Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada is our way of providing an alternative to the same old, same old seasonal songs we here from November 6th onwards. Each year we reach out to some of our favourite Canadian acts, and each year they come back with musical wonders. From throat singing and ambient drones via Finnish folk songs and power-pop, Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada XI has you covered.
Many of the tracks here were exclusively recorded for this compilation, while we have also handpicked some other favourites that we felt were too good not to include. Each artist has been given free reign to explore whatever aspect of the season is important to them.
A huge thanks goes out to all of the artists who have given up their time and talents to make Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada possible this year, and every year.
An extra hat tip to Jon Neher (for the third year) and Seb Dehesdin for helping everything to run smoothly behind the scenes as well. The cover photo was taken by our own Lauren Down in Whitehorse, Yukon.
All of these songs have been given free for your listening pleasure. We hope you enjoy them and have a fantastic festive season. At this time of year especially there are hundreds of good causes all seeking your help. We hope that, in keeping with the spirit of giving, if you enjoy this compilation you might consider giving a donation to one of them.
For the second year in a row Matthew Cardinal starts off Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada. Last year we predicted a busy year for the amiskwaciy, Edmonton-based musician, and we weren’t wrong. As part of nêhiyawak he released the critically acclaimed debut nipiy through Arts and Crafts. The band combine post-rock, ambient pop and shoegaze with history, culture and politics. The record is a story, informed by collective experience and memory, a continuation of a wider, ongoing tale of community and connection. It's a beautiful, complex and thought-provoking listen and one of the best debut releases of recent years.
Alongside this, Cardinal also recorded the score for Digging In The Dirt, a documentary about mental health in the oil patch of Alberta. Packed with ambient sounds, electronic glitches and industrial cracks it’s a moody evocative wonder.
Shortly after we featured sisters Kayley Inuksuk Mackay and Tiffany Kuliktana Ayalik on Oh! Canada 34 we reached out to see if they would be interested in taking part in Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada. It turns out the pair had already started work on Quviasugvik: In Search of Harmony, their first Christmas album. Featuring three traditional carols and one original track sung to the beat of katajjaq, traditional Inuit throat singing: a mixture of two traditions. The record very much finds them seeking harmony within conflicted histories of the festive season- the role of the church as a colonial suppressor of Inuit culture, language and expression combining with the elation at attending Christmas Games, an Inuit tradition spanning two weeks of music, dancing and feasting.
The combination is mesmerising. While Carol of the Bells and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen showcase their talent of arrangement, the sombre, wordless ‘What Child Is This’, inspired by the experiences of families whose children were taken away to Residential Schools across the Arctic, is particularly moving. In stark contrast is the uplifting rush of Qimuksiq: Dogsled Ride - a track that exudes the hope and joy of community gathering together and celebrating.
The duo have just partnered with NARWAL Northern Adventures and Urban Inuk to create a video for the track, saying “It's our Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to All.”
Nick Ferrio is always game for a songwriting challenge, and we were delighted when the Peterborough, ON based singer songwriter (and sometime member of The Burning Hell) took time out of his schedule to take on the idea of a song about the start of a new year. The wistful "Wild As The Wind" looks forward to change coming in and the possibility of a brighter future, something we could all use as we hurtle headlong in to a new decade.
2020 will hopefully see the release of the as yet untitled follow up to 2018’s Have A Nice Day, recorded with Jonas Bonetta (Evening Hymns) and mixed by Gavin Gardener (The Wooden Sky).
Originally hailing from Matlock, MB, Micah Erenberg wowed us with the woozy harmonies and storytelling on his album Love Is Gonna Find You. Packed full of swooning strings and soaring melodies, we compared joyful album opener “Do It For Love” to Mercury Rev fronting The Polyphonic Spree.
While “Jewish Christmas” may be much more stripped down, Erenburg’s trademark tender wit and songwriting chops shine through in what could be the first, and only, Jewish Christmas tribute to a Chinese Restaurant (the New Golden Inn, Winnipeg).
2020 will see Erenberg hoarding across the UK and Europe in support of Michael Malarkey.
