The Christmas Playlist

For the modern day student, it  can be hard to start enjoying Christmas the right way when your early December calendar is plastered from Monday to Friday with the cramming  of one exam subject after another, as well as the actual final exam-taking that follows thereafter. It’s been many a years that I’ve found myself heading home for the holidays and suddenly in the eye of the Christmas-spirit storm without so much as a wardrobe, shopping list, or even playlist to accommodate the festivities. And for me, instead of riding on sleds or sleighs or reindeer, I can almost always ride on the fact that I won’t really have any legitimate holiday plans with friends or family to look forward to. As such, something that is normally complementary to the actual merry-making activities, like a Christmas playlist, becomes exceptionally more essential for getting into the Christmas mood, regardless of actual happenstance. Being home alone on Christmas can be its own reward, as an adored movie series has shown us from an early age, but I’ll be aiming to convey this in a different manner.

What better time to start celebrating Christmas at the wrong time than in June, the polar opposite month of our frosty December? Maybe it’s something about the midsummer situation that has us anticipating a beloved holiday to counteract dreading an oncoming school term (lest we forget October and November’s respective festivities) or maybe it’s something about  the refreshing winter winds psychologically safeguarding us from the summer heat waves (of course, in the end, these are really just circumstantial to regionality and your respective status as a student or not). Needless to say and regardless of locality, any time is a good time for joy to the world.

Over the next six months, I’ll be accumulating The Christmas Playlist, a playlist for the Christmas every-man, to really get those spirits lifted! Though, these entries will range from jubilant jingles of impassioned duets, medleys, and choruses to remind you to appreciate the great company you have with you during this time of year to  solemn, somber and pensive numbers about loves lost and life’s hardships and adversities, so make sure you check-out the playlist in its entirety before the fateful day of the twenty-fifth to affirm just what kind of Christmas you’d like to have this year, emotionally speaking. These songs will be open to all genres and languages, to stay true to the pursuit of universal happiness; and will be listed in no particular order at first, in consideration for any new releases this coming November-December period. Although they will all be ranked by the time that glorious date of the 25th comes around. With one song every one-to-two days, in the end I’m hoping to have a catalog at least one-hundred strong that will be as bustling as shopping centers during that time of year. Now, without further ado, it’s time to starting checking this list once.

All of the following selections are available for listening on The Christmas Playlist YouTube playlist assembled on my very own YouTube account.

J Rabbit – “Sleigh Ride”
from Merry Christmas From J Rabbit
[Listen here]

Merry Christmas From J Rabbit

South Korean female duo J Rabbit’s rendition of the classic “Sleigh Ride” is a bubbly blend of instrumentals and cantillation. There’s already a touch of quirkiness with vocalist Jung Hye-sun’s peculiar pronunciation of the English lyrics (safe to assume it’s a secondhand language for her, I’d say), but her unique modulated cover of the song, rife with catchy stressed syllables and alternating tempos, excels the performance to the status of my personal favorite version of any song about mushing through the snow on a light vehicle with runners. J Rabbit’s music in general centers around the topics of love, happiness, hope, courage and cheer, and it seems that even special Christmas-themed productions fall into that credenda all the same. You’d also better believe it goes without saying that the rest of the group’s discography is a matching burst of energy wholly worthy of your meandering, after you’ve gone and replayed this tune over and over ‘til the season’s end, that is.

 

Sweden Laundry – “Just Christmas”
from Just Christmas
[Listen here]

sweden laundry - just christmasAs if the band-name “Sweden Laundry” doesn’t already have a Christmas kind of feel to it, what with the imagery of warm clothes fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter day, the tunage of the musical act’s “Just Christmas”, which would fit perfectly as background music for laundry-folding or any other such miscellaneous activties needed to be done before a Christmas party, puts the bow on the present that is this euphonious performance. The song begins with a very familiar holiday medley but quickly transitions into Sweden Laundry’s own vibrant rendition of a jolly ol’ jam, inclusive of both cheerful English and Korean lyrics. In both band members’contributions, lead-singer Choi In Young’s vocals and pianist Wang se Yoon’s musicianship, we get an overall soft yet wholly refreshing delivery; and it’s a delivery that we don’t have to wait until Christmas day to open and play over and over.

