In Bleak Mid-Winter, Part II: A Secular December Playlist (The Profane)


Makes you feel cold just looking at it, doesn’t it?

Not everyone gets into the Christmas spirit, which I can understand. Maybe you don’t come from a Christian background. Maybe you don’t like holidays. Maybe you have a terrible Vitamin D deficiency that’s been left unchecked. Maybe all of your friends died in a freak gasoline fight accident on Christmas Eve, and now the holidays will never be the same. Who knows. The point is, millions of people find the holidays to be a time of stress and sadness, not joy. And I’m sure there are millions more who enjoy the holidays, but find the constant 24/7 commercialization of the season to be tiresome. Well, dear reader, if any of those scenarios describe you, fear not: just like Keri Hilson and T.I., I’ve got your back.

While I already gave you three awesome suggestions for concert options this December, if live Renaissance-era choral music isn’t your thing, I’ve also put together a little December Playlist for your listening enjoyment – nothing too cheery, but nothing that’ll make you slit your wrists, either (Ben Folds Five’s “Brick” is actually apropos for the holidays, but it’s a HUGE DOWNER, so it didn’t make the cut). So grab your favorite bottle of holiday ale or a cup of hot chocolate, and give it a listen.

(If you want to listen to these songs as one uninterrupted playlist, click here.)

1. Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics – “My Dear” Ruby Velle
It’s ok. I miss Amy Winehouse, too. And while Adele may have followed in Amy’s footsteps by bringing soul music to the masses, for my money, Miss Velle here is really the one who’s picked up Amy’s torch, singing with the kind of heart-breaking emotion that I haven’t heard since Back to Black. Miss Velle her band have been a fixture in Atlanta’s music scene for many years, but they’re starting to garner national recognition with this track and their freshman album, It’s About Time – and with good reason. Atlanta’s a far different place than Portland, but we can all use a reminder to find the good our hearts.

It doesn’t hurt that Miss V is smokin’, either.

2. The Neighbourhood – “Sweater Weather” The Neighbourhood
Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the famous quotation, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Well, by that logic, this is the GREATEST PLAYLIST EVER, because I totally stole this pick from our friends over at Wait And Scene. The Neighbourhood has long been a favorite of WAS, and with good reason – this song is nauseatingly good. While it makes the list just based on the name alone,  Jesse Rutherford’s rapid-fire delivery and lustful lyrics are evocative of a torrid Christmas Break romance, destined to flame out long before one ever feels the warmth of spring. When Jesse growls, “It’s too cold for you here,” you believe him.

Bonus: If you’re a KNRK – 94.7FM “Nation Member” (and if you live in Portland, you really should be), this song was recently made available as a free download from their website. Head over to and get your download on!

3. Kanye West featuring Rick Ross – “Devil In a New Dress” Kayne West
Here at PretentiousPDX headquarters Yeezy’s music is never out of season, but this song always makes me think of the first time I heard it, on a cold night after a few too many pints of Snow Day. While “Power,” “Monster,” and “All of the Lights” got more love, this is arguably the best track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (I’m sure Rick Ross would agree with me). Play this song when you’re staring at the Portland skyline while driving home from that holiday party you’re going to, next weekend, and I bet you’ll agree with me, too.

Sadly, there’s no actual music video available for “Devil in a New Dress,” (aside from this one that was apparently recorded solely to promote Rick Ross’s verse), which is a shame – I’m sure Kayne would’ve picked a real femme fatale for the music video.

4. Fitz and The Tantrums – “Darkest Street” Songs_for_a_Breakup_Vol_1
A couple of years ago, in the wake of my father’s death, I watched my relationship with the girl I was dating implode under the weight of my grief. A couple of days after we broke, I went and downloaded Fitz and The Tantrum’s aptly titled EP, Songs For a Breakup, Vol. 1. These guys got some love from KNRK and KINK for a hot minute when their single “Moneygrabber” came out, but Songs For a Breakup also boasts several amazing tracks about love and loss. When lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick asks “Why, oh why, can’t we be together?”, you know there’s only one answer. Turn up the collar on your jacket and keep walking, kid – it’s gonna be a cold, cold December.

Great band; terrible hair.

5. Feist – “The Bad In Each Other” Feist_Metals
All of Feist’s music sounds like it’s written for either a cool summer night or a windy winter’s day. This song, off her 2011 album, Metals, is a little edgier than your usual Feist-ian fare, and has a great guitar riff that always reminds me of Otis Taylor’s “Ten Million Slaves” (maybe you’ll hear it, too – or maybe it’s just me).

Check out the music video here:

I have no idea what’s going on in this video, either. But that’s ok.

