Corvair “I Believe in Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I don’t know if it is necessary to rehash who this wonderful band is, but for the uninitiated, here we go. Portland’s Corvair is a notable indiepop superduo, comprised of Brian Naubert (Ruston Mire, Tube Top, Pop Sickle, The Service Providers) and Heather Larimer (Eux Autres – who have an indie-classic Christmas EP). They’ve now released three wonderful, original Christmas songs in three years and have firmly planted their flag at the top of the indiepop Christmas charts. The dreamy new single, “I Believe in Christmas,” is certainly bound for receptive ears. The orchestration, the vocals, everything is delivered with a casual beauty that seeps into your brain. Everything is indeed beautiful here.

Bottom Line: I believe in Corvair. Thank god they’re finally here.

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Sunturns “New Snow” (2022)

EASY Records
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Want a little bit of hope? It can feel like an uphill climb, that is for sure. Thankfully, we have the return of Sunturns, one of the preeminent seasonal supergroups (there are more than one!!). Comprised of members of Monzano, Making Marks, Little Hands of Asphalt, Moddi, and Einar Stray Orchestra, they get together every year or so to record some beautiful, original Christmas music. This year’s release is the absolutely lovely “New Snow,” which features Sjur on vocals, as well as Michael Barrett Donovan on bass and violin, Lars Lundevall (of the deLillos) on guitar, as well as much of the Sunturns crew. The song begins by acknowledging the shit we have all just lived through, but the turn from “puke in the snow” towards the hope of the future is simply wonderful.

I’ve been hitting these blue notes
Now there’s puke in the new snow
I’ve been feeling so down low
These past few years.

I’ve been going through these phases
Where everything changes
and we felt like strangers
These past few years.

But it’s not supposed to be this way
We’re putting it on display
With the darkest observations
there in the light of day.

Here’s a rhetoric
I want you to stay.

Erased it all with a few strokes
Hopeful footprints in new snow.
I’d been getting so down low.
These past few years.

Moving on through the ages
We’ll be up on stages
Singing everything changes
These next few years.

That turn where he sings “Here’s a rhetoric / I want you to stay,” comes with this beautiful brass line… and the tone switch is just gorgeous. Reminds me of the more orchestral leanings of Jens Lekman, which is a wonderful thought to spark. Quite beautiful indeed.

Bottom Line: Sunturns return with that bit of hope we all need.

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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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Lexie Carroll “Christmas Day” (2022)

sevenfoursevensix
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Bandcamp | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr 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.

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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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Herr Wade – Weihnachten​.​.​. Willkommen zur​ü​ck! (2022)

Platiruma!!!
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Bandcamp (CD/Digital) | Apple Music | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

Jørn Åleskjær (The Loch Ness Mouse, Monobird, Sapphire & Steel) and Sebastian Voss (Nah…, The Fisherman and his Soul, Cinema Engines) have teamed up for some cross-cultural, Google-translatable Christmas tunes. I speak ein bisschen Deutsch, and no Norweigain, but I do speak indiepop and this is some lovely stuff. I’ve featured The Fisherman and his Soul multiple times here on Christmas Underground, so I knew there would be something here I was likely to really connect with. Perhaps it is my faint familiarity with the language that draws me to the German-language tracks, but I have to take special note of “Und sie tanzen I’m Himmel,” which translates to “And they dance in the sky.” I’m going to continue to utilize Google translate, so please give me some grace should Google screw it up a bit – but I loved these sweet lyrics.

can you remember?
It’s been a few years…
We looked up at the sky and
Then you said to me:

“I know a secret
And I’m happy to let you in on it.”
And I nodded, agreed, and suddenly it started snowing.

“Exactly! Here, that’s the point.” You said in a low voice.
“Every single flake is a little dancer.
And up there in the sky they dance day in and day out. And when they feel like it, it starts to snow.”

And they dance in the sky

The track also had that mid-tempo, jangly indiepop groove that I need at least every 3-6 months to survive, so that certainly plays into my love of this track as well. There are wonderful moments in the other songs as well, little choices like the beautiful banjo in “Domino,” and the sweetness of the leadoff track, “You’ve Come A Very Long Way (For Being Such A Close Friend),” are undeniable.

Bottom Line: There is a lot to love in a tiny little EP.

