Health & Wellbeing – Christmas Demos (2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Who is this mysterious Health & Wellbeing? I can’t find anything on them! Too bad, because I’m jamming to these Christmas Demos and they are quite good. Power/dream/brit pop original Christmas songs. I’m absolutely positive that they are going to be somebody’s favorite from this holiday season. There’s even a little nod to The Rolling Stones in “Take it Easy this Christmas,” and it totally works. These were all recorded in the past 3 weeks, and if these are the demos… look the fuck out for the full versions, because these sound great already.

Bottom Line: Well that was a short, rather shitty review for what are 4 pretty great songs? Well… yeah. But now you know about them at least, even if we know nothing about the band!

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Kristian Noel Pedersen – Saul McCartney’s Magical Holiday Season (AKKCXIV) (2022)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

A quick search for “Guinness book of world records most Christmas songs” comes up with the usual results – mainly that Bing Crosby’s performance of “White Christmas” is the biggest selling single of all time. There is not a record for MOST Christmas songs yet… though if there is (and there should be), Kristian Noel Pederson will have a shot at it. In what is his 14th record of original Christmas songs (not including the Hanson’s Snowed In cover record), Saul McCartney’s Magical Holiday Season is a triumph. A concept record that follows an alternate-universe pop star from the 60’s starting anew with a solo career, this record feels joyful and light. Perhaps this is the freedom of writing from a wholly new perspective outside of yourself? I’m not in Kristian’s mind… yet. There are so many wonderful moments on this record, but as I start thinking about which one to talk about, I realize that I’m gravitating to all the horn parts. The use of brass on this record is just perfection – it is that final seasoning on your Christmas meal that makes you sit up and take note… creates those neural connections that will make you talk about that meal for years to come. I’m in the midst of “I Hope it Snows Tonight” for the third time, delighting in every moment- horns, guitars, the whole damn thing. Please listen to this record – it is an absolute joy.

Bottom Line: A Kristian Noel Pederson record is always one to look forward to, and this has to be my favorite yet. I would buy this on vinyl – 100%

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I’m going to post a bunch of single tracks, then the whole thing so that they aggregate in the Hype Machine. There is a method to the madness below.

The Walking Who “Halloween on Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

This song by Australia/Prague’s The Walking Who is equal parts epic and cryptic. Also… who the fuck cares what this song is about because “Halloween on Christmas” is fucking awesome. The song began its life in Australia back in 2019, but was only recently finished in November at a studio in Prague, with a strict palette of eastern European guitars, mics, and synths born between 1960-1985. Eastern bloc or bust! Pair this with those Toad Venom tracks and you’ve got yourself a pretty badass mix in the works…

Bottom Line: Let’s listen to psychedelic Christmas from the caves of Prague… what a great sentence to write, and what a fantastic song to jam to.

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Casper & the Cookies “Kiss Me Beneath The Christmas Tree” (2007/2022)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

Fun indiepop from Athens, Georgia. Well, that feels about as right as deep-dish Pizza from Chicago, or Nazis on Twitter; They just make sense together. Casper & the Cookies also holds a special place for me because I have a friend who used to be in the band! (I doubt she reads my blog, but hi Suzanne!) They also have lots of connections to the Athens, Georgia scene – being part of peak Of Montreal (IMHO Satanic Panic/Sunlandic Twins), opening for the Apples in Stereo, releasing singles on Happy Birthday to Me Records, etc, etc. Their new Christmas song, “Kiss Me Beneath the Christmas Tree,” would have fit nicely in with the sexy Christmas song roundups that have been curated over at Christmas a GoGo, as this song bypasses the mistletoe and gets you horizontal, “I’ll unwrap you, you’ll unwrap me.” Santa even gets an invite to a “ménage a three,” should he show up. Tie all these playful, sexy words up in some upbeat indiepop, and you have a recipe for some silly, poppy holiday fun.

