Top 5 Non-Traditional Holiday Songs

My girlfriend likes to claim that I only listen to depressing music, which is crazy. Case in point: I love Christmas music, which is unilaterally positive. In fact, one of the great things about the holiday season is the festive music that can be heard everywhere, from your nearest shopping center, to the park near my house which for some reason, installed a full PA system in order to blare holiday music twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Ahem. The point is, holiday music is a lot of fun. Right up until the point when you’ve heard so much of it that you can’t help but want to punch Bing Crosby in his dead face and throw Mariah Carey down a flight of stairs (again).

So to help diversify your holiday playlists, and to prove to my girlfriend that I don’t listen to exclusively depressing music, I’ve gone ahead and cultivated a list of holiday songs from outside the usual seasonal selections – that’s right: I love holiday music so much that I’ve got a small playlist of non-traditional holiday songs ready and raring to go! Depressing my ass! So, without (much) further ado, here are the Top 5 Non-Traditional Holiday Songs that you should be listening to this season. (For posterity, I’ve provided some notes from my most recent listening session.)

1)  Paper Route – Paper Route – ‘City Trucks‘ – The guys in Paper Route, aside from showing up all over Type In Stereo lately, really like singing about Christmas. I’m not really sure why, actually. But it’s Christmas, so it must be a good, happy reason! While their A Thrill of Hope EP is entirely festive in nature – check out the wintery cover art and note that the album’s title is an allusion to holiday classic ‘O Holy Night‘ – my favorite holiday-themed Paper Route song has always been ‘City Trucks’ from their self-titled début EP. The music is warm and it twinkles with that indefinable holiday feel that makes Christmas such a magical time of the year. The melody is gorgeous and sweet, as singer J.T. Daly sings, “Make it a merry Christmas, baby.” It’s one of those…oh, wait. Hmm, looks like I’ve been hearing that wrong. Turns out Daly is actually singing, “Make it a merry Christmas and leave.” Oh. Though that would explain why the rest of the lyrics seem to be about throwing out your Christmas decorations, along with the belongings of an exgirlfriend. I’m sure that my girlfriend would categorize this as depressing (and thus a win for her), but I’m not admitting defeat so easily. Sure this song is actually kind of depressing, but I thought it was pleasant. And it kind of sounds pleasant. And there’s always the rest of Paper Route’s Christmas canon, like A Thrill of Hope, which is at least partly uplifting, and their other holiday release, Thank God the Year Is Finally Over, which is…well, shit.

2) Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism – ‘The New Year‘ – Paper Route may have failed me, but I have faith in Ben Gibbard. Who doesn’t like Death Cab for Cutie? And since ‘The New Year’ is the opening track from Death Cab’s universally loved Transatlanticism, I know that the music itself will win approval. And the song’s meaning? Well, Gibbard says that he has “no resolutions” for the new year, so that must mean his life is so good that he doesn’t want to change anything about it, right? Right? Of course not. Gibbard spends the whole song practically lamenting the new year and the unyielding, bland sameness that it dooms him to. So this one…well, it is actually pretty depressing – but man is this a good song.

3) Something Corporate – A Santa Cause: It’s a Punk Rock Christmas (compilation)- ‘Forget December‘ – Okay, okay. Things have not gone well so far in my quest to find some non-depressing holiday tracks. I know that. And I know that this song has a seemingly depressing title, but I also know that it’s catchy and musically upbeat (it’s probably one of Something Corporate’s best songs, actually) and I vaguely recall that maybe the lyrics aren’t so negative as the title makes them seem. Let’s go to the tape for some answers aaaand…nope. Just as depressing as you’d think. Bookended by the worst Christmas setting ever (“On Christmas morning, outside was pouring. All was hopeless in this home.”), SoCo gives us a song drenched in the gloom of unhappy stagnation during the holiday season: “New Year’s Eve came but nothing had changed. All my problems just got worse.” I…I just – is there some reason that I like all of these depressing as all hell songs? Is something wrong with me? Now I’m worried.

4) Dustin Kensrue – This Good Night Is Still Everywhere – ‘Fairytale of New York‘ – Alright, this whole thing is starting to come off the rails here, so it’s time to swing for the fences. Yikes, now I’m even mixing clichéd metaphors. I’m really starting to lose it. Anyway, screw happy or chipper, I will settle for a simply not-depressing song. Here we go (deep breath). A lot of you reading this are familiar with The Pogues’ classic ‘Fairytale of New York,’ or one of its many excellent cover versions (besides the Kensrue rendition I’m selecting, I’m also partial to the excellent version on No Use for A Name’s More Betterness). It is not a happy song. But here comes Dustin Kensrue to rescue my list! When he released his solo Christmas record This Good Night Is Still Everywhere (featuring a stellar Christmas original of the same name) in 2008, Kensrue wanted to cover ‘Fairytale of New York’, but the devoutly Christian frontman of Thrice worried that the song’s final verse was a bit too…let’s say mature for the ears of his young children. So he decided to change the lyrics to make them more family appropriate. Perfect. Not only will this finally be a positive song, but it’ll be a positive song built from the bones of a depressing one! I’m pretty sure that’s worth double points. So, instead of singing about the horrors of sloth and drug use, let’s see what Kensrue gives us (parentheticals are mine): “The apartment was cluttered (okay) and it smelled like the gutter (uh oh) where my sad, broken promises lay with the trash (you have got to be kidding me).” And just in case that crippling sense of misery wasn’t enough to ruin any shred of joy that the Kensrue children may once have had, Dustin also went ahead and added – yes, added – a few additonal lines at the song’s conclusion wherein he sings with a gentle melancholy as the song’s protagonist lies down to accept the long, slow sleep of death which he thinks will be better than his life. So…I’m very sorry everyone, I was wrong again. I love this song. But it is not a happy song. And not a song for children.

5) Thursday – Five Stories Falling – ‘Jet Black New Year‘ – I give up. Protect the younglings, because, just like Anakin, I’m going to embrace the dark side. This has got to be the most apocalyptic holiday song ever written. And I love it. It’s been played at every New Year’s party I’ve ever had (Editor’s note: We don’t let Brennan throw New Year’s parties anymore). It’s the reason I started listening to Thursday. And. It. Is. Dark. Opening line: “Don’t even take a breath: the air is cut with cyanide in honor of the New Year.” I tried to rationalize and pretend that the line “How long can we take this chance not to celebrate?” was somewhat positive in it’s carpe diem spirit, but given that it’s followed by suggestions of wrist-cutting suicide, I don’t think it counts. But it’s a great song! Really! It’s got nuclear chugging and visceral screaming and – hmm, I think I see now why my girlfriend doubted that I could pick five truly festive songs. But what about the cool, overdramatic, and kind of gimmicky ten-second countdown lyrics!? They’re pretty cool and the whole countdown from ten thing is very festive at New Years! Oh, right, the countdown is basically about jumping out of a window. Well, I mean, there’s the…and the…well, I guess…the, uhm, the…hmmm.

Alright, Caitlin. You win.

And to everyone else: Thanks for going with me on a stroll down Holiday-Song Lane, even though everyone else on the street was either crying, drunk, or breathing noxious fumes! Happy Holidays from all of us here at Type In Stereo!

This post originally appeared at Type In Stereo.

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