Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada XIII (2021)

The Line of Best Fit
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

The Line of Best Fit is the home of one of the most reliable, most wonderful Christmas compilations in existance, Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada, which continues this tradition with its thirteenth wonderful collection of Canadian soundscapes, indiepop, folk, indie rock and the like – you know, genres and artists who aren’t churning out records with themselves laughing in sweaters on the cover and a whole bunch of boring covers on the record. This is music for the rest of us (which is what this site is ALL about), and I’m going to do my best to highlight just a few of my favorites from this year. However, as with ANY compilation, please listen to the whole thing – as what I single out may very well not be what you would have! I also get intimidated by reviewing large comps, and cap myself at 4-5 feature songs, no matter the quality of the whole thing… I am one person, with a kid, dinner to make, and a secret, international cock-fighting ring to run. So here we go!

June Thrasher‘s expansive “Sleep Through the Night” opens the record, immediately bending the rules of what a Christmas/holiday compilation should be. The song rings out with these tones and drones that remind me of blowing wind, waving plants in the wind. It certainly feels chilly, and while it doesn’t have jingle bells (ha!), I’ll allow it – because it is quite beautiful.

JF & Lail (JF Robitaille and Lail Arad) provide the lovely “First Christmas,” an incredibly sweet folk song made by a couple splitting time between Montreal and London, while traveling with their newborn during a pandemic. It is funny, touching, and extremely personal, yet completely relatable to anybody who has ever tried to attempt anything challenging with a young child. Planes, museums, quiet dinners, nothing is the same, but you’re in it… and you’re hoping… hoping…

The This‘ “Winter Tires” is short and upbeat, which checks two big boxes for me as I’m putting together a mix. Throw in that the song has a semi-polished, Mountain Goats feel, and I’m pretty much telling you to take my money. Lucky for me, I can do that, as this song also features on the Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Single 2021. SO, grab this and 3 other tracks on beautiful vinyl!

“Xmas Oranges” is the heaviest track on here, as well as a standout from Marlaena Moore‘s excellent 2020 release, Pay Attention, Be Amazed. Marlaena mines some deep emotional content, bathed in somewhat ominous (yet beautiful) cello and horns. While I was most attracted to the incredible instrumentation, Marlaena’s voice is undeniable, as she sings some really amazing lines: “Christmas oranges. / I don’t care for sticky citrus. / You can’t even tell the difference / between love and fatal interest.” Damn.

Kristian Noel Pedersen is the beating heart of Canadian indie Christmas music. Not only does he feature on many of the wonderful Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada compilations, but he also released Songs About Christmas (AKKCXIII), his thirteenth Christmas release. His songs keep getting better and better, and this track might be my favorite yet. “Deck the Halls” seesaws between these beautiful Real Estate-ish guitar lines, and a fuzzed-out power chord chorus, which are like orange and chocolate to me: two great tastes that I hadn’t realized would taste so great together. Delicious!

Bottom Line: Yet another strong compilation to mine for mix-worthy singles, and there are most certainly some gems here!

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The Ornaments “Cryin'” (2021)

Folkmonger Records
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Bandcamp

Mike Behrends and Lance Owens’ seasonal project, The Ornaments, is something that I look forward to all year. The chances that the song is going to skew a bit dark is pretty high, but you NEVER know how they are going to get there. This year’s song, “Cryin’,” finds their wonderful, dark storytelling in contrast with their most heartwarming music. The juxtaposition between the story of an overworked, neglectful father making his son cry amidst a forgotten Christmas with the outro’s airy hallelujahs, quiet strumming, gentle piano lines, and beautiful trombone colors is striking. This song has all the dark, complex, detailed storytelling I’ve come to love about The Ornaments, while suggesting that they might just have the sweetest song ever somewhere in there… who knows? Stranger things have happened!

I could listen to that outro for another five minutes, easy.

Bottom Line: The Ornaments continue to amass some of the most interesting Christmas music in existence. I, for one, cannot wait for the absolutely necessary full-length one day.

