One Member of Loose Articles & One Member of Hallan “Christmas in Hulme” (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Soundcloud (Stream)

How about a bit of fun? Such a descriptive band name as One Member of Loose Articles & One Member of Hallan deserves an equally straightforward Christmas song. Want to know what this song is about… well, it appears that it is about wanting to spend “Christmas in Hulme.” But you know what? I can get behind this silliness. You can taste the joy, the pure fun they had putting this together. Nothing deeper than that – just a song recorded across from a pub by two friends, which sounds vaguely like a cheeky Eddie Argos, speak-sing single.

Bottom Line: Just a bit of fun that made me smile. Hope this is the first of many!

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Shame “Baldur’s Gate” (2021)

Shame "Baldur's Gate"

Dead Oceans
Buy:
Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

London post-punk band Shame has a solid history of excellent Christmas tunes, a legacy that they really jumped right into alongside their debut record. I covered their excellent version of “Feliz Navidad” back in 2018, and would still love to hear the holiday flexi for “Tinsel Gate,” sent with early preorders of their last record, Drunk Tank Pink. This year’s selection, “Baldur’s Gate,” isn’t a celebration of Christmas, but more a snapshot of a holiday past from frontman Charlie Steen… I’ll let him describe:

‘It’s another Christmas classic. It’s about a period of time in which I’d regularly be trekking up to the streets of Edinburgh to see an ex-partner. These are some of the thoughts I’d have when I’d be leaving Waverley station, en route back to London in the winter nights.’

The deeper the song goes, the more I’m into the groove they have created. Certainly not your standard holiday release… which is what this blog is kinda about. Enjoy!

Bottom Line: Shame is a killer band during all twelve months of the year, and “Baldur’s Gate” only reinforces this.

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Blackaby “Plastic Mistletoe” (2021)

Hand in Hive
Buy:
Bandcamp

“Jesus soap will wash away your sins.”

The latest holiday track to pop up on all the “regular” music blogs that deserves attention is “Plastic Mistletoe,” a wonderful, touching, and hilarious new track from Blackaby. Grandpa sleeps through the holiday scene that develops around him, all with a wonderful indie pop/rock vibe. Super-solid and most certainly mix-worthy, with all proceeds are directed to the Refugee Community Kitchen – so buy it!

“His teeth hanging loooooooooooooose.”

Bottom Line: Blackaby’s smooth seasonal submission certainly succeeds smashingly. Thus ends this year’s “fun with alliteration!”

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Christmas Aguilera – All Wrapped Up / All I Want Is You (2021)

Self Released
Buy:
Bandcamp | Crowdfunder

I somtimes like to imagine a young music fan, who has just gotten this great idea to look for some different Christmas songs, and has found Christmas Underground. I am oddly jealous of this young person – to be able to hear these bands for the first time. They’ll look at my tag cloud, and not know what to make of the weird names on it… including this band, Christmas Aguilera, seeming more like a typo than a premier indie rock Christmas band. Christmas Aguilera are most certainly not a typo, and have returned once more with a new, double-A sided single to brighten our holiday season. Side A, “All Wrapped Up,” is a holiday gone to hell, but with a great chorus to sing along to. Side AA, “All That I Want is You,” is an extremely funny and sweet song about “only wanting you for Christmas.” The lyrics are too great to not give you a taste here:

Don’t write me any song
Don’t buy me the biography of Neil Armstrong
Don’t order me a piece of the moon
Don’t buy me a silvery spoon
And don’t knit me a sock
Don’t cut of all your hair and give me a lock
Don’t make me a strawberry milkshake
Don’t buy me a diamond, real or fake
I’ll never want a tv show
No sunflowers or any old Van Gogh
Don’t buy me any car, write it off
Don’t buy me anything that I can scoff

All I want is you
What Mariah said is true
All I want is you
Like ABBA sang you’re my Waterloo
Got me higher than Katmandu

Damn they are so f*ing clever. Christmas Aguilera are just so much fun to listen to, and I’m grateful for every year that I get a note in my inbox with more songs. Of course, all proceeds from these songs, just like all their other songs, go to benefit Shelter, a UK charity working to end homelessness. This year is a little bit extra-special, as Christmas Aguilera have created an additional Crowdfunder with some pretty great rewards. You can donate via the Crowdfunder and just buy the new songs, but throw in a little more and you can get a Christmas carol sung by Christmas Aguilera. Dig a bit deeper and they will record a Christmas song of your choice for you! Have deep pockets and live within 50 miles of London (not me!)? They will play your house! This is TOO COOL.

Man… what song should I request…

Bottom Line: Christmas Aguilera has been churning out these incredible Christmas tunes for so long that it almost makes you forget that WRITING A GOOD CHRISTMAS SONG IS HARD. This band has the spirit, and it just feels effortless.

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Billy Nomates “Christmas is for Lovers, Ghosts & Children” (2021)

Invada Records
Buy:
Bandcamp (NYOP)

Did that title grab you? Are you breathing? Well, the payoff is there, don’t worry. Brit Billy Nomates (the stage name for Tor Maries) has a new Christmas song and it is this oddly fun, while emotional experience. Nomates’ has put together this weird upbeat, emotional song with some heavy lyrics – highlighted best in this beautiful chorus:

What I’m seeing
What I’m hearing
Doesn’t add up to the season
that I’m feeling
When the people that you love
go slowly disappearing
and when you gave your heart
yeah they gave it back.

Christmas is a complicated time, best and perhaps only ideally experienced by lovers, ghosts, and children… as it isn’t complicated for them; They are either fully engaged with the love and wonder of Christmas, or living in an alternate existence. The folks living in the middle that have to deal with all the real shit. Those are some deep feelings, and I can dig it…

The song is only name-your-price during this December, and all proceeds go to Feed the Homeless Bristol. So give generously.

