Chase Kerby “It’s Already Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

Oklahoma City’s Chase Kerby is part of a whole crew of fantastic Christmas music-making folks including Beau Jennings, Husbands, and Samantha Crain amongst many others. I do miss those Fowler/Blackwatch compilations as well, though those came out of Norman (OKC’s close neighbor). Chase dropped a beautiful track back in 2019, “Angels in the Snow,” which was featured here, with typos of Chase’s last name and everything. So let’s say he already had a pretty good rep around these parts. Chase does not disappoint with this dreamy new song, “It’s Already Christmas.” I feel like I’m calling everything “dreamy” this year, but I don’t own a thesaurus and I never learned to read. That, and this is some dreamy-ass folk music. Those shimmering, descending melodies and layered vocals demand me to use the word dreamy – I don’t have a choice. The song also has a sentimental (but not corny) string to pull, best experienced in this beautiful chorus.

The snow on the street was the gift that we needed as kids
And the older we get the less that we feel like it is
But all I want for Christmas are the times that I have missed
Because time with you is a gift.

Once you hit a certain age, those songs about growing up hit harder… only makes sense. Chase handles this urge to reminisce well and doesn’t make me feel silly for joining him. Settle in and enjoy it.

Bottom Line: Yet another beautiful song from Chase Kerby as he helps continue to maintain Oklahoma City as one of a precious few (London, Montreal, Melbourne come to mind) hotspots of excellent Christmas music.

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Corvair “I Believe in Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I don’t know if it is necessary to rehash who this wonderful band is, but for the uninitiated, here we go. Portland’s Corvair is a notable indiepop superduo, comprised of Brian Naubert (Ruston Mire, Tube Top, Pop Sickle, The Service Providers) and Heather Larimer (Eux Autres – who have an indie-classic Christmas EP). They’ve now released three wonderful, original Christmas songs in three years and have firmly planted their flag at the top of the indiepop Christmas charts. The dreamy new single, “I Believe in Christmas,” is certainly bound for receptive ears. The orchestration, the vocals, everything is delivered with a casual beauty that seeps into your brain. Everything is indeed beautiful here.

Bottom Line: I believe in Corvair. Thank god they’re finally here.

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Wicketkeeper “Ho Ho It’s Christmas Again” (2022)

Umpire Records
Buy:
Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3

Let me give you a quick peek behind the curtain here at Christmas Underground. There is often a healthy discussion in the Twitter DMs between myself and other Christmas music-obsessed folks, and there may have been a comment about my site that went something (exactly) like this: “I say it’s pretty darn easy to make a mix entitled ‘Christmas music to slash your wrists by.'” To which, I replied, “You gotta have your niche.” Well… I’m not all tearjerkers and Christmas humbug (I’m only 51% of those), the other 49% is searching for a song that will make my ass move. So I introduce London’s Wicketkeeper, who has written a song that is 34% wonderful, and 66% fucking amazing, “Ho Ho It’s Christmas Again.” But you really have to look behind the lyrics – they are saying something really profound here. Like in the last verse, where they mix it up and add the “WOOOO.”

Ho Ho It’s Christmas Again,
Ho Ho It’s Christmas Again,
WOOOOO,
lalalalalalalalalalala lalalalalalalalalalala,
lalalalalalalalalalala lalalalalalalalalalala

Kinda brings a tear to your eye.

Bottom Line: The most fun 1.5 minutes of Christmas music you will experience this holiday season.

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Sara Noelle “I’ll Sleep ‘Til Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

Sara Noelle has been blessing us with atmospheric folk Christmas songs every year since 2020, and I feel like once you hit three years in a row, we are going to consider it a tradition. This year’s song is as good as the last and suggests that once a few more years pass by, you have yourself a fantastic, cohesive album of incredibly beautiful Christmas songs. These songs are for warmly snuggling, canoodling, burrowing, and such around a fire on those nights when Bing, Andy, and Ella are a bit too in-your-face Christmas. “I’ll Sleep ‘Til Christmas” is a particularly cozy song, where one finds peace in the season, where it calms the outside world and makes you feel safe:

There’s a present in the presence
Time slows down
See the joy in the sky
Flickering stars
Flickering stars

One night in December
Peace calms fear
So I’ll sleep ’til Christmas
I’ll sleep ’til Christmas this year

That is some lovely stuff.

