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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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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Young Mister "Christmas, Please Come Early"

Young Mister “Christmas, Come Early This Year” (2017)

Refresh Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Steven Fiore (aka Young Mister) has spent the past few years songwriting for the Universal Music Publishing Group and as a guest vocalist in Jeff Goldblum’s jazz band (yes!). He has struck out on his own, recording under the name Young Mister, and releasing his self-titled debut album back in January 2016. This year, he’s released two singles… the latest being a lovely Christmas single, “Christmas, Come Early This Year.” It’s a simple song, from a father to a son, one that in my third listen has me a little shook. It progresses from hanging lights with his young son holding the ladder, to having him all grown up, and clutching to the feeling of those early Christmases. The song is just beautiful, and conveys powerful emotions without resorting to schmaltz.

Bottom Line: Simple and beautiful, Young Mister has written a song that deftly highlights those feelings that parents hold at Christmas.

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Grapes & Friends "Wishlist"

Premiere: The Grapes & Friends “Wishlist” (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

Let me quickly introduce you to the Grapes and Friends, as there is the slight possibility that some of you have not been reading my blog all year. (FYI, I write about Christmas music all year… because I have problems, obviously).   an Austin, TX indie rock band created by smashing together members of DangeresqueThe Gorgeous Hands and Genuine Leather; they are an Austin version of our friends the Sunturns and Christmas Aguilera, a specifically indie-rock-christmas supergroup. TOMORROW NIGHT (Dec. 9) is their annual Xmas Extravaganza, and they just released their annual seasonal jam! “Wishlist” is exploding with cheeky funk, that special kind that will both get your ass moving and put a big smile on your face. When they bust this out at their xmas party – shit is going down. The song pairs perfectly with last year’s “Can I Come Home with You (For Christmas)?,” tickling those Midnight Vultures-era-Beck feelings of carefree youth. And those vocals…  that delivery suggests something naughty is going down, and you know what? It just might. The day is just beginning… the possibilities are endless, and this is your holiday soundtrack.

Bottom Line: Slam your beer and start jumping around… or start evaluating whether you have any life left inside you – you choose. (Shit got deep there for a second.)

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LA Wise Man "All I Want for Xmas Is Rock & Roll"

LA Wise Man (featuring LA Priest) “All I Want for Xmas Is Rock & Roll” (2017)

Domino Recording Co.
Buy: iTunes | Amazon.uk MP3

LA Priest (aka Sam Dust/Samuel Eastgate) has become LA Wise Man for this seasonal song, and WHAT A FUCKING TREAT. This delicious slice of indie rock is yet another track up for “song of the season,” as the muddy bass line pairs perfectly with wailing guitars and some great lines like: “They say this buzz will be the death of us, / but we’re young and free, so we gotta be / We hear that tone when we’re all alone / and we set on fire instinctively.” That lyric is even more appropriate, as this song will burn down the Christmas tree and light your gifts on fire. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Bottom Line: LA Wise Man has released a scorcher of a Christmas song, and if you read this blog, you’re probably going to love it.

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Nelson Can "On Christmas Night"

Nelson Can “On Christmas Night” (2017)

Alcopop! Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3)

Copenhagen’s incredible, all-female indie rock trio, Nelson Can, snuck a ridiculously fantastic Scandinavian Christmas anthem onto Soundcloud today. How it snuck on, I have no clue. They have over 8,000 followers on Facebook, far more than most bands that make it onto these digital pages. Yet somehow, I’m listener 40-43. Go figure! I am honestly feeling way too lazy to do much more than say, “It’s fucking great.” I’ll leave most of the exposition to them, and perhaps add more in the morning. You shouldn’t expect high levels of professionalism from a blog who, during most days of the year, gets about 20-25 views in a world of BILLIONS.

“The song is about Christmas from a Scandinavian point of view. The further up north you go, the darker the days are during Christmas and the increasing hours of sunlight after Winter Solstice (December 21st or 22nd) still plays a very central role in the Christmas celebrations here. Hence the chorus “Solstice in sight! We don’t have to wait anymore. We will be bathed in light on Christmas night. We wanted to make a Christmas song that combined the Christmas we know from modern day western culture with the old hedonistic celebration of the return of the sun.”

Update: This song gets better with every listen. When I said “anthem,” I meant it. The song starts off simple, with this gentle rocking beat framing Selena’s voice, but hit that chorus and they go big! The hooks are huge – there is even the perfect amount of whistling… yeah, you heard me. Truly a stellar song with an interesting point-of-view (ANOTHER SOLSTICE MENTION TOO!) and most certainly worth multiple listens.

Bottom Line: Nelson Can scored a winner, pretty much hitting all fronts: Scandinavian + indie rock + original song + short + great production + wonderful voice + great chorus + fantastic finish = Weeeeee!

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