The Natural Lines “Quiet Magic” (2022)

Bella Union
Bandcamp (NYOP)

The Natural Lines are an indie rock band helmed by Matt Pond and Chris Hansen whose debut EP, First Five, came out in October. While we wait for the full-length LP due in 2023, the band has given us the gift of “Quiet Magic.” First… let’s quickly take note of that name we might be familiar with here at Christmas Underground – Matt Pond. This new band rose out of his recent collaborations, and he felt it best to ditch the somewhat-eponymous band name to reflect the collaborative nature of this new setup. Now back to The Natural Lines, and this beautiful track, “Quiet Magic.” I love that the song gives all the weight and all the credit to the love he already feels. It is possible to dislike Christmas, yet comfort in your love for friends and family. The small moments of togetherness that he points to are so simple and beautiful, like in this passage:

If it’s real
Then I’ll take it
On the couch, with you
And the dog
Late at night
Quiet magic

Those quiet moments just enjoying the company of those you love… you don’t have to love Christmas for that.

I rather liked their own description of the song, so I’m going to share it here as well.

It might initially sound like a disgruntled yodel from the complaint department, but it’s far from it. It’s about the sensation that predates all celebrations — the love of family, the love of friends, the love of your life and the love of music. All I’ve ever wanted is the quiet magic of a love that’s real. (If that’s your thing, I hope you get some, too.)

Bottom Line: Simply beautiful.


The Ornaments “A Cold Wind” (2022)

Folkmonger Records

A seasonal staple here on Christmas Underground, this year The Ornaments (Mike Behrends and Lance Owens) cut a hole in the wall and let us hear this exchange in what might be their most devastating Christmas song yet… and they’ve sung about a holiday plane crash before. We get to observe these people, then imagine the aftermath… the emotional shrapnel… you are desperate to delete that message for him. Oh lord, that was so well done and so heartbreaking.

Bottom Line: The Ornaments paint these tiny canvases that always leave you wondering what lies outside the frame. Keep them wanting more… or fearing more, I’d imagine.


OK Pal presents Now Prancer! (2022)

OK Pal

I’ve been waiting on this one with bated breath ever since Christmas Underground favorite Virgin of the Birds hipped me to its existence. Scotland’s OK Pal Records is taking a stab at their first holiday compilation with Now Prancer!, compiling their roster of Scottish artists alongside far-flung friends, with 50% of the proceeds going to charity. The quality of this compilation is quite impressive, as I thoroughly enjoyed it twice now. However, I am not one to go track-for-track on any record, largely because of time constraints and partially out of the sheer terror of the blank page. Thus, I’ll pull out a few here to chat about. You listen to the rest!

Brightonian singer/songwriter music​+​magic gives us the funny, clever and poignant “Christmas Number One,” who travels through time and space to ponder Jesus through LSD, an agnostic substitute teacher, a retail park nativity scene, and ancient pagans. I think about that kind of stuff a lot too – how unnecessary actual Jesus might be to our living a good life, as all these things are going on within us that help us live a good live and have a deeper connection with the universe. Love that this song made me ponder this again…

Hailey Beavis‘ “Snow” has me returning to another thought I often have – how great it would be for these huge artists to not cover the same old same old, and cover some of the incredible songs I try to write about here. Not every song is a good fit, and I get that, but there are so many that would work incredibly well on a contemporary Christmas record, and this beauty by Hailey Beavis is most certainly one. Put this on a Dolly Parton Christmas record and let Hailey pay rent for a year. Sound good, universe?

I remember my fellow record store clerks listening to Baltimore’s Viking MosesCrosses allllll the time back when I worked at a shop in Roanoke, VA. I’ve been a fan for years, and Brendon does a wonderful job covering Roger Miller’s “Old Toy Trains.” This is one of those old songs I haven’t gotten sick of yet… perhaps because it is so short & sweet!

San Francisco’s Virgin of the Birds is always going to deliver you some wordy goodness, and “Christmas for the Confessor” most certainly satisfies. However, it is those MIDI flourishes that have captured my attention. Somehow these electronic tones play against type and create this warm musical cocoon. Just beautiful.

Of course, there are seven more tracks on here, but as promised earlier, I aim to disappoint! So I’m giving you work – go listen to this comp and you may find yourself captivated by the beautiful traditional folk of Hildegard Von Cubase’s “Coventry Carol,” the beautiful spoken word of Arum Sood & Hank Tree’s “Song for Baby T,” or the snowy drones of Hardsparrow’s “Voice of an Angle,” which is “about geometry and spiders and hearing voices in the snow.” So get in there and see what’s up!

Bottom Line: The Scots (and friends) have finally shown up in force this season, delivering a great lineup and a very solid compilation!


Erny Belle “Meri Kirihimete” (2022)

Flying Nun

Aōtearoa, New Zealand-based (how do you like that combo?!) artist Erny Belle has complicated my mix-making struggle by throwing this beauty into the mix at the last second. Erny has moved from hating the commercial behemoth that is our cultural commercial Christmas celebration and found a way to love the weird ritual of it all. This is her take on a Maori Christmas song, as she is very much celebrating the love, but poking a little fun at the neon-laced seriousness of the holiday. I’m game for sure.

Bottom Line: I love it when folks approach Christmas from a wholly new direction, and the music is quite gorgeous as well.


Julie Byrne “Holiday” (2012)

Julie Byrne "Faster or Greener than Now"

Orindal Records
Bandcamp | Discogs (vinyl)

My pockets are overflowing with wonderful female vocalists singing soft holiday songs. This is both a wonderful and a terrible position to be in, as I love these songs… but I have to vary the pace of my mix. I mentioned on Twitter that if anybody was looking to slow down and/or sadden up their mix, I’m your man… and here I go, offering advice that was never requested! This gorgeous single from 2012 by New York’s Julie Byrne is a perfect example of this, dare I say, a genre of incredible and incredibly sad folky female holiday-ish music. The quality of her voice and the imagery of her lyrics are strong enough to make you a lifelong fan, but you best be prepared to feel all the feels. The song as described on her Bandcamp: “‘Holiday’ recalls a New Year’s Eve in New York City, future plans made, and the fall-out of a fleeting romance…” So, hold this song close if you love that holiday melancholia, and run away if you ever had a similar experience and have PTSD from it.

Bottom Line: Everything about this song is gorgeous, but you have to be ready to love the beauty in the sadness.


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

Elz Productions
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | MP3 | MP3 | 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.


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

Self Released

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.


Lexie Carroll “Christmas Day” (2022)

Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | MP3 | MP3 | 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.


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

Sedan Is Real
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.


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

A Benefit for Crisis

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/ 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.