Chase Kerby “It’s Already Christmas” (2022)

Self Released
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Oklahoma City’s Chase Kerby is part of a whole crew of fantastic Christmas music-making folks including Beau Jennings, Husbands, and Samantha Crain amongst many others. I do miss those Fowler/Blackwatch compilations as well, though those came out of Norman (OKC’s close neighbor). Chase dropped a beautiful track back in 2019, “Angels in the Snow,” which was featured here, with typos of Chase’s last name and everything. So let’s say he already had a pretty good rep around these parts. Chase does not disappoint with this dreamy new song, “It’s Already Christmas.” I feel like I’m calling everything “dreamy” this year, but I don’t own a thesaurus and I never learned to read. That, and this is some dreamy-ass folk music. Those shimmering, descending melodies and layered vocals demand me to use the word dreamy – I don’t have a choice. The song also has a sentimental (but not corny) string to pull, best experienced in this beautiful chorus.

The snow on the street was the gift that we needed as kids
And the older we get the less that we feel like it is
But all I want for Christmas are the times that I have missed
Because time with you is a gift.

Once you hit a certain age, those songs about growing up hit harder… only makes sense. Chase handles this urge to reminisce well and doesn’t make me feel silly for joining him. Settle in and enjoy it.

Bottom Line: Yet another beautiful song from Chase Kerby as he helps continue to maintain Oklahoma City as one of a precious few (London, Montreal, Melbourne come to mind) hotspots of excellent Christmas music.

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

A Benefit for Crisis
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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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Beau Jennings & the Tigers “Midnight Service” (2022)

Black Mesa Records
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Beau Jennings wowed us all a few years back with his stunning Christmas LP, The Christmas Light, and we can all be thankful (it is nearly Thanksgiving!) that he took another stab at a seasonal song – because we all know it is going to be great. “Midnight Service” is a slow burn, with a simple, shimmering guitar line that flutters from ear-to-ear, a delicate flurry of musical snow to encase Beau’s “internal Christmas journey.” The song beautifully captures the transition between a child’s Christmas and an adult’s, and an embrace of something new. This is best captured in his last beautiful lines:

“Now I don’t worry anymore / about the kind of Christmas I knew before
I let it come and I let it go / like the northern wind or the falling snow.”

Bottom Line: This song is full of heart and beauty, and is a wonderful addition to Beau and Co.’s stellar seasonal catalog.

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Bjéar – A Christmas with Bj​é​ar and Friends Vol​.​1 & Vol. 2 (2022)

Terrazzo Recordings
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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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Christian Lee Hutson “Silent Night” (2022)

ANTI- Records
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Christian Lee Hutson only recently popped onto my radar with his 2020 record, Beginners. Picked it up and really enjoyed it, yet somehow forgot to follow him on Bandcamp and be alerted that he might just release a Christmas song… as he did in 2020, with a very good version of “The Christmas Song.”

This year Christian dropped another record, Quitters, and once again we’ve been gifted a new Christmas single. I’m seeing a trend here – release a record and follow it with a seasonal single. I mean, you’re in the studio already, let’s lay it down! Thus, “Silent Night” drops a few days ago, and I figure it’s yet another version of the classic carol to be thrown on the pile. However, I’m happy to be proven very, very wrong. Yes, the melody remains, but Christian has wholly rewritten the song. Each verse is a flickering moment, a 15-second scene from a movie filled with minimal dialogue and lots of eye work. A very fresh approach indeed. I really felt this one, and you might too.

Bottom Line: What an unexpected delight. Christian has proven himself as one to watch. When his record count grows, let’s hope his Christmas catalog continues as well.

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Caleb Nichols “(I Fell In Love On) Christmas Day” (2021/2022)

caleb nichols - i fell in love on christmas day

Kill Rock Stars
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My fellow holiday-blogger DJ El Toro sparked off Festive! Fanzine’s holiday season with a fantastic interview with San Luis Obispo’s Caleb Nichols. As Festive! went through the effort to interview Caleb, I would like to send you there to learn more about this song and Caleb as a wonderful-song-writing human being. I will, however, let you know a few basic things about the song. First, it appeared last year on Kill Rock Stars’ It’s Hard To Dance When It’s Cold And There’s No Music: Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album Volume 2, but has since also been released on Caleb’s excellent 2022 record, Ramon. Secondly, these lyrics are that mixture of joy and sadness that I am so terribly attracted to. “What Dickens knew I now intone / that without love you die alone. / Though we all must die alone, / maybe love can take the sting away. / Oh Tannenbaum, oh tinsel tree, / oh silver bells, oh misery. / If you can find someone to share / the misery with, you’ll be square. / So fall in love each Christmas day, / cause only love can take away / the loneliness and the bitter pain / that you feel on days like this.” What a lovely sentiment from a lived life.

Bottom Line: This is emotional without being sentimental. Truly a rare treat in the Christmas genre.

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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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Bek Sarkoezy “New Year” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
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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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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