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).”
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Spotify
London’s Oscar Lang has been releasing music since before he was born. Being that prolific means that at some point… you take a stab a Christmas song. Thankfully, he was compelled to write an original, not cover Blue Christmas/Last Christmas/White Christmas or some other boring chesnut. “Christmas is Home” is a throwback, synthy, indiepop nugget with a catchy chorus that demands a Wham! worthy video, fully of soft focus and terrible clothes. This song was like a swig of hot chocolate – I’m totally on board.
Bottom Line: Oscar Lang writes and produces so much music, that I’m fully expecting this to be his first (meaning, gimme more!) excellent Christmas song.
So, do you fancy yourself a collector of underground Christmas records? If you are like me, and began this extremely hip search back when Yahoo still ruled the internet and Facebook was but a baby website only opened to ivy leaguers… well then you’ve been a fan of this CD-only (physical media!) collection of the scrappiest, kookiest, raunchiest, and indiepoppiest Christmas songs available. The latest edition of A Very Cherry Christmas has great tracks by some folks I’ve previously showered with adoration (Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions, A Mild Peril), as well as some great songs from bands I’m just getting accustomed with (Jacqui and Geoff, Ballard). There is something for everyone – from the hilarious “What If Santa Claus Is Just 20 Ferrets In A Red Suit” to an exuberant satirization of consumerism with “Consume! Consume! Consume!” So take out your credit card (or your Paypal password), and celebrate the patron saint of buying shit… and fucking buy it! (Grab the few copies of older releases that are still available too!)
Bottom Line: A tradition for all the misfits, one to be celebrated and feared! ONLY 200 COPIES! You are warned.
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play
I’ve been a fan of Flyte for a few years now, and have been following their tour of the US on Twitter – watching them go lots of places that aren’t near me, choosing city-specific covers to play in every town. I’ve gotten over the snub, I mean, not everyone can come to Charlottesville, VA (my closest city) I suppose. It was this Twitter monitoring that did tip me off to their latest Christmas song though, so we are cool now, Flyte. “Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is full of soaring vocals and harmonies that have me thinking a good bit about the Beach Boys, but not happy Beach Boys… DARK Beach Boys. This is Flyte’s “miserable fucking Christmas song,” but as sad as the lyrics truly are, the production dresses it up in shimmering clothes. I kind of liken the approach to what I normally love about Swedish indiepop – beautifully happy music with terribly sad lyrics. Thus, here were are, with a wonderfully sad song by Flyte on Christmas Underground. I’m pretty predictable I suppose.
FYI: Their other Christmas songs can be found through their Facebook page – a number of live videos – as well as on the It’s Coming on Christmas compilation put out by Daisy Digital a few years ago… which looks to have disappeared! Well, I sure learned my lesson… I hadn’t yet bought part 2 of that compilation…
Bottom Line: Gorgeous Beach Boys-inspired sadness, perfect for a holiday nightcap.
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP) | Bandcamp (Compilation)
Stafford, England’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael are big fans of Christmas. I’m honestly amazed that I had not discovered them until this year, as they have multiple Christmas EPs, with releases every year since 2015. I’ve got a lot to choose from, but the song I’m going to highlight is the beautiful, and powerful, “Mary and Joseph,” off of 2015’s Dark Christmas EP. What immediately caught me was this sensation that I’m hearing an amazing Billy Bragg Christmas song. I’ve got this live Billy Bragg record that has been in my CD changer (yes, I have one) for YEARS… I stress, YEARS, because it always seems to pop on when my soul needs it. “Mary and Joseph” scratches that same itch. No accompaniment, just two voices reminding us to be grateful for what we have at Christmas. I’m most certainly looking forward to their upcoming Christmas release slated for Monday, December 9th. Follow them on Facebook, their label on Bandcamp, etc, to be the first to hear it! And dig into those older tracks too!
Bottom Line: Powerful simplicity in the vein of Billy Bragg… which is high praise.
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.