Memorial “In the Arms of December” (2021)

Memorial - In the Arms of December

Real Kind Records
Buy:
Apple Music (so far)

Soundcloud has been paying off rather well lately, with the latest discovering coming in the form of this beautiful, Christmas-adjacent song from the UK’s Memorial. The folk duo premiered their new song on the blog Wonderland about a week ago, and it is one of those writeups that really makes you wonder whether you should even try to say anything else about it–but here it goes. It makes me think of those distant relationships, those relationships that you deeply value, but are slowly fading. We all have those, they warm us with memories and meaning, while making us cry. Their voices, in tandem with the simple, airy production fits the lyrics so perfectly, to surgically attack that part of your brain where you hold both your love and regret. So… you are forewarned.

Bottom Line: One of those perfect, emotional songs bound for the kind of Christmas mixer that reads this blog.

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A Very Cherry Christmas 15 (2021)

Cherryade Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

How will you know when the world is back to normal? I rather doubt it ever will be “normal” again, but we’ll move the baseline. Some things will go away (perhaps drinking after each other), while other parts will return… such as this wonderful indiepop tradition, Cherryade RecordsA Very Cherry Christmas. This is the first full-length release since COVID threw a wrench in the gears, and there is a ton here–21 tracks ranging from fantastic Spanish indiepop (“Llega la Navidad” by The Yellow Melodies), to muddy guitars rocking a classic Shakin’ Stevens tune (“Merry Christmas Everyone” by Mouses), uptempo reinterpretations of their own fantastic indiepop classics (“Hey Santa Claus! (Faster Claus Version)” by the Hannah Barberas), and brand-new indiepop Christmas bangers (“This Christmas” by Super 8). There is something for everyone here and an extremely limited supply! As always, only 200 copies are being pressed on CD, and there is NO digital release. If you are just beginning your alternative Christmas collection, or you have been in this game for years, these releases are a consistent source of inspiration, completely worth your time and money.

Bottom Line: The proper, full-length A Very Cherry Christmas is back, and with it returns a wonderful part of our alternative Christmas universe.

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24 (2021)

Where It’s At Is Where You Are
Buy: Bandcamp

One of the great indiepop labels has spring a wonderful collection of 24 holiday-themed songs on us this year – and for those early preorder folks, the opportunity to a hand-knit wool sleeve. Where It’s At is Where You Are (WIAIWYA) has a wonderful track record of indiepop holiday releases, most notably (for me) Christmastime, Approximately, which features a couple tracks that have featured on my yearly mixes. Let me just say… when more than one track off a comp ends up on a mix… that is a BFD. Compilations are always a roll of the dice, because you’ve got a whole mess of different styles, tastes, etc all coming together – and art is subjective! To have more than one song hit YOU specifically makes that entire record feel even more important by association.

24 features… you guessed it, 24 tracks, which I cannot bring myself to cover fully. I have NEVER come close to a comprehensive review of a record of this size… so please take the time to explore those other tracks that I am not singling out here. Once more, art is subjective, and the Christmas mix I would make does not come close to sounding like the one my friend Ned would… so let’s go exploring! I’ll open the door for you, now it is your job to walk on in and poke around a bit more.

The record starts out setting that beautiful, upbeat indiepop tone, with a wonderful track by Seattle’s Dolour, “Christmas with My Baby.” I love that first verse, which sets the stage well for 2021, but doesn’t get TOO specific as to pigeonhole it to not be listenable year-after-year: “Last year was such a dreaded affair / the year before that I didn’t even care / basically every year before I had no one to share / the holiday cheer with until you were here / but now this year I can hardly wait / so much joy, there’s no room for hate / let it snow, I don’t mind / as long as I’m here with this true love of mine.” This song has that attitude that I think a lot of us (vaxxed) share this year – the optimism that comes with time and understanding. Grab that person you love and don’t let the shit that surrounds you interfere.

Classic Sarah Records’ Scottish indiepop stalwarts The Orchids slow it down with “I Wish I Was,” a beautiful, nostalgic track that may very well be my favorite (at this moment) on the comp. The vignettes they create of a childhood Christmas, accented by their perfect use of brass color, hit you in the head and heart with equal force. Just beautiful.

