Around Christmas, there’s surely something to be said for well-worn traditions. The same can be said for Christmas music… to a point. With this in mind, I thought I’d share five seasonal songs that may be new to you and are sung by artists you may even want to listen to come January.
The thing is, when wrapping presents and whatnot, we all enjoy dusting off that familiar playlist of Christmas music listened to every year. We press play, and happily start singing along to every word. Until, about two hours later, the fifth loop of the same Springsteen song leads you to leap over the presents and put something else– anything else– on the stereo.
With a voice like hers, I could listen to Tracy Chapman sing about anything.
There’s something about a particularly nerve-wracking day (er, week) that cries out for the kind of pop songs that enable you to start singing along two-thirds of the way through your first listen. Amidst it all, there’s something indisputably therapeutic about singing woo-ooh-ooh-ooh with abandon.
So, without critical pretense, here are two such songs ready to be applied as a sort of sing along salve. I recommend them both quite highly, and upon finishing this post will resume applying them to my ears to try to stop my head from spinning.
First up is a band called Oh Stereo, who reputedly recorded their album in their college dorm room and while doing so conjures up the kind of synth pop that just sits there waiting to wrap up an episode of the O.C. But in the meantime, we can enjoy it.
(click on the below, stream isn’t working for this song… sorry)
Second up is Harper Simon. As in son of Paul Simon. For my money, it takes guts to drop a folky record that sounds like he could be covering his Dad, but I actually quite like the song. Nice song, Mr. Simon junior. And good on you for having the guts to put it out there.
Sometimes the best songs are sneak attacks. They tiptoe up on you and before you know it you have a new companion that is firmly planted in your subconscious. In a world full of songs that will do anything to clamor for your attention, it’s the sneaky ninjas that are worth savoring.
Here’s a new ninja-like song that’s delightfully difficult to describe. The artist, who goes by the name Sleepyvillain, is intriguingly described in the following blurb from Pigeons and Planes…
Sleepyvillain (Akila Fields) is an artist from Portland, Oregon who spent three years traveling to every major city and living in an 8 x 8 train car as a musician for Barnum and Bailey. He also spent time playing jazz gigs, and his unique musical experiences have led up to this.
Back when it was still warm enough for people to do things like play baseball outside, P Diddy (his current name at last check) debuted a song called “I’m Coming Home.” I found myself liking the song a bit more than I would have admitted in public, but thankfully an internet leak has exonerated my taste and liberated me to listen to it again.
Rumor has it that these verses were actually written by Jay-Z, and this reference track was laid down by J. Cole. A reference vocal is when one artist performs a track to demonstrate how it should flow, how words should be formed… basically, how to lyrically color within the lines. It’s a touch embarrassing for Diddy that this track has leaked, but it’s all upside for us: even though this version is unfinished, J. Cole just kills it. Enjoy, and ignore the “finished” track by that other guy.
In the wake of Kanye’s maximalist musical adventure, I thought I would post a song that is strikingly stripped-down– but just as good. When so much of the music out there (even the good stuff) hides behind a wall of production, this song’s infectious repeat play is tribute to the simple power of craft in songwriting.
Rather than slipping into the love song location tropes of bars and cars, this story takes flight in a Cold War era nuclear missile silo. It’s one of those songs that makes me want to be a better writer.
Following a decade or two where the radio and music business attempted to poll its way to pop pablum, Kanye West’s new album blazes an uncompromising trail into a new era where everything can be free and nothing can be predicted. And with a 5 star album review from Rolling Stone and today’s 10.0 review from Pitchfork, I think it’s safe to say that Kanye has the biggest ideas and the biggest stage.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is, precisely, just that. And, in it, a maximalist, uncompromising vision of the future of rap music that others will be scurrying behind for years to come.
To further whet your appetite, here are two more tracks for you. I’m pretty sure neither are final mixes as I’ve had them for a while, but they’re both crazy and amazing at the same time.
The first is a sprawling tableau that also happens to be a perfect song for whatever Vegas casino that is brave enough to adopt it.
The second is an ode to douche bags that is Kanye’s confessional rather than an attack. Proof that as his vision sprawls, Kanye’s critiques move to himself more than bumbling former head of states and perfect country-pop diva-ettes.