Larissa Loyva has long been a player in the Vancouver scene, having been a member of P:ano, The Choir Practice, Fake Tears and a touring member of numerous bands including Destroyer and How To Dress Well amongst others. Over the last ten years she has also released three solo LPs as Kellarissa (Finnish for in the basement). Her most recent album Ocean Electro, released last year, took its inspiration from the ocean (and its name from a Vancouver marine electrical services company). Psychy-synth lines meet driving electro-pop, surging like tides, sometimes soothing and often dark and menacing. Loyva took the record on tour to Japan earlier this year.
Her most recent release however eschews the instruments and arrangements she’s usually known for and replaces them with the accordion. Fourteen years after the release of traditional Finnish winter album Limihankala, We’re Mest finds Loyva in playful mood, riffing on Tammy Faye’s Christmas album We’re Blest, even as far as Loyva recreating Faye’s album cover. Drawing on ideas of family and Finnish traditions and the weather, the EP embraces the darker side of seasonal folk songs, while the soft drone of the accordion and shimmering bells give the EP a warm winter glow.
Vancouver’s Club Sofa first unleashed their dreamy, self proclaimed “sad girl pop” sounds on their self-titled debut album back in 2018. This year they followed it up with a single “Birthday Party”, and now, as a seasonal treat, team up with prolific hometown label Kingfishes Bluez (their 20th release of the year). “This Hanukkah” is a twinkling, blissed out, surf-pop sweet treat: a tale of jelly donuts, lighting menorahs and cuddling up on the sofa watching Adam Sandler movies, replete with 60s girl group harmonies, hand claps and muted trumpet.
The track is the latest addition to the Kingfisher Bluez Christmas Village, a 7” series with artwork that builds to make a wintry scene. All profits will once again go towards 1-800 SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC.
Earlier this year Mike Edel released Thresholds, his third album proper and a record that had been in the works since early 2017. The record was recorded at Hive Studio’s in North Saanich, at first with Colin Stewart (Dan Mangan/Yukon Blonde/nêhiyawak) and then with Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla (Decemberists/ Gord Downie).
Employing Oblique Strategies, the recording process was something that shifted and evolved: Do the least likely thing / Consistency is Boring/ Thresholds, change and a new orientation challenging the normal process and making Edel think about things differently. The result is a record of anthemic, radio friendly folk-pop, full of subtly familiar melodies, sky scraping guitar lines and sing along choruses.
“Our Forever” caries on where the album left off and finds Edel stripped right back to his voice and strummed banjo, enveloped in the refrain by echoing atmospherics, hushed horns and steel guitar, evoking a snowy drive in the dead of winter.
Brandon Wolfe Scott is perhaps best known as the guitarist and co-songwriter of Yukon Blonde. During down time between tours Scott turned his front room into a recording studio, and wrote and recorded his second EP, Burden Your Shoulders, due out through Dine Alone in January. The record finds Scott embracing the limitations of his set up, creating an intimate and honest recording. The EP's title track points the direction of things: beautiful warm harmonies, gentle strumming and melodic basslines are the order of the day, while the guitar works, both slide and solo, suggest Scott has spent a fair bit of time listening to George Harrison’s solo material.
“Do You Believe In Santa?” employs the same level of fondness for years gone by, as Scott himself explains: “I grew up in the early 90’s where John Hughes films and Mariah Carey dominated the holidays…I wanted a Christmas song that would capture that same nostalgic feeling. Every year I talk about putting out a Christmas single and now I can’t believe it’s actually happening!”
The songs tells the tale of a child determined to stay up with his dog to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus, each year failing to do so, only to discover presents waiting under the tree the next morning.
Doubletooth is a project bringing together Joshua van Tassel (percussion) and Robbie Grunwald (keyboards). Both artists have spent much of the last ten years in demand as both players and producers, as well as solo artists in their own right. The project provides an excuse, if it were needed, for them to play together, exploring modular synths and danceable grooves. Their last release Volume 2, via Backward Music saw them channeling the likes of Floating Points and Quincy Jones. This bouncing take on the classic "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is part of a seasonal record set to drop in time for Christmas next year.
