An alternative Christmas playlist

Brendan Kergin, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω

So, what to listen to so that your apathetic hipster friend won’t leap out of the car when you press play?

Or, conversely, what to play to for that person in your life who bakes seasonal goodies when you both have to share the same auditory space?

Musicians in Canada have been creating music for years, decades even. Some of it’s even related to Christmas and winter. There, in that crossover niche between Canadian indie bands and Christmas carols, folks find a nice grey area. Or whatever you get by mixing red and green, but that’d be some sort of muddy brown, which is less aesthetically pleasing or metaphorical.

So, with that in mind, here are 15 songs from the independent rock/pop genre that carry some indie street cred with their candy canes.

Julie Doiron • “Heavy Snow”
A more weather-based track, this Acadian artist, now based in Ontario, may not be the type you put on for breakfast on Dec. 25. However, the moody, cool lyrics with a bluesy edge would be ideal to drift away to while holding a hot cup of cocoa, watching snow come down, ready to be shoveled off the walk.

The Zolas • “Snow”
Another ode to the white stuff, the Zolas take a more romantic tack, seeing the snow as a piece of a relationship, with kissing in the snow and a lonesome December.  Rising harmonies, a quirky keyboard, a busy drummer, whimsical sounds popping in and out and lots of positive vibes going to the snow, these Vancouverites have really romanticized frozen falling water.

Nick Krgovich & Rose Melberg • “Coldest Night of the Year”
Not “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” but a very similar piece, Krgovich and Melberg argue about him going home or snuggling up together. Of course, the arguing here is more singing dreamily at each other with jingle bells and a piano.

Said The Whale • “Christmas Under the Clouds”
Indie darlings give the real West Coast weather report for December, reminiscing about grey skies and liquid water falling from the sky. Of course, it’s still kind of Christmas with chestnuts roasting on the open fire, but it’s not the same. They relay these feelings over a piano and not much else, a stripped down ballad. Of course, friends show up at the end to finish off with the chorus from “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” so it’s not all dull and depressing.

The Wilderness of Manitoba • “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”
Not the only ones to cover this classic carol/hymn (Hey Rosetta! recently released one as well) The Wilderness of Manitoba’s stands out due to the number of voices they include and the acoustic guitar which leads in a layered performance. Not sung as a hymn, though still with many choral traits, it’s a softer piece, despite the numbers.

Treelines • “Little Drummer Boy”
A fairly straight-ahead version of drummer boy in tone, it’s filled out by a band playing and a guitar doing the famous melody. The upbeat, full sound seems to add something to what is normally a stripped-down song, even if this version is bare at times. Vocalist Matt Lockhart has an earnest voice, which just works with the 70-year-old song in a modern way.

Emm Gryner • “Let it Snow”
It’s like a James Bond Christmas carol. With smoky vocals, it’s a very diverse composition; piano, strings, a lead guitar and back up vocals are all highlighted at times while the composition brushes near jazz. Again, more lyrically connected with the weather as a metaphor, this may not be the most Christmas-y track, but it’s lively yet mournful sound is worth it.

Hannah Georgas • “Christmas Touch”
Just the emerging solo artist and her guitar, she just wants your love this Christmas. Such a simple gift, captured in a simple song. While not quite a proper carol, this could easily be a singalong song (even she has backing vocals at a couple points) for those interested in trying to find new material for the occasion. Of course, replicating Georgas recognizable voice may be difficult.

Portage and Main • “Little Hearts”
While not immediately recognizable as a Christmas song, this was written for an Christmas compilation album. Yet again, weather plays a big role in a Canadian holiday song, but ‘tis the nature of the land we live in. Super-friendly rhythm and a bit of fiddle, it’s a track that, despite the cold (temperature-wise) subject matter, is rather warm.

The Good Lovelies • “Hurry Home”
A proper folksy sound, this time a young woman wishes for her love to be near. A sort of reply to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” it seems Bing Crosby left his partner in the country with a banjo player and some people who like to clap. Luckily for him she says he doesn’t need to bring a diamond ring or fancy clothes. Important savings in this tough economy.

Great Lake Swimmers • “Hang A String Of Lights”
A chime-y intro invites the listener to a song about preparations for social events for the holidays. Mistletoe, strings of lights and more strings of lights seem to be central to decoration plans. Some ribbons and bows as well, but with so many lights it might be a fire hazard.

Hilary Grist • “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”
It may start off sounding like it was made on an old Casio keyboard, but this bouncy little cut builds as Grist describes her house and family for the big man clad in red. Santa Claus, that’s a reference to Santa Claus. She figures he’ll know best, but still gives ideas for her siblings anyways.

Hawksley Workman • “Merry Christmas (I Love You)”
One of the more mournful songs, it’s a sad goodbye and bitter look at love, not due to love gone bad, but to the transient nature of it. In fact, Mr. Workman (aka Ryan Corrigan) takes a pretty bitter look at the world due to the loss of this person. A sober song of loneliness but with an honest Merry Christmas.

The Mountains & The Trees • “My Favourite Sweater (Happy Holidays)”
Ukuleles are always a happy instrument; it’s just the nature of the sound they make. So when this opens up with just a ukulele, it’s all positive from there. Except for the fact that Jon Janes has lost his sweater to someone who took it with her after a break-up. He’d also like his records back but the sweater was a gift and his favourite. Please return them. Perhaps the song is more effective than Facebook.

Rock Plaza Central • “My Children, Be Joyful”
Of course, despite the weather, the missing of loved ones and the rest of the day-to-day stuff people have to go through, there is a central theme to the season. A joyous song for a song about being joyful, this isn’t just a plucky, happy song, it’s properly filled with joy. Singing about dancing, no doubt dancing when they sing this, it’s what must be playing in Snoopy’s head when he dances.

So, there, 15 ways to not annoy your non-holiday loving friends/snobby music fans while getting a fix of wintery tunes. Or, a way to subdue your companions urges to sing “Jingle Bells.”

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