Last year, I embarked upon an epic investigation of other people’s Christmas music playlists.

You can enjoy the treasure that I found right here: a remarkable line-up of personal and idiosyncratic soundtracks from Joe HenryAshley ClevelandSara ZarrAlissa WilkinsonOver the RhineSteve Taylor, and many more. It’s not a zero-sum game: You can take as much of this music as you want without taking it away from anybody.

dusty henryThis year, I’m adding more playlists to the party.

Expanding it for 2015, I’m welcoming one of the Seattle Weekly‘s music critics to the Christmas playlist party.

Dusty Henry is a Seattle-based music journalist. He graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. His work has appeared not only in the Seattle Weekly, but also Consequence of Sound, CityArts Magazine,, Ballard News-Tribune, and more. He also operates PRE/AMP, a local music blog and zine.

Henry recently joined the University Communications staff at Seattle Pacific, giving us plenty of opportunity to share stories about our experiences writing reviews, going to shows, and discovering favorite artists and albums.

So here’s Dusty Henry with a few suggestions for your 2015 holiday soundtrack.

Pedro The Lion – “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”


No other songwriter has captivated in the same way as David Bazan. From the first time I heard him at his most evangelical with “Lullaby” from Pedro The Lion’s debut Whole EP to his heralded break-up with God, Curse Your Branches, his faithful and faithless confessions have continued to draw me in. Listening to his records is like staying up all night with a close friend with the conversation slowly turning toward your mutual uncertainties about the unknown and hereafter. That’s how raw and personal Bazan’s songwriting can feel. This makes it curious that one of my favorite songs in his catalog is one he didn’t even write.

Bazan has been releasing Christmas songs periodically throughout his nearly two-decade long career. “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” was the first in the lineage. The song is the perfect fit for Bazan, based off of Henry Hadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells”. The narrator walks along the streets, listening to the bells with disdain after suffering injuries in the Civil War and death of his wife. It reads more like a passage from Job or Lamentations than a traditional Christmas carol.

Even without all of this context, Bazan’s voice carries the weight of the situation. The twinkling piano lines feel lifted out of a Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. The most cheer comes from the steady and looming shaking of jingle bells in the background. But it’s when all this instrumentation drops down to just Bazan and his guitar on the last verse that the biggest revelation hits. His voice bellows “The pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. With peace on earth, goodwill to men.” It’s powerful writing on its own, but Bazan’s aching vocals accentuate the gravatas that’s been building over the course of the song.

It’s also Bazan’s own personal story that makes me stop whatever I’m doing when the song comes on. He hasn’t found the same assurance from the church bells that Longfellow did centuries ago, at least not in the same way. He’s toiled in his songs for us for almost 20 years, but it feels like he’s found peace on earth in his own way.


Mark Kozelek – “Christmas Time Is Here”


I’ve always liked a good, bummed out spin on Christmas classics. It’s not even that I get particularly bummed out around the holidays or anything – I just think that it gives a unique perspective and twist on what we’re used to. It’s the same reason that I’m drawn to the Superman comics where the Man of Steel either becomes corrupt or loses (except The Death of Superman, that was awful). Mark Kozelek has always been a reliable source for downer anthems. Between his work in Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon, he’s practically the patron saint of “Oh Bother”.

Last year he released an album of Christmas carols amidst a strange year in his career. He’d just released a career high-mark, Benji, and had gotten into public feuds with The War On Drugs and music journalists. Diehard Kozelek fans like myself had to learn a sort of Kozelek apologetics just to validate his attitude. But the first track on his Christmas album, a cover of “Christmas Time Is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, does it better than any of us could. He trades in Vince Guaraldi’s nostalgic piano lines for hypnotic fingerpicking. His monotone voice rumbles like an old A.M. radio crooner.

Then the song takes a slight detour, with Kozelek and his friend Nathan recreating the dialogue between Charlie Brown and Linus from the cartoon special. At the end of his speech, Nathan remarks, “Of all the Mark Kozeleks, you’re the Mark Kozelekiest”. Who hasn’t felt like that? So down on yourself that you feel synonymous with grumpiness and loserdom. But just like there was hope for Charlie Brown in the end, there’s hope for The Koz and there’s hope for the rest of us. We all just need a bit of Kozelek’s self-awareness to identify it.

Shonen Knife – “Sweet Christmas”


Not every Christmas song I like is filled with misery, I swear! Case in point: Shonen Knife.

My wife Kristin and I were in France on our honeymoon when we stopped into a little record store. We stopped in to check out the records but also to escape the heat, being August and all. Sifting through the racks of singles, I pulled out Shonen Knife’s “Sweet Christmas”. The cover was done in crayon and the vinyl was snow white. It felt like fate. I had just seen the band perform at The Tractor Tavern a couple weeks before our wedding.

The Japanese punk trio were one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands, so I figured they’d be worth checking out. It seemed a strange fit for an artist like Cobain who was so synonymous with battling inner-demons. Shonen Knife might be one of the most jovial acts I’ve ever seen. They pummeled through infectious jam after the next, dancing and kicking around the stage. It captured the jovialness of the early Ramones records, channeling that celebratory aesthetic that came in early punk records.

I tucked the single in my bag, brought it back to the states and let it sit on my shelf. This was a long term investment, I wasn’t about to play a Christmas record in the summer. It wasn’t until Kristin’s parents and sister came over for a dinner that we started going through all of our Christmas records that I came across it again. Right away, the song filled the room with life. Trying not to smile while listening to “Sweet Christmas” is difficult. There’s no sense of irony, just pure Christmas joy translated through monster hooks and odd English. They sing about Santa Claus coming on his “bison sleigh” and wanting to have a “sweet cake party”. There’s even a tangent in the middle about wanting to go to Pluto and eating space food (which is apparently marshmallows and ice cream).

This song became part of our regular rotation for the rest of that December and continues to come back every year. Whenever I hear this song I’ll think of Kristin and I’s first Christmas together. I’m thankful that such a life-affirming song can exist and be a part of my life in some small but significant way.