SuperBravo – La Nuit / Chanson Pour Les Enfants L’Hiver (2019)

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | Bandcamp

Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club.

I should just leave the review with that, in that those who understand, those in the know, would just see that and buy the record. However, I’m not going to be so presumptuous, and think that every single person reading my blog already knows the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club. This label is devoted wholly to Christmas music, creating a yearly tradition of 3-4 limited 7″ vinyl Christmas singles, featuring a wide array of fantastic bands contributing an A-side original seasonal song, with a B-side cover of their choosing. Paris trio SuperBravo is a particular highlight for me this year. Their original, “La Nuit” is Pinback-esque in rhythm and melody, but with these fascinating noises interjected throughout. Honestly, Snowflakes’ writeup captured it pretty damn well: “The song itself sounds like magic, as a fairytale come to life, with strange little creatures making weird sounds, angels harmonizing ‘Noel Noel’ and dreamy vocals – as dreamy as only French female vocals can sound.” This truly sounds like no other Christmas song I’ve heard, and that is most welcome.

The B-side, “Chanson Pour Les Enfants l’Hiver” (‘Song For The Children Of The Winter’) is a poem published by Jacques Prévert in 1946. Their take collages sounds overtop a chiptune/toytronica base, which wonderfully frames how classicly French-pop Armelle Pioline’s vocals are; They add beauty to every canvas they touch. This is a solid one-two punch of a Christmas single.

Bottom Line: Fascinating French pop that bends the genre to its will.

LISTEN

 

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.

LISTEN

Bossy Love “Christmas Rapping” (2014)

Bossy Love - Christmas Rapping

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!

Red Sleeping Beauty “The Swedish Winter” (2019)

Red Sleeping Beauty "The Swedish Winter" (2019)

Labrador Records/Matinée Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp | Matinée Recordings CD | iTunes  | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I am no stranger to stretching the definition of a Christmas song; I fully embrace a good winter song, the imagery of falling snow, the chill in the air, etc. However… this might be the most Van Damme I will get on this blog. Red Sleeping Beauty are the kind of Swedish synth-pop that I can get behind, as all their previous Christmas tunes have found a way onto these digital pages. (If you share members with my beloved Acid House Kings, you will get noticed by me.) So, I was excited to receive a DM from RSB a few weeks ago hipped me to a new single! “The Swedish Winter” certainly tackles the long, cold nights that those in the upper-regions of the northern hemisphere suffer through – but the celebration that bursts from the song is all about summer. This is definitively NOT a Christmas song. Yet somehow… I began to think that this song might be a good finale to a Christmas/winter mix. Christmas (and your mix) is over… so what else do you have to look forward to? Summer. “You lose your faith / and you lose your mind / the Swedish winter / The darkest times / and the darkest thoughts / the Swedish winter/ Then suddenly, a ray of light / to save your soul / Get ready cause here comes the summer / and everything feels right.”

Bottom Line: This is synth pop at its synthiest and popiest, and will most certainly satisfy fans of the genre.

LISTEN

Said Fantasy “Chorus Noel” (2018)

Plastiq Musiq
Buy: Bandcamp

If you follow me on Twitter, you know this is a tough week for bloggin. So, I’m going to be brief! Said Fantasy is Ronnie Martin, and he knows his way around a MOOG. “Chorus Noel” is a fantastic experimental synth-pop song that I wish could be replicated 5 times on one record… because I’d buy that shit on vinyl. “Chorus Noel” comes as the lead, title track of their 5-track Christmas EP, out now on CDr (100 copies), as well as digital download on Chicago’s Plastiq Musiq. I’m not as down with the traditional covers, but it is totally worth it for that lead track. So… let that be your bit for the day. Best of luck you all in your mixin’ endeavors, and send me stuff you think I’d like – @xmasunderground!

Bottom Line: Some awesome synth-pop for your ear-holes. I do wish you could buy a single track though….

