Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
Francis Lung is an alternative pop artist from Manchester, England, whose debut album, A Dream is U (still available on limited pink vinyl, amongst other formats), came out earlier this year on the always-excellent label Memphis Industries. Francis snuck a fantastic 3-song Christmas release by me last year (which I HAD planned to post a review of soon) titled A Francis Lung Xmas EP, but he was not so lucky this year! I’ve got you, Francis Lung! “To Make Angels in Snow” is a beautiful, perfectly timed (3:02- I love a short Christmas song), an alternative pop song that harkens back to the best of indie-Christmas legends Pas/Cal. The instrumentation is glorious – clarinet, tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet and a baritone sax line that brings up all my RIYL-Ezra Furman feelings of love. A breath of fresh air indeed.
Bottom Line: This song does not leave any room for boredom – the vocal harmonies and instrumentation paint every corner of the canvas. Francis Lung has outdone himself this year. Can’t wait for next year’s (hint, hint, Francis Lung).
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.
Buy: Bandcamp (Free!)
There isn’t much info about Moonfire Mountain beyond their short bio, which lets us know that the band contains Harry (from Bear Driver!), Cassie, Jon and Rich. Thankfully, this crew got together and covered Yoko’s “Listen, the Snow is Falling” with dreampop brevity, which I always appreciate. They also tackle “Christmas” by Florence Dore (which they mislabel as a Posies cover). Their instrumentation is what makes this song; I think I hear a theremin! The EP’s finisher is a rocking version of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ.” I particularly like the harmonies on the chorus, and the rough edges of the guitar work. All in all, three super-solid covers for less-covered songs. I sure wish that more folks would give up on Last Christmas, Christmas Time is Here, etc, etc, and branch out. Universe… make it so.
Bottom Line: One of these three, great Christmas covers just might scratch that Christmas-mix itch for you.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)
I must start with a quick confession. Stafford’s Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions immediately garnered a bit of goodwill with me… simply because I fucking loved their name. To my relief, their two-track Christmas single is enjoyable, especially the lead track, “It’s Christmas All Around.” The song has a Waterboys’ feel, even more so as the horn line comes in. The lyrics are clever with a healthy dash of dread: “There’s no snow / there’s no hope / and I’m trying to avoid it / but it’s Christmas all around.” There are some other great lines as well, but let that be a teaser for you to take a sip of your own. Cheers!
Bottom Line: You all know I like to celebrate the dark edges of Christmas, and this song is most certainly chilling in that gray.
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Amazon MP3
For those bands out there who want to write a Christmas song, but don’t know where to begin – let me pose two options for you. The first would be found in Bossy Love’s reinterpretation of the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping,” where they updated the song to be more of-the-moment. The second approach would be to write a response song. A good example of this approach can be found in Stephen Solo‘s “War is Never Over (Even if you want it).” Back in 2015, the British had begun participating in airstrikes in Syria, and from Stephen’s perspective back in Glasgow… beginning a new chapter of an unending war. So, he took his phone (as he does) and recorded this brutal condemnation of the action, hung on the frame of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).”
“Let the Big Ben bells ring out for bombs this Christmas / the only peace we’ll get this year is pieces of skulls and baby bones. / War is never over even if you want it.”
Stark indeed. Extremely well-produced, yet tough to listen to, as you are forced to reflect on what violence means to you when it happens so far away.
Bottom Line: Stephen Solo’s “Christmas” song will likely feel quite contemporary, renewed by humanity’s skillful violence, for many years to come.
Glasgow’s A Mild Peril, like the previously-featured Bossy Love, have alumni from the excellent (and missed) Dananananaykroyd. While that first band didn’t record any Christmas tunes, the very first song by A Mild Peril is a wonderfully meta-Christmas song. On occasion, I have been called a grinch. Sure, I am barely green, and only slightly fuzzy. And while my heart remains its normal size, “I Hear the First Strains (of Christmas Music)” may just make this grinch-ish heart swell. I mean… this is a fantastic indiepop song is about how much they love Christmas music. I must love Christmas music… I spend enough time thinking, listening and writing about it. Wait for a second… I think I love Christmas music. You did it, A Mild Peril. Now, off to urgent care.
