The alternative Christmas song 2017 wrap-up
The cult of Christmas songs is a strong one, with many followers demanding to listen to nothing but seasonal selections from December 1st (or maybe even earlier). This can drive others mad, as they toss their egg nog at the very thought of hearing Mariah Carey or Wham! for the tenth time that week. It makes sense then that many artists try to break into this sphere, to present alternatives to this repetition, and maybe even make it onto playlists saved for Christmases to come.
Here are a handful of the alt-Christmas song offering this year. They're also collected together in a Spotify playlist here.
Girl Ray – '(I Wish I Were Giving You A Gift) This Christmas'
Girl Ray have had a hell of a year, from sold out tours to releasing their debut album Earl Grey. They’re topping it off with the special Christmas single ‘(I Wish I Were Giving You A Gift) This Christmas’, which shows that their penchant for classic sounding melodies is even more pronounced in the festive season. Replete with sprightly pianos bouncing off forlorn lyricism, gradually building to a full-on horns and children's choir finale, this is one that can remain on the playlist for years to come. It's been such a smash that the limited edition 7" is already sold out.
Making it even more lovely is the low-budget video the trio have made to accompany the track. Stitched together with clips from their recent European tour, featuring Santa costumes from a Berlin charity shop and shot on a budget camera from Argos, the result is undeniably charming.
Sufjan Stevens – ‘Tonya Harding’
Sufjan Stevens is an old hand at the alternative Christmas song game, having been the bedrock of any such playlist for the last decade, with dozens of songs for the holiday season already to his name. This year he’s taken a slightly different tact with his festive offering, writing an ode to figure skating champion Tonya Harding, something he’s been trying to do since he first saw her skate in 1991. Unsurprisingly, for someone with as much love to give as Sufjan, he presents the “indelibly American” story with finesse and due respect to the controversial figure.
The infinite synth of the song glistens like the very rink on which Harding made her name, and onto it Sufjan presents the heartfelt story of her life. He spares no detail about her scandals, but does so with nothing but support, and allows her figure to come to life and pirouette once more on his pristine melodic surface.
If you want a physical copy, this one's available on limited edition cassette and 7" vinyl from the Asthmatic Kitty store, where you can also read Sufjan's essay about Tonya in full.
LA Wise Man – ‘All I Want For Christmas Is Rock & Roll’
While many of the songs on this list have opted for the more sentimental approach, LA Wise Man (fka LA Priest) hews closer to the chart-buster pop-rock classics like ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ and ‘Wonderful Christmastime’. Chugging along on grunge-light guitars, it’s certainly infectious with its ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ propulsion, and the throwaway lyrics about wanting nothing but to rock at Christmas time suit the lightness of the season perfectly. It’s not one that lives long in the memory, but it’s only got to last a few weeks.
Beak> - ‘(Merry Xmas) Face The Future’
Just as it is compulsory to get excited about a new release from Geoff Barrow under any guise, even if it’s a Christmas song, it is compulsory for Geoff Barrow to remind us of the seriousness of reality, even if it’s a Christmas song. Beak>’s Christmas offering is that in name only, as it’s a typically gloom-tinged krautrocker, with Barrow mewling his foreboding thoughts. The introductory church bells are a red herring, as there are no more festive hallmarks to be found in this trip. The closest thing comes in the form of gritty strings and some luminous synths cutting through the dark clouds. It’s fair to say the ‘Face The Future’ comes through much more clearly than the ‘(Merry Christmas)’ on this one.
You can buy the single here, with all proceeds going to The National Elf Service & The Mental Elf.
Marching Church – ‘Christmas On Earth’
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt has often used his Marching Church moniker to present a more bleary-eyed view of the world, and his “carol about parental kidnapping,” ‘Christmas on Earth’, is certainly that. If you didn’t pay too much attention to the nitty gritty of the lyrics, it would be quite easy to hear this merely as a jolly drunken time, which could easily be sung by a group of marrymakers in the mood. But the character at the heart of the song is intoxicated in a more harmful manner, abducting his children in the middle of the season because he feels he deserves it.
“Embracing the trivial and banal customs that go with its territory, this is a eulogy to the benevolence of Christmas time,” Rønnefelt says, “Now deck the halls with boughs of holly!" You heard the man.
This one's available on 7" by mail-order, limited to 250 on red wax and 250 on green. A lucky 100 of these will come with a surprise Marching Church ornament.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 11th December 2017.