Between “Spotify Wrapped” and the omnipresence of holiday songs, the month of December is a busy time for listening. The staff at the Indie has some recommendations.
Listen at tinyurl.com/47r387nk. Or listen to a compilation of all our playlists to date at tinyurl.com/ycku2k2w.
“If We Make It Through December,” Merle Haggard
You won’t hear “If We Make It Through December” on a TJ Maxx playlist this holiday season. The word “Christmas” appears only twice and there are no jingle bells. But it’s one of my favorite Christmas songs precisely because it doesn’t cloy.
The song is about having to explain getting laid off just before the holidays to a young child. The speaker’s situation may be desperate, but the lyrics and arrangement brim with optimism. A guitar and tapping foot keep an upbeat rhythm, and Haggard sings about “plans of bein’ in a warmer town come summertime.” As someone who struggles with holiday cheer given the state of the world, I find this song gets me partway there.
To tip the scales in favor of melancholy, listen to Phoebe Bridgers’s much slower piano rendition. —Cam Blair
“Chondromalacia Patella,” Black Midi
You know you’re getting old when your kids introduce you to new music. For the uninitiated, Black Midi, a young band from London, can be hard to wrap your head around. But when they played a sold-out show in Cambridge recently, it all made sense. The live experience revealed a band steeped in modal jazz, math rock, and post punk. This particular track is from their second album, Cavalcade, released earlier this year.
There are shades of King Crimson as guitarist and singer Geordie Greep alternates between angular power chords and modal vamps. The song pushes and pulls like taffy, with screeching saxophone blasts from Kaidi Akinnibi as drummer Morgan Simpson — a nimble powerhouse and the band’s secret weapon — builds to an invigorating finish. Maybe it was pandemic release, or being in a mosh pit with my kids, but it was best show I’ve seen in 10 years. —André van der Wende
“You Don’t Know Me,” Caetano Veloso
Caetano Veloso is one of Brazil’s most beloved musicians. In 1968, when he was thrown into prison for 57 days without trial, he’d already established himself as a leader of the subversive tropicalismo movement in Brazilian music. This was at the height of Brazil’s right-wing military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. After his release, Veloso was deported and lived in London until 1972. It was during this period that Veloso wrote “You Don’t Know Me,” a song with lyrics in both English and Portuguese.
The lyrics reveal the lonely thoughts of a displaced person — a person at odds with the culture that surrounds him. “You don’t know me at all,” he sings. The second half of the song features key and beat changes, with lyrics in Portuguese that address the people of Brazil, “norte, centro, sul, inteiro” (“north, central, south, interior”). Veloso expresses both the woundedness and pride that define his exile. —Will Powers
“The State I Am In,” Belle & Sebastian
One rainy day this past summer, my college diploma arrived in my driveway in a soggy “please do not bend” envelope. Also soggy: the document that declared me an alumna. Upon extracting it from the mushy cardboard casing, I discovered that a snippet of the Latin lettering was underscored by a streak of mud.
The mud reminded me of how one day during Zoom fall, my ecology professor had lectured from a New Jersey lake. He hung a camera from a tree and splashed out into the hip-high water — suit and tie, no waders — to teach us about niche partitioning. The warm-up track he blasted before that lecture was “The State I Am In.” I’ll forever associate that song with that lecture.
Nowadays, I’m tromping through swamps, heathlands, and sand dunes on the Cape. Reporting on the oyster industry, I got stuck in the mucky tidal flats, and “Johnny Clam” Mankevitch, Wellfleet’s assistant shellfish constable, had to yank me out. A streak of mud on my diploma? What a fitting freckle. —Jasmine Lu
“Mother Nature’s Bitch,” Okay Kaya
After our most recent nor’easter, I woke up without power, heat, water, or the ability to cook. As I drove around — checking on friends, surveying the beaches, and searching for coffee at the only spot in town with a generator — I heard this song for the first time.
Seeing the title made me laugh so hard I had to pull over. The beat is a little dancey, reminiscent of light disco, but with haunting vocals. The opening lyric, “Everybody, please give a warm welcome to this current mood,” has become my favorite way to reframe bad days.
At only a minute 30 seconds, it’s a quick little hit that makes me want to groove and consider how I’m welcoming the moment. Whether we’re eating canned food for dinner while wearing a headlamp or waiting in line at a gas station with ’fleetians desperate for caffeine, we are all “Mother Nature’s bitch.” —Emma Doyle