 

Mystic Holiday 2013 – “Christmas Wishes”
from Mystic Holiday 2013
[Listen here]*

mystic holiday 2013 - christmas wishesFor all intents and purposes, “Christmas Wishes” is a musical production that knew exactly how to carry out a collaboration amongst various artists and present the sensation of a multi-faceted vocal performance. As if the vocals talents of Yoon Jong Shin, Park Ji Yoon, Lim Kim, Jane Jang, Kim Yeon Woo, Cho Jung Chi, Ha Reem, Muszie, Eddy-K, and Puer Kim (while I can’t be one-hundred percent sure, I believe it is only the females of this list who contributed to the actual song, despite some of the males themselves mouthing-off lyrics in the official music video) weren’t enough in solo segments throughout the song, the collaboration effort pulled out the red carpet for the Christmas-serving crew to cantillate in duets and even higher numbered groups in true choir-like fashion. And while it is a bit difficult to distinguish amongst the female cast’s voices, the full-effect of the ensemble kicks in as the song transitions from its simple instrumentality and hearty lyrics in the beginning to as climactic as you can get for a Christmas song in the end, abundant with the avid jingling of bells, kick of drums, and no spoken lines other than the jubilantly infectious “la”, “la”, and “la.”

 

Ariana Grande – “Snow in California”
from Christmas Kisses
[Listen here]

ariana grande - snow in california

While I admit to being a native-born Californian myself, I can guarantee that there is no bias at work with this selection here, rather, it’s quite the opposite. Ariana Grande’s light lyric soprano vocal range is something I’ve never really been able to get behind with her main bodies of work (Yours Truly, My Everything), but the songs off of her Christmas Kisses extended play have effectively become the first collection of hers that I can bear to listen to any more than five times. (Whether this is a testament to the power of Christmas pageantry and theatrics, I’m not too sure myself.) And while I do have to further admit that I still can’t make out all of the track’s lyrics by ear specifically because of her pronunciation, the song in its entirety has a melodic quality that puts to good use the collaboration between a young vocal talent and a studio team of distinguished producers (including a ten-time Grammy Award-winning one). It’s a musically tender piece that has just enough fitting holiday-themed subject matter in its lyricism.

 

Owl City – “The Christmas Song”
from The Christmas Song
[Listen here]

“The Christmas Song” isn’t a particularly stand-out song within Owl City’s discography; but as his avian-themed electronica project, Adam Young’s musical stylings practically nurse the mirth of the holiday season all year round. Unlike his most mainstream, wholly upbeat singles (Fireflies, Good Time), “The Christmas Song” is a rather somber ode to the more forlorn souls of this time of the year. Though while the subject of the piece is divergent in that sense; like the actual ringing of jingle bells, the overall tone of the song and its message of confiding in a source of warmth rings heavy the optimistic nature that is so signature of an Owl City creation. And as expected of any Owl City production, the composition has its catchy and bouncy musical hooks that do well in complementing that tone splendidly. All in all, it’s a straightforward musical delivery, but I can perfectly picture scenarios in which its message would have relatively ample impact. If I am to find myself this holiday season taking a night-time stroll in the cold and snowy weather, this track will be among the various that could tug a decent amount on my heartstrings.

 

Neon Trees – “Wish List”
from Wish List
[Listen here]

neon trees - wish list

The pop-tastic sound of American rock band Neon Trees might not be one that you would casually associate with the sound of Christmas music, but you’d be surprised at just how the simple inclusion of a couple jingle bells fixes that. It’s not really a problem in the first place since the musicality of Neon Trees is upbeat and jovial by nature, even when the song itself is about an unrequited and longing love affair; so what we have with “Wish List” is a very playful tribute to those childhood Christmas customs of gleefully receiving candy, toys and other such presents under the Christmas tree and subsequently a fun painting of love as the bigger picture in retrospect.  Thus is the power of Christmas music, and Neon Trees employs that power to the best of their ability with a fast-paced rhythm and a Neon Trees-definitive catchy hook that practically demand a sing-a-long.

 

Urban Zakapa – “Snowing”
from Snowing
[Listen here]*

urban zakapa - snowing

Even for those unlearned in the Korean language, Urban Zakapa’s “Snowing” is a Christmas song for ears to behold. Beyond the potentially unfamiliar tongue, “Snowing” features a male-female choral trio, some mean jingle bell playing, a strong array of other more bona fide musical instruments, and even a little bit of scat-singing at the end. Fluxus Music singer-songwriter group Urban Zakapa was originally a nine-member collective until creative differences resulted in the current line-up of triumvirate Kwon-Sun-il (권순일), Jo Hyun-a (조현아), and Park Yong-in (박용인), all of whom who contribute to the group’s writing, composing, and producing. And I think the verdict is pretty clear that the three have successfully created one fine original Christmas song that sports the atmosphere of conviviality and merry-making without having a trace of generic Christmas-pop elements. Perhaps the song’s only sin is having a short-lasting duration of less than three minutes.

