Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard “Christmas Is Coming (We All Know the Score)” (2018/2020)

Communion Records
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You know that a band must love Christmas if one of their earliest songs is an epic xmas tune. Welsh indie/glam/britpop band Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard released this stomper back in 2018, but brought it around last year with an accompanying video and back onto my radar. The lyrics are fascinating, and well worth a watch of the video so you can sing along. You’re bound to find a line that makes you smile and shake your head, as I did with “I can still hear the west dropping bombs of peace / Oh for you and me.” This really is a corker. They also have their proper debut, Backhand Deals, coming out in February, so maybe we’ll get lucky with another tune this season?

Bottom Line: Big glam sound with intriguing lyrics make this a must-listen.

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Gold Baby “Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

Yes, I do have more Australian Christmas/Holiday/New Years songs ready… but I think we can all agree that was getting ridiculous. So lets take a quick break and head back to the OG colonizer, England! Last year, London’s Gold Baby put out an extremely nice Bing Crosby cover, which of course was not technically written by Bing – but lets not get too far into the weeds here. The harmony and instrumentation feel just as cozy and warm as the lyrics, which on this first day of sub-40 degree weather in Virginia, has been most appreciated. I also like that this isn’t one of the Bing classics that get extremely overplayed, though perhaps that’s my experience, not yours. Either way – and extremely nice cover by a truly lovely band.

ALSO, the proceeds benefit the Campaign to End Loneliness, which makes this song choice even more appropriate. Well done.

Bottom Line: Pick a good song and do it well – Is that so hard? Gold Baby sure doesn’t think so!

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Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders “Xmas in Rehab” (2021)

Endless Recordings
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Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

I’m three for three writing about Australians so far this month. I feel like I need to maintain this streak… luckily I woke up this morning wanting to take Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Lloyd Cole and Leonard Cohen and shake them up in a jar, but Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders beat me to it. Sydney, Australia’s Jack Ladder (Tim Rogers IRL) has teamed up with his band the Dreamlanders, which contain a name or two you might also recognize (Kirin J Callinan, Donny Benét, and Laurence Pike) for his sixth record, Hijack!, which contains a deeply personal, dark, funny Christmas track – the self-explanatory “Xmas in Rehab.” Having checked himself into rehab back in January of 2020, the song contains small vignettes of his experience there, with touching, funny, sad, hopeful scenes all colored by these mundane, yet honest and emotionally powerful details, that draw you in. The door is open to us all to become better, healthier, happier people – Jack/Tim just opened up his door for us to all to see, and it was truly beautiful.

Bottom Line: Jack Ladder’s baritone guides us through one of the most beautiful, honest Christmas songs of the year.

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Gretta Ray “It’s Almost Christmas in Philly” (2021)

EMI Australia
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7Digital MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

There are some years when a single country looms large over my blog… and this may be the year of Australia. Here we have yet another excellent Melbourne-based artist (though this is certainly more on the pop side) with a debut album and an excellent Christmas single. While Maple Glider’s was a complicated emotional story of love and pain, Gretta Ray in both lyric and tone is a 180-degree flip of healing and optimism. The anticipation of Christmas in Philadelphia while helping a friend get over a broken heart, you feel that incredible warmth inside the tour van despite its mechanical issues. Perhaps a bit more radio-pop that I normally skew on this site (I do love an extremely poppy indiepop of course), but something about it hooked and stuck. Sad songs often make me feel better… but sometimes you just want a hug.

Bottom Line: Gretta Ray brings a warmth that I am happy to bask in.

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Maple Glider “Mama It’s Christmas” (2021)

Partisan Records
Buy: Bandcamp | 7Digital MP3/FLAC | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Let’s kick up the season… with something beautiful and sad! What else can you expect from this blog?? Melbourne’s Maple Glider, aka Tori Zietsch, has penned this absolutely heartbreaking, fragile finger-picked beauty to close her debut album, To Enjoy is the Only Thing. Zietsch’s background is incredibly interesting, being brought up in a religious sect that she only refers to as “The Religion” (referred to in this song), which kept her from much interaction with the outside world until she and her mother left at 15. She formed a band, fell in love, broke up and moved to Brighton, England after Googling “places to live.” There she began writing what became Only Thing. Zietsch’s creative reemergence came shortly after moving back to Melbourne in 2019, when she played a few songs for friends, including the new song “Mama It’s Christmas.” This deeply personal song sung to her brother has emotional tentacles that may very well leave you tearing up with empathy. In these tumultuous times, many find themselves either struggling themselves, or caring for those for which the pain persists… mental, physical, spiritual pain. It is in the air, and Maple Glider has captured this perfectly.