With my next selection, I invite you to ruin Christmas with Laura and Mike from firestations, aka L&M Kingsize. “We Ruined Christmas” begins by dressing down a Christmas meal, beginning an emotionally complex and fascinating journey. Everything is the same, but you like it that way. You’re miserable, but you’d rather not be at home. We ruined Christmas, can’t wait to see you, same time next year. This song is just kinda fascinating and unexpected.

The BV’s “Krautmas” is more of a groove than a song – those playful guitars over a steady digital beat are as soothing as the first snow flurry. Coming in at track 13, it serves as the perfect intermission between the two halves of the record. Simple and wonderful.

“December Boy” by The Rhynes is the sweetest song on the record. Full of warmth, love, and vocal harmonies, it has some of the best lines on the record as well. I particularly like the first bit here: “You can keep whichever god you’re dreaming of, / but I’ll take all the peace and all the love. / Cause it feels so good to be alive, / We’ve made another December twenty-five. / You make my heart laugh / This December boy’s still got it bad.” If could eat that sentiment for breakfast every day I would.

There are plenty of other great songs on here, the vast majority exclusive to this release. In fact – should you feel so inclined, I’d LOVE to know what YOUR favorite tracks off this record are. Tweet at me (@xmasunderground) or comment here! I may just update this review with your input as well!

Botton Line: As expected from this truly excellent indiepop label, WIAIWYA has delivered yet another underground Christmas classic. Truly enjoyable from front to back, this is one of those rare comps that you can just put on and press play.

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Sharks’ Teeth – The Christmas on Christmas (2019)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

By far, the most ambitious Christmas record I have come across in recent years is The Christmas on Christmas, by New Orleans’ Sharks’ Teeth. This record is massive – 25 original songs written from a perspective that no other band (that I’m familiar with) has come within yards of. To give you some more context, this is how the band introduced the record when it was released in 2019: “We call it our ‘Occult/Polytheistic/at times aggressively astrological Christmas album’ and it’s 25 tracks of brand new, original, slightly subversive yuletide pop… This record is meant to celebrate and create through the array of frameworks of traditions from this world that eventually became our Christmas. Hopefully we’ve done that without promoting monotheism or intrinsically saying that anyone else’s spiritual worldview is wrong or invalid.” Honestly, reading that makes my eyes cross and my attention pique in tandem. Sonically, the record sounds fantastic, with some particularly wonderful guitar lines. I love how the songs often have multiple movements, perhaps best experienced between the prayerful first half, and the upbeat second half of “And You Know it isn’t Christ,” which contains some of my favorite guitar work. The Christmas on Christmas sounds like a War on Drugs-meets-Flaming Lips opera, bubbling with steady-beat indie rock, vaguely 80s guitars, experimental detours, and filtered vocals. It is one of the most fascinating Christmas records I’ve ever heard – I honestly feel like the best advice I can give is to throw them a few bucks (it is name-your-own price) and go for a nice walk.

Bottom Line: Massive in scope, this record is like nothing else you’ll hear this season… or next season… or next… or…

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Nicky William – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2021)

Icons Creating Evil Art (ICEA)
Buy:
Bandcamp

There is something about Gothenberg that breeds oddly wonderful, crooning indiepop artists. Of course, there is Jens Lekman (a personal favorite)… and now there is Nicky William, certainly a future favorite of mine. I’ve been listening to Nicky’s new Christmas single for a little bit now (it was on Soundcloud earlier than Bandcamp), and it has most certainly grown on me. My initial reaction was, “Well, this is nice, but it is just another cover.” However, a few listens in, and there is just something about the marriage of this classic song, the simple instrumentation, and Nicky’s deep voice that I’ve really fallen for. I find it quite earnest and beautiful, oddly soothing in its nature. However, this pretty song may very well be a divisive Christmas Rorschach test (or what color was that dress test!), as his intention was quite interesting:

Talking about his new single, Nicky William says: ”We wanted to make a version of a classic but still add something new to it. In this song, we tried to add an uncertainty about whether the message in the song was ironic or not, hoping that the listener would have a different experience hearing the song, depending on how they feel about the holiday.”

There is also an “Alte Glühwein Version” (AKA Old Mulled Wine Version) that adds a touch here and there, such as the crackle at the beginning – either an old recording or a warm fire – you choose. Both are quite lovely… or are they quite sad? Just how jaded are my readers… we shall see.

