Buuuut after I was gifted Barenaked Ladies seminal Christmas album “Barenaked for the Holidays,” (home of the fabulous, envy-soaked “Green Christmas” and pro-labour anthem “Elf’s Lament”) I discovered a subsection of Christmas music I really liked – thoughtful Christmas-themed pop songs, usually with slightly dark themes, usually sung by bands I already like. So, if you’re sick of saccharine mall music here are a few festive suggestions to add to your Christmas party playlist.
Apparently the Killers put out a Christmas single every year benefitting Product Red, and they’re all pretty fantastic. The best by far is Don’t Shoot Me Santa Claus which, if I’m not mistaken, is about a killer trying to justify his crimes to a telltale heart-style hallucination of Santa Claus (who talks like Elvis and wields a .45).
It's super dark but there’s something undeniably hilarious about Colin’ Meloy’s Oregan drawl (/speak impediment?) pleading as a small child to his alcoholic father not to ruin Christmas. Also, fun fact I didn't know before writing this post is that this was originally a John Denver song. Huh. Learn something new every day.
This is a breakup/longing-to-get-back-together song that’s built around a really great and Christmas-y Chris Martin piano riff and has a lot of melancholy, snowy London imagery in the lyrics. The video is fantastic, as well.
Possibly my favourite band ever, as I may have mentioned. I think this was released solely as a bonus track on a greatest hits compilation, and isn’t really Christmas-y as it’s about New Year’s but whatever. It’s great and features John Mann singing as a disinterested (and harassed?) female partygoer. The rousing, Home for a Rest style chorus of “I could get drunk anywhere, so what am I doing here?” is awesome.
Wintertime in Ontario by Brock Zeman
Brock Zeman is a fan-freakin’-tastic alt-country artist whose been touring southern Ontario for years. I got to personally tell him he accidentally wrote one of my favourite Christmas songs (since this is more just a song about winter than Christmas) at a concert last year. It’s just a song about how ridiculous the snow is up north in Ontario in the winter (and how skating across the lake can actually get you to your booty call faster than driving the long way around).
Some honourable mentions go to the Civil Wars cover of I Heard The Bells which is considerably more foreboding than the Sinatra version (they’re reading of “God is not dead, nor does He sleep” has an oddly Lovecraftian tone), Christmas In Hell by NQ Arbuckle (similar thematically to Don’t Shoot Me Santa) and the decidedly not-dark Hurry Home by the Good Lovelies of their debut album “Under the Mistletoe” (you know you’re a tongue-in-cheek band when your first album is the Christmas album).
Speaking of albums, if anyone’s looking for a good whole Christmas album to pick up, I’d suggest “If Jesus Had Been Born In Canada, He Would Have Needed More Than Swaddling Clothes” (it’s free!) which is a Christmas compilation by a whole ton of Toronto bands on the Sound Vat label. Little City’s We’re Breaking Up Again This Christmas is particularly awesome, and Cai.ro does my favourite version of We Three Kings.
Merry Christmas, everyone.