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.
I often think about what it would be like to be just now getting into this hobby of underground Christmas music mix-making. When I got in the game (18 years ago!), there wasn’t quite the wealth of indie rock/pop/alt.country/etc Christmas releases to hunt down. Bandcamp, the venue which I primarily exploit to find cool new songs, wasn’t founded until 2007, and it wasn’t until 2010 that I could have even embedded a track on a site like Christmas Underground. It is both exhilarating and terrifying to think about dipping my toes in for the first time in 2022… there is just so much to listen to – years and years of great songs to get through, let alone all the new releases that come out every year. Well, lucky for my imaginary self, as well as that very real person taking their first stab at making a cool Christmas mix, fellow weirdo Christmas music fan Kevin McGrath has created the perfect introduction to this niche of holiday music with the massive, expansive collection of 108 songs, Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas Vol. 1 & Vol. 2. This is like one of those The Greatest ________ Album in the World collections I used to bump into in the import sections of the 2000s – packing an absolute ton of the tracks you need to hear to fully get what has been going on. The sheer effort that it took to clear 108 songs is astounding, let alone the challenges of contacting bands that are no longer together, and there are some wonderful ones represented here, to which I’m delighted their musical legacy will persist. Readers of this site will find some familiar faces and names, such as Sweet Tempest, St. Lenox, Charlie’s Hand Movements, The Ornaments, Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, and many, many more.
Just know you are bound to discover a new classic or two that you’ve never bumped into before. Christmas Underground is a one-person shop, and I can’t and won’t be able to know every single cool indie Christmas song out there… as I’m currently sitting here listening to Volume 1, bobbing my head to a song I’ve never heard – and I love it. All this great music also benefits a great cause, Crisis, a UK charity that helps the homeless. So, while the suggested price for each massive collection is a mere £7/$8.50, just know that you don’t necessarily have to give only $8.50. Maybe make yourself a sandwich each day this week for lunch and give a bit more? This is the season of giving, and in a world where billionaires aren’t going to save us, we need to look out for each other.
Bottom Line: These two releases could fashion 3-4 years of indie Christmas mixes for your friends and family. It is an absolutely essential purchase for new and old collectors alike.
Self Esteem is Rebecca Lucy Taylor, previously known as half of indie-Christmas royalty Slow Club (RIP Slow Club). Her solo work is certainly more pop-forward than Slow Club ever was. While I don’t normally gravitate to pop, please be rest-assured, Self Esteem is not your normal pop project – the term experimental pop has been thrown around and I might be on board for that description. “All I Want for Christmas is a Work Email” doesn’t sound like anything else on my Christmas playlist, with a sparsely adorned mix of bitterness, self-loathing, and big pop vocals. Somehow I didn’t write about this last year, and since there is no expiration on good music or Twinkies, eat up.
Bottom Line: Here’s a pop Christmas tune for folks who don’t like pop Christmas.
Last year I found myself stressing out, trying to get a shot at one of those Field Music Christmas 7-inches that were at the Independent Label Fair in London. Tweeting back and forth, seeing what connections I could muster… but alas… it was not to be. They hinted that it would have a proper release this year, so…. I waited, and Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box will be waiting under the tree for me (once I buy it). I haven’t heard much off this record, with exception of the Francis Lung track which I reviewed last year. A track or two has been previously out there in some fashion (Field Music and Cornshed Sisters) from off the top of my head), but there do appear to be some new tracks here for sure. If you are really, really curious, you can go digging on each band’s twitter feed, and you are bound to bump in to some 15 second samples of these songs. That Rachael Dadd track sounds bbbeeeeauuuuttttiiiifffuuullll.
Lost Christmas: A Memphis Industries Festive Selection Box (Release Date: December 4) 1. Field Music – Home For Christmas 2. Haley – Like Ice and Cold 3. Warm Digits – Good Enough For You This Christmas 4. Rachael Dadd (with Rozi Plain and Kate Stables) – We Build Our Houses Well 5. Stats – Christmas Without You 6. The Phoenix Foundation – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas 7. Francis Lung – To Make Angels In Snow 8. Jesca Hoop – White Winter Hymnal 9. The Go! Team – Look Outside (A New Year’s Coming) 10. The Cornshed Sisters – Have a Good Christmas Time
In 2013, Oklahoma City’s Husbands released an absolutely incredible, full-length indie rock Christmas album (XMAS), and they are back once again with yet another! XMAS 2 is made in the same spirit as the original, with originals and wholly-reimagined covers living side-by-side in a completely cohesive collage of chillwave/indie rock/Boards of Canada/Animal Collective goodness. Honestly, I am a bit more than halfway through listening to the record (I just got back from a family function) and have been gnawing at the bit to do so… so this is a half-review as I wait to conclude what promises to be another incredible record by Husbands.
Take a song that feels rather formulaic, one where 1 + 1 obviously equals two… and to throw a wrench (and maybe a tab of acid) in the works. Diane Coffee‘s rendition of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is just this… it nudges the classic formula gently off the cliff and all of a sudden you are in the middle of this amazing fuzzed-out guitar, and you’ve forgotten how to count. For those unfamiliar with Diane Coffee, he has released two fascinating art-pop records on Western Vinyl (most notably the original home of Dirty Projectors), as well as being the initial drummer for friends (and sonic brothers) Foxygen. This one-off track was released in 2015, and is still available for free on Soundcloud, which is extremely generous. This track is good enough to be released on its own… perhaps Diane Coffee should record another xmas tune this year and release a 7″? I’d buy it, no doubt. For now, we’ll have to settle for a non-holiday 7″, as his new release Peel will be out on Polyvinyl on October 20th.
Bottom Line: It’s beginning to look a lot like art-pop Christmas, Diane Coffee, and I’m totally cool with it. Let’s get freaky.