You called me that night
Said babe don’t you worry now
All I could manage was I love you

But I should have reached through the phone
Slapped you hard on the cheek
So that you could know pain like I do when you leave

Edit: In perhaps one of the craziest coincidences I’ve had recently, this afternoon I found a note from July from a reader (Hi Christian!) recommending this exact song to me. So, Christian, thanks for the tip – it was most obviously a good one. Also – I promise to be better checking my various forms of communications now that I’m making an earnest attempt to get back on the site for the season. BUT, hot tip… Twitter is your best bet. This is NOT the first time that I’ve missed a message on Facebook recommending something that I then write about…

Bottom Line: Fragile beauty from down under.

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YACHT “Christmas Alone” (2015/2020)

Yacht - Christmas Alone

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I swear. I will stop talking about how I always burn out at the end of the season, and will no longer begin every post with an apology for not posting it sooner. But.. especially when songs are topical, and (HOPEFULLY) very specifically attached to one particular year, it does feel like a missed opportunity (so… sorry). Los Angeles’ YACHT have been on my radar for years, and I do recall their fun, oddball electro-pop track “Christmas Alone” from that inaugural Indie for the Holidays playlist that Amazon released back in 2015. That first version was mainly about how much they love spending time home alone on Christmas – having fun grabbing takeout and going to the movies and such. Well, this past Christmas had its own unique circumstances, and they rewrote the song for our 2020 COVID Christmas. The fun imagery is gone, replaced by these truly beautiful lines, disguised inside this bouncy, Waitresses’ evoking track.

Mom and Dad are vexed we’re spending Christmas far away,
But love is not a test, love is opening to change

We don’t need a Christmas tree and we don’t need a chimney
We just need each other and to stay home watching TV

Remember the days before money ate the mission
Maybe now’s the time to make some new traditions

This year we’re just happy we can celebrate our luck
We made this far and that should be enough

Everybody has to stay at home
This Christmas it’s you and me alone

All we need is love to make a home
So this Christmas it’s you and me alone

Hope is a relation tween the future & the past
Time is so short but dreaming helps it last

Give a little this year to the ones who need it best
lost a lotta living but we’re grateful for what’s left

Gear up for another year you think is gonna break ya
Keep holding up the ones you love and keep each other safer

Doesn’t even matter if it’s Christmas Day today
When we have each other, every day’s a holiday

Everybody has to stay at home
So next Christmas we won’t be on our own

All we need is love to make a home
So this Christmas it’s you and me alone

I’ve been looking for those bits of hope, those bits of love. Those are the songs I gravitated to last year. So… even though I’m a bit late to the post, and even though this song may not have as much potency beyond last Christmas (PLLLLEEEAAASSEEE be so), it is still a worthy song.

Bottom Line: YACHT converted this fun, poppy song into a poignant, yet still fun, poppy song. All money goes to the Los Angeles Food Bank, so don’t be scared off that $5 price tag.

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The Pats Pats “Christmas” (2020)

Self Released?
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Bandcamp

When I crash, I crash hard. Christmas 2020 was like a brick wall. After an exhausting 2020, the deluge of songs and records that hit in those last 2-3 days before Christmas was overwhelming. I have so many tabs open that they haunt my dreams. I didn’t know when I was going to feel motivated enough to dip my toes back in, but I’ve been driving my wife’s car the past few days (which has a CD player) and popped in my latest Christmas mix… I really love those songs. So now I need to find good Christmas and Christmas-adjacent tunes once more…

I don’t speak Japanese, but I do speak fun (…sometimes). The Pats Pats are a “girl band from Tokyo” (I don’t believe you need to qualify what the sex of a band is, but they specifically do), and their particular brand of upbeat DIY-pop is an absolute pleasure. I have so little more to say about this perfect little pop nugget, which may be why this song is exactly what I needed to get back to this gig. Zero pressure, all fun.