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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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The Walters “Another Christmas” (2022)

Self Released?/Warner?
Buy:
7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.de MP3

I love those Crookes’ Christmas records that they used to put out… and Chicago’s The Walters has me feeling those sorts of feelings once more. TikTok brought them back together after 4-year hiatus, just in time for their first seasonal single, “Another Christmas.” The song shares some DNA with those great indiepop/rock singles of I loved – sentimental and catchy to the point that you end up bobbing down the street singing the chorus in your head. While the main thrust is somewhat sad, spending Christmas alone and such, the end of the song, “everybody’s singing / Christmas bells are ringing” suggests that everything is going to be alright.

Thanks to Tim for the tip!

Bottom Line: A classic “Christmas alone” song with an indiepop hook that’s gonna snag you.

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BumbleWasps “Mr Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp

I’m rather active on Twitter, and will not let the giant turd who owns it keep me from hanging out, spouting off, and never clicking on ads. Shrewsbury, England’s BumbleWasps gave me a shout the other day, hipping me to his latest Christmas single, “Mr Christmas.” I always listen to suggestions at least once, and this track was interesting enough to not only have me listen to it a few times but to dig a bit deeper and discover that this is not BumbleWasps first rodeo. He put out an 7-song Christmas mini-album last year, F U Christmas, that is packed full of catchy hooks and seasonal fucking sentiment. Hey, BumbleWasps gets a bit fresh, and I will too. So… let’s just say that I was getting prettyyyyy amped as dove into the discography. “Mr Christmas” is BumbleWasps’ indiepop diss track targeting Mariah Carey, Shakin’ Stevens, Bing Crosby, Elvis, Elton John, Wham! (amongst others), pretty much all the Christmas legends… and it is both catchy and goddam hilarious. I don’t think I’m mistaken in thinking this is some of the best-produced bedroom pop that a little bit of money and a lot of effort can produce (confirmed!). F U Christmas obviously shares the same humorous point-of-view, but you’re going to find some touching shit in there as well. Thanks for reaching out BumbeWasps, you obviously checked out my blog and had an idea that I’d be down for your weirdo Christmas tunes.

Bottom Line: BumbleWasps is carving his own xmas niche, and (if you enjoy reading this blog) you’re going to like this fucking niche.

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Elliot Maginot “Christmas On My Mind” (2022)

Audiogram
Buy:
Bandcamp

I bet you thought I’d keep posting French-language songs… so here’s the latest from Montréal, the English-language romantic with the French last name, Elliot Maginot. This singer-songwriter has been writing original Christmas songs for a few years now, each one with a different tone, but always with crisp pop production and big emotions. Elliot’s journey begins with 2018’s “Christmas Ain’t Enough,” with its familiar rhythms and retro feel, as well as some unexpected, beautiful lyrical moments. Take a listen below.

2019’s “I’ll Know My Savior (Christmas All Around),” takes the previous year’s retro pop production and turns the knob to the 1980s, with a shimmering, romantic 1980s pallet. I’m talking precise synths, a saxophone solo or two, big vocals, and even the 80s staple, chimes – the whole deal. It can feel a bit over-the-top, and it is wonderfully so.

Elliot’s 2020 release, “The Ballad of Mrs. Claus,” also has those 80s chimes and sax solos, yet somehow feels the most contemporary of his earlier tracks. The concept of the song – Mrs. Claus singing to Santa, worrying over him and this whole enterprise – is a concept that could easily have been made into a joke, but it is treated with such thoughtfulness that it is easy to forget that it is about Santa Claus.

After a year hiatus, Elliot returns once more with the beautiful “Christmas on My Mind.” This is his most lush production yet, as his voice turns into a choir singing out over a string section, and perhaps a soprano saxophone or two. However, it is the lyrics that steal the show. That first verse is a thing of beauty:

I never claimed to be a modern man/guess it just wasn’t in my bones
I know I used to be so stubborn then/just wandering like a rolling stone
Between my endless need for love/And everything I thought I knew
I should have known it wouldn’t really feel like Christmas without you.

In each of these songs, Elliot proves to have a wonderful, direct pipeline into some deep, emotional worlds… he must have a wonderful therapist. Please give me the number.

Honestly, there was something about Elliot’s aesthetic that initially made me suspect him and the pop sensibilities he gravitates toward. This is very much not a pop Christmas blog. But there is always something a little askew with him… like in “I’ll Know my Savior,” when he goes pop, he leans in so hard that you start to imagine how big and fantastic it might sound on stage in your local venue. He drove right through my suspicions and busted out the other side. It has truly been a journey listening to these songs by Elliot Maginot.

Bottom Line: These songs feel devotional, without being specifically religious – very much the qualities I enjoy in a Sufjan Stevens Christmas song, just with vastly different production. Somewhat of a revelation, I’m 100% on board with Elliot’s unique, emotional Christmas catalog.