Phosphorescent “Christmas Down Under” (2018)

Dead Oceans
Buy: Bandcamp

The latest “Christmas” tune to make the rounds on all the big boys (Stereogum/Under the Radar/Brooklyn Vegan/etc) is the second track to be released off the new Phosphorescent record, C’Est La Vie, due out Oct. 5 on Dead Oceans. It has been five years since the excellent Muchacho (with that brainworm “Song for Zula“), and this new record promises to be damn interesting. The first track, “New Birth in New England,” strikes as a stellar, upbeat Paul Simon track, while “Christmas Down Under” is an auto-tuned slow burn. Pedal steel and haunting lyrics forge the solemn atmosphere that permeates this song, yet not without revealing its own scuffed beauty.

Bottom Line: Phosphorescent’s end-run around what we expect from a “Christmas song” yields fascinating results.

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DCR Mixtape #3 – A Christmas Compilation (2017)

Dinosaur City Records Christmas Compilation

Dinosaur City Records
Buy: Bandcamp

Dinosaur City Records… what can I say? Why would you release such a great Christmas release only 3 days before Christmas? This record is PACKED with excellent indie pop (naturally), indie rock, electro-pop, as well as some that forcefully eschew categorization. This comp deserves more than 3 days of listening! I am finding myself fighting the urge to get too specific, to single out any tracks I particularly enjoy, and I want to simply highlight the general strength of the whole damn thing. There is likely a song on here for everyone… and I want you to buy the whole thing. Lets to encourage Dinosaur City Records to do this thing again, because this whole release has left me smiling.

Bottom Line: There are few Christmas compilations that make me feel so warm and fuzzy about them… this is one. I wish I had found it before they sold out of cassettes…

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Saintseneca “The Wandering Star” (2017)

ANTI
Buy: Bandcamp

Back in 2016, Saintseneca released one of the best holiday EPs of recent note, with their holiday compilation The Mallwalker EP. This past holiday season, they continued what has been established as a near-yearly tradition of releasing a new holiday song, “The Wandering Star.” Unfortunately, by December 23rd, I am running on 10% power and the final warning window has popped up. Thus… I am only getting to this song now. “The Wandering Star” is immensely interesting and enjoyable, instantly reminding me of one of the more adventurous tracks you might find on a Sufjan Stevens’ holiday opus. There is more religious imagery in this track than I’m used to from Saintseneca, but they dress it up well enough to keep things interesting. (Avid readers know that this blog is here to write mainly about the secular songs of the holiday… read my about page if you are so inclined.) Saintsenica know their way around a song, and the intro’s finger picking and layered vocals set a thoughtful, yet powerful mood. However, when the pace picks up and the bass kicks in, this song truly blooms. This journey they set the listener on culminates with both a feeling of power and serenity – it is truly impressive. Once again, Saintsenica prove that they are in the top tier of underground, original Christmas music.

Bottom Line: Add this track onto the pile of wonderful Saintseneca holiday songs – and check out their new full-length LP, Pillar of Na, only released about a week ago!

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wejzak – Merry Christmas! (2016)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

I know I have been strolling down the dark alleys of Christmas music of late, but I happened to stumble upon a brief ray of sunlight (despite the news’ best efforts). Will Ejzak released a short Christmas EP back on December 30, 2016, which through unfortunate timing, got lost in the shuffle. But then again… this release wasn’t really for us; Will wrote and recorded these songs as a Christmas gift for a very lucky Lauren. Three tracks of tender guitar, each accented sparsely with violin, provide a lovely bed for Will’s layered vocal harmonies. I can’t help to think that this is how Anohni’s Christmas demos might sound… which is high praise in my book. Bravo.

Bottom Line: These songs are simply adorned, yet perfectly dressed for the occasion.

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Pre Nup “War, On Christmas” (2018)

Pre Nup - Oh Well

Jigsaw/Debt Offensive Records
Buy: US-Jigsaw (CD) | Canada-Debt Offensive Records (CD)

“We’re doomed for sure. / Apocalypse creeps closer every year. / Keep this in mind, / we’re all fucked. / At least it’s Christmas time.”

THE DARKEST TIMELINE CONTINUES!

Here is Calgary’s finest with a FUCKING AMAZING indie pop jam that I cannot get out my head. Pre Nup come out swinging with fuzzed-out perfection, while name checking the illuminati, pretending the chemtrails are Santa’s sleigh, and highlighting a government plot to foment carnage. You know, the perfect appetizer to the oncoming meltdown Christmas season.

Bottom Line: Sharpen your knives, this Christmas feast is going to be bloody. Pre Nup have thrown down the Christmas gauntlet, and bloodied a few noses in the process. (Heads up, this song is a hidden track on the CD version of their debut LP, Oh Well.)

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Seazoo “Happily Taking Advice From An Imaginary Sergeant Eddie Stone Late December” (2014)

Seazoo - Happily Taking Advice From An Imaginary Sergeant Eddie Stone Late December

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Welsh indie-popsters Seazoo released a great new single this past December, “Dig,” which led me to their Bandcamp page… and to their 2014 Christmas song! “Happily Taking Advice From An Imaginary Sergeant Eddie Stone Late December” has a truly lovely indiepop groove that goes wonderfully with their extremely long title. One would be compelled to do a bit of the googling when presented with such a title, and thus I’ve come to find that Sergeant Eddie Stone is a rather legendary Scots Guardsman who moved on to be a BBC presenter. Eddie is known for his unique toughness, having (during his SAS service) survived for days in the freezing cold wilderness wearing just a t-shirt and jeans, and more recently, eschewing proper outdoor gear when presenting on TV. Thus, knowing who Eddie Stone is helps you understand what the hell is happing in the song. Now, the song is particularly twisted – as the narrator takes advice from an imaginary Eddie Stone in preparation for his ambush of Santa Claus. Yes, you heard that right. “Eddie helped me plan it right and observe the house / Your expertise, a fire-side ambush after dark.” Brutal and wonderful, this song perfect for a night of plotting your enemy’s death while curled up with some eggnog.

Bottom Line: A fun little indiepop bloodbath!

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Taken by Trees “Holiday” (2017)

Taken by Trees "Holiday"

Harry
Buy: iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr 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.

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Man Behind Tree “Christmas Has Come” (2017)

Man Behind Tree "Christmastime Has Come"

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!

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Husbands – XMAS 2 (2017)

Husbands - Xmas 2

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

In 2013, Oklahoma City’s Husbands released an absolutely incredible, full-length indie rock Christmas album (XMAS), and they are back once again with yet another! XMAS 2 is made in the same spirit as the original, with originals and wholly-reimagined covers living side-by-side in a completely cohesive collage of chillwave/indie rock/Boards of Canada/Animal Collective goodness. Honestly, I am a bit more than halfway through listening to the record (I just got back from a family function) and have been gnawing at the bit to do so… so this is a half-review as I wait to conclude what promises to be another incredible record by Husbands.

Bottom Line: It is early, but I am loving this.

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Christmas Aguilera “Footsteps” (2017)

Christmas Aguilera "Footsteps"

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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