An article that is hopefully considerably less awful than its title might suggest, this is my pick of this year’s new Christmas songs, with 2021 providing a surprisingly bumper crop as everyone tries their hand at spreading a bit of Christmas cheer, or chronicling the bleakest of bleak mid-winters. Merry Christmas ya filthy animals… [Let’s face it 2021 wasn’t nearly as different to 2020 as we’d all hoped it would be, so I thought I’d just completely re-use last years introduction and hope nobody notices!]
Blackaby – Plastic Mistletoe [Hand In Hive]
In William Blackaby’s own words, “I love writing Christmas songs” and on his latest offering, Plastic Mistletoe it really shows. Raising money for the Refugee Community Kitchen it’s a blast of nostalgia for Christmases gone by, all melting selection boxes, unwanted presents and just enough Christmas spirit to warm the cockles of the coldest heart.
After School Special – Stop The Cavalry
After School Special is the solo project of Martin, who you might remember from the bands Worst Place and Clingfilm. Raising money for Shelter, his Christmas offering is a cover of that most rambunctious of Christmas classics, Jona Lewie’s Stop The Cavalry, delivered with all the traditional trumpet tooting glory.
Girl Ray – Murder On The Dance Floor [Moshi Moshi]
Now you might well be thinking what the heck has Sophie Ellis-Bextor got to do with Christmas? And frankly, you’d be right to do so, but then Christmas does often involve dancing and a BBC version of a classic murder mystery, probably by Agatha Christie if you’re very lucky, so who are we to question the Christmas song mastery of Girl Ray? Anyway it’s raising money for the Hackney Night Shelter, and the video has an office party, or as we’re now all calling them Business Meetings.
Phoebe Bridgers – Day After Tomorrow
When it comes to Christmas songs, Phoebe Bridgers has got form! Over the last few years she has festively festooned us with versions of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Merle Haggard’s If We Make It Through December and Simon & Garfunkel 7 O’Clock News/ Silent Night, to name but a few. This year’s offering is a cover of everyone’s dream (or perhaps Nightmare) Santa Claus, Tom Waits and his track Day After Tomorrow. While about 75 octaves higher than the original, Phoebe’s version is equally wonderful, from the delicate piano work, through to an all-star choir including the likes of Blake Mills and Marcus Mumford. Like the musical equivalent of Die Hard, you might well debate whether Day After Tomorrow is actually a Christmas song – but in between its hard-hitting anti-war message, it does mention snow, once, so that’s good enough for me.
Mia Stegner – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
A songwriter from Syracuse, New York, Mia Stegner puts her own distinctly 2021 spin on the old classic, “someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow, until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow”.
Buggs – In The Bleak Midwinter [Sad Club Records]
They’re one of my favourite new bands of 2021, and one of the first I’ll be putting on in 2022, so South London’s Buggs are hopefully already on your radar. If not they’ve gone and covered the bleakest (and best) carol of the season, In The Bleak Midwinter, to raise money for the Calais Appeal, and guess what it’s really rather magical!
Katie Malco – The First Snow (Alternate Version)
Katie Malco has flipped the Christmas script of a festive cover, by covering, well, herself, in a new version of her wintry classic, The First Snow. In Katie’s own words, “it’s recorded how it was written – soft piano and a sense of unease”, it’s enough to make it feel like Christmas, even if it is currently an unseasonably warm 11 degrees where I am.
Lunar Vacation – Last Christmas [Keeled Scales]
If no indie-band have covered Last Christmas, is it even Christmas at all? The latest sluggers to step up to the plate are Atlanta’s finest Lunar Vacation. After a break-out year courtesy of their excellent debut album, Inside Every Fig Is A Dead Wasp, they’ve taken the time to put a fuzzy distortion covered spin on Wham’s finest moment, and it’s every bit as fun as you’d imagine
Milkweed – Milkweed Sing Carols
An entire EP of Christmas Carols might not be the obvious place to start your musical career, but that’s what London’s latest experimental slacker-folk duo, Milkweed decided to do. Milkweed Sing Carols is a collection of obscure folk carols collected from various sources, which are actually rather wonderful, like a very loosely Christmassy take on the middle ground of Sufjan Stevens and Lisa/Liza.
Beach Bunny – Christmas Caller [Mom + Pop]
Who doesn’t like a bit of Christmas heartache? Well everyone I imagine, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen anyway, and Beach Bunny’s first-ever festive offering, Christmas Caller has it in spades as vocalist Lili Trifilio contemplates swapping her entire present haul for New Year’s eve with an old flame.
Hiss Golden Messenger – O Come All Ye Faithful [Merge Records]
With not just a song, but an entire Christmas album, Hiss Golden Messenger are reveling in all the excesses of Christmas. The nine-track offering was created with an all-star cast of Alt-Country royalty and contains seasonal classics as well as a couple of genuinely rather good originals as well.
Dolly Valentine – Hey Santa Claus
A self-taught singer-songwriter from Cincinnati, Ohio, Dolly Valentine offered two separate Christmas songs this year. The most intriguing of the two is Hey Santa Claus, the first known English translation of the 200-year-old Swedish folk song, “Hej Tomtegubbar”. The original is a famous drinking song, yet Dolly’s spin highlights the togetherness that comes with all the booze and is really rather charming.
Little Treblemakers – Marshmallow World
Atlanta-based outfit Little Treblemakers embraced the true meaning of Christmas, lots of sugar, with their cover of Darlene Love’s Marshmallow World. Christmassy enough to put in a cup of hot chocolate, and possibly add a slug of whatever tipple you fancy.
Sara Noelle – Like Snow (Slowly Falling)
With a name like Sara Noelle, you’re probably contractually obliged by the universe to write a Christmas song every year. Described as, “a swirling blizzard of emotions shaken in a snow globe”, Like Snow (Slowly Falling) dials up the Winter chills in an electronic soundscape with a distinct touch of Kate Bush about it.
India Ramey – Cocktail For Christmas
Country music really does lend itself to a Christmas Classic, and India Ramey possibly put out this year’s best offering in the shape of her kitschy, Kirschy celebration of Christmas Booze, as the lyrics say it’s just, “so damn festive and delicious”.
The Slow Summits – (Just Another) Holy Night
I don’t care
If it’s merry and bright
If you’re not here
I don’t care if it’s starry and white
If you’re not here
I don’t need a holy night
I only want to hold you tight
Mega Emotion – We All Stand Together (aka The Frog Chorus)
For their Christmas offering Mega Emotion (ex-Bearsuit) have set out to cover the highly controversial best/worst Christmas song ever, Paul McCartney’s We All Stand Together (aka The Frog Chorus). With reviews apparently going from “bonkers and beautiful” to “what on earth have you done”, Mega Emotions version lives up the controversy of the original, so you’ll need to make your own mind up on this one.
To quote that great profit Noddy Holder, “IT’S CHRISTMAS”, so Merry Christmas to you and yours – and I’ll see you all in the New Year! Sam/For The Rabbits.