LISTEN

Couples Skate Only feat. Zebra Zebra “Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)” (2017)

Couples Skate Only feat. Zebra Zebra

Gotta Groove Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Gotta Groove Records has been sending 7″ records to their customers (they are primarily an indie vinyl pressing plant – check them out!) for the past seven years, and thankfully, Tim Thorton (half of Couples Skate Only and an employee at Gotta Groove Records) has posted a few copies on their Bandcamp for the past few years. Back in 2015, when I discovered this wonderful little tradition through the Couples Skate Only Bandcamp, they still had copies left of their 2013 release, featuring a track by Tim and his wife Cari, who together are known as Couples Skate Only (a wonderful band name, IMHO). This track, “First Christmas,” is absolutely fantastic, and when I saw that 2017 features Couples Skate Only again, I was psyched. I purchased it, song unheard, and sit here ready to plug what I thought, and confirmed, would be a damn fun song. “Absentees & Invites (The Solstice Show)” follows “First Christmas'” wall-of-synths production, and once again features Cari’s lovely indiepop vocal stylings. The song involves a couple trying to find their way to a winter solstice party, which is of particular note as I’ve been making a mix for 13 years now and this my be the first solstice song I can remember. Please know, I’m sure there are many more, but I can’t honestly peg any at this moment, which makes this song even more interesting. As for Zebra Zebra’s contribution, I’m guessing that the sampled shouts were either Laura and Eileen Thorton, AKA Zebra Zebra. I know that Laura is a toddler/big girl (I have a 4 year old “big boy”), so perhaps Eileen is a baby? This is indeed a family affair, which makes it all the more adorable.

Bottom Line: A synth-drenched indiepop treat indeed. Couples Skate Only have the potential to be one of the indiepop Christmas greats, alongside Christmas Aguilera, Charlies’s Hand Movements, etc, etc.

LISTEN

Kristin Kontrol “Last Christmas” (2013/2016)

Kristin Kontrol - Last Christmas

Self Released
Buy: Stream on Soundcloud | Download

I first came across this synth-heavy (not that the original wasn’t) version of “Last Christmas” via Kurt Feldman, the producer of this track and the driving force behind the equally synth-heavy Ice Choir. Of course, I grabbed it and filed it away. Jump-cut to this past week, as I began to get back in the swing of things, and I came across the Minneapolis-based blog WeHeartMusic (who also did the great graphic above), and their feature about this song (including a download!). Kristin Kontrol (AKA Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls) recorded this classic Wham! song back in 2013 as a sort of a b-side to the spectacular Dum Dum Girls’ “On Christmas.” At the time they weren’t allowed to release it, but after the death of George Michael, KK said:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

(Here is a twitter moment that I’ve created showing the progression of tweets – including the reference to “On Christmas” being proto-KK”)

Thus, we have this cool, very Kurt Feldman + Kristin Kontrol version of “Last Christmas.”The beats are slightly amped up throughout the song, and it gives a perfect pacing to a song that I sometimes find just a hair slow. My favorite part about this track comes in at around 3:20, when they bring in these subtle little bits of percussion; They sound like synth bongos or something of the sort. Spot on KK & KF.

Bottom Line: Truly a killer version of THE Christmas pop song of the 80s.

LISTEN

Gotta go to Soundcloud for this. They won’t let me embed it!

 

Give Me Wallets “On this Christmas Night” (2016)

Give Me Wallets "On this Christmas Night"

Self Released?
Buy: Stream

I don’t normally do straight-up pop, but Tokyo’s Give Me Wallets have released this fantastic, groovy song and I thought it best to share it with you all. “On this Christmas Night” has a nostalgic feel, strictly based on the chord changes amongst the fluttering synths. The lyrics are a  bit tougher for me to pin down… “she wanna post some stuff now / that everyone can see freely / are you happy to receive as a gift / you were supposed to be fine / but the world’s not the same now / what can anyone do for you” There may be something lost in translation here… but what is not lost, is that I’m boogieing in my seat.

