by Laura Stanley and Michael Thomas
We’re back for our fifth year of gathering the best and the brightest sounds of the seasons! Whether you’re a grinch or annoyingly cheerful this time of year, there’s something here for everyone!
Astrocolor – Lit Up
Lit Up is a self-described “experimental Christmas album for a new generation of holiday listeners.” In their debut record, Victoria experimental band Astrocolor liven up seasonal classics but bringing electronic, jazz, and soul elements to the mix – even the extra dull “The Little Drummer Boy” sounds refreshed here – for a treat that’s not to be missed this holiday. Treat yourself to Lit Up here.
Crissi Cochrane – “Santa Baby”
Last year Danielle Fricke blew our minds with a completely different take on what is traditionally one of the worst Christmas songs ever. This time, however, Crissi Cochrane is proving that a take closer to the original can be just as sweet. There’s no faux-cutesyness, just earnest delivery and some silky smooth guitar.
Elise Boeur and Nate Sabat – “Winter Wind/The American”
You won’t find many more adjectives to describe this song: a song based on a Shakespearean sonnet by a Vancouver/Boston duo who make music based on Nordic traditions. But the song itself is far from confusing; it’s a beautiful combination of guitar and fiddle that adds music to a sonnet that actually rhymed “holly” and “jolly” — so take that, “Holly Jolly Christmas.” If you’re looking for a new, non-traditional holiday classic in your playlist, look no further.
Emilio Bonito – “I Saw Three Ships”
We’ve been Seeing Three Ships for literally hundreds of years, so it’s refreshing to hear Hamilton’s Emilio Bonito take on the song without words. It’s a warm, acoustic fingerpicking-style take that bases itself in Medieval music but apparently with influences as modern as the music from Zelda: The Wind Waker.
Good Lovelies – Winter’s Calling
The Good Lovelies’ newest holiday release Winter’s Calling is cozier than a blanket fort on a snowy Sunday afternoon! Good Lovelies employ their always sweet harmonies and folk stylings to a mix of original and cover songs that are sure to keep you warm during the harshest of winters. Pick it up on iTunes.
Honey Rose – “Fairytale of New York”
Hawk and Steel-er Peter Gardner and singer-songwriter Sydney Batters come together for a beautiful rendition of The Pogues classic (and one of the best Christmas songs ever) “Fairytale of New York” that will sure to melt your cold heart. Done in a gentle folk style, the slower tempo and soft delivery let’s the (hidden) sweetness of the song really glow.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada VII
We will never go a year without mentioning the latest Christmas compilation from the Line of Best Fit, and its seventh edition may be one of its best yet, with a little something for everyone. Blimp Rock gives us a light-hearted ode to warmth with Long Johns; Human Music and Joshua Van Tassel give us synthy, instrumental takes on Christmas; Sun Belt tells an epic story with “Ten Thousand Stamps”; Great Lake Swimmers and Julie Doiron give us the wonderfully sad “They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore.” There’s tons more to discover, including a nearly 20-minute, instrumental version of “Silent Night” by Brad Davis, The Actor. Free to download!
Jenny Berkel – Falalalalalala
This wonderful two-song release came out just after we published our roundup last year, so we’re making sure you haven’t missed it too. Berkel takes on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” backed by shimmering guitar and pedal steel, for a suitably warm beginning. Then there’s the title track, an acoustic ode to the end of the year with a smattering of bells backing up the solemn number.
Joel Willoughby – Christmas Lights
Joel Willoughby is here to bring you a little calm this season with the 12 folk-pop holiday songs in his album Christmas Lights. What makes for an impressive seasonal undertaking in all, Willoughby’s original songs like the icy “Canadian Winters,” the wistful “So Far Away On Christmas Day,” and the dazzling “Christmas Lights” are the brightest stars.
LUKA – “Forget the Birth, Let’s Skip to the Faith”
A 2013 holiday offering from LUKA that we missed the first time around, we suggest that you don’t miss out on this self-penned number any longer. A gorgeous folk offering that weaves LUKA’s low timbre with Katelyn E Minor’s sparkling voice, LUKA tells us via email that the song is about “a father at a pageant play expressing his anxiety over his son’s role as the baby Jesus” and “poses the question: does not every father fear his son’s immanent crucifixion?” If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will!
Mermicorn – A Mermicorn Christmas
Mermicorn treat listeners to the sounds of yesteryears in their all-instrumental EP A Mermicorn Christmas. Acoustic guitars and a fiddle dance a merry jig throughout these traditional, though no less enjoyable, arrangements of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “We Three Kings,” and combos of “I Saw Three Ships/Good King Wenceslas,” “Joy To The World/Angles We Have Heard on High,” and “O’ Tannenbaum/ The Holly & The Ivy.” And the fact that this whole thing was recorded in a kitchen makes it all a bit more cosier.
Moka Only – Martian XMAS 2015
A yearly treat from one of Canada’s most prolific rapper, Moka Only returns with an eighteen-track opus with tracks meditating on what to get someone for Christmas, boots, holidays in the early 2000s, being taken out for short ribs and more.
Myles from Home – Don’t Spend Christmas
It’s hard to keep well-worn Christmas songs fresh but Myles from Home does a great job revitalizing some Christmas classics in his EP Don’t Spend Christmas. Don’t be fooled by the bleak cover picture, Don’t Spend Christmas is very fun and includes a mellow cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” a jangly take on the Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight),” and, in the jolliest EP cut, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” – a mash-up of the old standard “Winter Wonderland” and John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland.”
Nat Jay – “Christmas in Paradise”
What does Christmas in paradise look like? For Nat Jay the trees aren’t white, there’s blue skies and orange sunsets, and stockings are hung by the hammock with cheer. Delivered in a suitably breezy, ukulele and all, poppy style, Jay’s “Christmas in Paradise” is a very welcome escape for those who will be having a white Christmas and a long winter this year.
Quiet Parade – “O Come O Come Emmanuel:
When Quiet Parade recently played at a holiday market in Halifax, they pulled out a Christmas classic and put a bit of a rocking spin on it. This is less about being haunting and more about tapping your feet to the best. Stay tuned for a guitar solo, too.
Safia Nolin – “Noël partout”
Though technically a single off of her album Limoilou, this song is definitely applicable to the holidays and features a new, wintery video to go along with it. The mournful guitar-picked song tells a story of being able to celebrate Christmas anywhere except the most important place — home. Watch as Nolin blasts off to space but still looks miserable.
Scarlett & Disher – December Nights
Hamilton’s Scarlett & Disher are truly becoming the masters of seasonal releases. Just two months ago they released an excellent Halloween album, and now they’ve returned with yet another EP of new takes on Christmas classics. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” has so many instruments in it that it will literally be unlike any version you’ve heard prior; “Greensleeves” slaps on a layer of reverb; “O Come O Come Emmanuel” features ghostly vocals and keys; “In the Bleak Midwinter” brings big vocals and warmth to a sad song. They cap it off with the title track, an original with dual vocals about the great times to be had in the last month of the year.
Vera – “Christmas Together”
“Christmas Together” celebrates exactly what its title suggests: spending Christmas together. The jazzy vibe of Vera’s original tune allows this sentimental number to slot next to your Christmas classics with ease. Bonus good cheer: All proceeds from this song go to the Edmonton Food Bank.