Baby Club – Naivety Scene (2021)

Self Released
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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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Bek Sarkoezy “New Year” (2021)

Self Released
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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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Gabrielle Aplin “Just Like Christmas” (2021)

Never Fade Records
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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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Benjamin Francis Leftwich “Tinsel in the River” (2021)

Dirty Hit
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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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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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Brooke Annibale “Christmas, Happy You’re Here” (2021)

Brooke Annibale - Christmas, Happy You're Here

Self Released
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Bandcamp

I assume that Providence, RI singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale has been hanging around my house, peering in the windows these past few years. I mean, baking cookies and playing records is pretty much my holiday jam, and I am extraordinarily unique. In “Christmas, Happy You’re Here,” the vignettes Brooke paints of cookies, records, sipping coffee, and spending time with loved ones is what I want to think about when I think about the holidays. I don’t want to think about all those stressful parts that come along, I want to zero in on that wondeful, often unattainable, ideal. I might as well have a beautiful voice with some warm keyboards to guide me there.

Bottom Line: Lovely sentiment lovingly executed.

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John Mark Nelson, Tancred & Jenny Owen Youngs “Fireside” (2021)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

John Mark Nelson & Jenny Owen Youngs are both no strangers to these pixels I call home. They both write thoughtful, introspective seasonal songs, and this year’s collaboration between the two ropes in Jess Abbott (Tancred) to create a Voltron of emotional, gentle, beautiful strumming and plinking. YOU ARE WARNED! Prepare to look INWARD! The lead single “Fireside” is exactly as Jenny describes,” a crisp homage to indoor rumination in December, and keeping warm with loved ones when daylight is brief and winter nights are long.” Nailed it Jenny. Their voices blend beautifully, most especially during the chorus when the song flares like a flame catching that perfect piece of kindling. They also hit that sweet spot at nearly three minutes in length, this song is that perfect blend of short and sweet, as one does not want a cup of hot chocolate to get cold. Delicious!

Bottom Line: Snuggle up next to this song.

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Andrew Sa – The Christmas Ball (2011)

Andrew Sa - The Christmas Ball

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp (Free!)

One of my underground Christmas music heroes is Kurt Reighley (AKA DJ El Toro), the fine purveyor of Festive! Fanzine, one of the OG publications in this whole scene. Last holiday season, Kurt discovered Chicago crooner (and self-described queer country singer-songwriter) Andrew Sa after Kelly Hogan (a friend of Festive! and an alt. country luminary in her own right) shared a video of Andrew covering one of my favorite Neko Case songs, “I Wish I Was the Moon.” Andrew’s cover is so haunting and soulful – I was floored. Kurt was writing about a holiday livestream Andrew hosted, which I am so very sad I missed, but it did send me over to his Bandcamp to find out more. There I found a delightful, three-song EP of classic Christmas covers. Yes, covers are never what I am truly seeking out, but I’ll always let some good ones fall in my lap, for sure. On the first two tracks, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town (The Argument)” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas (The Through),” simple piano accompaniment frames Andrew’s lovely vibrato – the economy of the arrangement is quite refreshing and beautiful. Heck, the Bessie Smith cover of “At the Christmas Ball (The Striptease)” has only a simple snapping finger to keep the time. Strip these songs down to the studs, add Andrew’s beautiful, emotional vibrato, and you hear them as wholly new songs. Truly, discovering this small collection of Christmas covers was most certainly an unexpected-yet-expected (parse that one out) delight.

Bottom Line: There is something there in this Andrew Sa’s voice that (for me) is just undeniable. I’ll like a second serving please, whenever you’re ready Andrew. 🙂

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Anna Preston “California Eve” (2018/2020)

Self Released
Buy:
Stream

Written in 2018, but released in 2020, Seattle’s Anna Preston has crafted one of the most beautiful and intimate Christmas songs I’ve found this year (a year late!). The edges of her voice crack with emotion as she finds herself jealous that she wasn’t the first kiss, or standing next to the jukebox watching her love in the colored lights. The production is simple – Anna’s delicate voice over a strumming guitar – until the song opens up and backing vocals layer to lift the song gently up, swaying on its toes. The ending is a bit devastating, yet comforting, in that nostalgic way that we look back on lost love and share in the universal experience of it all… Truly excellent.

Of note, Anna also recorded a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which you can check out on her Soundcloud.

Bottom Line: Anna Preston’s perfectly-imperfect delivery is incredibly intimate and rewarding.

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Cartalk “Merry Christmas Darlin’ or Happy Holidays” (2020)

Self Released
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Bandcamp

It may be 2021, but hell, if I find a great song from 2020, I’m going to write about it. Early last December, Los Angeles’ Cartalk released a sparse holiday song born from the distance of COVID that thankfully doesn’t dwell specifically in 2020 (and thus shorten its shelflife). Written in one night for 2020’s final #bandcampfriday, “Merry Christmas Darlin’ or Happy Holidays” is a simply-produced, guitar and vocals song about missing and loving someone on Christmas. A classic premise performed without any unnecessary decoration, this song is better than 99% of those who are writing from the same exact starting point. Familiar, yet fresh, Cartalk deserves to end up on some of your mixes this year, providing a lovely moment of rest inbetween your wall-of-sound classics.

Bottom Line: Carpark only needed one night to create this beautiful song. Hoping they can find a few spare hours again. Love the “chosen family” reference too – chosen family deserves the same (or one might argue, more) appreciation that family does in many situations.

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