‘Fairytale of New York’ is a good song. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s witty, heartfelt, well-composed, beautifully performed, and about as honest and alternative as any Christmas song that hits the charts every year gets.
But I’m still sick of it.
There are dozens of songs out there that deserve their time in the short-lived winter sun, and will serve as an antidote to all the ‘IIIITTT’SSS CHRRIIISTMAS’s (I feel like an awful git just writing it) that you’ll hear this year.
Note: not all of these are directly Christmas-related, but at least have a Christmassy, wintry feel to them, which - if anything - is even more relieving.
Amusement Parks on Fire: The Day It Snowed
Nottingham-born band Amusement Parks On Fire have fallen off the radar of late, but still ride high on my personal list of modern alt-rock shoe gazers. ‘The Day It Snowed’ is about atmosphere - lush strings accompany Michael Feerick’s gentle (some harsher commenters might use the phrase ‘bread-in-cheeks’) vocals and guitar stylings, and some sleigh bells are thrown in for good measure. If you listen carefully, there's some recorded birdsong lingering underneath the ambience. The whole thing brings to mind the stillness of seeing freshly settled snow on an early winter's morning.
Swimming: In Dulci Jubilo
Originally a traditional Christmas carol, arranged most notably by Baroque composer J.S. Bach, ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ was brought to the ears of the general public by minimalist composer of ‘Tubular Bells’ fame, Mike Oldfield (look at the B-side of your household Christmas compilation, it’ll be there somewhere). Long forgotten band Swimming then turned it into a gorgeous Christmas-indie-epic. The song starts with low-key atmospherics; chiming bells ring out the melody and there’s the sound of footsteps trudging through snow. The song then explodes into a glorious wave of shimmering guitars and euphoric marching drums. ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ directly translates to ‘In Sweet Rejoicing’, and Swimming nail the feeling.
Stina Nordenstam: Soon After Christmas
About as sad as Christmas songs get, ‘Soon After Christmas’ encapsulates the utter desolate loneliness one feels if Christmas is missing the one person that makes it. The beautiful sweetness of Nordenstam’s voice perfectly combines with the self-aware, aching naivety of the lyrics: “the TV screen is lighting up my room / the film has ended / every inch of my skin is crying for your hands… I wanted to write songs / about how we’re walking in the snow”. Unfortunately this song was written instead. It’s unbelievably beautiful though. (Warning: do not listen if sad.)
The Late Greats: Sleigh Bells
If any Christmas song was destined for a cheeky rock re-invention, it was 'Sleigh Ride'. For whatever reason “our cheeks are nice and rosy / so comfy cosy are we / we’re snuggled up together like two birds of a feather would be” has a somewhat dirtier subtext when sung through boyish indie vocals against a gritty bassline. It’s a welcome change to those wanting a little less innocence in their Christmas music.
Jens Lekman: Maple Leaves
Sure, the lyrics may say “it’s autumn in Gothenburg” giving it a month's distance from actual Christmastime, but the whole song screams 'Christmas’. Its lush strings give it that old-timey vibe, meanwhile, the middle-eight has sleigh bells in it. You know what, whatever, it's a gorgeous song that showcases Jens Lekman's canny sampling and self-deprecating, witty lyrics. Hailing from Sweden, the song exudes the warm coldness (if you’ll excuse the oxymoron) of the country.
Kyson: Silent Night
This Kyson remix of ’Silent Night’ captures the rich warmth of trip-hop and modern electronica whilst sampling some old-school string sounds from an old arrangement of the classic carol. Rather than dipping into heavy bass backbeats and over-enthusiastic sampling, Kyson keeps his remix restrained and chilled-out, and settles us into warm, deep synths that reflect the cosiness of the season.
The Raveonettes: The Christmas Song
At first listen, this sounds like it should be melancholic and introspective, given its late 90s mellow instrumentation, but essentially the inventively titled ‘The Christmas Song’ is an incredibly sweet antidote to the ever-more oh-wait-this-is-actually-really-fucking-creepy ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’. (Listen to the lyrics again; her: “say what’s in this drink?” him “no cabs to be had out there” her: “I ought to say no, no, no” him: “mind if I move in closer?”)
‘The Christmas Song’ offers an incredibly endearing, erm, non-date-rape version: “I wish that I could walk you home…. I don’t feel like going home now / I wish that I could stay”. With its blunt title, straight-forward lyrics, and sweetly tentative sentiment of a first love, it’s a big cosy hug of a Christmas song. Deceptively simple, but incredibly heartwarming,