Bottom Line: Japanese-DIY-pop perfection for anxiety-riddled, demanding jerks like me.

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The Ornaments “A Coca-Cola Classic Christmas” (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

This Christmas band began as a reason for its two members, Mike Behrends and Lance Owens, to spend some time together. Their hang sessions have resulted in some of the most dark, poignant and interesting Christmas music I’ve ever encountered. Mike tipped me off that The Ornaments were indeed on track to release a song in 2020, which had me spinning with possibilities. In a normal year they’ve written about plane crashes… so what will an extremely fucked up waste of a year bring? Like all of the Ornaments songs, “A Coca​-​Cola Classic Christmas” paints a simple, yet vivid portrait from the fringes of the holiday. The song is a holiday card, written to someone the narrator would like to see, but hasn’t in a good number of years. Personally, this feels like an estranged parent, with lines like, “filled it with ornaments from your childhood Happy Meals,” hinting at the more-than-Facebook relationship they once had. That final entreaty is so simple and heartbreaking, “If this sounds nice, I’ll be in room 104 just left of the coke machine.” This short vignette of a holiday apart conveys so much awkward love in so few words, that I find it tough to decide whether the song is terribly sad, or oddly sweet. The Ornaments always leave me with questions… so I keep coming back.

The Ornaments have big plans for 2021, as we all do, and have plans for a 2-song 7-inch, so be sure to follow them on Bandcamp if you want a shot at that . I believe that first 7-inch only had about 8 copies or so pressed…

Bottom Line: The Ornaments are a rare treat, though perhaps an acquired taste. However, once you got it… you’re in it for the long haul.

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Big Society – Big (Christmas) (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

The last few days leading up to Christmas are really nuts. Nearly everybody releases their Christmas song or HUGE Christmas compilation, and my inbox explodes. My family has a bit less tolerance for late nights of searching and writing – because the mix is done! So… you might see my posts slow. All that said, I am saving a TON of links in the hopes that I’ll be able to get to them later. The lucky few… I’ll get to right now.

Manchester’s Big Society has dropped a very nice 4-track EP of really, really solid Christmas tunes. With touches of Cheap Trick and Queen, a dash of banjo and bossa nova, and a healthy heaping of indie rock, every single one of these songs is pretty great. I’m not quite sure which song is my favorite yet, as I am kinda tempted to grab a set of headphones and go for a walk with record. So… maybe I’ll get back to you, but feel free to let me know if one grabs you.

Bottom Line: Well dammit! These Christmas originals are quite worthy of your money (and mine). All proceeds go to The Booth Centre, community centre run with and for people affected by homelessness.

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada XII (2020)

The Line of Best Fit
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP) | Free MP3s @ The Line of Best Fit

I began this whole underground Christmas music search sixteen years ago. While many of my online Christmas-music hunting friends have been in the game even longer, it is still a pretty solid amount of time. My 2005 Christmas mix can now drive with a permit, is looking at colleges and thinks the music I listen to is pretty lame. Now that I’ve established myself as at least kinda old, sort of experienced and somewhat knowledgable, I’ll say that I can recall when that very first Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada came out (the download is unfortunately 404’d these days). It was glorious – I was heavily into the Arts & Crafts and Paper Bag labels, and believed that all the best indie rock must be fueled by the arts funding of Canada. Three songs off that initial release would end up on a mix… which for one single Christmas compilation, is pretty much incredible. Now Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada is nearly a teenager, with their twelth volume having dropped this week. This year’s offering does not disappoint, with so many excellent songs that I am hesitant to single out any, for to do so is to rank one over another… and I just haven’t lived with it enough to be completely sure that these are my favorites. However, into the fray I go with my highlights off, as we look at this latest edition, Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Volume XII!

