Welcome to The Best Music You Sent Us, a semi-monthly series to help you beat the algorithm. Each edition, we spotlight listener submissions and under-the-radar artists that caught our ears and that you need to know about.
Don’t know about you, but we started listening to our favorite holiday music the moment we put our Halloween costumes away this year. While we all have our go-tos — Vince Guaraldi, Donny Hathaway, and Ella Fitzgerald are personal musts — there are countless hidden holiday gems out there spanning genres, styles, and moods. And each year brings with it more to choose from.
In this edition of The Best Music You Sent Us, we’re handpicking some of the best new holiday outputs, including some fresh finds dug up and submitted directly by you. Happy holidays!
Amanda Shires (feat. The McCrary Sisters) — “Gone For Christmas”
Amanda Shires is a Grammy-award winning singer, songwriter, and fiddle player from Texas. You may know her from The Highwomen, the acclaimed country music supergroup she put together alongside Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. The last thing she expected in her career was to record a Christmas album, but after an unusual (to say the least) holiday in 2020, she reflected on the many emotions that arrive this time of year, from longing to love, joy to melancholy. A year later, we have her holiday LP, “For Christmas.”
The record dissects a whole range of emotions, but its single “Gone For Christmas” brings some laughter and lightheartedness to the experience. The song, featuring backing vocals from Nashville gospel quartet The McCrary Sisters, is funny, soulful, and as playfully honest about holiday feels as some of the other tracks are somber.
Shires wants a lot for Christmas this year — a massage on a beach, a 52-week vacation, and a date with Larry David, to name a few — and we don’t blame her. But most of all, she wants a certain “you” (hopefully not you) “gone for Christmas.” It’s as humorous and over-the-top as it is relatable, a grown-up version of childhood Christmas lists, where ponies and pricey toys have grown into endless vacations, personal radio stations, and maybe shaking loose that person who’s stuck around one Christmas too long.
“For Christmas” is available on streaming services now, alongside The McCrary Sisters’ “A Very McCrary Christmas.”
“Buñuelos a Monton” — É Arenas
Eduardo Arenas of Chicano Batman has put out a number of unique 45s under his solo project, É Arenas. A lot of Arenas’ solo work has the distinct psychedelic, California feel of his work with Chicano Batman, but with a heavy funk and cumbía twist thrown in (to say nothing of a dose of punk energy at his live shows). His holiday singles project that same energy through the lens of festive lights, Santa suits, and family crowded around a table full of food.
Arenas puts out a holiday 45 every year, a tradition he says started after losing his aunt. He wrote the first Christmas cumbía to honor his tía Mima for his first holiday season without her, and after a warm reception from fans, it became a yearly tradition. Each of his holiday cumbías are memorable in their own way, but “Buñuelos a Monton” remains my personal favorite. It’s a great song about one of the best parts of the holidays: eating. It feel like home, a lot of the lyrics are fresh out of real family gatherings, like “no estas lleno, no comiste nada,” – you’re not full, you didn’t eat anything – which my grandma has told me before verbatim after I’ve already downed a mountain of her food.
“Buñuelos a Monton” captures the warmth, love, and stuffed bellies that come with gatherings at Mexican households like my own, and that almost anyone can relate to around this time of year. Here's hoping we get another great festive single from É Arenas this month, and in the meantime, pick up “Buñuelos a Monton” on Bandcamp along with his three other holiday singles for the full É Arenas Christmas special.
“No Time To Be Sad” — Kelly Finnigan
Whether as producer, collaborator, or operator of his Transistor Sound recording studio in San Francisco, Kelly Finnigan seems to be everywhere that new and timeless soul vinyl is being pressed.
It’s hard to choose just one song from Finnigan’s holiday album “A Joyful Sound,” which features assistance from modern soul masters such as Durand Jones & The Indications, The Dap-Kings, Ghost Funk Orchestra, and many more friends and family. “No Time To Be Sad” captures the best of the record, from its grandiose instrumentation, to Finnigan’s smooth and passionate vocals, to its classic R&B motifs of love and longing around the holidays. It’s a track for fireplace lighting, eggnog sipping, vinyl spinning, and for reminding yourself of the small joys to savor this time of year.
Adding to the classic-yet-new feel of Finnigan’s music, the album’s video preview is an instantly recognizable Rankin-Bass style stop-motion Christmas scene, a la “A Year Without a Santa Claus” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Finnigan’s version, however, throws in the less family-friendly addition of martinis, joints, and drunken elves. While the video may not be for the whole family, the album certainly is, and it’s soon to be a mainstay for the holidays. Pick up “A Joyful Sound” on vinyl for the full experience on Finnigan’s Bandcamp, and let it spin while you sip eggnog by a fireplace.
“Got To Be Christmas” — The Shacks
Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records has been putting out great new and reissued music for years now, championing a brand that’s all about honoring the music of the past while creating something new. The Shacks, part of the Big Crown family, have been on the same mission for years now, and their holiday new single “Got To Be Christmas” is no different.
The Shacks have a soft, hazy, and hypnotic sound that the label describes as “existing in an alternate reality.” Accordingly, “Got To Be Christmas” brings classic holiday imagery like mistletoe, glowing lights, and caroling to their unmistakable, other-worldly instrumentation. Singer and bassist Shannon Wise’s vocals feel soft and close, the production is rhythmic and warm, and the gentle ringing of bells in the background instantly signifies the holidays. It’s the perfect track for anyone looking for holiday sounds to lay back and relax to, and a great intro to both the group and their label for those not yet in the know. “Got to be Christmas” is out now wherever you listen to music.
“Beautiful Christmas” - Infinity Song
Sibling quintet Infinity Song was raised in a musical family, getting their start in New York City, where they put on pop-up performances in parks and subway stations and quickly built a fanbase across the city and the internet. It wasn’t long before word about the Boyds reached Jay-Z, who signed them to Roc Nation, where they released their debut album last year.
Their Christmas EP, “Infinite Christmas,” features three new holiday songs. “Beautiful Christmas” is an anthem of gratitude that encapsulates everything there is to love about Christmas beyond acquiring new material possessions. As is the case with the band itself, family is at the heart of “Beautiful Christmas.” It celebrates the blessings of family, faith, and comfort around the holidays, a warm and energetic track that makes it a perfect listening solo or at a holiday party.
Infinity Song’s “Infinite Christmas” EP is available now on streaming services, alongside the deluxe version of their debut album “Mad Love.”