2020 has certainly been a bit more vivid than just any old year! And if you’re like me, you’ve probably needed a little Christmas cheer — since about October. I have yearned for this comforting time of year, when work slows down and the dark nights (and maybe even snow) keep you inside next to the glow of a fire, TV or decorated tree. Yes, it’s time to put together another holiday playlist, and there are a lot of new recordings to check out this year.
Here are some of my favorites that I suggest you add to your collection.
Tegan and Sara - “Make You Mine This Season”
This song is the main single from the all-LGBTQ soundtrack to Clea DuVall’s holiday film “Happiest Season” available on Hulu. The first Tegan and Sara holiday song is a delightful pop tune that unites a hopeful message with a slight dusting of melancholy (After all, it’s a holiday song and a Tegan and Sara song!). The soundtrack to the Kristen Stewart and Dan Levy film also includes Sia, BAYLI, Caveman, Brandy Clark and Bebe Rexha and Shay Diamond.
Margo Price - “River”
Miss Margo Price released an inspired cover of the Joni Mitchell classic that adds a big of Christmas jingle and a healthy helping of seasonal emotions. Price said she released the song now as “a message of peace and love for the rest of the year, and the hope for 2021 to be everything 2020 wasn’t.” Like any great Christmas cover, Price really makes Mitchell’s lyrics her own, resulting in an extraordinarily moving recording.
Kelly Finnigan - “No Time to be Sad”
This song is new slab of holiday funk and soul Christmas from the lead singer of Bay Area-based indie-soul auteurs Monophonics. And the album is a worthy contemporary soul holiday record to play alongside the Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings set “It’s a Holiday Soul Party”. The release features an incredible guest list of members of Durand Jones & The Indications, The Dap-Kings, Ghost Funk Orchestra, Monophonics, Thee Sinseers, Orgone, Ikebe Shakedown and more!
Phoebe Bridgers - “If We Make it Through December”
Over the years, Phoebe Bridgers has released a handful of Christmas singles, and they are as beautiful as they are moody. The four songs on her latest holiday EP are all cut from the same holiday cloth. They’re a little sad but that feeling isn’t uncommon or unwelcome in this season, right? Her standout cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make it Through December” is a song that should be relevant every December, but is especially powerful in the middle of a pandemic. In fact, it’s almost a little uncomfortably on-point.
The Aislers Set - “Cold Christmas”
This a great Phil Spector-esque indie pop holiday song from the San Francisco-based indie rock band (their first release since 2014). “Cold Christmas” is a fun, up-tempo indie rock jangle about staying inside and in bed for Christmas. A welcome return.
Sharon Van Etten - “Blue Christmas”
Sharon Van Etten put out a sparse two song Christmas release with versions of “Blue Christmas” and “Silent Night.” The former is an acoustic approach with a harmonizing vocalist and the latter has a modest Hammond organ and drum machine accompanying in the background. This leaves me wanting many more Christmas recordings from Van Etten in my stocking.
The Bird and the Bee - “Little Drummer Boy (feat. Dave Grohl)”
The Bird and the Bee (Inara George and Greg Kurstin) have released what would seem like a pretty straight forward version of this Christmas classic, but it has one big addition: Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters on drums. The massive, stadium rock drums give this a Zeppelin-like back beat kick in the sleigh. Their holiday full length “Put Up the Lights” features a mix of 8 standards and originals all recorded with their trademark pop sensibilities mixed in with light electronics.
Leslie Odom Jr. - “Last Christmas”
The Tony-winning Hamilton star has released a second Christmas album which features great versions of “Last Christmas” and “O Holy Night” as well as two originals: the groovy “Snow” and the show stopping finale “Heaven and Earth”. Odom’s take on the holidays sounds like what I imagine Nat King Cole would release in 2020, with a little pop R&B shine. Noteworthy is the multi-cultural offerings, including a Hanukkah song and a version of Mele Kalikimaka with the contemporary Gospel group Walls Group. His solo acoustic version of “Auld Lang Syne” is also a restrained stunner. With “The Christmas Album” improving on the solid “Simply Christmas” (from 2017), I hope holiday records from Odom become a regular affair.
Grizfolk - “All I Want for Christmas is a Rock Show (feat Kyle Gass)”
This is a new wistful tribute to live concerts that COVID-19 took away from us featuring one half of the greatest rock band of all time.