The Acorn was on Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada’s debut volume with their beautiful track “Snowfall”, which also ended up on my 2010 Christmas mix, Write About Xmas! Thus, I was quite excited to see them on here again. Their latest seasonal song, “Skipping Stones,” features Jazmine Wykes on vocal harmony as well as a murderer’s row of players – Sylvie Smith (Evening Hymns/ Habitat), Joseph Shabason (Destroyer/Diana), and Jon Hynes (Kathleen Edwards). The song is not explicitly seasonal, as it is more evocative of the moment the song was written – a decade ago, writing about a loss on the precipice of the holidays. So, it would most certainly be a stretch for a mix, but it is a beautiful, melancholy song that I couldn’t ignore.

The absolute best first 15 seconds on this comp belong to one-time The Burning Hell and Evening Hymns member Michael C. Duguay‘s “Yankee Swap.” That bass saxophone vibrates everything inside you in the best possible way. The song runs off from there and slowly works into this complicated, emotional story, whose tension is broken by that big, beautiful chorus. Loved this song so much, and is most certainly one to go read the liner notes of; Reading the liner notes gives even more context and the song feels so much more powerful when you get the whole story behind the artist who made it.

Kristian Noel Pedersen is an alternative Christmas stalwart, having also released his twelfth-holiday record, A Kristian Kinda Christmas XII (out now!!), this year. That number is actually a little deceptive, as he has also released an entire cover record of Hanson’s Snowed In as well… so he’s working on 13 at least. Kristian often has a song on the HHHC comp, but this year’s, “Everything’s The Same Except It Isn’t,” may be my favorite of the bunch. This is a COVID-Christmas song, but without the overt references, which gives it a shelflife beyond this year (which I greatly appreciate). The shimmering indiepop guitars, the jingle bells and Kristian’s soft, thoughtful voice make this song feel both personal and universal – kinda sneaking under your skin as if you had thought of it yourself.

I am most surprised by how much I enjoyed this ambient track by Droni Mitchell (AKA NNGM). “Teach Your Feet To Fly” was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s classic “River,” but they decided to cover the ideas in the song, rather than the song itself. The skates over the (what sounds to me as) cello lines play beautifully off each other, with a reference to the “Jingle Bells” refrain tying the two songs together. I loved this bit from the liner notes: “In a difficult year when a lot of us have spent more time than ever stuck indoors, the idea of the freedom and gracefulness of being able to skate away on a frozen river under the open skies is definitely one that appeals.”

Those from Canada may be more familiar with this song, as it originally appeared on Inuk singer-songwriter Etulu Aningmiuq’s 2018, Juno and Polaris prize-nominated album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl. Elisapie covers “Quanniuguma” (Inuktitut for “If I Were A Snowflake”) with the help of Beatrice Deer, as the percussive stings are trance-inducing, driving the song until the usual percussion instruments come in as reinforcement. The song almost explodes at 3:30, and by then, you are completely under its hypnotic spell. The liner notes are equally enlightening with this track (Did I tell you how much I appreciated those liner notes??? I am telling you again! They are really, really interesting!): “The lyrics of Quanniuguma speak to the idea of the freedom afforded by being a snowflake- the ability to be directed by nature and travel everywhere, with no worries about the future, certainly ideas that are at the foremost in a lot of minds in 2020.”

Vancouver’s Bookclub has the most on-the-nose sound and subject matter for what Mr. Christmas Underground is going to like. Synthy-indiepop Christmas with a nostalgic bent? That is like giving me a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels… I’m gonna eat that whole damn bag. Love the sound, dug the lyrics, and especially love the brevity. (I LOVE A QUICK CHRISTMAS SONG – leave them WANTING MORE.) Pure indiepop perfection that will be part of the Kingfisher Bluez Charity Christmas Village collection. Pick up the 7″ and help support 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Center BC.

Those happen to be my favorites for the moment, but I don’t need to remind you, art is subjective and I am by no means the only judge. So grab this for yourself, dive into those liner notes, and I’m sure you’ll find some other gem in here that I’ve passed over. Why not add it to the comments?? Let me know what you loved! I love comments!!

Bottom Line: Twelve years in and going strong as ever, the beloved Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Volume XII is once again a wonderful snapshot of Canada’s indie music scene.

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