14 Largely Skeptical, Somewhat Unconventional Holiday Songs


If you’ve been looking for a Christmas song that addresses rampant consumerism, the climate crisis, and even the weird mass tradition of cutting down oxygenating pine trees to throw in the trash after a few weeks, then US Girls has a song for you ! “When the two poles melt and the seasons melt together,” sings front woman Meghan Remy, “hurry up, slow down.” What saves the song from being too grinning, however, is its toe-pounding beat and catchy melody that continues the US girls tradition of writing sweet-sounding songs about bitter truths. LINDSAY ZOLADZ

“Ain’t A Lonely Christmas Song”, a festive offer from the hit songwriter and frequent collaborator of Ariana Grande, Tayla Parx, begins with humorous anti-sentimentality and parx crooning. “I’m used to showing up at family celebrations with alcohol and myself.” But this year is different: “Since you came with us, this has not been a lonely Christmas carol,” she sings in a choir, and the whole arrangement suddenly becomes happy and bright . ZOLADZ

The bluegrass banjo player Tony Trischka wrote “Christmas Cheer (This Weary Year)” years ago for a song cycle about the civil war with lyrics introducing soldiers during a ceasefire on vacation: “Let us silence our weapons and dry our tears , Friends and foe alike. “This quarantine year gives a new resonance to his chorus:“ Christmas spirit in this tired year, not like the last one you know / Hopefully we’ll reunite with our families at home until the next. ”Guitarist Michael Dawes sings lead, accompanies of virtuoso picking, with a coda of the elegant counterpoint of the string orchestra, JON PARELES

Sam Smith promises comfort, security and happiness in “The Lighthouse Keeper”, a modern anthem that evokes a cappella harmonies, a string section and muted timpani. While Smith swears: “Don’t withstand the rain and the storm / I will never let you get lost at sea”, the cadence suggests “Good King Wenceslas”. Perhaps that’s why they included the lines about “I hope you’re home for Christmas” for a song that is much more than a seasonal visit. PARELES

Finneas’ Christmas carol is downright secular: “I don’t believe that Jesus Christ was born to save me / This is tremendous pressure for a baby,” he hums over the cozy parlor piano chords. Instead, it’s a seasonal love song that, oddly enough, is marked by uncertainty and pessimism. He proclaims his love, but adds, “I hope it’ll be another year.” PARELES

Marie Ulven, who records as a girl in red, sprinkles the dusty reverberation of indie rock with enough saccharine chords to remind you it’s December without distracting from the song’s true purpose. That would be love, about which she sings gently with lyrics that combine the wet despair of intense attraction with the ironic jargon of vacation capitalism:

I don’t have a lot to give
But I would give you anything
All of my time is yours
Let me wrap you in my skin


Alessia Cara released “Make It to Christmas” last year as a Phil Spector-style setup, with drums for the choir. Their “stripped” remake brings out the underlying desperation of the song. She knows her romance is falling apart, but she can’t stand the thought of being single during the vacation: “Don’t leave me alone / This time of year is precious,” she pleads. The arrangement isn’t that drawn out – it still has loads of strings, glockenspiels and chirlike backup vocals – but without the drums to power it, hope fades. PARELES

“Last Christmas at my aunt’s, I tried so hard to get my uncle to shut up,” sings the ironically attentive Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin. But her vacation single “Baby Jesus Ain’t Nobody’s Baby Now” is far more impressive than a collection of Christmas punchlines about family dysfunctions: it’s a musical short story as vivid and specific as any other on their excellent album “Crushing” from the year 2019. From materials that are as simple as a softly struck chord progression and her muffled but impressive voice, Jacklin weaves something as unique and haunted as a spider’s web. ZOLADZ

Slowly swaying, wistful and sweet: “How could this be Christmas?” is a vintage style song about someone going missing for Christmas. Written by Mandy Moore with husband Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Mike Viola of the Candy Butchers, it has piano trioles for a 1950s feel and a vocal jump to the word “Christmas” that sounds daring and lost every time it sounds. PARELES

“Ya Se Ven las Bombillitas” (“The lights can already be seen”) is the latest single from Victor Manual’s 2019 Christmas album “Memorias de Navidad”, which has just been nominated for a Grammy. In happy salsa, punctuated by horns and runs on the guitar-like cuatro, Manuelle sings about maintaining traditions across generations: both Christmas decorations and the vintage salsa style he maintains. PARELES

Guitarist Chas Justus gathered top musicians from Louisiana Bayou to create “Joyeux Noël, Bon Chrismeusse”, an EP with Cajun and Zydeco arrangements of well-known Christmas carols, which were translated into Cajun and Louisiana Creole. “Papa Nwèl Ap Vini o Vilaj” transforms “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” into an ingenious Zydeco shuffle, with accordion tootling and rub-board slipping away. PARELES

Let’s call it sitcom bounce music: Big Freedia makes a huge impression from the gift reception for this song from a new seasonal EP, “Big Freedias Smokin ‘Santa Christmas”, along with the sharp-talking rapper Flo Milli. CARAMANICA

If your music sounds like a bunch of confused tweens, chances are that you are doing vacation music. The chirpy kitchensinkcore maximalists 100 gecs’ seasonal entry “Sympathy 4 the Grinch” is about what Santa didn’t bring and the price he has to pay for that transgression. The biggest compliment is to say that it sounds like a putrid outtake from an Alvin & the Chipmunks Christmas album. CARAMANICA

This wickedly catchy, obscene collaboration between the indie rock bands Charly Bliss and Pup undoubtedly captures the feeling of desperation at the end of 2020: Charly Bliss’ front woman, Eva Hendricks, “cries on the couch to ‘Elf’ alone”, while Pups is Stefan Babcock suggests, “We should name it because it’s been like that all year [expletive] Anyway. “The video is unexpectedly poignant, however: amid clips of the band members recording their portions of the song remotely, there is archive footage from tours that have passed and taken for granted in much less socially distant times. It is an exciting holiday ode to missing your bandmates or maybe just your friends. ZOLADZ