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Bek Sarkoezy “New Year” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

It is almost time for Christmas… perfect time for an early New Year song! How about a stone-cold perfect New Year song? One written by an Australian perhaps? I certainly did not see that one coming…

Sydney’s Bek Sarkoezy maintains Australia’s 2021 Christmas Underground dominance, a trend which I am both tempted and taunted to maintain, by dropping this perfect song, “New Year,” in June of all times. Where do I begin with this song… the part where Bek sings “I just wanna go home,” and the horns kick in – that right there is magic. There are so many great lines too – “I wonder if this mess is the best that I can be.” Such a simple thought that we’ve all pondered, but perhaps not in such a perfect way before. There is so much to love in this song, that you really just need to listen to it… and buy it.

Bottom Line: A highlight of 2021 indeed. Bek Sarkoezy, I’ve got my eye on you.

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Laurie Shaw – Snow Day EP (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

Kenmare, Ireland’s Laurie Shaw has packaged an absolutely lovely little Christmas EP with two Christmas songs, a Springsteen cover, and another song that might be appropriate for another date-specific mix, “Graduation Day.” We are going to briefly chat about the two proper Christmas songs, which are both stellar. “Snow Day” is a stroll of a song, which will feature on Laurie’s upcoming LP, The Great Southern. It is equal parts beautiful and ragged, similar in feel and style to my beloved Wave Pictures. “Christmas in Kenamre” is a gorgeous portrait of Christmas in a small town. Babysitters, conversations, memories, family, Christmas tv, and frozen lips kissing… the little details are truly wonderful.

Bottom Line: In a year where I embraced more pop sounds than I usually do, Laurie Shaw’s slow, emotional and beautiful songs bring me back home.

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Gabrielle Aplin “Just Like Christmas” (2021)

Never Fade Records
Buy:
7Digital MP3 | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

People like to talk about how there hasn’t been a new, modern Christmas standard since “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Stereogum is trying to shoehorn a whole bunch of forgettable songs into the standards category, but you have to scroll to the comments to get the true answer… Low’s majestic “Just Like Christmas” is indeed a new standard. How so? Well… because it has been and will be consistently covered from now until eternity by artists of taste and stature (and of no particular stature as well!). Will Ariana’s “Santa Tell Me” get covered by anybody but some big pop act? Probably not – and frankly my guess is her song will likely live on as largely a trendy clothing store playlist experience. “Just Like Christmas,” however, is beautiful, simple, and downright incredible. Its simplicity lends itself to reinterpretation (as the true classics often do), and year-upon-year an artist or two adds a new stellar version to the mix. This year I present English singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin‘s version to be considered as one of the best out there. Gabrielle strips it down, chooses some interesting lyrical phrasing, and leaves me shaking my head with how brilliantly she controls her voice. Color me impressed and put yet another brick on the pedestal lifting Low’s new holiday standard.

Bottom Line: Gabrielle Aplin wields her vocal weapon with perfection on this most excellent cover.

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Memorial “In the Arms of December” (2021)

Memorial - In the Arms of December

Real Kind Records
Buy:
Apple Music (so far)

Soundcloud has been paying off rather well lately, with the latest discovering coming in the form of this beautiful, Christmas-adjacent song from the UK’s Memorial. The folk duo premiered their new song on the blog Wonderland about a week ago, and it is one of those writeups that really makes you wonder whether you should even try to say anything else about it–but here it goes. It makes me think of those distant relationships, those relationships that you deeply value, but are slowly fading. We all have those, they warm us with memories and meaning, while making us cry. Their voices, in tandem with the simple, airy production fits the lyrics so perfectly, to surgically attack that part of your brain where you hold both your love and regret. So… you are forewarned.

Bottom Line: One of those perfect, emotional songs bound for the kind of Christmas mixer that reads this blog.