What happens when an album of soundtracks to imaginary films get set to pictures? The answer is Water Over Glass, an experimental collaboration between Vancouver pianist Jason Zumpano (The Cyrillic Typewriter) and four film makers: Kellen Jackson, Zoe Kirk- Gushowaty, Jimi Pantalon and Amanda Thomson. The four set out to create a film to match the soundtrack, subverting the standard film score relationship. The short film ended up being nominated for Best BC Film at Vancouver International Film Festival this September. As well as this, Zumpano also found time to put out Gal Gracen’s Fantasy Gardens on his own JAZ Records label.
"A Red Spot Against The Sun" is taken from the album Room and Mansion, and is described by Zumpano as “think little drummer boy meets Guaraldi’s Peanuts meets Charles Ives”
Kristian Noel Pedersen has become something of a Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada regular over the years, and with good reason: each December he brings together a group to record a brand new Christmas record, with tracks ranging from jubilant pop-rock to introspective melancholy piano. Fans of The Weakerthans, They Might Be Giants or Magnetic Fields will find plenty to love here. There’s a true warmth and dedication to his work, and we are always happy to share our favourite from last year's compilation in eager anticipation for what is to come this year. For 2019, as well as his regular record, Kristian will also be covering the entire of Hanson’s Snowed In. If what he’s posted so far is anything to go on, it will be quite the thing.
As for “Everything Will Be Alright On Christmas Day”, it rides on twinkling piano, spiralling strings and dancing horns, celebrating the possibilities of taking the time during the festive season to forget your worries – if only until Boxing Day.
Girlfriend Material was born when Graham Wright took time out from Tokyo Police Club to direct a horror movie, Clean. Charged up from listening to the likes of PUP and Pkew Pkew Pkew, he recruited Josh Hook (also Tokyo Police Club), Jake Boyd (Hollerado) and Joseph Garand (met in a bar and tried to buy his old apartment). Having recorded three EP’s (including two Christmas EPs) this year saw the band release their debut proper Cool Car, packed full of crunchy power-pop hooks, distorted riffage and chiming guitars. It’s an optimistic, tender and at times melancholy exploration of the shift from youthful abandon to adulthood, and all the bits that come in between.
The band returned late last month with their third seasonal EP If Anyone Asks, Just Tell Them You're Santa Claus. Graham Walsh explained a little about the track: “'We just have the two seasons: winter and construction' is an extremely corny old Canadian joke, and I always thought it sounded like a good song title. To that end, I have like eight bad demos called "Winter and Construction" from the last few years, so obviously I was overjoyed when I finally managed to make it work in a song. In keeping with most of my Christmas songs, it’s a sort of meditation on life’s weird inertia and how sometimes a whole lot of meaninglessness somehow amounts to meaning. Or something.”
Two Saskatchewan favourites get together for a seasonal tale of life on the road. Both Faye and Nash have had busy years, with Faye fitting in some festival shows as well as a visit to Zandari festival in South Korea and Nash, off the back of a Juno nomination for Contemporary Roots album of the year for Seeker, touring across Canada and Europe. The two even played together in Tallinn, Estonia, quite some way from there Prairie home. Both have now returned to work on new records.
As for the song itself, Faye explains: “The song explores a sad sense of longing and loneliness that musicians feel when they're on the road when they'd rather be home with their family and loved ones. It's especially difficult during important family events like Christmas. We were fortunate enough to have our friend Megan Nash sing on the track, and her vocal performance was top notch as always“
Brothers Mark and J Scott Grundy make up Quaker Parents, a project they have described as a “song wormhole”. An outlet for things that don’t fit their other projects (including Heaven For Real and Monomyth) the pair have used it as an outlet for one off singles, EPs and tapes. This year saw the release of second album proper Our Drawing Club. Packed full of simple ideas that rarely make it past three minutes, it takes in jangling guitars, bontempi beats and broken loops.
“Alabaster” picks up where Our Drawing Club left off, with a looping casiotone beat, building layers of noise and instrumentation, reflecting on a heavy hearted Christmas: “Do you think it's going to change/ Do you think it’ll be a lot different?”
