It's easy to get caught up in all the usual holiday songs. There are some truly wonderful classics associated with Christmas and the season, but it's also nice to keep current. Luckily, Canadian indie artists have offered up an incredible selection of great new tunes and clever covers this year.
From Moka Only's annual hip-hop release to the Darcys diving headfirst into Mariah Carey's blast of pop genius, CBC Music has assembled this 2016 indie Christmas playlist just for you. Naughty or nice, go ahead and scroll down for some truly extraordinary glimpses into some of the country's most creative artists.
The Darcys, ‘All I Want for Christmas’
Mariah Carey’s insta-classic is the only real standout Christmas pop song of the last 20 years, so an electro-soul re-invention is maybe the only way to pay tribute without trampling on the pure joy of the original. The Darcys’ cover is both stripped-down and inventive, a surprising and delightful combination that might even make Miss Mariah happy.
The Pack A.D., ‘Coconut’
The Pack A.D. has delivered a crunchy punk Christmas drinking anthem for the rest of us. At first, it’s easy to mistake the track for an anti-Christmas tune, and certainly it’s not a "rah rah, gimme a tree!" yuletide banger, but it’s actually much more observational and neutral than that. Like so many Pack songs, it brings us inside lives that aren’t written about all that often. There’s a specificity here that’s neither a condemnation nor a celebration, but rather an alternative to the normalized holiday experience. Plus, egg nog is disgusting, but if one has to drink it, might as well do it out of a coconut. That’s pretty cool.
The Lazys, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’
Grown rockers joyfully strumming acoustic renditions of childhood Christmas classics will always be the gift that keeps on giving.
Emma-Lee, ‘It Won’t Be Christmas’
“It’s not about the 25th/ it’s about the one you’re with,” Emma-Lee sings in her new pop song, “It Won’t be Christmas.” The tune bounces and shines like hair in a shampoo commercial, glossy and full of life, and it definitely recalls Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” both sonically and thematically. It stands on its own as well, thanks to Emma-Lee’s sparkling voice.
Liteyears, ‘Christmas Day’
This is for a very specific type of Christmas music fan: maudlin piano-pop meets meaning-of-Christmas navel-gazing, which asks questions like “Why does it seem like nobody sings/ the songs and the hymns of the joy Christmas brings?”
Neon Dreams, ‘Christmas Without Snow’
I honestly thought this was Coldplay’s new Christmas song. It’s not. But it could be Coldplay meets Neon Dreams, with a little bit of a big-band flourish.
Winsome Kind, ‘Song for a Winter’s Night’
This Gordon Lightfoot beauty is one of the loneliest yet most loving songs in the world — and it's especially perfect as a quasi-Christmas tune, with all of the deeply complex feelings that this time of year evokes. Vancouver duo Winsome Kind's cover of this classic is a novel approach: a duet by a couple who just happens to be husband and wife. The harmony is gorgeous, and the effect of their two voices is two-fold, depending on which side of the seasonal divide you stand on. The lyrics can feel hopeful and a little bittersweet as the pair's voices rise up and blend into each other. Or, they can heighten the isolation and sadness of phrases like "If I could know within my heart/ that you were lonely, too/ I would be happy just to hold the hands I love/ on this winter night with you."
Quiet Parade, ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’
Quiet and introspective, this cover of Darlene Love’s brilliant classic is more mournful than the source material, but it still manages to be genuinely joyful, too.
Nat Jay + Cookie Cartel, ‘O Holy Night’
An electro-pop makeover for one of the most classic Christmas hymns in the canon? Nat Jay and Cookie Cartel’s pretty revamp shimmers and glows, the light from a thousand candles reflecting off metal, a digitized warmth in the new millennium.
Madison Violet feat. Ron Sexsmith, ‘Frosty the Snowman’
Reinventions don’t get much more elegant or charming than this harmony-happy take on perennial favourite “Frosty the Snowman.” It’s all the better that one of the most upbeat-sort-of-sad Christmas classics also features Ron Sexsmith on guest vocals.
Hannah Epperson, ‘White Flag/Dreaming of a White Christmas’
“White Flag” is Epperson’s original Christmas single, and, as expected of the formerly Vancouver-based experimental pop musician, it’s anything but typical. Looped violin and hushed vocals, Epperson describes it as a post-apocalyptic Christmas single, and there’s just no improving upon that description. It’s chilling but somehow still hopeful, particularly when paired with her version of “White Christmas,” which is stark, thoughtful and purposefully unpolished.
Sloan, ‘Kids Come Back Again at Christmas’
Within the first 40 seconds of Sloan’s new holiday song, the band has already encouraged the listener to let “big business and religion fight it out” when it comes to Christmas, advocating instead that Christmas is for kids. It’s almost more of a parenting song than a yuletide tune, which is a clever way to address head-on the dysfunction and stress of intense family gatherings and expectations around Dec. 25.
Terra Lightfoot, ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’
Terra Lightfoot’s bluesy interpretation of this already soul-shredding classic (Judy Garland’s version is the definitive one) is here to further rip the feelings from your body, though this is a more complicated tangle of sad and seductive rather than total devastation.
Moka Only, ‘Martian Xmas 2016’
Editor's note: some strong language.
The underground hip-hop artist released his first Martian Xmas album in 2004, and almost every year since then, he’s delivered on a yearly Christmas offering. According to his Bandcamp writeup, Moka Only didn’t plan on making it an annual tradition, but here we are with an assortment of tracks that skew heavily '90s-influenced and feature chilled-out, laidback vibes. Pay special attention to the jazz-influenced “A Little Coal,” which is funny and insightful in a way that feels particularly refreshing at Christmas.
Yukon Blonde, ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’
The Vancouver-based band uses plenty of restraint in tackling Paul McCartney’s sugary holiday song, and it pays off beautifully. Their harmonies are tight, the arrangement is sparse and jubilant, and, I’m just going to say the thing you’re not supposed to say when it comes to legends: this version is much more enjoyable than the original.
Wintersleep, ‘Christmas Time is Here’
It’s a muffled version of the Charlie Brown Christmas classic at first, but if you get past the initial 30 seconds, it’s easy to let this new interpretation envelope you, like sinking inside a warm blanket fort as the snow falls down around you, retreating into something that is safe, warm and familiar. Even if it’s not quite what you expected to hear, there’s no denying its beauty.
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