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Nicky William – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2021)

Icons Creating Evil Art (ICEA)
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Bandcamp

There is something about Gothenberg that breeds oddly wonderful, crooning indiepop artists. Of course, there is Jens Lekman (a personal favorite)… and now there is Nicky William, certainly a future favorite of mine. I’ve been listening to Nicky’s new Christmas single for a little bit now (it was on Soundcloud earlier than Bandcamp), and it has most certainly grown on me. My initial reaction was, “Well, this is nice, but it is just another cover.” However, a few listens in, and there is just something about the marriage of this classic song, the simple instrumentation, and Nicky’s deep voice that I’ve really fallen for. I find it quite earnest and beautiful, oddly soothing in its nature. However, this pretty song may very well be a divisive Christmas Rorschach test (or what color was that dress test!), as his intention was quite interesting:

Talking about his new single, Nicky William says: ”We wanted to make a version of a classic but still add something new to it. In this song, we tried to add an uncertainty about whether the message in the song was ironic or not, hoping that the listener would have a different experience hearing the song, depending on how they feel about the holiday.”

There is also an “Alte Glühwein Version” (AKA Old Mulled Wine Version) that adds a touch here and there, such as the crackle at the beginning – either an old recording or a warm fire – you choose. Both are quite lovely… or are they quite sad? Just how jaded are my readers… we shall see.

Bottom Line: A beautiful little Christmas test, tailor-made for this Swedish indiepop loving blogger.

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Benjamin Francis Leftwich “Tinsel in the River” (2021)

Dirty Hit
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The track all over the blogs today is this little, melancholy beauty by Benjamin Francis Leftwich, titled “Tinsel in the River.” I’m going to crib the same quote that everyone else is to give you some background:

“‘Tinsel In The River’ is a song about sitting alone over the Christmas period and reflecting over the previous year of love, loss and what could have been – but flew out of one’s hands… The song is set against the Christmas party season in the town in Yorkshire where I am from. The city comes alive with: the party, the bag, loving fellowship – and also chaos.”

There are some great lines in here, and I’m particularly fond of the second verse:

Now, I’m not one for wishing
On a star so far away
But they’ve made the city glisten
With lights you can’t escape
Well, there’s tinsel in the river
And the world is on the piss
Still I’d carol sing forever
If you turned up on December 25th

The production is simple, airy, and warm – wrapping the song in a snug little package. I don’t really have any notes here – it’s just lovely. I’m guessing some of you are going to love this short little melancholy tune as much as I do.

Bottom Line: Short, emotional, and beautifully produced.

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Sara Noelle “Like Snow (Slowly Falling)” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

After last year’s wonderful “Christmas at Sea,” Los Angeles’ Sara Noelle just mike make these holiday songs a tradition. Similar to last year, we get one original song and one cover. Hmmm… sounds like Sara needs to hook up with the Snowflakes Christmas Singles Club – cause that’s what they do too! “Like Snow (Slowly Falling)” has left the Bon Iver-reminiscent acoustic/electronic collage of “Christmas at Sea” for much more ethereal production. As the title suggests (by not referencing Christmas), this is much more of a winter tune, which Sara describes as a “wintry song about getting lost in a swirling snow globe of emotions.” I found it to be quite beautiful, and look forward to next year’s edition!

Bottom Line: Emotional and ethereal beauty.

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Annie Booth “Christmas Time (Keep It Together)” (2018)

Self Released
Buy:
Soundcloud (FREE!)

Ah, to tell the story of discoveirng this song. Annie Booth posted this song on Soundcloud back in 2018, but only for a brief period, as it was gone when I first looked. I had been running down random threads on Facebook, stumbled upon Annie and evidence of past Christmas singles (she’s also done some covers!), and immediately messaged her. I must say… it is rare that a band will ever respond to me, let alone send me to the song I’m asking about. However, Annie Booth most certainly did, and I absolutely flipped out. I have been wanting to write about this for two years now, always hoping that Annie would release it properly so that I could encourage you all to pay her money for her wonderful efforts… but alas, it is back on Soundcloud and Annie has made it free for you all to download. So, enjoy the absolutely beautiful, shimmering emotion that is “Christmas Time (Keep It Together),” but please consider buying some of her other incredible music. Musicians are just like you, they don’t sleep in a bed or eat for free. Please remember that.

Bottom Line: A highlight of my 2019 mix (Xmas), this song is a wonderful introduction to Annie Booth, should you not know her already. I trust you will become as big a fan of her as I am.

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