 

Sound Around – “Last Christmas (feat. Ruppina+)”
from Francefranc presents SNOW CRYSTAL -The Best of Christmas Party Mix- mixed by DJ FUMIYEAH!
[Listen here]

francefranc - snow crystal

Some readers might recognize Ruppina+ from her ending theme contributions to the widely-acclaimed Japanese TV anime series, One Piece, during its olden and golden days (when it actually had ending sequences). For those who do, the good news is that the nostalgic quality of her voice from those themes retains well into this cover of the Christmas classic “Last Christmas”; the bad news is that this is the only song featuring her that appears in this playlist. Secondly, for those who do not recognize her at all from having not watched One Piece, well, that, that is an issue deserving of a different article entirely. Ruppina+’s voice-work has a wistful and pensive air to it, and this song is no exception. Even with her opting to cover the Christmas classic in true English form, admirably so, the result is still the Ruppina+ we may all know and love (you would be thoroughly surprised to hear how most people sound completely different depending on what language they’re speaking in; and in the industry of voice-acting anime characters, that very same effect could be said depending on what character the voice-actor is playing or if the voice-actor is playing a character at all). The production behind this version of “Last Christmas” pushes it into a much more digital environment, making it more fit as club or lounge music more so than anywhere else really; but in the end, I contend that the song getting air-play in any given function is all good fun.

 

Coldplay – “Christmas Lights”
from Christmas Lights
[Listen here]*

coldplay - christmas lights

Coldplay has always been a hit-or-miss musical act for me; but if you asked me what element could possibly be added to tip the odds in a positive favor, then of course I’d have to answer that there’s not much that is more magical than the spirit of Christmas. The story of “Christmas Lights”, an account of loss of life as opposed to the more Christmas-common loss of love, is something that also touches upon this idea of a “magical Christmas”. However I’ve felt about Coldplay’s discography, I’ve never denied the fact that there is always depth to what their music tries to express, in lyrical and musical component. And to be completely honest, there’s a lot about the melody of “Christmas Lights”, which the band itself  describes as “a mid-tempo number” in the key of G major,  that screams, “Coldplay” but not so much “Christmas”. It’s a unique and original Christmas song that subtly and probably inadvertently challenges the musical norms of the sub-genre but more importantly is just genuinely concerned with offering a meaningful number to the holiday season; and any kind of hospitality anywhere should dictate welcoming that kind of humanitarianism with open arms.

 

Park Kiyoung – “The Christmas Time”
from Christmas Love Letter
[Listen here]*

park kiyoung - christmas love letter

First and foremost, Christmas Santa hats off to “The Christmas Time” for being a bang-up Christmas jam without the use of the jingle bell. While the instrument is as definitive as it is, there’s just something wholly refreshing about being able to pull off the Christmas mood without it. I’ve exerted a more-than-necessary amount of effort defaulting to any Christmas-themed vocabulary and diction whilst writing this article, but I’d like to highlight that the usage of “upbeat” for this here song in particular takes on a completely different meaning. In the vein of conventional Christmas carols, “upbeat” and “merry” usually only go so far as to convey the desire to dance along in the form of shaking the shoulders to and fro while still firmly positioned on a comfy couch with a present, candy, gingerbread man, or any other object of gratification in hand; but with Park Kiyoung’s infectious number, “upbeat” takes on the essence of vivacity and energy, being something that I would volitionally get out of my seat for to have a grand dance about on the floor. It’s that strong beat of the drum that gets the heart pounding in a lively way and the short interludes of piano, guitar and other instrument accompaniment that allow any interpretive dance adaptation of the song to be something giddy and fun as opposed to something exhausting and sweat-breaking. “The Christmas Time” is definitely one for the books, and one for the Christmas  parties as well.

 

Pentatonix – “White Winter Hymnal” 
from That’s Christmas to Me
[Listen here]*

pentatonix - that's christmas to me

In their tribute to Fleet Foxes’s six-year-old, self-titled, debut album’s first single, Pentatonix dishes out the royal treatment, which apparently consists of being seated in one row of chairs in some random neck of the woods and performing intricate hand choreography while chanting in unison, something that could very well be mistaken for some kind of cultist ritual. Supernatural forces at work here or not, the end result is an enchanting and splendid delight to the ears as the delivery of five seasoned voices in parallel and a routine of simple (yet so elaborate), rhythmical hand gestures demonstrates a song of voluptuous musical substance that can easily rival one of conventionally orchestral means. Alongside the a capella group’s beautiful synced elocutions of “ooo ooo ooo ooo ooo”s is of course the heart of the original song, authored by Robin Pecknold and possessing of its own artistic expression entirely, enough so to be named by multiple publications as among the top ten songs of the year in the year of its original release. As far as Christmas music goes, the lyrics by Pecknold sound much more self-reflective and ambiguous than the norm, very much so a personal hymn of sorts as opposed to a modern day carol rehash; but the uncontrived repetition of all of the song’s lines, as exhibited by Pentatonix’s adaptation, makes for a jubilantly addicting song, especially when you have all the means (I very much hope so, at least) to replicate the song with your very own hands and mouth at any given moment.