Also, HT to Ned for the heads up! I actually get notifications from Invada sent to my home screen from way back when I was trying to get a Jonsi soundtrack… but you even beat that!

Bottom Line: Billy Nomates grabs us with a title, and wows us with the execution. This one will make a mix or two (thousand).

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Memorial “In the Arms of December” (2021)

Memorial - In the Arms of December

Real Kind Records
Buy:
Apple Music (so far)

Soundcloud has been paying off rather well lately, with the latest discovering coming in the form of this beautiful, Christmas-adjacent song from the UK’s Memorial. The folk duo premiered their new song on the blog Wonderland about a week ago, and it is one of those writeups that really makes you wonder whether you should even try to say anything else about it–but here it goes. It makes me think of those distant relationships, those relationships that you deeply value, but are slowly fading. We all have those, they warm us with memories and meaning, while making us cry. Their voices, in tandem with the simple, airy production fits the lyrics so perfectly, to surgically attack that part of your brain where you hold both your love and regret. So… you are forewarned.

Bottom Line: One of those perfect, emotional songs bound for the kind of Christmas mixer that reads this blog.

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24 (2021)

Where It’s At Is Where You Are
Buy: Bandcamp

One of the great indiepop labels has spring a wonderful collection of 24 holiday-themed songs on us this year – and for those early preorder folks, the opportunity to a hand-knit wool sleeve. Where It’s At is Where You Are (WIAIWYA) has a wonderful track record of indiepop holiday releases, most notably (for me) Christmastime, Approximately, which features a couple tracks that have featured on my yearly mixes. Let me just say… when more than one track off a comp ends up on a mix… that is a BFD. Compilations are always a roll of the dice, because you’ve got a whole mess of different styles, tastes, etc all coming together – and art is subjective! To have more than one song hit YOU specifically makes that entire record feel even more important by association.

24 features… you guessed it, 24 tracks, which I cannot bring myself to cover fully. I have NEVER come close to a comprehensive review of a record of this size… so please take the time to explore those other tracks that I am not singling out here. Once more, art is subjective, and the Christmas mix I would make does not come close to sounding like the one my friend Ned would… so let’s go exploring! I’ll open the door for you, now it is your job to walk on in and poke around a bit more.

The record starts out setting that beautiful, upbeat indiepop tone, with a wonderful track by Seattle’s Dolour, “Christmas with My Baby.” I love that first verse, which sets the stage well for 2021, but doesn’t get TOO specific as to pigeonhole it to not be listenable year-after-year: “Last year was such a dreaded affair / the year before that I didn’t even care / basically every year before I had no one to share / the holiday cheer with until you were here / but now this year I can hardly wait / so much joy, there’s no room for hate / let it snow, I don’t mind / as long as I’m here with this true love of mine.” This song has that attitude that I think a lot of us (vaxxed) share this year – the optimism that comes with time and understanding. Grab that person you love and don’t let the shit that surrounds you interfere.

Classic Sarah Records’ Scottish indiepop stalwarts The Orchids slow it down with “I Wish I Was,” a beautiful, nostalgic track that may very well be my favorite (at this moment) on the comp. The vignettes they create of a childhood Christmas, accented by their perfect use of brass color, hit you in the head and heart with equal force. Just beautiful.

With my next selection, I invite you to ruin Christmas with Laura and Mike from firestations, aka L&M Kingsize. “We Ruined Christmas” begins by dressing down a Christmas meal, beginning an emotionally complex and fascinating journey. Everything is the same, but you like it that way. You’re miserable, but you’d rather not be at home. We ruined Christmas, can’t wait to see you, same time next year. This song is just kinda fascinating and unexpected.

The BV’s “Krautmas” is more of a groove than a song – those playful guitars over a steady digital beat are as soothing as the first snow flurry. Coming in at track 13, it serves as the perfect intermission between the two halves of the record. Simple and wonderful.

“December Boy” by The Rhynes is the sweetest song on the record. Full of warmth, love, and vocal harmonies, it has some of the best lines on the record as well. I particularly like the first bit here: “You can keep whichever god you’re dreaming of, / but I’ll take all the peace and all the love. / Cause it feels so good to be alive, / We’ve made another December twenty-five. / You make my heart laugh / This December boy’s still got it bad.” If could eat that sentiment for breakfast every day I would.

There are plenty of other great songs on here, the vast majority exclusive to this release. In fact – should you feel so inclined, I’d LOVE to know what YOUR favorite tracks off this record are. Tweet at me (@xmasunderground) or comment here! I may just update this review with your input as well!

Botton Line: As expected from this truly excellent indiepop label, WIAIWYA has delivered yet another underground Christmas classic. Truly enjoyable from front to back, this is one of those rare comps that you can just put on and press play.

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Benjamin Francis Leftwich “Tinsel in the River” (2021)

Dirty Hit
Buy:
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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Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard “Christmas Is Coming (We All Know the Score)” (2018/2020)

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

You know that a band must love Christmas if one of their earliest songs is an epic xmas tune. Welsh indie/glam/britpop band Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard released this stomper back in 2018, but brought it around last year with an accompanying video and back onto my radar. The lyrics are fascinating, and well worth a watch of the video so you can sing along. You’re bound to find a line that makes you smile and shake your head, as I did with “I can still hear the west dropping bombs of peace / Oh for you and me.” This really is a corker. They also have their proper debut, Backhand Deals, coming out in February, so maybe we’ll get lucky with another tune this season?

Bottom Line: Big glam sound with intriguing lyrics make this a must-listen.

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