Street Joy

Street Joy “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

“Two jews can still appreciate a good Christmas jingle.” LA’s Street Joy are indeed this – two jewish dudes who just released a fantastic cover of “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?.” In my brief research, this track doesn’t appear to be covered very often, and thus this may be your first experience hearing the song (unless you watch Narcos). The original was sung by a 12-year-old Augie Rios, backed by the Mark Jeffrey Orchestra, and actually sounds better than you’d imagine a child singing a novelty song might. In their version, Street Joy keep some basic melodies, but the dance beat, the synthesizers, and the fuzzy bass line completely transform this song; they have managed to perfectly modernize this novelty song from 1958, and make the song cooler than I ever thought it could be.

Bottom Line: Who knew “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” could sound this awesome?


Taken by Trees "Holiday"

Taken by Trees “Holiday” (2017)

Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3 | MP3 | MP3 | MP3

Taken by Trees‘ Victoria Bergsman penned one of the best almost-Christmas songs I’ve ever heard;  the Concretes’ “Lady December” remains one of my absolute favorite seasonal (almost-Christmas) songs of all-time. So I was delighted to see she dropped yet another almost-Christmas song today with “Holiday.” The song is less about this seasonal holiday, and more about being able to take your friends and family, shut off the outside world and take a personal holiday from reality. A very nice sentiment, indeed, which only becomes more vital when she describes the reason why she wrote this song (from The Line of Best Fit):

“I felt that I had been quiet for far too long and wanted to say something -that you can flee away for a moment with your loved ones and shut your eyes so you don’t have to see that freak who is leading the US, where I am living currently,” Bergsman adds.

“Just give yourself some rest from all the crazy news that has been spitting you in the face for that last year. Take a moment and be kind to yourself and the people you love, focus on what is beautiful and important in life.”

A-f*ing-men Victoria. This song not only has the kind of sentiment that I appreciate, it also highlights the dreamy indiepop that I’ve come to love from Victoria. As she readies her new record for 2018, pop on “Holiday” and take solace in the quiet comfort of those you love… if for just one moment… as the dumpster fire waits for you on the other side.

Bottom Line: Victoria has taken a moment to remind us that we all deserve a break, cloaked in a dream-pop prayer.


Man Behind Tree "Christmastime Has Come"

Man Behind Tree “Christmas Has Come” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

The mysterious Hanemoon contacted me today, which I noticed just seconds after noticing that my Soundcloud feed contained a new song… so he is real! And is a member of the band featured here, Berlin’s Man Behind Tree! Does the name sound familiar? Well, if you bought the fantastic Twaague Records compilation I recommended back in the day, then you just might (because they are on there too!). The song includes help from Mincer Ray and Sailo, and features the same qualities I mentioned of their earlier Twaague track, “I Was Santa Claus” – RIYL-Superchunk jangly guitars and dark lyrics, but this track is “about country life from a basement perspective,” rather than a depressed man who used to be Santa Claus. This band can really put together a cool indie rock Christmas tune – one with fantastic hooks and unexpected imagery.

Bottom Line: Hanemoon pops up from under the veil of mystery to reveal himself part of a fantastic band I already loved – with another great Christmas song to boot!


The Heart Of - Winter Song

Premiere: The Heart Of “Winter Song” (2017)

Brooklyn Basement Records
Buy:Stream on Spotify (Release Date Sat. Dec. 23)

Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song” is slowly becoming a modern classic, as more and more high-profile artists have begun to cover it in recent years. The song has a signature emotional quality that has landed frequent appearance in television and movies as well, further entrenching it in our consciousness. NYC’s The Heart Of is the latest to tackle the song, as he found kinship with the emotional core of the song:

“For lots of people, the winter can be a difficult time to face alone, calling into question whether love is waiting for them at all, hiding in the cold. I identified with those sentiments and felt moved by their manifestations in my own life. Not everyone is rocking around the Christmas tree, and I thought it was nice that there’s a song for those people who aren’t. Of course, the arrangement and performance in the original is really beautiful, so I just tried to do it justice.”

The Heart Of certainly does the song justice, and IMHO, improves upon it. The subtle changes in instrumentation, the addition of banjo as a featured instrument, as well as further developing the percussive possibilities of the song wonderfully fleshes out what is a generally sparse, piano-centric original. These choices highlight the excellent taste level of The Heart Of, and their ability to create a modern, interesting approach to a burgeoning classic bodes well for spring 2018, when we’ll get to check out their debut EP.

Bottom Line: The Heart Of find a subtle, new approach that breathes new possibilities into an increasingly high-profile modern classic.


Shy Nature - What I Want (For Christmas)

Shy Nature “What I Want (For Christmas)” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Shy Nature are back for the fifth year in a row (!) with yet another excellent Christmas song. “What I Want (For Christmas)” flashes a number scenes of Christmas, from many perspectives – children waiting for presents, slightly creepy office parties, watching television commercials, and even a Santa full of self-doubt. This interesting approach is exactly what one should expect from Shy Nature, whose previous Christmas singles have proven them to be one of the strongest in the game. So click that “Shy Nature” tag on the side of this post, dive into their back catalogue, and follow that rabbit hole out to their non-Christmas music, especially their debut full-length from earlier this year, Ten Times Around the Sun.”

Bottom Line: Back with our Christmas present for 2017, Shy Nature’s flexing their songwriting chops once again with this brilliant collection of holiday scenes.


la-goons - Krampus EP

la-goons – Krampus EP (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Illinois’ la-goons have dropped a tight, two-track single that is absolutely worth your time. The garage/punk energy of “Krampus” and “(Mid)westy” have a understated quality that I haven’t quite heard all season. Each song has a midwestern bitterness that is given some levity by the fast beat and lo-fi production. Or more simply, it’s a punk rock aesthetic – some angry shit that puts a smile on your face. Truly enjoyed both tracks, and I think you might too.

Bottom Line: These Illinois goons strike a win for those who hate the cold, which is everyone at some point, no matter how much you like snow.


Peach Pit "Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day?"

Peach Pit “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)” (2017)

Kingfisher Bluez
Buy: Demo Version 7″ | iTunes | MP3 | MP3 | MP3

Kingfisher Bluez puts out at least one charity Christmas 7″ every year, and this year they put out two, single-sided 7″ singles to benefit 1-800-SUICIDE and Crisis Centre BC. Vancouver’s Peach Pit was the first of the duo, releasing a demo version of the Sufjan Stevens’ feel-good hit, “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!).” The version is quite solid, and while it doesn’t not stray far from the feel of the original, this song isn’t covered very often and hasn’t worn out its welcome; Perform this song admirably, and I’ll likely be on board. Now, the fully-produced version that is available for digital download from the usual outlets (come on Bandcamp! come on 7Digital!), definitely benefits from the extra flourishes. The guitar lines replacing Sufjan’s keys add an extra edge that is certainly welcome for such a conflicted song. So, while I do prefer the fully produced version to the demo, I still strongly encourage you to pick up the demo 7″. Suicide prevention is extremely important, as anyone who has felt that particular pain can no doubt tell you.

Bottom Line: Peach Pit deliver a 1-2 of delicious Sufjan Stevens goodness.


Sam and Julia "Catching up with Christmas"

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

Self Released
Buy: iTunes

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.


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.


a POP ETC Christmas

POP ETC – A POP ETC Christmas (2017)

Pop Etc Records
Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3 | MP3 | 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.