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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Crying Day Care Choir “It’s Almost Time for a Christmas Tree” (2022)

Elz Productions
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Sweden’s Crying Day Care Choir are one of those bands that I’m always hoping will release more Christmas music. They have such an incredible back catalog of songs, which I have been happy to feature many, many times, and I encourage everyone to check out if you are unfamiliar with them. They have taken a few years off from writing seasonal songs, but thankfully return with the brand-spanking new “It’s Almost time for a Christmas Tree.” This song is quite unlike the others, as it is part of the same experimental songwriting project as their recent Give Me Something Vol. 1 EP. With both the EP and this song, Crying Day Care Choir used Damien Hirst’s “The Currency” project for writing inspiration. Hirst has created 10,000 paintings and offered them up for sale. Buyers have the choice of purchasing either the physical object or an NFT, and if they choose the NFT, the physical object is burned. CDCC has exclusively used the pieces slated for the pyre to draw inspiration from, and in a way, giving these objects destined for oblivion a new, eternal life. I’d love to know which panel of colorful dots inspired a Christmas song! The song’s verses are soft, sweet, and piano-driven, but that chorus is will get your blood flowing. “It’s almost time for a Christmas tree / If you’re bringing it home you’re all I need.” Those choruses sound like they were an absolute blast to record – there is a palpable joy to be heard here. How lucky we are to have ears!

Bottom Line: Crying Day Care Choir long ago secured their spot in my heart, and my heart continues to grow.

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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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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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Christian Lee Hutson “Silent Night” (2022)

ANTI- Records
Buy:
Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Christian Lee Hutson only recently popped onto my radar with his 2020 record, Beginners. Picked it up and really enjoyed it, yet somehow forgot to follow him on Bandcamp and be alerted that he might just release a Christmas song… as he did in 2020, with a very good version of “The Christmas Song.”

This year Christian dropped another record, Quitters, and once again we’ve been gifted a new Christmas single. I’m seeing a trend here – release a record and follow it with a seasonal single. I mean, you’re in the studio already, let’s lay it down! Thus, “Silent Night” drops a few days ago, and I figure it’s yet another version of the classic carol to be thrown on the pile. However, I’m happy to be proven very, very wrong. Yes, the melody remains, but Christian has wholly rewritten the song. Each verse is a flickering moment, a 15-second scene from a movie filled with minimal dialogue and lots of eye work. A very fresh approach indeed. I really felt this one, and you might too.

Bottom Line: What an unexpected delight. Christian has proven himself as one to watch. When his record count grows, let’s hope his Christmas catalog continues as well.

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Brittany Ann Tranbaugh “The Christmas Flannel Song” (2021/2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I often say that if you can record a fantastic Christmas song, then your “regular” songs are likely going to be amazing. Writing an interesting Christmas song – with all of their seductive cliches – requires a fresh prospective that eludes even the best of bands. So when I find an artist whose Christmas song catches my ear, I smash that follow button. Philadelphia’s Brittany Ann Tranbaugh is the latest to score a follow, and is one more artist to watch in what is becoming an absolutely incredible queer folk/country scene. Over the past few years, that scene has become by far the most interesting collective within the genre. Folks writing from a different point-of-view than we’ve all be programmed to expect… that sounds fucking fantastic to me. Brittany Ann began working on her new Christmas song, “Christmas Flannel Song,” back in 2021 (well, at least she released her demo then), and in that simple vocal and guitar arrangement, you really get to appreciate the quality of her voice.

The lyrics tell the story of a Christmas present never given, and while the song is certainly one rooted in certain sadness, there is a cleverness to the her wordplay that shimmers with silver linings.

I’m holding onto this one thing
You won’t find it under your tree
It’s the shirt that I got you for Christmas
Cuz it looks pretty good on me
Fa la la la la la la la la la la la la la, fa la la la la la la

Guess it’s more like a dirge than a carol
That I sing while the fireplace burns
And I’m donning my new gay apparel
Cuz it’s final sale no returns

This season, Brittany Ann has fleshed out the production, as the song has reached a spectacular final form adding percussion, banjo, piano, bass and perfect vocal harmonies to give the song a welcome warmth. This song alone is most certainly worth a follow, a purchase, and a place on your mix.

Bottom Line: I don’t shy away from a dirge, especially when it is this good.

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Safia Nolan “Le sentier de neige” (2016)

Bonsound
Buy:
Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon.fr MP3

EDIT: WELL WELL WELL. This was a cover! Anybody who read the earlier version of the review, I do apologize for not realizing, and will do better next time.

I hope you all are mapping out a tracklist for the Now That’s What I Call a Very French Canadian Christmas! compilation that you all are now undoubtedly crafting… because the hits just keep on coming. Montréal’s Safia Nolan has this gorgeous cover on her 2016 record, Reprises Vol. 1, whose simple beauty shines through both the sentiment of the song and perfect execution. The original version by Les Classels (1964) is a much grander production, while Safia’s single guitar beautifully frames this simple, vivid story of sharing a kiss in the snow. Things may be lost in translation, but I did love this part very much (especially those last two lines):

I told you “I love you” (Je t’ai dit “je t’aime”)
In the peace of the woods (Dans la paix des bois)
snow in poem (La neige en poème)
Melted under our feet (Fondait sous nos pas)

Of course, this is not a Christmas song… but if you read this blog, you know that this most certainly counts 🙂 And thank goodness, because it is fucking beautiful.

Bottom Line: Safia Nolan’s simply-adorned portrait of a sweet scene of love amongst the falling snow continues our journey into the best of French Canadian Christmas… who have low-key been just killing it for the past few years. Sorry for just digging in now!

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