Bottom Line: Sara Noelle continues building her unique catalog of truly excellent atmospheric folk Christmas music.

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Lexie Carroll “Christmas Day” (2022)

sevenfoursevensix
Buy:
Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

At some point, likely soon, 17-year-old Lexie Carroll will just be Lexie Carroll, a thoughtful songwriter with a lovely voice. Heck, she might be 18 by now, as I am only familiar with the press written about her (Clash song of the day), and I am unfamiliar with her birthday. But I would be remiss to not mention her youth, as it makes this simple, yet beautiful vingette of a Christmas at home with family even more impressive. Give it a listen.

Bottom Line: From London to the rest of the world, this song will be on mixes.

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Toad Venom – The Ingen vidare jul (Christmas is cancelled) EP (2021)

Welfare Sounds & Records
Buy:
Bandcamp

If I had a nickel for every time I said, “You name your band Toad Venom, and I’m going to check you out.” Well, a bunch of psych rock musicians from Vikingstad, Sweden finally took me up on this well-known offer, and have also made some absolutely excellent psych Christmas music! 2021’s The Ingen vidare jul (Christmas is cancelled) EP is two tracks of badass psych, as the leadoff track “God Jul” blasts off, a soaring Swedish Christmas anthem (to which I have no clue what is being said). The flip, “Merry (Christmas) and me,” is in English, and very much suits their style as described on Bandcamp: “A band, experimenting the void between spaghetti western and psychedelic rock.” Those twangy western guitars that introduce the track – so terribly cool. The song builds and builds, at times triggering me to think a bit about Spiritualized for some reason. There are so many cool movements to this song, yet it still comes in at an economical 4:00. Perhaps one of the most badass Christmas tunes I’ve come across in a good while.

Bottom Line: Two extremely good tracks from my new favorite band and best friends (pending).

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Bird Friend “Christmas Song​” (2021/2022)

Sedan Is Real
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

From the cold reaches of Portsmouth, New Hampshire comes Bird Friend, compiling their two seasonal singles onto one handy cassette/digital release. The Christmas song, appropriately titled “Christmas Song,” was initially released on their 2021 EP, Songs About Crime, and is a warm story-song of love without much money, a reality that a lot of us can relate to at some point in our lives… maybe even today. Love can find you at any moment in your life, whether you have enough money for wine or not – and thankfully they don’t get caught shoplifting:

when we went on christmas eve
to the convenience store
i was a bum and you were venus
in the front seat of your honda accord

heads or tails would determine who would go
steal us a bottle of booze
you slipped that bottle of wine into your purse
like it was what you were born to do

and i knew
i had to have you

Bottom Line: Short, sweet, and with that bit of vice that can spice up any holiday song, this hard-scrabble love story is quite worth your time.

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Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 (2022)

A Benefit for Crisis
Buy:
Bandcamp

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.

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Beau Jennings & the Tigers “Midnight Service” (2022)

Black Mesa Records
Buy:
Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Beau Jennings wowed us all a few years back with his stunning Christmas LP, The Christmas Light, and we can all be thankful (it is nearly Thanksgiving!) that he took another stab at a seasonal song – because we all know it is going to be great. “Midnight Service” is a slow burn, with a simple, shimmering guitar line that flutters from ear-to-ear, a delicate flurry of musical snow to encase Beau’s “internal Christmas journey.” The song beautifully captures the transition between a child’s Christmas and an adult’s, and an embrace of something new. This is best captured in his last beautiful lines:

“Now I don’t worry anymore / about the kind of Christmas I knew before
I let it come and I let it go / like the northern wind or the falling snow.”

