YACHT “Christmas Alone” (2015/2020)

Yacht - Christmas Alone

Self Released
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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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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)

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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
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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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The Reds, Pinks & Purples – We Won’t Come Home at Christmas Time (2020)

Self Released
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Sometimes you just get attracted to a feeling. This new Christmas single by The Reds, Pinks & Purples have created a beautiful, contemplative and melancholy Christmas single. The single features two originals from the DIY kitchen pop project of Glenn Donaldson from Skygreen Leopards, Art Museums, Thuja, and The Blithe Son, etc, etc. The lead track, “We Won’t Come Home at Christmas Time,” is a rather sad song, but with delicately upbeat music in true indiepop fashion. It somehow reminds me of Morrissey with a dash of Mark Eitzel and another artist that I am just at a loss for. I HATE it when that happens. The B-side is an absolutely gorgeous instrumental that is only the second instrumental that I’ve come across this season that I could see as mix-worthy. There truly is an expert craftsman at work here, no doubt about it.

H/T to No Love for Ned, who is always on the lookout for new Christmas songs for me 🙂

Bottom Line: Simple, beautiful and brief. You can’t ask for much more from an original Christmas song.

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada XII (2020)

The Line of Best Fit
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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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Joseph Bradshaw – Xmas (2020)

Self Released
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That name. I I know that name. I had lost track of Joseph Bradshaw for a few years, but I won’t do that again. Joseph Bradshaw’s “Christmas is Always” off his 2015 release with Kyle Cox remains one of my favorite folk-Christmas tunes, and it appears he has not lost a step. Recorded last week at the kitchen table “while the family slept and studied,” these songs exude the warmth of that kitchen. The writing is exquisite on the two originals on the EP, “Santa Claus Can Keep His Bag” (written with Sandra McCracken) and “Mercy for All.” (I can give-or-take a “Silver and Gold” cover, so please pardon me for spending time on the rest of the EP.) Each song tells a story, with lines of beauty and humor that leave you searching for your favorite. However, I found myself uncharacteristically more impressed by Joseph’s voice than anything else on the record, as I’m normally a sucker for lyrics. The moments at the edges of his voice where he maintains a quiet control, convey an emotion and warmth that brought me even deeper in. Joseph doesn’t have a big voice, but it has great character and he knows how to use it beautifully. I’m so on board should he ever consider a full Christmas record. (Sending that into the world!)

Bottom Line: They might only be a few songs, but these songs born at a dinner table, have left me full and happy.

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The BV’s “I Hope There’s No Snow” (2020)

Self Released
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Likely used to the challenges of socially-distanced recording, the BV’s hail from both Falmouth in Cornwall and Ausburg, Germany. This year, they found some time to scratch that itch – you know, the one when you want a little Joy Division mixed into your indiepop Christmas mix! I’m sure I should be able to think of a couple other touchstones, but man… really feeling that Joy Division sound, and it is just what I needed. Between the steady beat, those glimmering guitar lines, to those talk-singing lyrics of woe, this is the prettiest dirge I’ve heard this year.

Bottom Line: This downer is fucking fun!

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Rusty Spork – Christmas Down Home (2020)

Self Released
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Gainesville’s Rusty Spork has created this DIY folk Christmas EP that, in its simplicity and its subtle phrasing choices has made some very trite songs (Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) sound fresh and easy. The recordings are intimate, letting you hear the setup and the fuck-up, and it helps to draw you in, to maybe pull up a chair. A cover of the Jason Mraz & Justin Bieber mashup, “Mistletoe (I’m Yours),” is far less cloying than the saccharine sweet originals, rounding out a record that might not knock your socks off, but might certainly cause you to put on your most comfortable pair.

Bottom Line: There aren’t many ornaments on this tree, but it makes the room feel pretty damn cozy.

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Porlolo “Christmas in Hollis” (2020)

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WHAT THE WHAT? I’m amazed that I’ve never quite encountered an approach to Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” like this before! Denver’s Porlolo have scored a SOLID Christmas hit, with this saxophone-heavy rendition of the classic tune. I am so DOWN with that wind section! They do such a great job with it, that what might have been a joke song ends up feeling perfectly inevitable. Of course this song works as a strolling indie folk song… how could I have ever doubted it? Love love love.

Bottom Line: This song might just be the most unexpected delight of the season.

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