This year saw the release of Tariq’s fifth solo album, Telegrams, his first in six years. With a stellar backing band in the including Sam Davidson (his bandmate in Brasstronaut), JP Carter (Destroyer/ Fond Of Tigers) and Jesse Zubot (Tanya Tagaq), the album breezes by on light, but intricate arrangements. Inspired by short stories, the record is a series of little vignettes into life and the characters you meet along the way. There’s an easy going warmth and a classic sound to the record, with Tariq’s writing picking up on the little things in the same way that The Weakerthans’ John K Samson or Jim Bryson do. Delicate, warm and welcoming, we can only hope we don’t have to wait so long for the next one.
As for his track for the compilation, Tariq explains: “I love the Christmas season, like fully love it, starting the day after Halloween when there's Christmas songs playing in the mall. But it can be a tough time of year when you're not feeling celebratory for whatever reason or because of challenges in your life and everyone else is going for it. Parties, decorations, gift exchanges, brunches. Even city busses have the words "Happy Holidays" scrolling in bright digital letters across the front. And then there are the festive lights everywhere. We flock to the city parks just to gaze at all those lights. My favourite Christmas lights are still the old-fashioned, multi-coloured ones I remember as a kid, the ones you can follow with your eyes along the edges of your neighbour's roofs. Green, yellow, red in repeating patterns. Beautiful, mesmerizing, and perhaps paralyzing at the same time. This song is about examining your festive spirit when the lights go up.”
Tchutchu, of Onion Lake, Alberta has had a busy year. Following up from a series of early EP’s that saw him draw the attention of the Indigenous Music Awards he released Atribeofmyown in March, 19 tracks taking in everything from EDM, field recordings, jungle, trap and scattered beats, and fusing electronic techniques with pow wow rhythms and cut-up vocal samples. A series of further EPs followed, as well as a talk on Indigenous Resilience in Music at Alberta Electronic Music Conference.
Despite all this he still found time to put together the heavy drops of “Winter Blues” especially for this compilation. We look forward to more releases from the ever prolific TchuTchu in 2020.
Back In July we named Ada Lea’s what we say in private our album of the week. In a little over 35 minutes, Montrealer Alexandra Levy explores the aftermath of a relationship. At once vulnerable, chaotic and ultimately hopeful, the record showcases the complexity of Levy’s songwriting: not one note or moment feels out of place, each burst of white noise, change of tempo or pause given extra meaning - what is left unsaid is often as powerful as what is revealed.
Back in December 2016, Ada Lea recorded this track for Montreal’s Christmas Mixtape project, an annual charity compilation of Montreal artists. We encourage you to click on the link below to check out their latest release.
Having spent the last two years writing the follow up to 100% Sunshine, 2020 is shaping up to be a busy one for Saskatoon’s Slow Down, Molasses. The new record promises to be more direct and aggressive than their previous output. The band are still promising plenty of angular, post-everything guitar wrangling and feedback squalls however.
One of those feedback squalls led to their contribution to this year's compilation, as Tyson McShane explains: "The invite to write this song provided an excuse for a song idea I’d had for a few years – a meditative rumination on winter woes and frozen desperation, set to a waves of ambience – sort of a sonic equivalent to feeling of late night wanders through the dark, snow-filled, wind-swept streets of our prairie home. Conveniently, the penultimate track on our new album provides just the right wash of ambient noise to act as a base for this track, which also features violin from respectfulchild. For this track we took those last few minutes of ambience, layering in piano and vocals to create an altogether new track… and an insight into the new record.”
NNGM is the duo of Jon Neher (Nick Faye & The Deputies/ Jon Neher & Michael Scott Dawson) and Ro Cemm (of Oh! Canada/ Best Fit). We first met in Jon’s hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan and, over the years Jon has been an essential part in the production of the Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada compilations. This year, together with Michael Scott Dawson, Jon has released two subtly beautiful albums of minimalist compositions in the shape of January’s Nothing is On Fire and November’s On Remembering. When I suggested we worked together on a track for this year's compilation I was delighted when he said yes. This is the result.
"The Last Last Christmas" takes the lyrics to Wham’s festive smash literally. At least, the “tearing me apart” bit. Using cut up elements of Ohbijou’s cover version as source material, the track slowly evolves and resolves into something that we hope echoes both the hushed warmth and occasional harshness of the long Canadian winter.