 

Ellegarden – Santa Claus
from Don’t Trust Anyone But Us
[Listen here]

ellegarden - dont trust anyone but us

As far as original Christmas songs go, Ellegarden’s “Santa Claus” is definitely out there; it actually wasn’t even a part of a Christmas-themed release (Don’t Trust Anyone But Us), really. The song’s heavy usage of guitar and drums is naturally much more rooted in the band’s genre of punk –rock, and the overall tone couldn’t be further away from fun-loving Christmas sentiments; but the motifs that the lyrics rely upon are undeniably Christmas in nature. Perhaps it is only an altered foreign view from someone like Japanese song-writer Hosomi Takeshi (though he has explicitly stated that he has spent a fair amount of time as a computer engineer in Oakland, California, where he picked up rather fluent English) that could possibly see past the conventional cheerful and jolly connotations of Santa Claus and view him more objectively as, as the song itself depicts, a lost man willing to “give you everything” whose own one only wish is that “our adventures continue on” so that he doesn’t have to return to the “cold place I’m living in”. In its construction, the song seems to celebrate the beautiful darkness of the concept, almost in a very Japanese-esque aesthetic manner, which in turn makes the song overall seem even more motley in its mixture of styles. A punk-rock band performing a rather un-merry Christmas song in traditional fashion, maybe not one for the Christmas party playlist but definitely a particular kind of mood-maker and perspective from a different Santa Claus-ian slant.

 

SNSD – “Diamond”
from 2011 SMTOWN – Winter: The Warmest Gift
[Listen here]

smtown2011 - winter the warmest gift

There’s definitely something rewarding about Christmas music that through the massive amount of covers and even original tribute-songs it is able to unite all kinds of genre, styles and names to one body of music. Among such treats is SNSD, arguably the biggest name in the Korean Pop industry, and their Christmas tribute “Diamond”. Oddly enough, there are plenty of Christmas songs about diamonds (and callously preferring them over the love of another – we actually have another such song on this very playlist), but the girls of Girls’ Generation approach the superficial conceptualization with a counterattack of lyrics, featuring lines such as “your warmth slowly wraps around my heart” and “boy, you are my present”. Indeed, it’s a warm song in both lyricism and elicited emotions that does the SMTOWN collaboration album’s name justice. Swirl in some pleasant high-end studio production work, the powerful impact of the group’s nine members, and the delicate choice to perform the number in English, and the track passes the Christmas song test (the only kind of test allowed during Christmastime) with flying colors.

 

Anberlin – “Baby Please Come Home”
from Happy Christmas Vol. 4 and Lost Songs
[Listen here]

happy christmas vol 4

Anberlin’s “Baby Please Come Home” is a pretty righteous blend of the band’s regular alternative-rock sound and that of the holiday in question. Between the guitar and the jingle bell, it’s really quite hard to determine which instrument is the accompaniment, and it is therein that lies the driving force of the song, really. As a Christmas cover, the lyrics should be very much familiar to just about all listeners, with lead vocalist Stephen Christian performing a perfectly fulfilling rendition.  Similarly so, clocking in at a simple two minutes and forty-three seconds, the track itself doesn’t demand a barrage of compliments direct towards its beautiful composition, penetrating lyricism, or any other such quality; for all that it’s worth, it is a fetching cover performed with an infectious rhythm and energy rightful for the holiday season.

