UPCOMING: Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert – Ghost Stories for Christmas (2018)

Rock Action
Buy: Preorder | Preorder + Tickets to the release show if you live in/near Glasgow

Aidan Moffat (ex-Arab Strap) and RM Hubbert (ex-El Hombre Trajeado), both known for their prolific solo careers as well as their past bands, have hooked up of late, releasing the excellent Here Lies the Body back in May. Certainly Aidan is no stranger to Christmas songs, with Arab Strap releasing a few throughout their run, as well as having his own solo Christmas EP back in 2011. Thus, the two began with an idea for one Christmas song, meant to be a one-off seasonal treat. It soon developed into an EP, and eventually ballooned into a full album. The description sounds fascinating:

“These are the ghosts of love, haunting happy homes and fairy-lit bars; these are the ghosts of memory, of haunted mirrors, pagan festivities, and unforgettable friends. As with this year’s critically acclaimed debut album, Here Lies The Body, Moffat’s quiet, pensive storytelling finds a perfect partner in Hubbert’s intimately intricate, flamenco-flavoured guitar. Across eight new original compositions and two deftly executed covers, here they offer an alternative view on the Season To Be Jolly.”

This is certainly one to be checked out! Available for preorder now and will be released on Dec. 7, which is unfortunately a bit late for my mix. However, if you live in the Glasgow area, you can order from Monorail Music and grab a ticket to their special Christmas release party on Dec. 6!

Unfortunately, they have not released a true Christmas song to preview, only a cover of Yazoo’s “Only You,” which was a Christmas #1 in the UK. The original intended one-off, “A Ghost Story for Christmas,” is the forthcoming single and will likely be released in short order. BTW, I don’t consider Christmas #1’s to be appropriate holiday listening… their version here is very nice, but it should have been a digital extra or something 🙂

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Olympians “Leaving You at Christmas” (2014)

Self Released
Buy: Stream

I have been thinking a good bit about what my 2018 Christmas mix might be like. Last year, I gave myself a bit more room to use profanity and politics, saying that it would be an every-so-few-years loosening of standards. I’m a father of a young kid, a lot of my friends have young kids, and I like the idea of being able to listen to the mix around them. However, I am quite undecided as to the tone of this year’s mix. I suppose everything will be decided in November, as to whether this mix will follow the darkest timeline, or will show shreds of hope. That said, should I consider the darker timeline, this track from Norwich->London’s Olympians could fit nicely. Recorded a few years prior to release, they remembered they had this Christmas song and dropped it back in 2014 – completely overlooking the fact that they could have let someone (ahem) know about it! I love a good song about drinking and watching TV on Christmas – and this one has both in spades. The song’s narrator is sitting there, in his girlfriend/boyfriend’s folks house, having a terrible time, drinking to pass the time while he wishes to go home and watch TV. Stuck there for a week, he begins to ponder leaving… only to decide in a crescendo of Weezer (when they were good) wall-of-sound that indeed he will. Any readers of this blog know we love the dark stuff as much as the light, and this one is a solid, deep gray.

Bottom Line: I’d love to see if the Olympians could dig up another Christmas song, because this indie-rock downer is damn solid.

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

Shy Nature - What I Want (For Christmas)

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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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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Charlie’s Hand Movements “Always a Dream” (2017)

Charlie's Hand Movements "Always a Dream"

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” (2017)

Porridge Radio "O. Christmas"

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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The Spook School “Someone To Spend Christmas With” (2017)

The Spook School CHRISTMAS

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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Big Cloud “Christmas Presence” (2017)

Big Cloud "Christmas Presence"

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

Scotland’s Big Cloud describes themselves as “fearlessly boring groove-drone & ambient pop.” Descriptions are meant to give you a good general idea of what to expect, and that description left me baffled… and curious. On “Christmas Presence,” Big Cloud has a slow groove that I might best describe as RIYL Low/Spain. In fact, this song sounds like something either of those bands would likely cover beautifully. The ringing guitar notes and strolling beat frame some clever, and at times, rather militantly-secular lyrics (which I would obviously be into): “I don’t care about cards or treeses / I refuse to think of Jesus / Your presence is the greatest gift that there is.” There are many instances of clever turns of phrase, most obviously those inspiring the title of the song: “I don’t need your Christmas present / I just need your Christmas presence / Your presence is the greatest gift that there is.” There is some downright sweetness in this song, which when not handled right can drive a song into a ditch of crass sentimentality. Big Cloud easily navigates the sweetness and keeps “Christmas Presence” on a heartfelt, genuine, and despite their best efforts, interesting path.

Bottom Line: Big Cloud has written a truly sweet Christmas song that is just a few degrees off-center to make it that much more interesting.

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The Christmas Cards “Christmastime is Here” (2017)

the Christmas Cards

Self Released
Buy: Bandcamp

To what do my indiepop ears hear shuffling through my Soundcloud feed? Could that be a band formed by the members of “indie-pop darlings The Postcards and lo-fi teenage sensations Father?” Why by golly, it is! The Christmas Cards combined these two bands for a South London, basement recording session this past November and ran through 14 indiepop Christmas tunes! For those who love raw indiepop, this will be right up your alley. Being that it is a Saturday, and I have 3 different birthday/Hanukkah/Christmas parties to go to, I’m only going to single out one, “Christmastime is Here.” The Christmas Cards do it well – speeding up this classic in a jovial indiepop fashion.  It really was the handclaps that got me over the hump on this one being the track to highlight, as I then noticed that I was sincerely grooving and tapping my foot to their lovely cover. Of note, there are some solid, real deep cut covers in there too – but I think they’ll require multiple listens to really get into… so perhaps in a future post or two!

Bottom Line: A truly enjoyable cover for you indiepoppers out there! Check out the other tracks too if you like – some are great, others are good, and only one or two I wouldn’t press play on again (but Little Drummer Boy is pretty much my least favorite song ever). I threw all of them in a playlist below, for your perusing pleasure.

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