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The Wildcat Roar

Holiday (non)traditions: Songs to brighten your playlist

As the end of December gets close, you may be getting sick of hearing the same old holiday music. I’ve compiled some of my favorite songs that aren’t your traditional mall music to give you a break. (P.S.- They’re in order of my favorites.)

 

“Christmas Drag” by I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME

Dallon Weekes has been in several bands in his time as a musician, most famously as a bassist in Panic! At The Disco. The common thread through Weekes’s career? Christmas music. 

 

“Christmas Drag” was originally released under Weekes’s first band, The Brobecks. It was re-recorded by his current band iDKHOW. The song encapsulates the feeling of missing someone during the holidays who you were once close with. Despite the bittersweet topic, this song doesn’t shy away from its incorporation of upbeat, melodic jingle bells while maintaining the band’s indie rock roots. It’s a good place to start if you’ve never explored Christmas music outside of the traditional fare.

 

Other notable Christmas songs by Dallon Weekes (or one of his bands) include “Merry Christmas Everybody” and “Sickly Sweet Holidays.” 

 

“Santa Baby” by Sidney Gish

Sidney Gish is a 26-year-old indie musician from Boston. While she currently only has two albums out, Gish has received a large amount of praise for her work and has toured with popular indie rock artists such as Mitski and Jeff Rosenstock. 

 

Lots of Gish’s music uses audio interpolation from other sources, and her cover of “Santa Baby” is no different. The song starts with a clip from a Michael Buble interview about how much he genuinely loves Christmas (because the holiday music isn’t just for the money, of course). As the interview fades out, we’re greeted by Gish asking Santa for a Rolex. 

 

This cover keeps the tongue-in-cheek materialism of Eartha Kitt’s original but updates aspects to appeal to a modern audience. The song’s bouncy, bubbly electronic sound complements Gish’s sardonic voice and referring to Santa as “pally,” “buddy,” and “dude” rather than “baby” allows for a refreshing change to the flirty lyrics of the original. Bonus, Gish manages to change “fellas” in the line “Think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed,” to a gender-neutral “hotties,” which is significantly more fun to sing along to.

 

 “River” by Peter Mulvey, or Ben Platt, if you’re a theatre kid

“River,” originally released by Joni Mitchell in 1971, is about the loss of a relationship during Christmastime. It is one of the most famous sad Christmas songs of all time, alongside classics such as “Blue Christmas” by Elvis or even “Someday at Christmas” by Stevie Wonder.

 

While many artists have iterations of this song in their catalog, my favorite is folk singer Peter Mulvey’s cover. Mulvey is originally from Milwaukee, Wis., but has a large national following and is very popular in the Michigan folk scene due to his frequent performances at The Ark in Ann Arbor. Mulvey’s cover features his signature warm, slightly raspy voice, which lends itself quite nicely to Mitchell’s songwriting. Listening to Mulvey’s cover feels a lot like being sung to by your grandpa (or at least the stereotypical concept of a grandpa).

 

In addition to Mulvey’s cover, musical theatre golden boy Ben Platt did a cover of “River” for his Netflix show, “The Politician.” Ben Platt, best known for his titular role in “Dear Evan Hansen,” was the youngest-ever recipient of a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2017. Subsequent to his work on stage, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for “The Politician” Platt’s cover features lots of strong belts reminiscent of traditional musical theatre, which do a wonderful job of highlighting the heartbrokenness of the original. 

 

“All I Want for Christmas is You” by My Chemical Romance

If you ever had an emo phase, this mention will come as no surprise to you. MCR’s cover of Mariah Carey’s Christmas classic pairs classic punk rock guitar with Gerard Way’s raw vocals to create the only acceptable cover of this song. It’s a bit heavier than the rest of the songs on this list, but it’s a great refresher if the incessant Christmas music during your part-time at Twelve Oaks is driving you nuts. I can wholeheartedly recommend screaming this one in your car during your drive home.

 

Honorable mention here for “Every Snowflake Is Different (Just Like You)” by MCR- a song featured in a Christmas special from the children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba! If pop punk isn’t your thing, it’s not nearly as heavy as the rest of MCR’s catalog, making it a fun addition to your playlist.

 

“Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved it!)” by Sufjan Stevens OR Peach Pit

Yet another song about a failing relationship during the holidays? You betcha, I have a type. 

 

The original version of “Did I Make You Cry…” is by Sufjan Stevens, a musician from Detroit who is best known for his work on the movie “Call Me By Your Name.” The original features light instrumentals, including the occasional strum of a banjo and a flute-like instrument, and more variation in vocals. It also intersperses electronic beeping, which causes the song to build to a sudden ending. There’s a lot to take in with this song, and it does a great job of pulling listeners in. If you’re looking for something more folksy and unique I would recommend Stevens’s version.