Bottom Line: I hope you enjoy this piece of Japanese Christmas candy.

LISTEN

Totally Righteous Holiday Special (2015)

Chill Mega Chill / Very Jazzed Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Chill Mega Chill’s comp from last year, Tape Deck the Halls, had some real solid Christmas tunes, and largely originals! This past year was more of the same… WHICH IS AWESOME. This (hopefully) Christmas tradition is turning into one of the most interesting, original comps out there.

Totally Righteous kicks off with an extremely beautiful, somber song by Guess Genes that, had it been sung by Ryan Adams, would have turned Stereogum on fire. The collaged audio layer adds texture to the shimmering guitar and fluttering piano, and the vocals have a sincerity to them that makes you BELIEVE. Simply wonderful.

The Last Astronaut‘s “Street Lights” may not be as timeless as the Guess Genes track, but its modernity makes it a welcome addition to the Christmas cannon. The chorus is what makes this song really swing… but it makes me wish the whole song was like that!

Deep Cuts return for back-to-back Christmas Christmas classics with “Comatose Come Christmas.” This 80’s jam has the biting lyrics and sense of humor that I’ve come to love from Deep Cuts. I’m also partial to a nice drunken Christmas tune… and this song may get you contact drunk.

Grandwolves‘ “‘Zat You, Son Of God” is my first exposure to this great Houston band, and I’m going to need more. A great layering of male/female vocals amongst killer drums and some shrieking guitars provide the basis for some awesome turns of phrase: ‘Zat You, Son of God? / Asleep in the evergreen, / Next to an old tv. / Sharing your branch, with gold garland, / And a Charlie Brown ornament.” Indie rock Christmas at its finest.

Gangplans break out the drum machines and synthesizers to create their own warm cup of Christmas bitters with “Skipping Christmas.” Peppered with samples from It’s a Wonderful Life, this production duo have succeeded in making me feel warm and happy, nestled amongst their warm beats and dark lyrics.

Benjamin Andrew’s “For a Moment” for some reason makes me think of a stripped down Low – the layered vocals, the fingers squeaking on the metal strings. Bleak, beautiful and wrapped in a sweater.

LA’s Seaweed Salad scored a f*ing slam dunk with “You Won’t See Me.” Fuzzed out vocals surrounded by a cacophony of indie pop orchestration. I can barely hear what they are saying, but I don’t care at all; I loved the music too much to give a shit.

There are a few more tracks on the comp that I haven’t covered. Music is such a personal thing – what is one’s treasure is another’s trash. While none of the remaining tracks were trash whatsoever, they did not grab me nearly as much, despite some very intriguing titles.

Bottom Line: Well hot damn. There could be more than one track from this release finding its way onto my mix this year. Two years in a row, this label has just knocked it out of the muthaf**ing park. Please, while it is a free, name-your-price download, all proceeds go to Make-a-Wish. 

LISTEN

Aquatic Slime “Winter” (2014/2015)

aquatic-slime

Self Released
Buy: Soundcloud

Aquatic Slime have awoke from their winter slumber… and released all the Christmas tracks they’ve had piling up since 2006! There is even this curious track… which they abandoned because it was deemed “too slow/terrible drums.” Well… lets think about this. I do not agree with it being too slow; It’s slower track, but Aquatic Slime have great instincts, and it works quite well. I’ve come to expect a certain sound from Aquatic Slime, and had someone played this track, with the plinking electronic flourishes, organ synths and beautiful female vocals, I probably would have been able to peg it. Granted, there is something that happened in the drums/production that appears to have caused some clipping, but fix that, and you’ve got a winner.

I look forward to checking out all the other tracks that Aquatic Slime dropped too! Some intriguing titles too: “A Rave in a Manger,” “God Rest Ye Badass Gentlemen” – Awesome!

Bottom Line: I hear ya Aquatic Slime, and I understand why you did what you did… but throw a new coat of paint on this baby and you’ve got a new car!

LISTEN