If you’ve walked into any department store or turned on the radio lately, odds are you’ve been accosted by sickly-sweet Christmas carols. If that’s the case, then we at The Cascade feel your pain. We rounded up some not-so-common renditions of winter holiday music (as well as some non-Christian denominational festive carols) for your reading (and listening!) pleasure. Cuddle up by the fire, roast those chestnuts, and let The Cascade take you to a jolly musical wonderland!
“A Christmas Fucking Miracle” by Run the Jewels
If you want your Christmas bombastic, belligerent, and full of unrelentingly comedic profanity, El-P and Killer Mike’s “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” is just that. It could be successfully argued that the Run the Jewels deep cut has little or nothing to do with Christmas. If we’re judging this track based only on narrative content, you’d be right. The main hook is centred around sleigh-bells, which usher in one of the most gleeful displays of self-consciousness by the rap duo to appear on their debut. Even then, is that what Christmas has been turned into? A stylistic nod in the instrumentals of the last song on a record as profane as it is glorious? Might be we’ve lost our Christmas spirit.
But, is there not something distinctly Christmas-like about two of the most over-the-top emcees in hip-hop ending their much-anticipated collaborative record with a glitzy, niche track that (although great), gets old quick? Is it not akin to a five-year-old’s experience in wishing for a toy, only to play obsessively with it then, come March, forget it entirely?
If that’s not the spirit of Christmas, then what is?
– Martin Castro
“Christmas in New Orleans” by Louis Armstrong
I think what makes this song so dang good is the fact that it’s original; Armstrong avoided regurgitating the same Christmas songs that have been played for hundreds of years, and took the time to create an entirely new masterpiece, complete with his signature style, in which he gives specific nods to New Orleans. (The “Magnolia trees at night / sparkling bright,” and their unique “Dixieland Santa Claus / leading the band / to a good old Creole beat.”) It’s no traditional white Christmas, and that’s what makes it memorable — this is not just another Christmas song re-wrapped or re-gifted; it’s entirely original and unique to Armstrong. I don’t think anyone could recreate it if they tried.
Maybe it’s because I’m partial to jazz and Armstrong’s rough, gravelly voice, or maybe I’m just sick of top-40 pop renditions of the same Christmas songs over and over (it’s probably both), but “Christmas in New Orleans” is officially my new favourite Christmas song.
And who knows, maybe I’ll book myself a trip to New Orleans next December.
– Cat Friesen
“Christmas Will Break Your Heart” by LCD Soundsystem
Christmas, Christmas time is near, time for toys and time for cheer—
Wait, scratch that — Christmas isn’t always the most cheerful time of year for everyone; at least, that’s what LCD Soundsystem’s “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” tells us. James Murphy’s take on the holiday season is refreshing, and reminds me of the pressure we face to be surrounded by loved ones during the holidays. Lyrics like “if your world is feeling small” and “there’s no one on the phone you feel close enough to call” suggest that for some, Christmastime can feel even more lonely than usual. The slow beat, mixed with the soft jingle bells and the piano, feels calming, despite the sorrowful lyrics. Despite all this, the end of the song encompasses a sense of hope for the holiday season: that there’s at least one person Murphy wants to come home to. So, stop breaking your eardrums over squealing Chipmunk songs, and break your heart instead (in a good way) by turning this song on.
– Laurel Logan
“Frosty the Snowman” by Ella Fitzgerald
Usually, I’m not one for Christmas music; I would rather get frostbite than listen to “Jingle Bells” one more time, and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” makes me want to stuff ornaments in my ears. “Frosty the Snowman” is no different, but Fitzgerald transforms what was once a repetitive, rather overdone song into a masterpiece (a Christmas miracle). Her smooth, honeyed voice seems to guide the medley of horns and cymbals, and is perfectly complemented by the harmony of the backup vocalists, which all intertwine together to produce a treat for the ears that’s not syrupy or sentimental. Fitzgerald’s voice is the real star of the show, managing to be simultaneously powerful and velvety, lulling the listener into a surprisingly festive mood. If I can say one thing, it’s this: I could listen to Fitzgerald sing Christmas music all day, and still not tire of it.
– Cat Friesen
Christmas is 4 Ever – Bootsy Collins
Yes it is, Bootsy Collins. This Christmas classic album packs all the important consumer-holiday themes into one funkalicious package.
“Bought me a hi-fi for Christmas, now I’m living in paradise,” Collins seductively sings on “Merry Christmas Baby.” Mmmm, hi-fi.
This is real holiday music: bright lights, glitter, and pizzaz. Obnoxiously Christmasy enough to keep the adrenaline pumping, heavy downbeats to keep you grooving.
Bootsy may be one of the most talented bassists ever, but more importantly, the young prodigy to emerge from James Brown’s band knows how to sleigh a rhythm.
The trouble with most Christmas parties is the slow, droning, Anglo-influence Christmas tunes. They trudge through complex arpeggios over long-winded choral moanings.
Baroque? More like Baroquen. If there ain’t no heavy downbeat, I can’t move my feet. Give me the groovy, swoovy, Bootsy. Also, the Snoop Dogg cameo is bound to impress.
So when you’re arguing with family about politics, religion, or the usefulness of your arts degree, explode that holiday monotony to bits with a funktastic dance off to Bootsy Collins.
– Joel Robertson-Taylor
“Winter Solstice” by The Dolmen
If you’re looking to spice up your celebration of winter with some Celtic, Pagan-themed tunes, look no further than The Dolmen, and their album Winter Solstice. With a heavy folk sound, and a mix of modern and traditional instruments, some music is fit for dancing (or at least tapping your feet) around a bonfire, while other songs would feel right at home as you curl up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate.
The Dolmen show an impressive range. “Frosty Solstice Morn” might catch the ear of Great Big Sea fans, “Midnight Garden” is a moody, acoustic piece, and “Bringing The Outside In” would fit in with any catchy, uplifting, modern Christmas music (just without the Christian underpinnings). Instead of those themes, the songs celebrate the changing of seasons, the majesty of nature, and a variety of Pagan/Wiccan themes.
While some songs are complex, a large number are memorable enough that, were they given the same exposure and amount of covers, they could easily take their place amongst the canon of holiday music. Until that happens, you can check them out yourself, and make them a part of your holiday listening.
– Jeff Mijo