Bottom Line: Scottish indiepop celebrating a love of Christmas music? Perhaps if A Mild Peril were Swedish, that would be the only way to be even more on-brand for Christmas Underground. Now, go download it and get in the mood for Christmas. It’s only going to be about 85 degrees today – perfect Christmas music weather IMHO.
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!
I do not know to what I owe the honor. Brutalligators gave me a yell earlier in the week and let me hear their spectacular new Christmas track. Recorded last week in Norway with Sjur Lyseid from Sunturns, “Christmas in July” is a lamentation on the differences between Christmas in the UK compared to Christmas in Australia. The writer of this beautiful song is an Aussie ex-pat, Luke Murphy-Wearmouth, and wow, this song is vivid. The smell of fake snow and sunscreen. Drinking mulled wine in July, as the sun sets at 3:30. This is a pitch to his love, culminating in a simple refrain, “Just move / back home / with me.” This song feels authentic, from the lyrics, to the vocals, down to the beautiful melody that supports the song. So. Damn. Good.
Bottom line: Brutalligators got on my radar after Sunturns began promoting a show they were going to play with them, and then I immediately saw they had a version of Frightened Rabbit’s “My Backwards Walk” on their Bandcamp. This band was out of the gate, 2-for-2 with me. I absolutely adored Frightened Rabbit, and the Sunturns are one of the greatest Christmas bands ever. These guys have great taste, and it shows in their music – this song is phenomenal.
I have been waiting for this moment. It is officially Christmas, as my favorite Christmas band is back. Christmas Aguilera return with their funkiest jam yet. Featuring members of the fantastic Hero & Leander, this band has CHRISTMAS MUSIC PERFECTED. They have been writing these amazing, oddly touching songs in the years since their somewhat naughty and brilliant self-titled debut, and “Christmas on Mars” definitely breaks the mold. You can dance to this thing! Fluttering synths, flickering guitar lines, and a bobbing bass – I can’t stop moving in my seat! The music is what grabs you, but these lyrics are so damn fun and just as clever as always:
“Leaving home for Christmas
Packed my old guitar
The cat’s in her space suit
We’ve stocked up on dry fruit
The ice caps have melted
And everybody’s gone
There was no place like home
But buckle up our time has come”
In a year of gorgeous, touching, slow songs, I’m on board with funky Christmas Aguilera, and am looking to forward to our future in space. Especially if they have packed enough of those Trader Joe’s dried mango slices…
Bottom Line: I can’t say enough good things about Christmas Aguilera. I contact them every year in the hopes that the tradition continues… and thankfully it has. As with all their releases, this song benefits Shelter, who believes everyone should have a home. Sounds like a good deal. You should probably buy ALL their songs right now, if you haven’t already.
Delicious Clam Records
THEY ARE BACK! Sheffield’s Delicious Clam Records is back with Vol. 3, and while it is a brisk 2-track affair, wow are they fantastic! The first track by Thee Mightees, “Christmas Song,” is a stone-cold mix-worthy indie rock classic. The groove is infections, and the lyrics are brilliant: “I hate Christmas rock n roll / Shane MacGowan and Kristy MacColl / I hate Jesus / I hate Chuck Berry / I hate Santa and his big fat belly.” HA! Wizzard, Slade, Paul McCartney, Band Aid amongst others, also get a serving of shade. It is a TON of fun.
The second track by Five Leaf Nettles, “Moonwalk in the Snow,” is a gorgeous, simple guitar and vocals song. The lyrics are nostalgic, touching, and the perfect foil to the wonderfully bitter lead track. “If I can’t walk backwards, then I don’t wanna go.”
All proceeds go towards HARC (Homeless and Rootless at Christmas). So, while you are donating to help the homeless in Norman, Oklahoma, why not keep your wallet open and help out the needy in Sheffield?
Bottom Line: This is so so so so so so so so so so good. What a pair. WHAT a pair.