Edit: It appears this track was originally released as an MP3 in 2007. Happy to have it back!

Bottom Line: You need some silliness amidst all the sentimentality, and this’ll do the trick.

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The Natural Lines “Quiet Magic” (2022)

Bella Union
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

The Natural Lines are an indie rock band helmed by Matt Pond and Chris Hansen whose debut EP, First Five, came out in October. While we wait for the full-length LP due in 2023, the band has given us the gift of “Quiet Magic.” First… let’s quickly take note of that name we might be familiar with here at Christmas Underground – Matt Pond. This new band rose out of his recent collaborations, and he felt it best to ditch the somewhat-eponymous band name to reflect the collaborative nature of this new setup. Now back to The Natural Lines, and this beautiful track, “Quiet Magic.” I love that the song gives all the weight and all the credit to the love he already feels. It is possible to dislike Christmas, yet comfort in your love for friends and family. The small moments of togetherness that he points to are so simple and beautiful, like in this passage:

If it’s real
Then I’ll take it
On the couch, with you
And the dog
Late at night
Quiet magic

Those quiet moments just enjoying the company of those you love… you don’t have to love Christmas for that.

I rather liked their own description of the song, so I’m going to share it here as well.

It might initially sound like a disgruntled yodel from the complaint department, but it’s far from it. It’s about the sensation that predates all celebrations — the love of family, the love of friends, the love of your life and the love of music. All I’ve ever wanted is the quiet magic of a love that’s real. (If that’s your thing, I hope you get some, too.)

Bottom Line: Simply beautiful.

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The Ornaments “A Cold Wind” (2022)

Folkmonger Records
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Bandcamp

A seasonal staple here on Christmas Underground, this year The Ornaments (Mike Behrends and Lance Owens) cut a hole in the wall and let us hear this exchange in what might be their most devastating Christmas song yet… and they’ve sung about a holiday plane crash before. We get to observe these people, then imagine the aftermath… the emotional shrapnel… you are desperate to delete that message for him. Oh lord, that was so well done and so heartbreaking.

Bottom Line: The Ornaments paint these tiny canvases that always leave you wondering what lies outside the frame. Keep them wanting more… or fearing more, I’d imagine.

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OK Pal presents Now Prancer! (2022)

OK Pal
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Bandcamp

I’ve been waiting on this one with bated breath ever since Christmas Underground favorite Virgin of the Birds hipped me to its existence. Scotland’s OK Pal Records is taking a stab at their first holiday compilation with Now Prancer!, compiling their roster of Scottish artists alongside far-flung friends, with 50% of the proceeds going to charity. The quality of this compilation is quite impressive, as I thoroughly enjoyed it twice now. However, I am not one to go track-for-track on any record, largely because of time constraints and partially out of the sheer terror of the blank page. Thus, I’ll pull out a few here to chat about. You listen to the rest!

Brightonian singer/songwriter music​+​magic gives us the funny, clever and poignant “Christmas Number One,” who travels through time and space to ponder Jesus through LSD, an agnostic substitute teacher, a retail park nativity scene, and ancient pagans. I think about that kind of stuff a lot too – how unnecessary actual Jesus might be to our living a good life, as all these things are going on within us that help us live a good live and have a deeper connection with the universe. Love that this song made me ponder this again…

Hailey Beavis‘ “Snow” has me returning to another thought I often have – how great it would be for these huge artists to not cover the same old same old, and cover some of the incredible songs I try to write about here. Not every song is a good fit, and I get that, but there are so many that would work incredibly well on a contemporary Christmas record, and this beauty by Hailey Beavis is most certainly one. Put this on a Dolly Parton Christmas record and let Hailey pay rent for a year. Sound good, universe?

I remember my fellow record store clerks listening to Baltimore’s Viking MosesCrosses allllll the time back when I worked at a shop in Roanoke, VA. I’ve been a fan for years, and Brendon does a wonderful job covering Roger Miller’s “Old Toy Trains.” This is one of those old songs I haven’t gotten sick of yet… perhaps because it is so short & sweet!

