Happiest Season? Five Sparkling New Tunes For Your December Playlists
Above image: Alia Lene
The recent Hulu hit Happiest Season depicts the sort of nightmare scenario of being forced to come out to your uptight parents in the middle of the family holiday celebrations. But even that can’t compare to the horror of our actual reality this December, as coronavirus cases/deaths soar, and everyone is being told to stay home and not celebrate with their families.
Music, thankfully, has continued to be an effective therapy these last nine months of quarantine. We’ve lately even taken to repeated plays of the Perry Como and Nat King Cole seasonal classics, for maximum cultivation of much needed comfort. But worry not, that hasn’t deterred us from our stated mission of discovering great new music, as well, to avoid any possibility of cultural atrophy.
And so we have five new tunes by exciting up-and-comers, two of them actual Christmas songs, and three other amazing tracks to slot strategically between ‘Rudolph’ and ‘Frosty’ in your December playlists.
Christmas covers by newer artists tend to be boringly unimaginative. But Minneapolis songstress Alia Lene (the first signing to Haqq Islam’s new Contra Worldwide Recordings) has taken one of the more forgotten seasonal classics, and thoroughly brought it up to date. Indeed, ‘Little Drummer Boy’ hasn’t been in heavy holiday rotation for easily about 40 years now—and could really never outdo its 1977 Bowie / Bing Crosby moment.
But her version, which BlackBook premieres here (and features Ayaana Nash), mixes evocative atmospherics with a sly rat-a-tat hip-hop groove, and it’s even managed to bump A Charlie Brown Christmas from the top of our seasonal playlist. It’s taken from her new Christmas Miracle EP, which also includes updates of ‘Santa Baby’ and ‘The Christmas Song.’
“I love the hip-hop feel to such a traditional favorite,” she enthuses. “I especially love the halftime vibe at the end of the record. I remember when I first got the idea I got so excited, I moved all the files into FL Studio, made it halftime, and it gave it a completely different vibe. I didn’t even try to clean it up, I liked the distorted feeling it had, so I left it like that.”
22-year-old British pop sensation Gracey emerged in 2020 as the sort of Princess of Lockdown – just check out the lyrics to her track ‘Alone in My Room (Gone).‘ But it was her single with 220 Kid, ‘Don’t Need Love,‘ that saw her break into the UK top ten. (Read the recent BlackBook interview with the buzz-generating songstress, where she discusses overcoming impostor syndrome).
Her latest single ‘99%’ is a slow-grooved pop gem, complete with a sensually choreographed video, just released this past Friday…and it’s a perfect listen for late nights by the fire. It’s featured on her recently released mini-album The Art of Closure.
Expect 2021 to be the year she goes big.
Tenant From Zero
‘The End Away’
When anxiety overwhelms, nothing soothes quite like the silky voiced crooning of a Bryan Ferry or David Sylvian. And Brooklyn’s Tenant From Zero (points for cool, enigmatic nom de guerre), born Paul Darrah, recalls both on his stunning new single ‘The End Away,’ the artful video for which BlackBook premieres here.
The song itself, with its shimmering atmospherics, melancholy sax blasts, and evocative lyrical metaphors, distinctly recalls Prefab Sprout and later period Roxy Music. And it very much mirrors the sense of isolation that will surely characterize this holiday season. It’s taken from his upcoming album Flight, which will be released January 22 via La Bella Figura Records.
“The idea for ‘The End Away’ came to me on a train ride from Philadelphia to New York City, immediately after a romantic breakup,” reveals Darrah. “At one point, a kid threw a rock at one of the train’s windows and it made a loud, startling sound. I remember thinking that no matter what you do or say, you can’t alter the course of certain things like a speeding train or a dying love affair. No matter how hard you throw a rock.”
Montreal songstress Kandle (think: Nancy Sinatra, Shirley Bassey) helped us get through our 007 withdrawal last month with the super-sexy Bond inspired single ‘Lock & Load’, which dripped with sensuality and delicious danger. And now she is back with a bit of holiday melancholy.
Indeed, her poignant new single is the cleverly titled ‘Christmas Mourn,’ with its lonely lament of ‘Do I really have to keep myself warm?’. It syncs up perfectly with the mood of the 2020 holiday season, as so many will be forced to spend it apart from family and friends. But rest assured, Kandle will be keeping you company.
‘In My Car’
Known to his family as Benjamin Schandy, 22-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter Jimi Somewhere addressed spiritual doubt with recent single ‘Jesus.’ But with his moody new track ‘In My Car,’ he is lost in romantic uncertainty and confusion.
Indeed, the lyric, “Rest your head on me / And let me carry all the weight / So when our plans are falling through / We made the right mistakes,’ suggests the sort of disquietude that will surely remain a feature of this COVID ravaged December.
“In these small places where not much happens,” he explains, “you just end up driving around or sitting in a parking lot somewhere. This song is a story about this moment I had with a girl I was interested in and about driving around with her and being too scared to really make a move, but still appreciating the ride. After I came up with the theme of the song we went down to my car and sampled a bunch of sounds to put into it – like the snare at the end is me closing my car door. In essence, we wanted the whole song to just feel like driving.”