Beatrice Deer “Christmas” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

You know what I love to find? I love to find those Christmas songs that are hidden amongst the “regular” songs on a “normal” release. Think weeding through the deluge of Christmas singles for something great is tough? Try looking in places where no Christmas songs are expected to be found! Montréal’s Beatrice Deer has hidden an incredible Christmas song at the end of her most recent record, SHIFTING. Beatrice recorded the LP during the pandemic, and when circumstances allowed, recording live and in the studio with her bandmates, some of whom Beatrice shares with the excellent Land of Talk (Bucky Wheaton-drums & Chris McCarron-guitar). Appropriately titled “Christmas,” this is actually NOT the first Inuktitut-language song I’ve featured on Christmas Underground! Beatrice Deer appears with Elisapie on last year’s excellent Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada XII, covering “Quanniuguma” and blew me away. That song is an Etulu Aningmiuq cover, and while it is absolutely wonderful, “Christmas” feels much more like the Beatrice Deer song that it is. And what a song! This is Inuktitut indie pop! It opens slowly, gently fanning out with a new layer here, a new layer there, until the cymbals crash and all the colors explode, shimmering and spinning around the room. The lyrical beauty of the Inuktitut lyrics is undeniable, the language most certainly loves to be sung. This song is mix-worthy my friends.

Bottom Line: An indiepop highlight of 2021, no doubt about it.

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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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Kristian Noel Pedersen “Everyone Knows the Claus” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

It is quite possible that Kristian Noel Pedersen has written more original Christmas songs than anyone, ever. (Well…. maybe Make Like Monkeys has given him a run for his money…) Kristian is headling into his 11th year producing a Christmas album of all originals, which should make bands who struggle to write one new Christmas song… feel a little inadequate. So why am I writing about Kristian recording a COVER song? Well, because when Kristian decides to record a cover, he goes big. To my knowledge, I can’t recall a full reimagining of an entire Christmas album until Kristian took on the challenge (I’m sure some of my fellow Christmas-music aficionados will correct me). His target? Hanson’s Snowed In, an album that I am not familiar with, despite my dedication to Christmas music. But that leaves me to ponder, what album should/would you need to cover to truly make this a worthwhile endeavor? You have to cover a record that is known because especially within Christmas music, there are only a few that maintain catalog sales (and this one is one of them). Then, you also have to choose an album with originals, otherwise, it is as if you are just covering a sequence of tracks, rather than a specific artist’s album. So, I really think Kristian made a great choice targeting the Hanson LP. The first two singles are up, but the original is where the interest truly lies. “Everybody Knows the Claus” does NOT sound like Hanson. I’m going to have to agree with Kristian in his correspondence with me, his version has turned the song into a “weirdly fucked punk thing.” With dramatic vocals and a driving, fuzzy bassline, I can’t imagine Hanson ever sounding like this. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the rest of this record sounds like and I will not forget the donuts.

Yet another album to look forward to, A Kristian Kinda Christmas XI is coming to an internet near you in the next few weeks. Luckily you have a new Hanson LP and TEN previous records to tide you over. Tune in and listen as Kristian adds to his likely world-record worthy Christmas music legacy.

Bottom Line: Kristian’s Christmas-music ambition is boundless and inspiring. I love this effort, which only looks even more impressive with every new boring cover of “Blue Christmas.”

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Dariynn Silver “Rest Ye Merry” (2018)

Dariynn Silver "Rest Ye Merry"

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I don’t normally write about straight-up Christmas carols. This is generally a pretty secular Christmas music blog… and if you want Christmas carols, there are a million other places to listen to them. That said, every so often, a treatment just hits me. British Columbia’s Dariynn Silver released a version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” last year that deserves some notice. The vocal melodies are great – her pacing and the words she highlights are truly unique. However, it may be piano in the bridge that just got me. It was just beautiful, and frankly, I thought you might think so as well.

Bottom Line: Who would have thought it? A honest-to-goodness Christmas carol on Christmas Underground. I am full of surprises today.

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Ariane Zita “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Someday I’ll finish my mix… but in the meantime, maybe I’ll help you finish yours. Ariane Zita, an indie folk singer/songwriter from Montreal, has a Christmas advent calendar that is turning out to be quite lovely, Un Noël à Botch. The first track, “Christmas Can’t be Far Away,” is an Eddy Arnold cover, and TBH, not a song I was familiar with. Ariane’s voice is is beautiful, and her arrangement makes the song feel particularly intimate. The calendar continues in a similar fashion, each song building a soundtrack to that first snow.

