Holiday music is always a hit or miss, personally speaking aside from certain classics, and at moments it can be very nauseating. To find a middle ground here are original tracks that stray away from the normal season’s bringing, classic covers, and some anti-holiday cheer (if that’s your cup of tea) that are sincerely worth the listen.
Jack Symes “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Holiday tradition wouldn’t hold without Judy Garland’s Meet Me in St. Louis classic hit, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Since its arrival in 1944, many remakes of Garland’s track have been out in the world, the majority a little more joyous. Jack Symes holds on to the track’s original melancholy that made the words that much more beautiful. Featuring A.O. Gerber on additional vocals and Boaz Roberts on guitar, Symes rendition is a quaint indie ballad that sits cozily for the colder weather. Gently flowing from a surf-folk tone, the slower production allows for Symes and A.O.’s vocals to dance around the warm guitar strings.
É. Arenas “Merezco Mas”
É. Arenas is back with another Christmas song urging everyone to appreciate what you have and as Arenas has explained, “shedding light on those foos that keep buying tons of xmas gifts when they are broke AF to begin with!” Written alongside Gabriel Villa (Chicano Batman Drummer) and Federico Zuniga (Afro-Peruvian band Cachombo bassist), “Merezco Mas (I deserve more)” is an afro-peru-experimental and cumbia folkloric rhythm that shares more than dance steps. Telling a tale of child who states he deserves more, jabbing at the latest iPhone and the irony of then breaking the screen. Arenas ends the tropical break with wisdom — “Te araña el gato / Y si lo buscas / La vida es sabia / No tengas rabia (The cat scratches you / if you look for it / Life is wise / Don’t be angry) — which is a sentiment to not look for anger or sadness, surely you will find it; be grateful and happy.
Ninet Tayeb “Sweet Chariot”
Following in the vein of holding onto the same intent while making it your own, Israel rock singer/songwriter, Ninet Tayeb, covers the classic hymn, “Sweet Chariot.” Produced by Stardragon (Ninet’s husband, Joseph E- Shine and Dror Mohar), the track’s fragile beginnings are felt in its simplistic arrangement. Tayeb’s rusty vocals scratch the guitar’s strings in perfect harmony. Moving onto the other side of hope, Tayeb’s version captures pain and ironically the beauty found in it, overcoming in all its glory. The Israeli Idol winner continues to move her sounds overseas, with last year’s release (Paper Parachute) marking as her fifth album and second in English.
Delorentos Be Here Christmas Time
Dublin’s quartet are a melodic breeze with a 3-track “lullaby for adults” dubbed Be Here Christmas Time. Leading with the titular track pinning for another one to simply come around for the holiday, the opening keys cross into an emotive cesspool that many face if alone, insisting to come for the smiles “if you want to forget your winter’s past.” An original that is both realist and hopeful, Delorentos lean towards another aspect of the holidays. While “Winter Song” is a polished heart tugger, led by icy keys and a looming question if love is truly alive. The assortment also features an indie cover of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” that shows off the harmonizing of the quartet and vocal range that Delorentos possess, yet still looms in the melancholy shade.
Creek Boyz “The Recipe”
Dubbed as a trap choir, Creek Boyz latest take “The Recipe” samples the iconic “Little Drummer Boy” for an unconventional track for the Holidays that is oddly satisfying. Addictive hook that is modern ear candy for the season, the track is a lean towards trying to beat the drum of that someone special, which I mean, is the gift that truly keeps giving. Rippling “rum bum bum bum” echoes of club life with spiked eggnog and play-on words, the festive trap beat is a lighthearted thrust, to say the least.
Pizzagirl “Pizza for Christmas”
An overlooked or maybe not common element to really bring up would be the loneliness that holiday gatherings bring. Liverpool, bedroom pop artist, Pizzagirl, crafts an equally dreamy and somewhat bittersweet light on being alone during the festivities. “The winter winds have destroyed your phone line, the internet’s down and you’re snowed in, PLUS your baby can’t make it this Christmas. You slump to your freezer after burning that turkey you slaved over and it finally hits you, you’re eating Pizza for Christmas,” explains the artist. Still sprinkled with bells and bright synths, the track isn’t as isolated as it seems. Reflective and glimmering with happiness towards the end, the cycles the track brings are emotional and joyful. The single is out now via Heist or Hit and all proceeds from sales via Bandcamp will go to Claire House Children’s Hospice – https://www.clairehouse.org.uk/
Tiffany Young “Peppermint”
A slow burner, slicing R&B throughout with pop embellishments, Young dives in the cool track with a sensual tone. Sprinkled with playful lyrics, “red green red green, you been waiting to unwrap me wrap me,” which lean towards both sides of a coin, “Peppermint” can whisk anyone into a better mood. Young’s vocals hover over the mild trap hi-hats that flare on the addictive hook, and it makes me truly sorry I never heard her voice before. “I wanted it to be more laid-back and relaxed compared to all of the other productions that I’ve done. I really focused on the tone of my voice, and I put in some Korean so that all of my fans could feel connected” she tells MTV News.
Cait “Run Away for Christmas”
Slightly funky, quirky embellishments and a slight pop presentation, Cait’s “Run Away for Christmas” is an urge to make new traditions. Orchestral samples tie the track to the classic root of Holiday music, yet Cait makes this idea all her own with the relaxed state of mind. It’s cool, confident, and melts sweetly as Cait’s vocal run eagerly dances against a sensual bass riff.
Bubble & Squeak “The Christmas Stick”
Holiday songs wouldn’t be complete without sleigh bells, which I’m not anti sleigh bells, but Bubble & Squeak provide the right amount of joy without the point of nauseating a listener. Telling of the story of two lonely souls meeting at chance, like in a romantic comedy, the track pulls from a similar thread, weaving into a delightful and charming track being hit by the Christmas Stick.
JC Cassis “Christmas is Bullshit”
“If you’re sick and tired of people acting like Christmas is great when you know it’s all bullshit, this is the song for you, ” states New York’s JC Cassis, who addresses this track to everyone who hates the holiday. Leading with a holiday feel from head to toe, the track’s bells, whistles, and joyful warmth is quickly put to a halt with Cassis’ matter-of-fact tone and hilarious lines, ranging from not caring about job security for an elf, to buying her own things and not needing Santa. Acknowledging that she could be labeled as a kill joy, the humorous pandering tramples on traditions and squeaks with humerous spoken word bits. Regardless of the comedic approach, one cannot deny Cassis’ controlled vocals that shine from verse to verse and explodes with joy, or spite, in perfect harmony of hating Christmas.
Cover photo: É. Arenas by Lorena Endara