Christmas time isn’t always so merry. Increased contact with button-pushing family members? The financial pressures of gift-giving? A constant barrage of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”? It’s enough to make you want to a punch a snowman and rip the festive lights right off your coworker’s cubicle.
Fortunately for your inner Grinch, there are Christmas songs out there that speak to not-so-jolly experiences around this time of the year. Here are five new songs from 2014 — some originals, some covers — that you can play when you’re not feeling the holiday spirit.
The Killers, “Joel, the Lump of Coal”
If Frozen brought the waterworks, steer clear of the Killers’ latest Christmas song — it might prompt enough warm and salty tears to melt Olaf. The Killers have released a new holiday-themed track every year since 2006, and while the material isn’t always uplifting — see last year’s lonely “Christmas in LA” — no song of theirs has been as downright depressing as “Joel, the Lump of Coal,” about a little piece of anthracite who “just wants to keep Santa warm and make the elves cozy.” When Joel mistakenly believes he’ll become a cherished Christmas gift for a lucky boy or goal, he’s ridiculed by the elves — “What kid would ever want you / You’re as filthy as can be” — before learning a valuable lesson about friendship. “Joel, the Lump of Coal” might be the only Christmas song to make you cry and teach you a lesson about the environmental dangers of burning fossil fuels.
Sam Smith, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
“I’m going to put on some Sam Smith to cheer myself up,” said no one ever. With songs like “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not the Only One” under his belt, the soulful British singer is more likely to soundtrack a gloomy night in than a festive holiday gathering. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” doesn’t have the most uplifting back story to begin with — in the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, Esther (Judy Garland) sings it to her daughter, Tootie, to lift her spirits after Tootie’s father announces he’s leaving. Yet the 22-year-old’s take on the song manages to make the melancholy song even sadder, probably because it’s sung by someone who despises Christmas music. “I hate Christmas songs, it’s true,” Smith said during a recent radio interview. “But [‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’] is the only song I would ever attempt to sing, because of Judy Garland singing it.”
Liz Phair, “Ho Ho Ho”
The indie-rock queen’s first original song since 2012 fulfilled a longtime wish. “I’ve always wanted to write a dystopian Christmas song,” Phair said in a statement about “Ho Ho Ho,” her contribution to Amazon’s All Is Bright playlist. “Holidays are a time of emotional turbulence, of unpredictable highs and lows. The retail and advertising sectors bill it as the greatest time of the year, but some seasons you are saddled with a real clunker!” A jagged guitar riff accompanies lyrics about yet another dysfunctional family gathering from the esteemed singer-songwriter: “All I wanted was one perfect Christmas / all I got was some coal and some switches,” Phair sings. At least there’s a silver lining in the track’s message — as she asks in the bridge, is anybody’s Christmas really that perfect?
Mark Kozelek, “Christmas Time Is Here”
Mark Kozelek writes songs that make you want to call your family and tell them how much you love them. On Benji, his sixth album as Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek confronted his own mortality and the fragility of human life with heartbreaking monological elegies: on “Carissa,” he remembers his second cousin who died in a tragic freak accident, and on “Micheline,” he reflects on the passings of his grandmother and a dear friend who had a brain aneurysm. So if you thought this A Charlie Brown Christmas classic already provoked a lot of feelings, brace yourself for Kozelek’s sparse, acoustic interpreation, complete with the original Charlie Brown dialogue: “I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy,” Kozelek sings, “I always end up feeling depressed.” The song appears on Kozelek’s Christmas album, Sings Christmas Carols, which came out in November.
Meghan Trainor, “I’ll Be Home”
This isn’t a sad song, at least in terms of its lyrics, but it will make you feel bad about all the harsh things you’ve said about Meghan Trainor since the 20-year-old broke through with “All About That Bass.” (The song ended up on TIME’s Top 10 Worst Songs of 2014 list.) Unlike her hit single or its carbon-copy follow-up, “Lips Are Movin’,” there are no handclaps or upright bass sounds on “I’ll Be Home.” Instead, a simple piano ballad shows off the singer’s voice (the prettiest it has ever sounded amid all her quasi-raps), her songwriting talents (she penned the track herself) and what sounds like her ukelele skills (an instrument she’s been known to play). The track appears on Epic Records’ new compilation, the I’ll Be Home For Christmas EP, which also features contributions from Fiona Apple, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson.
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Write to Nolan Feeney at email@example.com