Baby Club – Naivety Scene (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

This time of year is when EVERYTHING is released. My Bandcamp wishlist swells with a seemingly infinite collection of things I need to go back and listen to. I start searching regional and genre tags for those gems that aren’t tagged properly… it is a whole lot of work. Perhaps my entries here suffer a bit, as I might not have the sheer volume of posts I could, nor do I give proper time to the records that I do write about. So… let me take a little bit of time (obviously not enough!) and tell you about this wonderful little EP by New York City’s Baby Club.

Baby Club is the bedroom recording project of Josephine Painter, at least that is what I have gleaned from her now-defunct website and Instagram accounts. That, or Josephine is also a painter, and those were just clever URL choices. Right off, the title Naivety Scene is extremely clever, and was enough to get me in the door. The production is quite simple, a slow affair of keyboards and vocals. The droning tones and Josephine’s beautiful voice can’t help me from imagining that I’m listening to a stripped-back Beach House Christmas EP. Everyone, please take that as the massive compliment that I intend it to be. The vibe of this record isn’t going to knock you on your ass (which ,of course, is a vibe I also enjoy), but I suspect there are going to be some folks out there (like me) where Naivety Scene gets under your skin…. and I predict it will be during the chorus of “So It Goes.” For folks looking for something more familiar, Baby Club’s version of “Silver and Gold” will scratch that itch while giving you a simple, beautiful organ and vocals version that could just sneak onto a late-night playlist. I see playing cards in front of a fire, drinking hard eggnog while it plays in the background. Maybe invite me over? I’ll be there in six hours!

Bottom Line: Beauty in simplicity.

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Randolph’s Leap – Christmas Album (2021 Additions)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

The absolutely WONDERFUL Scottish band Randolph’s Leap has become almost a yearly feature on Christmas Underground, as they have been putting out some of the most wonderful, cleverly-written political Christmas songs that I have ever heard. Sometimes they release songs with a good bit of fanfare, like the amazing “Christmas, Burn it All,” and other times they sneak one in at the last second when I’m not paying attention like the hilarious “Christmas is a Conspiracy.” This year is a bit of both… they’ve quietly added three tracks to their stellar, ever-growing Christmas Album, but did so with plenty of time a few weeks back. Now why it has taken me this long to really sit down with these songs and listen is an indictment of both my intuition and taste level. Why? Because I should have KNOWN these would be great. It is as if I was taking Randolph’s Leap and their incredible ability to churn out amazing Christmas songs for granted, and for this oversight, I apologize. The main track that I initially focused on was the deceptively-titled “New Pair of Socks.” Who would have thought such an innocuous title would house such a timely anti-Tory Christmas song? Let’s dive into this first verse:

I am a simple uncomplicated man.
I take what I get, I give what I can.
Forgive me for saying,
but you’ve got a nerve.

Now there are expenses,
and I’ve got a few.
You’ve got your own,
but I pay them too.
Won’t you give something back
to those who you claim to serve?

Cause all I want for Christmas
is a tree and some decorations,
a nice new pair of socks,
and some cabinet resignations.

So much of my Twitter feed is UK bands and fans who keep me pretty well informed as to the recent corruption scandals in the Tory government, as well as all those incredible photos of officials flouting the COVID guidelines. I find myself oddly invested in the political fate of a country that I do not live in. But we both have a right-wing that is primarily invested in their self-interest, so it is not hard to imagine the song working on both sides of the pond… ah hell, I’m babbling. The song is beautiful, clever and vicious, and only gets more pointed after that first verse. So, if you are like me and like a little anti-asshole politics in your Christmas music, you’ll dig it.

There are some songs that I rarely ever press play for. You know… those ol’ chesnuts that I (unjustly) associate with little-kid Christmas music, rather than the “adult” stuff I’m usually trying to sniff out. I would put “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” solidly in that category… but I may need to reassess this bias after hearing the other two tracks Randolph’s Leap has added to this record. “Jingle Bells (2021 Version)” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” are both extremely listenable, at times bordering on astounding versions that have shaken me. “Rudolph” is a revelation, with a beautiful arrangement that elevates this song to the absolute top of the Rudolph pile. However, what makes this (I can’t believe I’m typing this) song mix-worthy is their phrasing; All the notes that you are anticipating from a song you’ve known your entire life are slightly askew, and it is like a drug for your brain.

“Jingle Bells (2021 Version)” isn’t far behind the “Rudolph” triumph, though it hits slightly closer to expectations, so I’m not going to go quite as far in my praise. The arrangement and production, as well as that guitar madness at the end, certainly push the song into the “Jingle Bells” stratosphere. I am completely astounded and delighted and hope you will be too.

What a band. I’m in awe.

Bottom Line: Randolph’s Leap is on an incredible, Christmas song hot streak. If you haven’t bought this record yet, you need to turn in your alternative Christmas music membership card.

