Sam and Julia "Catching up with Christmas"

Sam & Julia “Catching Up With Christmas” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Sam & Julia are a folk/americana duo from Amsterdam, whose love of old June and Johnny duets can be felt in this wonderful country-Christmas song. “Catching up with Christmas” starts off with a music box melody, but quickly transitions to slide guitar, upright bass and that easy country rhythm. The song was almost too pretty for me to get into, and on first listen, didn’t know how I felt. However, the ending of the song veers slightly towards some psych-rock inspired vocals, and it completely works! Subsequent listens have endeared me even more to this song – so if it sounds a bit too pretty for you at first, give it another shot and you may be surprised. Of note, they also made a great Wham! inspired video, so check that out too!

Bottom Line: Sam and Julia have crafted a beautiful country-Christmas duet that certainly grows on you.

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Christmas Aguilera "Footsteps"

Christmas Aguilera “Footsteps” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Back in from a year in the cold, Christmas Aguilera have returned. For those who have been readers for years, and I trust this is most of you (as my stats don’t really change from year-to-year), you know how I feel about this band. I fucking love them. I saw that they released this track, made my sick wife some tea, and told her I would be back. I said, “Christmas Aguilera have released a track, and they are my jam.” She seemed to understand, so I think I’m ok. There, a glimpse into my nutty, Christmas blogging life. Jealous? Of course. Back on track, Christmas Aguilera’s latest in a string of hits is “Footsteps,” which finds the narrator laying in bed, listening as his father walks around the house dressed as Santa, on Christmas Eve. This is the second song released this year that has torn down my defenses; having a kid at Christmas is (for some reason) much more emotional this year than in the previous three. The spoken word part was particularly beautiful:

“The king, laughing
Strokes his nylon beard once or twice
Removes the gravy-stained tea towels
Stuffed inside a father Christmas outfit
He bought in some tacky supermarket
And while the snow whispers at the windows
He smiles down at the little prince
His little prince
And the same words
Fall from their lips at the same time

I wanna stay…”

I swear, I’m becoming a mess. The best part of this new-found ability to tear up at songs, is that you’re not going to get emotionally invested in a BAD song. This song is, as usual, brilliant. The music, the lyrics and the production are all just as wonderful, catchy and interesting as their previous songs. Therefore, it should be an easy move to shell out $2, buy this song and support Shelter, as everybody deserves to have a home. Shit, now I’m thinking about homelessness. This is going to be a rough night.

Bottom Line: Seeing Christmas Aguilera pop up in your Bandcamp feed feels like winning $20 on a scratch-off – and this song might just be a $50. Go “Like” Hero & Leander on Facebook while you’re at it too, because every mysterious Christmas band has a friend or two you might like.

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a POP ETC Christmas

POP ETC – A POP ETC Christmas (2017)

Pop Etc Records
Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

POP ETC have been thinking about recording a Christmas songs for years, but kept getting too busy around the holidays and would eventually let the idea fall away. That was then, and this is now… when POP ETC is releasing not one, but three Christmas songs! The EP contains two covers, which bookend the release, leading off with the classic Vince Guaraldi classic “Christmas Time is Here.” Their version is very faithful to the original in most aspects – pacing, emphasis, etc. – with Christopher’s vocals floating on top of their minimal orchestration. This leadoff is quite nice, and nicely tees up their original tune, “All I Want for Xmas (Just My Baby).” The pace picks up a bit as Christopher kicks into the song that he’s been singing around the house since the day after Thanksgiving; This is not surprising, as the track is a subtle earworm. It’s a classic “I just want you for Christmas” jam, wrapped wonderfully with POP ETC’s excellent pop taste. Finally, POP ETC tackle the McCartney classic, “Wonderful Christmastime,” and their drummer Julian takes over vocal duties. Thankfully, they don’t go full Macca, and tone down those sugary-sweet moments to create a perfectly nice version. Believe me, that last sentence was a high compliment. In fact, there are some excellent vocals, as well as backing vocal harmonies on this track, and the ending is genuinely beautiful. Had I not heard Slow Dancer’s dramatic reinterpretation from the Amazon Indie for the Holidays playlist, I would likely be adding in even more flowery language in trying to describe this strong cover of a (IMHO) bad song. With three strong tracks on this EP, POP ETC’s first foray into Christmas tunes was worth the wait.

