Christmas Aguilera “Icicle Trickle” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

I would normally either get their email, flip out, and post the new Christmas Aguilera song within the span of 20 minutes. This year, it came a bit late, when my time is in high demand to go get this out of the attic, to go to the store, to finish up that laundry before everyone gets here. So, while my post comes late, perhaps you’ve found “Icicle Trickle” before I’ve told you about it, and thus you have an extra day to enjoy it during the proper seasonal setting. This seventh release by one of the great Christmas bands working is also their most funky. While the very beginning has the boys channeling Queen, they quickly transition to cheeky Grapes & Friends’ boogie-down territory. The lyrics are a trip:

Be my tinsel
And wrap yourself around my tree
Make me grin so
Let’s keep it going for a week
I love you too much
Your foot’s on my clutch
Though Christmas is beyond my skillset
Stuck in this sweater
It’s scratchy as heck
Jump in that’s better
Gonna stay forever in this pickle
Until the Icicle Trickles

The overt sexual innuendo is nothing new to Christmas Aguilera, as that is part of what made me love them with their first self-titled EP, with the fantastic “I Wanna Give You a Present” setting a great, playful tone. However, then they manage to sneak this beautiful line in amongst the silliness, “Yeah Christmas holidays / Make them every day / And stretch this elastic band of love.” What a line! The production on this latest is a rich as ever, making you wonder how they heck they pull it together at the last minute like this – they only had a CA song meeting a few weeks ago! Be sure to check out their regular gig, Guilt Coins, who also recorded a remarkable cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” this year.

Bottom Line: Bands like Christmas Aguilera are why I write this blog. A true pleasure every year that they bless us with a song.

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Cherry Ghost “Blue Christmas” (2019)

Heavenly Recordings
Buy: Bandcamp

THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS.

Manchester’s Cherry Ghost is back with his first track in five years. Hell, Wikipedia has the entire entry in the past tense, so, apparently, this return is more unexpected than anticipated. Their return is a whopper though, with the cheekily-titled “Blue Christmas.” I know, you and I both thought… this must be another crap cover. NO! This is one of the more explicitly political songs of the season. Written only 24 hours before the announcement of the final results of the UK election, Cherry Ghost (Simon Aldred) lays down a song of sarcastic, fantastical hopes shouted into a bag and doused in jingle bells. Dig this first verse:

I hope that Santa Claus gets you a conscience this Christmas
I hope he leaves a beating heart underneath your tree
I hope you wake up to the taste of your hypocrisy
So when you proudly raise a toast to humanity
You realize you turned a blind eye to the cruelty

We all know that isn’t going to happen. But even as brutal as this song is, there is some hope at the end.

We’re only as strong as the weakest among us
We’ll be alright just as long as we have love
We have love

All proceeds go to Lifeshare, helping homeless and vulnerable people in Manchester and Salford. I’m sure Boris is quite concerned about those folks… (how do I properly express sarcasm in print…. hmmm…)

Bottom Line: A short, sharp, political gem indeed. I doubt it will shame anyone into changing their minds… but it is a cathartic listen nonetheless.

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Death to Slow Music “Like Christmas” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Sometimes, a groove is all I need. Cambridge indiepop band Death to Slow Music dropped a 2-song single over the weekend, and I am finding myself really moving to the b-side, “Like Christmas.” It’s later-Pavement-era indie rock, which is a time that still holds a soft spot in my music criticism heart. There isn’t too much to the lyrics, but in all fairness, they hatched this whole “Christmas song” idea about two weeks ago. The groove works, so I’m digging it. I’ll take an original with great music over a boring cover any day.

Bottom Line: Sometimes I just need that SOUND, and Death to Slow Music deliver it.

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San Scout “Christmas Number One” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3
Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play | Spotify

DIY Magazine hipped me to the excellent London duo San Scout, and this super-chilled out, current-era Bon Iver-esque Christmas song “Christmas Number One.” The song has a very emotional quality, from the slow, buzzing baseline to the line that the song was crafted around “I need to love myself but I don’t know how.” Depression certainly has a place in the holiday season and San Scout has done an excellent job capturing this without being overwhelming. Appropriately, San Scout has teamed with CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, a charity that runs confidential suicide prevention services. Depression and suicide will touch us all, whether through ourselves, our friends and family, or through people we admire and feel like we know (Scott Hutchison would be one I often think of.). Talking can save lives – be there for someone this holiday season, even if they don’t seek you out first. Check in on your friends and family, as well as with yourself.

Bottom Line: A sonically and lyrically beautiful song with its complicated heart in the right place.

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Young War “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” (2019)

Self Released
Buy: Free!

Manchester’s Young War is three-for-three so far, yet to miss. Tweeting out this morning with the kind of cover that I can seriously get behind, one that sounds nearly nothing like the original. In fact, it sounds so much like a Young War song, that I swear the intros to 2014’s brilliant “I Won’t Come Back for Christmas (I’m Serious),” (GO BUY THAT SONG NOW) and this Ramones cover are damn-near cousins. I’ve heard slowed down versions of this song, ones that attempt to chill-out one of Christmas’ rock classics, and they sometimes go way too dark. Not only has Young War not gone dark, but dammit if this isn’t the sweetest version of this song I’ve heard – from production to delivery, this song feels turned on its head, which is exactly where a Christmas cover should be.