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+/- (Plus/Minus) “All the Light Left Behind” (2021)

Ernest Jenning Record Co.
Buy:
Bandcamp

+/- (Plus/Minus) are a great indie rock/pop or “indietronic” (thanks Wikipedia) band that I’ve actually got some discs from on my shelf behind me. I grew up a big Versus fan, and Plus/Minus is the project of James Baluyut, who had played guitar in that wonderful band. When Versus took a long hiatus, James continued on with Plus/Minus, along with Versus’ drummer Robert Ramos (now playing guitar) and drummer Chris Deanor. My friend Ned hipped me to this latest Plus/Minus track, which happens to be a very beautiful, dreamy and nostalgic Christmas song, “All the Light Left Behind.” The song acts as a mantra, repeating the same verse as the music builds, which under the right circumstances, can get pretty emotional. Certainly a mix-worthy song I’m going to live with for a while.

Bottom Line: Thinking about your youth at Christmastime can be both beautiful and sad – can make you smile while you cry, and this song might just do that to you.

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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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Beatrice Deer “Christmas” (2021)

Self Released
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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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The Grapes & Friends “One More Christmas” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

It is that time of year when our sexiest Christmas heroes emerge with a sexy, sexy jam to lip-sync awkwardly at your significant other. Yes, the Grapes & Friends are back, slinking around the room with “One More Christmas.” This song has everything: wrapped human Christmas presents, crescent rolls, bearskin rugs, fax machines, promenades… what else can you want? Normally I’m also plugging their live show, but it has already past! Which is both terrible and wonderful… terrible if you could have gone and missed it, and wonderful in that it actually happened this year! Though I must say, it was quite fun to attend virtually last year. Perhaps normal life is returning, one funky, sexy, hilarious Christmas song at a time.

H/T to Randall Anthony, for hipping me to their new song!

Bottom Line: If you like what the Grapes are cooking up, you’re gonna to like this steamy pot of Christmas a whole damn lot.

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Andy Clockwise “Collect Call to My Baby” (Merry Christmas) (2012)

Self Released
Buy:
Soundcloud (FREE!) Apparently no longer downloadable…

Australian ex-pat Andy Clockwise (aka Andy Kelly) is a recent discovery for me, but most certainly a welcome one. Andy’s very excellent Christmas song “Collect Call to My Baby (Merry Christmas)” evaded me for 9 years… which is quite a feat for such a great song. From the very first moment, the groove will get you handclapping along – that is unless you’ve been drinking too much to keep the rhythm, as this song has a heavy pour of booze and would fit perfectly in with Christmas A Go Go’s recent “Drunken Christmas” series. “Collect Call” sounds both retro and modern at the same time – sharing production choices with the 60’s classics while being lyrically more playful than anything that would have been pressed to wax back then. I wouldn’t change a note in this song, and there isn’t much room to tinker when it comes in at about 3:20 – most certainly in the sweet spot for Christmas tunes. Hell… I loved this thing enough to have it feature on this year’s Christmas mix!

Be sure to check out Andy Clockwise’s regular music as well, it is extremely good. When I was listening to this song a bunch a while back, I would catch myself happily listening down his Soundcloud feed. So, please partake, as you are encouraged to get a little drunk on Andy Clockwise too.

Bottom Line: You never know what you are going to find when you are digging around Soundcloud… sometimes you find gold.

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Lost Cat “Winter Wonderland” (2021)

Lolipop Records
Buy:
7Digital MP3/FLAC | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Who are you Lost Cat? You are a three-piece rock band on Lolipop Records… you have an Instagram… you have covered “Winter Wonderland” with your own impenetrable wall of sound. Adding to the mystery, Lolipop Records initially released an unattributed version of this song on Soundcloud a month or so ago… Mystery (and general lack of specific information) aside, this cover of “Winter Wonderland” has pretty much taken what you love about the Darlene Love version and turned up the fuzz to an eleven. It is like adding a finishing salt to your favorite food… just delicious.

Bottom Line: Lost Cat’s fuzzed-out “Winter Wonderland” hits the spot.

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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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Corvair “Under the Tree” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

It is the coldest day of the year so far, at least where I live. Hopefully writing about this warm little song, “Under the Tree,” by Portland’s Corvair will thaw out my fingers…

For those uninitiated with Corvair by their excellent single from last year, “Flannel Pajamas” (which also appeared on WIAIWYA’s 24), they are a “super duo” with more than twenty albums between them. Brian Naubert (Ruston Mire, Tube Top, Pop Sickle, The Service Providers) and Heather Larimer (Eux Autres – who have an indie-classic Christmas EP) put out a full-length LP earlier this year, the self-titled Corvair, and with two holiday releases in a row, are nicely positioned to be one of our indiepop Christmas yearly heroes. Corvair mines one of my favorite Christmas veins in “Under the Tree,” nostalgia. Those songs where you are sitting in front of the fire, thinking back on Christmases past… that is a box I routinely check. The chorus presents this wonderfully, as the tempo picks up and they sing, “When we were young, reckless and dumb, / the gifts were all free. / Now I’m tired and I’m leaving it under the tree tonight.” Looking back on your youth and past relationships with an equal sense of love and regret – that’s kind of what I get from this song. “Dreaming away that Christmas Day could just fill me with something new / Without you this place is so cold.” This song is one of those beautiful, emotional songs that I continue to be drawn to, hook, line, and sinker.

Bottom Line: Corvair’s Christmas songs keep getting better and better.

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