Bottom Line: POP ETC’s Christmas EP is strong throughout, with touches of true brilliance and beauty, and most certainly worth your time.

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Lullabier - 2512

Lullabier featuring Faro “Natale A Ceneda (Just Like Christmas)” (2017)

Silber Records / VeniVersus
Buy: Bandcamp

Did you wake up, as I did, wanting a super chill version of Low’s “Just Like Christmas,” sung in Italian? You did? Well, that works out well for all of us, as Vittorio Veneto’s Lullabier has realized our dream with the leadoff track on his wonderful new EP, 2512. The novelty of hearing this classic song in Italian is not the only draw to the song – the laid-back indiepop orchestration is absolutely beautiful. However, it is the small, but significant, addition of the cabasa (at least that’s what I think they are using – the hand percussion), that evokes a crackling fire and draws out a warmth in this song that I don’t think I have heard before. The other tracks are also excellent – I enjoy the layered spoken word of “Natale A Serravalle (Silent Night),” and the English-language “White Dizziness” is understated and gorgeous. Lullabier has made some wonderful choices, and is very much on my radar now, and I hope yours as well.

Bottom Line: Italy is on the board with this stellar cover by Lullabier, whose warm, beautiful orchestration and production has extracted new qualities from an already beloved song.

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Charlie's Hand Movements "Always a Dream"

Charlie’s Hand Movements “Always a Dream” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Charlie’s Hand Movements are so good at writing wonderful Christmas tunes, that sometimes I’ll find myself sitting here in July, antsy and wanting December to arrive if only for another CHM track. This year’s latest, “Always a Dream” does not disappoint. In a similar fashion to last year’s drop-dead gorgeous “Until the 25th,” “Always a Dream” moves through a number of musical movements, each beautiful in their own right. The song perfectly conveys the rise and fall, the aching feelings of anticipation and release, of being with someone you love at Christmas and having to let them go again. I think my favorite part of the song is when they are trying to deny reality and what the future holds to stay in the moment (with a little liquid forgettin’ juice).

“Well I guess the year is ending
& pretty soon we’ll stop pretending
That life Is one long holiday
With no more work or bills to pay
So drink up & drink all night
Pour yourself another glass of wine
& when you reach the end
fill it to the top again

For out of the haze we’ll go our separate way
Like snowflakes on Christmas Day”

It is in these complex, emotional scenes that CHM are at their best. They excel at finding that nugget of truth, a truth that doesn’t necessarily require direct personal experience as much as a shared, flawed humanity. Charlie’s Hand Movements’ are a truly special band, and I give thanks for the years they have given us such wonderful music, and hope for many more to come.

Bottom Line: Charlie’s Hand Movements continue their spectacular run of emotional, compelling Christmas songs.

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Porridge Radio "O. Christmas"

Porridge Radio “O. Christmas” (2017)

Art is Hard Records
Buy: 7″ Flexi | BandcampiTunes

DIY just premiered Porridge Radio‘s sloppy (in a good way) new Christmas single, “O. Christmas,” and it is a ramshackle delight. The frayed edges of nearly every instrument, vocals included, compliment the the sentiment perfectly, as “the song is the soundtrack to that Christmas Eve where you remember how much you hate your hometown and walk home alone in the rain.” Sure makes me wonder exactly how bleak Brighton can be! Readers of this blog, as well as my wife, know I love a good Christmas downer, which you’ll no doubt appreciate too as the song appropriately ends with: “The sun goes around again / It always starts again / I’ll break your heart again / I’ll break your heart again / I’ll break your heart again / Merry Christmas.” So just slap this track on if your over-enthusiastic aunt comes over. That’ll teach her. (If you want the flexi, go now, because there are only 300 of em!)

Bottom Line: This song is a ramshackle delight of a Christmas dirge. First time I’ve ever written that sentence!