 

Hollis & Kris Orlowski – “Is This Christmas”
from The Christmas Cheer Pack
[Listen here]

Hollis & Kris Orlowski - is this christmasThe Flavr Blue’s lead vocalist Hollis Wong-Wear teams up with fellow Seattle musician Kris Orlowski for a refreshing Christmas song with a familiar title. “Is This Christmas” is an original song written by Kris Orlowski and Hollis, engineered and produced by Nate Yaccino, and mastered by Levi Seitz; the end result is a holiday gift worth the arduous and widely loathed process of wrapping (but alas, music can touch you, but you can’t touch music). Thankfully, it comes with its own music video so that we can enjoy some accentuating visuals (starring the singer-songwriters themselves) alongside the calming musical enunciation of onomatopoeia, the graceful playing of guitar and jingles bells, and the refined vocals of a charming duet―but hey, no one would blame you for leaving the song playing aloud in the background while focusing on another task like say, perhaps decorating the Christmas tree or wrapping more tangible presents because it’s just that kind of warm song for just that kind of warm atmosphere. To share an anecdote (since this might as well be the season of sincere story-telling too): upon turning on my computer one day and leaving it to boot up while I went to the nearby kitchen to prepare dinner-for-one, I started hearing the song, having automatically re-opened on YouTube as a restored tab on my internet browser, and mistook it as a nearby tenant blaring their music (as per the norm). I was a bit peeved at first; but right when the vocals kicked in, I cozied into a musical groove while cooking and then returned to my desk to the delightful surprise that it was my own musical taste I was resonating with. It was actually a kind of lonely realization too, in a very pathetic kind of way―but hey, I accept all kinds of sentiments during this time of the year.

 

Runner Runner – “Christmas in California (You’re My Holiday)”
from Christmas in California (You’re My Holiday)
[Listen here]
runner runner - christmas in californiaThe more I progress with this list, the more I seem to subconsciously include songs representative of my home state of California, but I don’t think that potential bias is any reason to turn away perfectly enjoyable music. Runner Runner’s “Christmas in California (You’re My Holiday)” is a moodful wintertime melody that definitely contrasts from their more prominent pop-rock sound; but to be blunt, those who may find Runner Runner’s main discography a bit too gaudy with its powerpop noise may find this track in particular to be the most gratifying of theirs, as it employs the subjacent expectations of Christmas music to deliver a rather simplistically composed and written song consisting of the standard jingle bells and guitar accompaniment, lyrics about nostalgic regional experiences and Cali weather, and undertones of young adult romance. Okay, maybe the latter isn’t so much an undertone as it is an obvious motif explicitly expressed in the title of the song. All in all, “Christmas in California (You’re My Holiday)” is an endearing piece that reminds listeners of an equally satisfactory Christmas celebration being together with nothing other than that one special someone in a place, or at the very least a state, one (or rather, two) can call home.

 

Relient K – “In Like A Lion (Always Winter)”
from Apathetic EP and Let It Snow, Baby…  Let It Reindeer
[Listen here]

Relient_K_-_Let_It_Snow,_Baby,_Let_It_Reindeer“In Like a Lion (Always Winter)” may not have originally been intended to be a forthright Christmas song (it was released on the Let It Snow, Baby…  Let It Reindeer Christmas album but two years before that it was originally released on the band’s fifth extended play, the Apathetic EP; and before even that, it was originally supposed to be included on the various artists album Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but was ultimately excluded from the final track listing), but the song’s lyricism of flakes of snow, snow angels, cold shoulders, heart’s fire, and two explicit mentions of the word “Christmas” itself accounts for more than enough holiday-themed imagery, not to mention the song’s original intention to be a tribute to a fantasy series in which the narrative practically houses its own winter wonderland of snow and magic. Beyond the simple premise of “In Like a Lion (Always Winter)” is the marvelous writing and composing by band front-man Matt Thiessen. Relient K follows suit with other musical acts in that their Christmas tributes bear a musicality to them that considerably contrasts with the band’s usual stylings; and for Relient K, the tracks featured on both the Apathetic EP and the Let It Snow, Baby… Let It Reindeer holiday special release are a far cry from the content on the band’s arguably two most popular albums, Mmhmm and Five Score and Seven Years Ago. Personally, I am proud to say that Relient K is one of my favorite bands of all time, particularly because of the album Forget and Not Slow Down (which is in turn one of my favorite albums of all time), which, coincidentally enough, bears more resemblance to the introspective sounds and themes of the current song in discussion than Relient K’s period of pop punk and christian rock fame. With a unique instrumentality and lyrics ambiguous and pensive enough to not directly identify as a holiday hymn, “In Like a Lion (Always Winter)” thrives musically in the same manner that Forget and Not Slow Down did for me by detaching itself from drastic religious overtones and taking a more universal approach to human emotionality. So, while tenuous the song may be with our conventional Christmas cheer, “In Like a Lion (Always Winter)” retains enough thematic fine points for us to include it on our playlists during this time of the year, and, well, no matter what time of the year you actually do listen to it, it’ll always have its measure of sentimental depth.

 

* Indication that the hyperlink for steaming is an official source.

 

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