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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Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada XII (2020)

The Line of Best Fit
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP) | Free MP3s @ The Line of Best Fit

I began this whole underground Christmas music search sixteen years ago. While many of my online Christmas-music hunting friends have been in the game even longer, it is still a pretty solid amount of time. My 2005 Christmas mix can now drive with a permit, is looking at colleges and thinks the music I listen to is pretty lame. Now that I’ve established myself as at least kinda old, sort of experienced and somewhat knowledgable, I’ll say that I can recall when that very first Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada came out (the download is unfortunately 404’d these days). It was glorious – I was heavily into the Arts & Crafts and Paper Bag labels, and believed that all the best indie rock must be fueled by the arts funding of Canada. Three songs off that initial release would end up on a mix… which for one single Christmas compilation, is pretty much incredible. Now Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada is nearly a teenager, with their twelth volume having dropped this week. This year’s offering does not disappoint, with so many excellent songs that I am hesitant to single out any, for to do so is to rank one over another… and I just haven’t lived with it enough to be completely sure that these are my favorites. However, into the fray I go with my highlights off, as we look at this latest edition, Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Volume XII!

The Acorn was on Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada’s debut volume with their beautiful track “Snowfall”, which also ended up on my 2010 Christmas mix, Write About Xmas! Thus, I was quite excited to see them on here again. Their latest seasonal song, “Skipping Stones,” features Jazmine Wykes on vocal harmony as well as a murderer’s row of players – Sylvie Smith (Evening Hymns/ Habitat), Joseph Shabason (Destroyer/Diana), and Jon Hynes (Kathleen Edwards). The song is not explicitly seasonal, as it is more evocative of the moment the song was written – a decade ago, writing about a loss on the precipice of the holidays. So, it would most certainly be a stretch for a mix, but it is a beautiful, melancholy song that I couldn’t ignore.

The absolute best first 15 seconds on this comp belong to one-time The Burning Hell and Evening Hymns member Michael C. Duguay‘s “Yankee Swap.” That bass saxophone vibrates everything inside you in the best possible way. The song runs off from there and slowly works into this complicated, emotional story, whose tension is broken by that big, beautiful chorus. Loved this song so much, and is most certainly one to go read the liner notes of; Reading the liner notes gives even more context and the song feels so much more powerful when you get the whole story behind the artist who made it.

Kristian Noel Pedersen is an alternative Christmas stalwart, having also released his twelfth-holiday record, A Kristian Kinda Christmas XII (out now!!), this year. That number is actually a little deceptive, as he has also released an entire cover record of Hanson’s Snowed In as well… so he’s working on 13 at least. Kristian often has a song on the HHHC comp, but this year’s, “Everything’s The Same Except It Isn’t,” may be my favorite of the bunch. This is a COVID-Christmas song, but without the overt references, which gives it a shelflife beyond this year (which I greatly appreciate). The shimmering indiepop guitars, the jingle bells and Kristian’s soft, thoughtful voice make this song feel both personal and universal – kinda sneaking under your skin as if you had thought of it yourself.

I am most surprised by how much I enjoyed this ambient track by Droni Mitchell (AKA NNGM). “Teach Your Feet To Fly” was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s classic “River,” but they decided to cover the ideas in the song, rather than the song itself. The skates over the (what sounds to me as) cello lines play beautifully off each other, with a reference to the “Jingle Bells” refrain tying the two songs together. I loved this bit from the liner notes: “In a difficult year when a lot of us have spent more time than ever stuck indoors, the idea of the freedom and gracefulness of being able to skate away on a frozen river under the open skies is definitely one that appeals.”

Those from Canada may be more familiar with this song, as it originally appeared on Inuk singer-songwriter Etulu Aningmiuq’s 2018, Juno and Polaris prize-nominated album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl. Elisapie covers “Quanniuguma” (Inuktitut for “If I Were A Snowflake”) with the help of Beatrice Deer, as the percussive stings are trance-inducing, driving the song until the usual percussion instruments come in as reinforcement. The song almost explodes at 3:30, and by then, you are completely under its hypnotic spell. The liner notes are equally enlightening with this track (Did I tell you how much I appreciated those liner notes??? I am telling you again! They are really, really interesting!): “The lyrics of Quanniuguma speak to the idea of the freedom afforded by being a snowflake- the ability to be directed by nature and travel everywhere, with no worries about the future, certainly ideas that are at the foremost in a lot of minds in 2020.”

Vancouver’s Bookclub has the most on-the-nose sound and subject matter for what Mr. Christmas Underground is going to like. Synthy-indiepop Christmas with a nostalgic bent? That is like giving me a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels… I’m gonna eat that whole damn bag. Love the sound, dug the lyrics, and especially love the brevity. (I LOVE A QUICK CHRISTMAS SONG – leave them WANTING MORE.) Pure indiepop perfection that will be part of the Kingfisher Bluez Charity Christmas Village collection. Pick up the 7″ and help support 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Center BC.

Those happen to be my favorites for the moment, but I don’t need to remind you, art is subjective and I am by no means the only judge. So grab this for yourself, dive into those liner notes, and I’m sure you’ll find some other gem in here that I’ve passed over. Why not add it to the comments?? Let me know what you loved! I love comments!!

Bottom Line: Twelve years in and going strong as ever, the beloved Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Volume XII is once again a wonderful snapshot of Canada’s indie music scene.

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Kristian Noel Pedersen “Everyone Knows the Claus” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

It is quite possible that Kristian Noel Pedersen has written more original Christmas songs than anyone, ever. (Well…. maybe Make Like Monkeys has given him a run for his money…) Kristian is headling into his 11th year producing a Christmas album of all originals, which should make bands who struggle to write one new Christmas song… feel a little inadequate. So why am I writing about Kristian recording a COVER song? Well, because when Kristian decides to record a cover, he goes big. To my knowledge, I can’t recall a full reimagining of an entire Christmas album until Kristian took on the challenge (I’m sure some of my fellow Christmas-music aficionados will correct me). His target? Hanson’s Snowed In, an album that I am not familiar with, despite my dedication to Christmas music. But that leaves me to ponder, what album should/would you need to cover to truly make this a worthwhile endeavor? You have to cover a record that is known because especially within Christmas music, there are only a few that maintain catalog sales (and this one is one of them). Then, you also have to choose an album with originals, otherwise, it is as if you are just covering a sequence of tracks, rather than a specific artist’s album. So, I really think Kristian made a great choice targeting the Hanson LP. The first two singles are up, but the original is where the interest truly lies. “Everybody Knows the Claus” does NOT sound like Hanson. I’m going to have to agree with Kristian in his correspondence with me, his version has turned the song into a “weirdly fucked punk thing.” With dramatic vocals and a driving, fuzzy bassline, I can’t imagine Hanson ever sounding like this. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what the rest of this record sounds like and I will not forget the donuts.

Yet another album to look forward to, A Kristian Kinda Christmas XI is coming to an internet near you in the next few weeks. Luckily you have a new Hanson LP and TEN previous records to tide you over. Tune in and listen as Kristian adds to his likely world-record worthy Christmas music legacy.

Bottom Line: Kristian’s Christmas-music ambition is boundless and inspiring. I love this effort, which only looks even more impressive with every new boring cover of “Blue Christmas.”

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