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?

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Rubber Band Gun - Festive As Hell

Rubber Band Gun – Festive as Hell (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Kevin Basko (aka Rubber Band Gun), who happens to be Foxygen’s touring guitarist, just released a fascinating Christmas album, Festive as Hell. Six original songs, with production by Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado, this EP was recorded in the middle of the night over the past few weeks… and it sounds like it. The production is ghostly, other-worldly at times, the result of which I would challenge anyone to imagine them creating at noon on Thursday. The record has a great sound, while the songs are at times challenging, oddly catchy, and never expected. “Christmas is Killin Me Off” is a dirty-bass romp spoken-word about how Christmas and New Years are “breaking us apart.,” and it is damn fun. “If You Want Us for Christmas” will get your head bobbing as it guides you to the most poppy (and quite fun) chorus on the album. “Yule Smog” has UFO sounds fluttering in and out, with a drowsy, beautiful piano melody carrying us through a song about not wanting to go to a Christmas party. “Divorced Xmas Dad” has programmed beats underpinning slinky synths as we learn about what dad’s going to make himself for dinner in front of the TV. “So American” pops into a 1960s garage rock style for what I can’t quite read as a Christmas song, if only for the “Christmas bridge.” “I Got Myself a Present,” has the formula of an old country ditty, clip-clopping beat and all, setting up a fantastic song about being alone on Christmas eve; It has some damn clever lyrics that you really need to check out for yourself. Truly one of the more out-there and enjoyable records I’ve come across.

Bottom Line: This is by no means the most accessible record you are going to hear this Christmas season, but dammit, it is fucking interesting.

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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!

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Husbands - Xmas 2

Husbands – XMAS 2 (2017)

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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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.

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Anni Rossi - Yuletide X Rossi

Anni Rossi – YULETIDE X ROSSI (2017)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

New York-based multi-instrumentalist Anni Rossi returned to recording in March 2017, after a 6 year recording hiatus, with a new single and the following mixtape, HER. The mixtape was expansive, spanning 18 tracks and signaling that she was back to stay. Come December, Anni Rossi has now released a second mixtape, the wonderfully eclectic YULETIDE X ROSSI. The album contains some sparse covers (“The Christmas Song”, “Mele Kalikimaka”), some fascinating interpretations (“Silent Night”), and wonderful originals (“Even on Christmas Day”). The only track that I believe may have been previously released is Rossi’s fantastic cover of “Last Christmas,” which she released a version of on Soundcloud back in 2014. Believe me, the slow jam treatment of “Last Christmas” is absolutely worth your time and attention; Rossi’s version is unique and refreshing. Simply said, there are some wonderful songs on here, and even where a track might not be your cup of tea, Rossi still keeps it interesting. Hat tip to fellow underground Christmas aficionado No Love for Ned for the heads up!

Bottom Line: Anni Rossi’s return yields wonderful results, with an eclectic Christmas record that happily keeps you guessing.

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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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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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