Bottom Line: This is truly the season of beautiful songs, and Ariane Zita could very well put out more than everyone else combined…

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Forest Creatures – Noble Fir (2018)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Oh those seasonal bands. Those spectacular seasonal bands. There are a few, a few bands who come together for explicitly Christmas music, the obvious ones (for my readers being Christmas Aguilera and Sunturns), and now Forest Creatures are making their claim for elite status. Not only do they only release Christmas music, and not only have they released something for the past three years in a row, but they have released FULL ALBUMS three years in a row. There are some bands that have matched this feat… but Forest Creatures are really taking this to another level. A healthy mix of originals and covers, all performed beautifully – so beautifully that you find yourself wondering where they find the time? This year’s entry is Noble Fir, which follows in last year’s beautiful Was That Christmas? in brilliant fashion. The title track is a standout for sure. Their interesting arrangement for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was pretty damn great and unexpected. The calming bliss of the other two originals, “Silent Morn” and “Christmas at the Cabin,” combined with this coffee I’m drinking has put me in a serene, blissful mood that this bitter, overworked Christmas blogger kinda, really, truly, definitely needs. This record is fantastic, for those who like that sort of thing…

EDIT: Woah. Mind. Blown. All three originals have EXACTLY the same running time… 2:37. That is crazy.

Bottom Line: Forest Creatures have maintained an incredible track record of fantastic, FULL-LENGTH Christmas records – a nearly unmatched feat.

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Le Couleur “Le Dernier Noël” (2018)

Lisbon Lux Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Le Couleur are an electro pop band from Montreal, and while I truly don’t speak a lick of French, I’m presenting considering it, among three other french-language tracks for my mix this year. “Le Dernier Noel,” if Google translate has not led me astray, is a song about a Christmas party with romantic intrigue, booze, and if I’m not mistaken, cocaine. You know, some real Bing Crosby shit. So, if you find yourself like me, in the (hopefully) last 2 days of wrapping up your Christmas mix and need something to liven things up, this might just do it.

Bottom Line: Le Couleur have a fantastic groove, one that makes you forget you have no real foreign-language skills.

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Pre Nup “War, On Christmas” (2018)

Pre Nup - Oh Well

Jigsaw/Debt Offensive Records
Buy: US-Jigsaw (CD) | Canada-Debt Offensive Records (CD)

“We’re doomed for sure. / Apocalypse creeps closer every year. / Keep this in mind, / we’re all fucked. / At least it’s Christmas time.”

THE DARKEST TIMELINE CONTINUES!

Here is Calgary’s finest with a FUCKING AMAZING indie pop jam that I cannot get out my head. Pre Nup come out swinging with fuzzed-out perfection, while name checking the illuminati, pretending the chemtrails are Santa’s sleigh, and highlighting a government plot to foment carnage. You know, the perfect appetizer to the oncoming meltdown Christmas season.

Bottom Line: Sharpen your knives, this Christmas feast is going to be bloody. Pre Nup have thrown down the Christmas gauntlet, and bloodied a few noses in the process. (Heads up, this song is a hidden track on the CD version of their debut LP, Oh Well.)

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Peach Pit “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)” (2017)

Peach Pit "Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day?"

Kingfisher Bluez
Buy: Demo Version 7″ | iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Kingfisher Bluez puts out at least one charity Christmas 7″ every year, and this year they put out two, single-sided 7″ singles to benefit 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC. Vancouver’s Peach Pit was the first of the duo, releasing a demo version of the Sufjan Stevens’ feel-good hit, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!).” The version is quite solid, and while it doesn’t not stray far from the feel of the original, this song isn’t covered very often and hasn’t worn out its welcome; Perform this song admirably, and I’ll likely be on board. Now, the fully-produced version that is available for digital download from the usual outlets (come on Bandcamp! come on 7Digital!), definitely benefits from the extra flourishes. The guitar lines replacing Sufjan’s keys add an extra edge that is certainly welcome for such a conflicted song. So, while I do prefer the fully produced version to the demo, I still strongly encourage you to pick up the demo 7″. Suicide prevention is extremely important, as anyone who has felt that particular pain can no doubt tell you.

Bottom Line: Peach Pit deliver a 1-2 of delicious Sufjan Stevens goodness.

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Forest Creatures – Was That Christmas? (2017)

Forest Creatures - Was That Christmas?

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I don’t have much time, as I have to work this Saturday, and I’ve just got a few minutes to get this down. Forest Creatures are a Vancouver band of folkies who have put together two (yes, TWO) whole records of RIYL Sufjan Stevens Christmas folk music. When I say “RIYL Sufjan Stevens,” it is both a compliment to the taste level, as well as a hint that this record is going to have a dash of Jesus for sure, but not heavy-handedly so. The production is outstanding, warm and layered. They mix it up with covers (“I Heard the Bells”) and excellent originals (“Christmas Like I’ve Never Felt”), each one done beautifully. This is a cohesive, beautiful record that you could put on and enjoy all the way through, which can be VERY hard for a Christmas album to achieve.

Bottom Line: Forest Creatures have come in from the cold, Canadian winter to warm our hearts with lush, indie folk.

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