Bottom Line: This song is full of heart and beauty, and is a wonderful addition to Beau and Co.’s stellar seasonal catalog.

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Bjéar – A Christmas with Bj​é​ar and Friends Vol​.​1 & Vol. 2 (2022)

Terrazzo Recordings
Buy:
Bandcamp

I am easily scared. Of what, you might ask? You appear to be a complete badass who eats nails for breakfast. Well… how wrong you are. I often look at full Christmas records and head for the hills. Write about more than one song?! The horror! Well… Adelaide, Australia’s Bjéar has not only challenged me to face my fears… but he is just rubbing it in by releasing two full records at the same time, A Christmas with Bjéar and Friends Vol. 1 & Vol. 2. I am accepting this challenge, as Bjéar has made it extremely easy for me… because these are great. Turns out that this massive outpouring of seasonal work has not been in the works for very long either. Bjéar had been thinking about putting out a Christmas record, but only truly began work on it in earnest this August, anticipating maybe one album or maybe just an EP. However, they just kept churning out arrangements and new songs until two records and 80 minutes later… the Bjéar Christmas opus. Grab some eggnog and let me pull out a few tracks for you to taste.

A mix of standards and originals, both records blend seamlessly from song to song making it an extremely easy listen. The standards are performed beautifully, with arrangements that will sound both familiar and refreshing. I particularly loved when Joy to the World busts open with a new melody provided by the brass section.

Some of the covers are barely what one might consider a cover. While some songs may contain all of the lyrics you are expecting, you may be surprised when a song just teases the source material. Such is the atmospheric world that surrounds Bjéar’s treatment of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which makes me think of what a Sigur Ros Christmas record might sound like – a beautiful mess that resolves into a few recognizable lines, that little slice of familiarity within the new, magical soundscape in front of you, and only one line from the song.

While I loved the classics, it is the originals where these records really take off. There are some excellent original instrumentals, of course, as I have previously been taken by Bjéar’s arrangement abilities in the past. However, I’d like to highlight “The Lights Came Down,” the first non-instrumental original on Vol. 1. There is an obvious beauty that lead singer Brea McKee and collaborator Ella Ion create when their voices intertwine; they are two voices meant to sing together. The song’s lyrics are far more explicitly religious than most songs I feature on this secular Christmas blog, but even this grinch can feel the spirit coming out of this song.

I don’t think I need to state the obvious comparison to Sufjan Stevens, but I must if only to say that the internet would be freaking out about this song had it been Sufjan’s. Frankly, both these records are front-to-back more listenable than any of Sufjan’s Christmas EPs, and I feel quite comfortable making that claim.

The curiously-titled “Christmas Eve, 1818,” is a beautiful reworking of “Silent Night,” which is also featured under its usual title on Vol. 2. The arrangement appears to be inspired by a 2017 version of “Silent Night” that Ella recorded, with more orchestration. The song begins as a showcase for Ella Ion’s voice, bare and beautiful, only to have it heighten and highlight the incredible emotional quality of her tone. It is downright astounding.

I just mentioned that Vol. 2 does indeed have a version of “Silent Night,” and the strings (likely provided by Frank Henry) and the brass section create the most exhilarating outro this song has ever had. There are many folks who contributed to these records, Frank Henry and Dan White amongst many additional instrumentalists, and we’re likely hearing a lot of them here.

I would be remissed if I were not to mention one more song, which would be yet another original featuring the vocals of both Brea and Ella, “Sleep Sound.” The warmth of the guitar lines and Ella’s voice are a beautiful lullaby, made even sweeter when Brea joins in harmony halfway through. The beauty of this song is in their incredible ability to capture emotion on tape. Some records sound sterile, this record wraps you up in a sonic hug.

Bottom Line: The spirit of Christmas compels you to listen, as it has compelled Bjéar to create these wonderful records. I’m warning you, these records might just become part of your holiday for years to come… so you might want to buy them now.

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