6. Little Hurricane – “Get By” Little Hurricane
It’s been a good year for San Diego natives Little Hurricane, at least here in Portland. They played to a sold out crowd at Crystal Ballroom this February (due in part, no doubt, to the fact that the tickets were 94 cents), and their subsequent shows have been A Pretty Big Deal, as well. Portlanders can’t seem to get enough of these guys, and with good reason. On “Get By,” their warm, bluesy riffs feel like a ray of warmth on a blustery December day. As Tone Catalano sings, “The sun is shining, shining down for free” – just not very often, round here.

They sound great live, too.

7. The Greenhornes – “Shelter of Your Arms” East_Grand_Blues
The first band I ever saw live was the White Stripes. Yeah, I know, right? Not a bad way to pop your concert-going cherry. Sadly, the Stripes weren’t in their best form – Keller Auditorium isn’t exactly a great rock venue. But The Greenhornes opened for them, and they absolutely rocked my face off. Pure old-school garage rock at its best. Do they sound vaguely familiar to you? That’s probably because bass guitarist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler eventually went on to form The Raconteurs with White Stripes frontman Jack White. If “Get By” is like a bit of sunshine on December afternoon, “Shelter of Your Arms” is how you feel 15 minutes later when the sun goes down.

Another live track – just because I can.

8. Great Lake Swimmers – “Moving Pictures Silent Films” Great_Lake_Swimmers_album_cover_by_Great_Lake_Swimmers
Ok, time to take it down a notch. You know where I first heard these guys? Freakin’ Starbucks. Oh well, whoever picks their music must have decent taste, cause this song is pretty boss. Remember those scenes from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where they’re standing on the beach in Montauk? Everytime I see that movie, I hear this song in my head.

Kinda looks like this was shot in a coffee shop. Ironic.

9. Dan Auerbach – “Goin’ Home” Danauerback_keepithid_cover
Most of you probably know Dan for his work as one half of the biggest Hipster Band in the World, The Black Keys – but his solo stuff is just as good. I have a special soft spot for this song because it was featured in my favorite movie, “Up In the Air”. Where ever you find yourself this Christmas, this song will remind you where we all want to be, eventually.

This is a completely random music video that I found, but it beats staring at the cover art for 4 minutes.

10. Fountains of Wayne – “Valley Winter Song” FOW-Welcome_Interstate_Managers
This is a bit of a gimme, but just bear with me, here. Most people probably remember Fountains of Wayne almost exclusively as the band responsible for inflicting the inanity of “Stacy’s Mom” upon the world, but prior to that, they were a pretty decent alternative-rock band with a small but respectable following. Now, it’s almost cheating to use a song with “Winter” in the title for a playlist like this, but if we get any amount of snow this year, trying playing this song while driving through a freshly snowfall with the heater on full blast. You’ll see what I mean.

Another (fairly decent) fan video. Where do these people come from?

11. A Fine Frenzy – “Now Is The Start” Now Is the Start
Ok, time to take it back up a notch. Alison Sudol loses points with me because she has a Christmas album, but this is still a damn catchy song, and we can also use a touch of the upbeat, this time of year. I would never do something as foolish as going running in the middle winter, but if I did, this is the song I’d do it to.

You only see people this stoked about running in a huge raincoat in Seattle or Portland.

12. Bruce Cockburn – “Lovers In a Dangerous Time” Stealing_Fire_album_cover
Ok, so I chose this song to round out my list for two reasons. When I was a kid, we drove to California every Christmas to visit my mom’s side of the family – and without fail, my musician father would always play two bands: Talking Heads and Bruce Cockburn (the old man had pretty decent taste in music – in his later days, he was a big fan of Beck and Tom Waits). This song, off of Bruce’s Stealing Fire album, is still one of my favorite Road Trip songs of all time. The Barenaked Ladies cover version isn’t half bad, either.

Plus the music video is SICK.

The second reason I choose to end my playlist with this song takes me back to the start of this post. “Lovers In a Dangerous Time” was off of an album that Cockburn wrote in response to his experiences visiting third-world countries in Central America. As such, it’s not exactly the most cheery collection of songs. (The other single off of Stealing Fire was called “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” – obviously he wasn’t visiting Club Med.) But this song manages to strike an upbeat note, and it contains what I think is one of the best of lyrics of all-time, “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / Got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight.

Cockburn was dealing with some pretty heavy stuff, but he still managed to see the world as a place of beauty and love, a place worth fighting for. The world’s a harsh place, sure, but it’s also fucking grand. For those of you who fall prey to sadness, depression, or the pain of loss this time of year – remember, whatever darkness exists in your life, like the man says, you kick it hard enough, and eventually it’ll give way to light.

So to all of you this Christmas season, whatever your beliefs, creed or emotional disposition, I wish you peace, happiness, and joy.

Stay sharp, Portland.

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