Bottom Line: Make Christmas your own, like Young War does with this fantastic version of The Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”

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Oscar Lang “Christmas is Home” (2019)

Dirty Hit
Buy: 7Digital (MP3/FLAC) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Spotify

London’s Oscar Lang has been releasing music since before he was born. Being that prolific means that at some point… you take a stab a Christmas song. Thankfully, he was compelled to write an original, not cover Blue Christmas/Last Christmas/White Christmas or some other boring chesnut. “Christmas is Home” is a throwback, synthy, indiepop nugget with a catchy chorus that demands a Wham! worthy video, fully of soft focus and terrible clothes. This song was like a swig of hot chocolate – I’m totally on board.

Bottom Line: Oscar Lang writes and produces so much music, that I’m fully expecting this to be his first (meaning, gimme more!) excellent Christmas song.

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A Very Cherry Christmas 14 (2019)

Cherryade Records
Buy: Bandcamp

So, do you fancy yourself a collector of underground Christmas records? If you are like me, and began this extremely hip search back when Yahoo still ruled the internet and Facebook was but a baby website only opened to ivy leaguers… well then you’ve been a fan of this CD-only (physical media!) collection of the scrappiest, kookiest, raunchiest, and indiepoppiest Christmas songs available. The latest edition of A Very Cherry Christmas has great tracks by some folks I’ve previously showered with adoration (Frank Sexuality and the Negative Emotions, A Mild Peril), as well as some great songs from bands I’m just getting accustomed with (Jacqui and Geoff, Ballard). There is something for everyone – from the hilarious “What If Santa Claus Is Just 20 Ferrets In A Red Suit” to an exuberant satirization of consumerism with “Consume! Consume! Consume!” So take out your credit card (or your Paypal password), and celebrate the patron saint of buying shit… and fucking buy it! (Grab the few copies of older releases that are still available too!)

Bottom Line: A tradition for all the misfits, one to be celebrated and feared! ONLY 200 COPIES! You are warned.

 

 

Flyte “Won’t Be Home for Christmas” (2019)

Island Records
Buy: 7Digital (FLAC/MP3) | Apple Music | Amazon MP3 | Amazon.uk MP3 | Amazon.de MP3 | Amazon.fr MP3 | Google Play

I’ve been a fan of Flyte for a few years now, and have been following their tour of the US on Twitter – watching them go lots of places that aren’t near me, choosing city-specific covers to play in every town. I’ve gotten over the snub, I mean, not everyone can come to Charlottesville, VA (my closest city) I suppose. It was this Twitter monitoring that did tip me off to their latest Christmas song though, so we are cool now, Flyte. “Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is full of soaring vocals and harmonies that have me thinking a good bit about the Beach Boys, but not happy Beach Boys… DARK Beach Boys. This is Flyte’s “miserable fucking Christmas song,” but as sad as the lyrics truly are, the production dresses it up in shimmering clothes. I kind of liken the approach to what I normally love about Swedish indiepop – beautifully happy music with terribly sad lyrics. Thus, here were are, with a wonderfully sad song by Flyte on Christmas Underground. I’m pretty predictable I suppose.

FYI: Their other Christmas songs can be found through their Facebook page – a number of live videos – as well as on the It’s Coming on Christmas compilation put out by Daisy Digital a few years ago… which looks to have disappeared! Well, I sure learned my lesson… I hadn’t yet bought part 2 of that compilation…

Bottom Line: Gorgeous Beach Boys-inspired sadness, perfect for a holiday nightcap.

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Don’t Call Me Ishmael “Mary and Joseph” (2015)

Don't Call me Ishmael Dark Christmas E.P.

DROMA Records
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP) | Bandcamp (Compilation)

Stafford, England’s Don’t Call Me Ishmael are big fans of Christmas. I’m honestly amazed that I had not discovered them until this year, as they have multiple Christmas EPs, with releases every year since 2015. I’ve got a lot to choose from, but the song I’m going to highlight is the beautiful, and powerful, “Mary and Joseph,” off of 2015’s Dark Christmas EP. What immediately caught me was this sensation that I’m hearing an amazing Billy Bragg Christmas song. I’ve got this live Billy Bragg record that has been in my CD changer (yes, I have one) for YEARS… I stress, YEARS, because it always seems to pop on when my soul needs it. “Mary and Joseph” scratches that same itch. No accompaniment, just two voices reminding us to be grateful for what we have at Christmas. I’m most certainly looking forward to their upcoming Christmas release slated for Monday, December 9th. Follow them on Facebook, their label on Bandcamp, etc, to be the first to hear it! And dig into those older tracks too!

Bottom Line: Powerful simplicity in the vein of Billy Bragg… which is high praise.

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Francis Lung “To Make Angels In Snow” (2019)

Memphis Industries
Buy: Bandcamp (NYOP)

Francis Lung is an alternative pop artist from Manchester, England, whose debut album, A Dream is U (still available on limited pink vinyl, amongst other formats), came out earlier this year on the always-excellent label Memphis Industries. Francis snuck a fantastic 3-song Christmas release by me last year (which I HAD planned to post a review of soon) titled A Francis Lung Xmas EP, but he was not so lucky this year! I’ve got you, Francis Lung! “To Make Angels in Snow” is a beautiful, perfectly timed (3:02- I love a short Christmas song), an alternative pop song that harkens back to the best of indie-Christmas legends Pas/Cal. The instrumentation is glorious – clarinet, tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet and a baritone sax line that brings up all my RIYL-Ezra Furman feelings of love. A breath of fresh air indeed.

Bottom Line: This song does not leave any room for boredom – the vocal harmonies and instrumentation paint every corner of the canvas. Francis Lung has outdone himself this year. Can’t wait for next year’s (hint, hint, Francis Lung).

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