San Francisco’s Virgin of the Birds is always going to deliver you some wordy goodness, and “Christmas for the Confessor” most certainly satisfies. However, it is those MIDI flourishes that have captured my attention. Somehow these electronic tones play against type and create this warm musical cocoon. Just beautiful.

Of course, there are seven more tracks on here, but as promised earlier, I aim to disappoint! So I’m giving you work – go listen to this comp and you may find yourself captivated by the beautiful traditional folk of Hildegard Von Cubase’s “Coventry Carol,” the beautiful spoken word of Arum Sood & Hank Tree’s “Song for Baby T,” or the snowy drones of Hardsparrow’s “Voice of an Angle,” which is “about geometry and spiders and hearing voices in the snow.” So get in there and see what’s up!

Bottom Line: The Scots (and friends) have finally shown up in force this season, delivering a great lineup and a very solid compilation!

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Maxwell Farrington – Yuletide And I’ll Tide With Yann (2022)

Upton Park
Buy:
Upton Records CD/Vinyl | 7Digital FLAC/MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon | Amazon.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.fr

Let’s get weird. This record is going to be one of the more interesting Christmas records you’re going to listen to this year, or any other year. There are moments here that will leave you scratching your head, and others that will leave you in wonder. Aussie ex-pat Maxwell Farrington teamed up with Yann Oliver on 2020’s Maxou & Yannou Sing X-Mas, which I regretfully did not sample back then (but Christmas A Gogo highlighted earlier this year, which I also missed!). That collaboration has continued into 2022, with a properly-released full-length that adds a few songs and a new title, Yuletide and I’ll Tide with Yann. I say proper full-length LP, as it is released in LP form on both CD and vinyl, but keep in mind, it clocks in at a brief 26 minutes and change. Short and sweet indeed. I’m going to highlight a few of my favorite tracks below, and let you bask in the Scott Walker-esque weirdness and beauty. (Eagle-eyed readers might notice that one of these tracks is the closer on my latest mix, Jolly Chubby Elf.)

Bottom Line: God I need this on vinyl. This is one of the most unexpected, unique, gorgeous Christmas records I’ve stumbled upon.

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Run On – Xmas Trips (1996/2022)

Self Released/Matador
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

I love discovering the cool stuff I have missed… NYC’s Run On recorded “Xmas Trip” for their 1996 Matador record Start Packing, and only 5 years later I was a summer intern for Matador… So, theoretically, I could/should have come across this song, but alas, the world is a big, big place. 2022 sees a re-release of this absolutely wonderful 90’s era indie rock Christmas tune paired with a live version (hence the plural title above). Not only might you be introduced to a fantastic older indie rock Christmas jam, but all proceeds from this re-release will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (need help? SMS 988). So part with your money now.

Bottom Line: I really wish I had caught this before my mix was done. This is the kind of indie rock Christmas I live for.

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Dick Move “Eyes for Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

Under the Radar, though not the Under the Radar you and I likely know and love, but the New Zealand online music mag has hipped me to this Christmas song that rips up the male gaze. Auckland, New Zealand’s lo-fi punks Dick Move bless my blog with perhaps the most aggressive song I’ve ever featured… as I am often on the chiller side of the musical dial. I’ll defer to their description of the song:

“This song is about a cracker of a one liner that echoes through small town Aotearoa. Someone staring, dare we say ogling at you? Hit ‘em with the almighty “you get eyes for Christmas mate?” And watch them shrivel. Simple, powerful, crack up stuff — and hopefully gone are the dayz of the male gaze.” – Lucy Suttor, Dick Move

Most certainly one of the more unique Christmas songs I’ve come across, and quite worth your time.

Bottom Line: Tear it up, Dick Move. We’re here for it.

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