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Fascinations Grand Chorus - Merry, Merry Christmas

Fascinations Grand Chorus – Merry, Merry Christmas (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

The classic, retro sounds from Brooklyn duo Fascinations Grand Chorus will no doubt be a favorite of my fellow xmas bloggers-in-arms (We all seem to like that sound). The three-track EP features two extremely strong originals, as well as a faithful cover of “Christmas Waltz.” My favorite of the the two originals is “This Christmas (Underneath The Christmas Tree),” whose girl-group harmonies and twangy guitar truly create a timeless feel. A hat tip to alternative Christmas music impresario Gareth Jones, one of the masterminds behind the A Very Cherry Christmas series, as it was his ears that sent me here. So, why not thank him by picking up Vol. 12 while you’ve got this tasty little EP in your cart as well?

Bottom Line: Fascinations Grand Chorus’ time capsule is a beautiful addition to an increasingly stellar Christmas season.

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The Spook School CHRISTMAS

The Spook School “Someone To Spend Christmas With” (2017)

Slumberland / Alcopop! Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Glasgow’s The Spook School have a new record coming out, Could it Be Different, which is news in itself… but to add a fantastic Christmas single to the mix too??? That is when ol’ Jim here starts getting a bit loopy. “Someone to Spend Christmas With” is yet another great, new Christmas song that takes a wholly new approach to the season. The Spook School describes it as “A song about figuring out how you want to conduct your own relationships when it feels like the world is full of conflicting advice about the “best” way to do it. Whether that be monogamy, polyamory or something else. The refrain relates to the ideal of having one important person in your life with whom you’ll always spend your special occasions.” We don’t have all the answers – We have to figure it out for ourselves, lean on those who care about us, and rock out to some sweet, sweet indiepop. (They’ve got another one on their Bandcamp too, “Bah Humbug” from 2011, for those who want to delve deeper.)

Bottom Line: The Spook School have released a stone-cold Christmas mix lock with this wonderful indiepop jam.

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Polish Club Xmas Single

Polish Club – Xmas Single (2017)

Island Records Australia
Buy: 7″ Vinyl | zDigital (FLAC/MP3)

Polish Club are Australia’s answer to the Black Keys, a great, LOUD blues/indie rock two piece comprised of drums and guitars. They’re latest release following their 2017 full-length debut, Alright Already, is a double A-sided 7″ vinyl Christmas single appropriately titled, Xmas Single. Both tracks are foot stompers, with a bruising pace, crashing cymbals and buzzing guitars. “I Hate You But You Gotta Stay (On Christmas Day)” is about losing your cool with your significant other on Christmas. You’re fighting, but dammit, you’re not leaving me here with your family alone. A clever approach wrapped up inside a rocking song. The AA-side is an equally balls-out version of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” This song has been covered similarly by other bands, and Polish Club do it quite well and really sell it with the vocals. This is indeed a true double A-sided single, as both tracks are strong enough to be considered for any mix that needs a kick in the chestnuts.

Bottom Line: Certainly one of the more rocking-out Christmas releases of the season. Unfortunately, due to geo-restrictions, these tracks are hard to come by. I’ve done my best to provide some options, but it may be a week or so until it is available in more traditional venues, if ever.

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The Heathen and the Holy "When Christmas Comes Around"

The Heathen and the Holy “When Christmas Comes Around” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (soon?) | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3

The Heathen and the Holy, the seasonal project of Tom Hobden and Fred Abbott of the much-missed folk/rock band Noah and the Whale, are back with their fourth Christmas song in a row! “When Christmas Comes Around” has the same joyful production that you expect from the Heathen and the Holy, without the dash of sorrow that last year’s “Best Christmas Yet” held. There are bits of comedy, a dash of bitterness, but all in the service of celebrating of the season. The chorus sums up the song perfectly: “It’s Christmas, yeah it’s Christmas. / Remember how it feels. / Look around, you’re in it now – / tell me it’s not real. / It’s the gift that keeps on giving, / it never lets you down. / For just one day your troubles fade / when Christmas comes around.” The video is equally joyful, and as always, extremely well made and endearing. The Heathen and the Holy truly love Christmas; you hear it in their music, and see it in their faces. Throw it on, smile, and get in the spirit.

Bottom Line: The Heathen and the Holy’s love of Christmas and pop sensibilities infuse this song with infectious joy.

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