Bottom Line: A beautiful little Christmas test, tailor-made for this Swedish indiepop loving blogger.

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Benjamin Francis Leftwich “Tinsel in the River” (2021)

Dirty Hit
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The track all over the blogs today is this little, melancholy beauty by Benjamin Francis Leftwich, titled “Tinsel in the River.” I’m going to crib the same quote that everyone else is to give you some background:

“‘Tinsel In The River’ is a song about sitting alone over the Christmas period and reflecting over the previous year of love, loss and what could have been – but flew out of one’s hands… The song is set against the Christmas party season in the town in Yorkshire where I am from. The city comes alive with: the party, the bag, loving fellowship – and also chaos.”

There are some great lines in here, and I’m particularly fond of the second verse:

Now, I’m not one for wishing
On a star so far away
But they’ve made the city glisten
With lights you can’t escape
Well, there’s tinsel in the river
And the world is on the piss
Still I’d carol sing forever
If you turned up on December 25th

The production is simple, airy, and warm – wrapping the song in a snug little package. I don’t really have any notes here – it’s just lovely. I’m guessing some of you are going to love this short little melancholy tune as much as I do.

Bottom Line: Short, emotional, and beautifully produced.

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Boat Water “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” (2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

There are a number of songs out there that just seem to get covered the same ways… and boy is it refreshing to hear something new. Baltimore’s Boat Water has taken the excellent Ramones’ Christmas classic, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight),” and found a new way inside that is truly engaging. The keyboard lines, the pacing, the phrasing – I don’t believe I’ve heard it done quite like this, and thank goodness I now have. There are so many small changes that are unexpected and just fucking delightful. There’s also a cover of a Blink 182 Christmas song… but I am both unfamiliar with it, and don’t really care. They’re not my jam, but maybe they are yours! Art is subjective! I have terrible taste!

Bottom Line: An absolutely stellar cover of a Christmas classic (and one that I’m not already sick of!)

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Sara Noelle “Like Snow (Slowly Falling)” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

After last year’s wonderful “Christmas at Sea,” Los Angeles’ Sara Noelle just mike make these holiday songs a tradition. Similar to last year, we get one original song and one cover. Hmmm… sounds like Sara needs to hook up with the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club – cause that’s what they do too! “Like Snow (Slowly Falling)” has left the Bon Iver-reminiscent acoustic/electronic collage of “Christmas at Sea” for much more ethereal production. As the title suggests (by not referencing Christmas), this is much more of a winter tune, which Sara describes as a “wintry song about getting lost in a swirling snow globe of emotions.” I found it to be quite beautiful, and look forward to next year’s edition!

Bottom Line: Emotional and ethereal beauty.

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Kansas Bible Company “Feliz Navidad” (2020)

Kansas Bible Company - Feliz Navidad

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

A perennial favorite, Kansas Bible Company is one of those bands I always look for around the holiday season. Whatever they touch is going to be a lot of fun, and I can’t believe I didn’t get to writing about this song last year. Wait… I can. The later you put out your Christmas song, the better chance it’ll get drowned out by all the other releases (or I’m completely exhausted). I’m doing my best to make up for missing it… as last year’s cover of “Feliz Navidad” was truly a joyful rendition that deserves to be boogied down to. KBC has a wonderful combination of brass and guitars, and their shared solos in the middle of this song is a perfect example of this musical conversation. Of note – they also properly released “Blue Christmas,” their collaboration with Okey Dokey, which had been previously released under the moniker of The Nashville Country Cowboys in 2016. So add that to your Spotify playlist too… you kids and your streaming….

Bottom Line: KBC can make the telephone book (remember those??) sound fun.

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Now, Now “Lonely Christmas” (2019)

Moodring Record Co.
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Take equal parts Robyn and Haim, and oddly a dash of a more synthy War on Drugs, add them to a glass of eggnog or mulled wine and you have Now, Now’s excellent, 2019 Christmas jam “Lonely Christmas.” All of those comparisons are meant to say, this song is catchy as hell and really well done. Had ANY of those above artists recorded this song, it would be EVERYWHERE. Gotta love that saxophone solo at the end… readers of this blog will know that is like crack to me. Tasteful saxophone… just inject it directly into my blood.

Bottom Line: About as poppy as I get and totally worth the trip towards Mainstreet.

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