 

Peach Pit is an indie pop band from Canada known for their surf rock sound, however, they self-describe their genre as “chewed bubblegum pop.” The Peach Pit version of “Did I Make You Cry…” has flatter vocals and a polished, more consistent indie pop sound. While less oddball than the original, it has its merits. It is aided by its inclusion of a stronger rhythm via drums and a heavier bass line, which give the song extra depth.

 

“Plant a Santa” by The Christmas Jug Band

I was raised with bluegrass and country music as a staple, and Christmas was no exception. Christmas Jug Band is an old-school bluegrass band if I’ve ever seen one- with songs full of washboards, harmonicas, kazoos, and just about anything that can make noise. The band is not well known, but they do have a small cult following–their most popular song has 166 thousand streams on Spotify, and they have about 9 thousand monthly listeners.

 

“Plant a Santa” is a lighthearted comedic song about decorating for Christmas. The concept is pretty simple, but the swing of the music makes it an infinitely listenable tune. 

 

“Carol of the Bells (Spotify Singles Holiday)” by Ashnikko

Feminist rapper and internet sensation Ashnikko is known for her yearly Halloween songs, but her cover of “Carol of the Bells” sticks out as a strong outlier in her catalog. 

 

There are lots of covers of “Carol of the Bells” out there, however, this one is my top choice due to Ashnikko’s unique singing voice in combination with her electronic style. While not strictly a singer, Ashnikko has been releasing softer songs (such as “Good While It Lasted”) that highlight her strong, emotional voice. This cover of “Carol of the Bells” will be a hit with people who enjoy EDM, but not necessarily Ashnikko’s traditional fanbase.

 

“Oh Ms Believer” by twenty øne piløts

twenty øne piløts, best known for their radio hits “Stressed Out,” “Ride,” and “Heathens,” may not be the first band you think of when considering holiday music. While not holiday-specific, “Oh Ms Believer” features wintery themes and the use of jingle bells as a constant backbeat to the slower piano melody. Like many of twenty øne piløts’s songs, “Oh Ms Believer” addresses mental health and compares struggling with depression to walking through the snow. I know tøp is very hit or miss for some people, however, this song varies from the traditional indie rap style they are known for and is a refreshing breath on their debut album.

 

“This is Life (Merry Christmas)” The Lumineers ft. Daniel Rodriguez

The Lumineers, perhaps the most well-known indie folk band aside from Mumford & Sons, are known for repopularizing simple folk music in the public eye.

 

The band’s telltale hopefulness shines through stronger than ever in this song–the opening lyrics are “Things could get so bad, I know/ But things could always be worse/ There’s a blessing tucked inside of each and every curse.” Wesley Schultz’s charming and honest vocals add to the jazzier nature of this song, and jingle bells and trumpets give this song a more– traditional Christmas song feel. In fact, if you weren’t familiar with the Lumineers, you might assume this is a folksier Michael Buble song.

 

“Holiday-ish” by The Regrettes ft. Dylan Minnette

The Regrettes are a Los Angeles punk band best known for their feminist lyrics and aggressive sound. However, their Christmas song is a departure from traditional riot-grrrl culture. “Holiday-ish” is a love song about a warm California Christmas.

 

Frontwoman Lydia Night recorded it with her now ex-boyfriend Dylan Minnette. The concept and sound are reminiscent of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” but significantly less creepy. “Holiday-ish” is probably the most traditional-sounding modern Christmas song on this list, but it’s improved by a rhythmic bass line throughout the song, likely included due to the band’s punk roots.

 

In addition to “Holiday-ish,” The Regrettes have a really good cover of “Marshmallow World,” a Christmas classic that was first popularized by Bing Crosby in the 50s.

 

“Dasher” by Gerard Way ft. Lydia Night

“Dasher” is about a reindeer granting a young woman’s wish to escape her current life (or at least, that’s one interpretation of a very vague song). Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance, and Lydia Night, lead singer of The Regrettes, have beautiful complementary voices that lend themselves to a very solemn Christmas song. The sound is very haunting, like much of Gerard Way’s solo work.

 

“Christmas Caller” by Beach Bunny

If you don’t know Beach Bunny, which is almost impossible due to their internet sensations “Prom Queen” and “Cloud 9,” you wouldn’t be amiss starting here. This song sounds exactly how one would imagine a Beach Bunny Christmas song would. 

 

The song is about using the holidays as an excuse to reconcile a failing relationship. Lots of upbeat guitar and drums accompany Lili Trifilio’s clear, bright vocals and train of thought lyrics. It’s one of the more upbeat songs on this list.

 

While there are plenty more recommendations I could make, I want to hear from you. What are some of your favorite unusual holiday songs? Comment below.

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