I Made You A Moody Playlist For Your Holiday Angst

Grab your headphones and offer to walk the dog, do the last-minute grocery store run, take an extra lap around the neighborhood, or hide in the closet. The new year is right around the corner.

There is plenty of joy and cheer to be found this time of year and yet, it’s also a really complicated season for a lot of people, myself included. I feel more porous, more wistful. We are witnessing the people who used to make the magic for us age, as we’re charged with special memory-making for our kids. We reunite with family or maybe we can’t. Boundaries get tested, exhaustion sets in. Another year ends, another reminder of our mortality.

You know where to find the jolly stuff. I made you a gift of something else, a holiday-adjacent antidote. Let it be a vehicle to feel whatever this time of year brings up for you. So come out with me to the old treehouse we had in our backyard. We can split a Zima and a cigarette, you take the right earbud and I’ll take the left. I’ll tell you about some of these gems.

“This Is A Photograph” by Kevin Morby

This is the title track off Kevin Morby’s seventh studio album that came out earlier this year. He’s talked a lot about this song in particular. In January of 2020, his family was gathered for a meal in his hometown when his dad collapsed and was taken away by ambulance. His father ultimately survived. But he, his sister, and his mother looked through old photographs that evening, and Morby was struck by this old photo of his dad from the year he was born — his dad the age Morby is currently. “This is a photograph, a window to the past / Seems to say, this is what I'll miss after I die / And this is what I'll miss about being alive.”

“baby jesus is nobody’s baby now” by Julia Jacklin

It’s a Christmas song, sort of. But it’s a song about a family gathering and how quickly things can derail despite our best efforts. And sometimes it’s even more sad when we try to keep it light, keep it moving. Look over here! Look at the lights! (“Grandma cried / Can't this wait / Drink a cup of juice / Try to celebrate.”) But people are just who they are, over and over again.

“Tom Petty” by Sun June

I could listen to Sun June lead singer Laura Colwell sing the directions of Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar I make four nights a week and she’d make me weep for them too. What she can do with half a phrase and her cloudy voice, it takes windbags like myself hours and pages to reach. With their self-described “regret pop,” Sun June can make a whole meal out of a fleeting memory, a brief run-in with someone from your past.

“So Much Wine, Merry Christmas” by Katy Kirby

Originally written and recorded by a band called The Handsome Family, I saw Katy Kirby perform it to a silent, dark room earlier this year. This is a song about addiction, about helpless love, about surrender. Sub in addiction for anything that forces you to watch someone you love suffer. This is something that’s come up for me a lot this year and maybe you need to hear it too: You can only meet people where they are. There is no fixing.

“Go Find Yourself or Whatever” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae, bless her heart, released her latest album The Loneliest Time on Oct. 21 when so much of the world was losing their collective mind over another album release that day. Dare I say it, this is a track for a far scarier time than midnight or even 3 a.m. This is a goodbye said after being up all night and insulted with the first light of the sun; when there is no chance of sleep in the dark, only staring at the harsh reality of getting through a new day.

“I’m a Bird” by Michael Suddes

Michael Suddes is my brother and this is his song. He was 10 when I left for college. Now he’s old and I’m older; both working artists trying to stay true to what lights us up. Now I hear my kids humming his music and think — wait, that's Mikey. Mikey, born on a Monday in December when we were allowed to stay home from school and we fought over who got to hold him.

“All The Good Times” by Angel Olsen

In the months leading up to recording her latest album Big Time, Angel Olsen came out to her parents as queer, introduced them to her new partner, and within weeks, her mother and father died. Big Time feels expansive and operatic at times; a dream-like elegy for her parents, her old self, a family history gone. “All the Good Times” is the first song on the album but could be the last. It’s funereal, it’s fitting for a breakup, it works for a ride to the airport with your annoying cousin you can fist bump until the next year.

“Taffy” by Jenny Lewis

This is a beautiful ballad about trying to make holiday magic on the road in a hotel room that quickly morphs into a dirge for a dying relationship. You can feel her effort, the particular exhaustion of pouring yourself into something only to realize there were holes in the container all along.

“Pictures of Flowers” by Jess Williamson, Hand Habits

Inevitably there comes a time in an extended family gathering when someone innocuously asks you what you’ve been up to and how work is going. This is a song about being a working artist but it’s also about process, change, going away, coming back, and trying to make things in the world that often makes that feel impossible. And sometimes what even feels more impossible: explaining that over screaming kids and baked brie.

“Make It Easy” by Sylvan Esso

The wife-husband duo of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have a knack for making you think you’re listening to electronic dance music. You are, but there’s a magic trick in there too. Just when you’re used to bopping along to their hooks and beats, a lyric will catch you by surprise and you realize these are often tender, earnest, or sad little stories hidden in disco mirror balls.

“Auld Lang Syne” by Leslie Odom Jr.

I snuck one holiday song in. I love this version because it’s scratchy and sounds like a voice recording, a reminder someone leaves themself or an audio memo left for a friend while sitting in a parking lot. Did you know it opens with a rhetorical question? I did not. My whole life I thought it was a cautionary provision — like should you skip a dose, proceed with the next. Should old acquaintances be forgotten, here’s how you should remedy it. But it’s a question, an opportunity to reassess and keep the door open. It is apparently, appropriately, played sometimes at funerals. Should we bring them with us? Forward into the new year, the new life, the new traditions mixed in with the old? Do yourself a favor and see also: Prince, New Year’s Eve 1987.

We expand and contract, we go away and come back together. We assess the damage that's been done in the interim. These people who are ours and don’t belong to us. People we came from or didn’t, those we’re talking to or some we’re not. So grab your headphones and offer to walk the dog, do the last-minute grocery store run, take an extra lap around the neighborhood, or hide in the closet. The new year is right around the corner.


“Hot & Heavy” by Lucy Dacus

“Icicles” by Patty Griffin

“Anywhere With You” by Maggie Rogers

“Goodbye to Good Times” by Kevin Morby

“Get Lucky” by Patty Griffin