singer James is out to buy a Christmas present for this lover and finds himself – and the present – with friends in the pub at the end of the day. The Miserable Rich cover the antiwar protest song ‘Stop The Cavalry’, written and made into one of the most loved Christmas songs from the early 1980s by Jona Lewie.

Surf pop band The Silhouettes from Amsterdam are featured on the fourth single. The Silhouettes have written an very Christmas sounding song, about looking forward to sit with your lover ‘Under The Mistletoe’. They back it with a surf version of the Christmas standard ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and first sung by the legendary Judy Garland in the classic 1944 musical ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’.

Pre-orders going up later this month!
Check http://snowflakes-christmas-singles.blogspot.nl/ or http://www.facebook.com/Snowflakes.Christmas.Singles for updates!

Oh Sweet Music! “(Fly Away For) Christmas” (2005)

Oh Sweet Music

Canarie Records/Self-Released?
Buy: Good Luck!

Many moons ago, Swedesplease hipped me to this wonderful, odd little Christmas tune. The anti-christmas lyrics, the rough-around-the-edges vocals, the sparse guitar arrangement and beautiful horn interplay have placed this track solidly in my own personal “classics” collection. I now find myself wanting to learn more about the band in question, Oh Sweet Music. So, after some basic research, which takes some serious digging, I have come up with a few items I believe to be (relatively) true. First, the band is fronted by a man of the name of Magnus Nordström. This turns out to be quite a popular name in Sweden, and has thwarted my attempts to find him on Facebook. Secondly, he was also in a band called Piotor. Each of his bands appear to only have MySpace pages, and they haven’t been attended to in years. Thirdly, he recorded on Canarie Records in Sweden, and appeared on a Series Two Records compilation in the US. Canarie Records appears to be long-gone, and Series Two stopped releasing records in 2010. What I would give for an e-mail address, simply to thank him for the songs (I’ve found about four Oh Sweet Music tunes still available around the net), and perhaps suggest a Bandcamp page where his music can live on with high fidelity downloads and a few bucks in his pocket.

So, I throw out in to the ether, Magnus Nordström, please create a Bandcamp page for your old recordings. I will buy them.

Also, it appears that everyone thinks this song is called “Oh Sweet Christmas,” rather than “(Fly Away For) Christmas,” as it was originally titled (or so I assume… based that it makes sense from the lyrics, and is titled such in the earliest instance of the song being posted.)

Download the song here I found a link that was still live!

Bottom Line: An interesting original with a rough edge, sung by Swedes who, try as they might to fight it, have quite an ear for pop music. 5/5

Pelle Carlberg “Soon After Christmas” (2008)

Lilac Time cover

Labrador Records
Buy: CD (You need the CD to get the download!)

Pelle Carlberg is one of my FAVORITE singer/songwriters… I am particularly fond of his two most recent solo records, In a Nutshell and Lilac Time. So, I dutifully bought them, enjoyed the hell out of their witty wordplay and to my amazement… there is a bonus… a hidden bonus to be found.

I encourage you to first look up Pelle Carlberg, or just groove to the songs below. If you like what he’s putting down, then you should go buy a copy of Lilac Time. If you read the liner notes carefully, you’ll find a link that shall lead you to three additional songs. One of those tunes… a wonderful cover of Stina Nordenstam’s “Soon After Christmas.”

You might imagine… when I found this… I jumped out of my seat, punched a waterfall, and smacked a leprechaun. It was damn exciting.

I will not post it here, and I beseech you to not post it anywhere once you hunt it down yourself. Lets actually buy some records. Lets put a few bucks in Pelle’s pocket. He has a family, and he is a full-time musician. The album is 100% worth it… throw in a ultra-rare Christmas tune that you have to search for… and you cannot beat it.

Bottom Line: The album itself is fantastic, and the Christmas song is wonderful. 5/5

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