WXPN's Holiday Splashdown: 12 new seasonal singles by Phoebe Bridgers, Spoon, Sug Daniels and more - WXPN
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It’s the time of year when covers of holiday classics and new originals start rolling out on our social timelines, in our inboxes, and into our favorite playlists. We’ll be adding our own seasonal cheer to the mix with the WXPN Home For The Holidays concert next month — keep an eye out for more information on how you can RSVP to be in the audience at the taping! — but until then, let’s get the season started this Black Friday with twelve new and recent holiday tracks from some of our local and international favorites that have hit our radar this year.

Sug Daniels – “Santa Baby”

Everywhere you look these days, there’s Sug Daniels. The Delaware native has taken Philadelphia by storm in the past year, and we’re not surprised to see she’s contributed a song for the holiday season. Daniels’ version of “Santa Baby” — which has been recorded by Eartha Kitt, Madonna, and more — reminds us of her charmingly lo-fi Franklin St EP, and though we’ve seen her lead large ensembles (like the seven-piece band from her Sweet Juice Fest set this summer), her voice is strong enough to stand alone. Name your price at Bandcamp for listening access before December 1st.

Phoebe Bridgers – “So Much Wine”

If you expected Phoebe Bridgers to record a joyful tune for yuletide celebrations, then you clearly aren’t familiar with indie music’s most popular sad girl. Bridgers’ cover of the The Handsome Family’s “So Much Wine” is still a highlight on this list, however, as her delicately swelling arrangement wraps around you like a warm wool sweater.

Brittany Ann Tranbaugh – “The Christmas Flannel Song”

Tranbaugh does folk music like the best of them, boiling down nuanced emotions and contemporary troubles into concise and clever verses. “The Christmas Flannel Song” is no different, and will make you happy-cry for lost love and lessons learned.

Kurt Vile – “Must Be Santa”

Christmas is a family affair for Kurt Vile who involved his daughters in this cover of “Must Be Santa” for Spotify’s Holiday Singles. Vile follows in Bob Dylan’s shoes covering this classic, but with hazy production and sparse guitar stylings, it bears only KV’s signature.

Titus Andronicus – “Drummer Boy”

This silly one gives us a respite from some of the more serious songs on this list. Sang to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” Titus Andronicus’ “Drummer Boy” is the only Christmas song this year fit for singing in chorus while swinging pints of beer to-and-fro at the bar. And there’s a chance to do so at the band’s December 17th show at The Fillmore.

Titus Andronicus - "Drummer Boy"

Louis Armstrong – “A Visit From St. Nicolas”

There’s nothing like hearing the Christmas classics — performed in the classical era — that makes it truly feel like the holiday season. Louis Wishes You a Cool Yule (2022) is the first collection of Christmas recordings by the jazz legend and is finally seeing the light of day, despite being recorded in 1971. Each song is shining relic from Armstrong’s last at-home reel-to-reel recordings, but in particular his recitation of Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”

Sam Smith – “Night Before Christmas”

The golden-voiced Sam Smith borrows the title of their new holiday single from that very same Clement Clarke Moore poem that Louis Armstrong regaled us with, but places it in a different light. Set to a waltzing tempo and timeless pop instrumental arrangements, this holiday gem imagines the intimacy of the night before Christmas when the stores and bars are closed for business, and you can focus on reflective time with the ones you live.

Sam Smith - "Night Before Christmas"

Stars – “Christmas Anyway”

Much as the past century of media messaging would have us believe otherwise, the holidays are not always joyful. In their uncanny indie pop way, Montreal icons Stars speak to the flipside of the season — communication breakdowns, addictions, trauma and loneliness — in a sparkling new ballad called “Christmas Anyway.” Proceeds from the track are being used to make a positive impact, benefiting Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal and helping provide Indigenous women and their children a safe and supportive environment. Stars plays The Foundry of The Fillmore Philadelphia on December 10th.

Ruston Kelly – “O Holy Night”

Originally released in 2020 as part of Spotify’s Holiday Singles series (which gave us the above-listed Kurt Vile and family collab), Nashville singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly’s rendition of the Christmas Eve mass staple “O Holy Night” got a new life this year thanks to a YouTube re-release. It’s a pretty explicitly religious pick from the holiday canon, which can admittedly be triggering this time of year for those who aren’t Christian or are lapsed. But Kelly makes it work with his rich acoustic guitar tones and warm, soothing vocals. It pretty much takes a centuries-old hymn and re-invents it as his own.

Ruston Kelly - "O Holy Night"

Spoon – “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)”

Indie rock faves Spoon are here with another selection from Spotify’s Holiday Singles series, newly available this year on Bandcamp. When Britt Daniel and company covered The Beatles’ 1967 holiday song last year, he described their experience thusly in a press statement equally dipped in irony and excitement: “Recording ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again’ was a group effort that pulled us away from rehearsals and quickly sent us down a turbulent path of what you might call the Christmas spirit. And it’s our song with the most band members doing vocals ever—pretty sure I’m counting four. THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS IS OVER.”

Jazmine Sullivan and Cory Henry – “The First Noel”

Here’s one more one of those Spotify Holiday Singles that dates back a couple years but just hit our radar as we were scrolling through the immense playlist of all the artists who have contributed to the series. Here, Philly R&B queen Jazmine Sullivan teamed up with Brooklyn singer-songwriter and XPNFest vet Cory Henry for a smooth, gorgeous rendition of “The First Noel.” Like Ruston Kelly’s contribution to this list, hearing something so explicitly hymnal doesn’t always land well for the non-practicing, but with impeccable production and a coolly captivating arrangement in its corner, not to mention Sullivan’s top-tier vocal performance, this one’s a winner.

Pep Rally – “Christmas Harmony”

MilkBoy Studios co-founder Tommy Joyner leads his current band Pep Rally through this sleek and catchy seasonal rocker that at once channels the unhinged desperation of The Replacements and the sparkling vocals of Summerteeth-era Wilco. A great way to ring in the season for those enamored with power pop and the possibilities of where it can take you.

Pep Rally - "Christmas Harmony
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