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Arts & Culture

Unconventional holiday tunes from San Diego musicians

water color painting by Marion Howard
Marion Howard
Watercolor painter Marion Howard's cover art for the song "Rose Winter Day," released Nov. 22, 2020 by vocalist Dawn Mitschele and songwriter Alfred Howard.

Whether you're tired of the Christmas standards, just not feeling the season, or want a playlist that might even see you through a cold snap any month of the year, San Diego bands and artists have you covered. Here's some music to spend the holidays at home to (again). Scroll to the bottom to find a Spotify playlist.

Dawn Mitschele / Alfred Howard: 'Rose Winter Day'

Cardinal Moon singer Dawn Mitschele contributed vocals for this dreamy, wistful folk song — part of Alfred Howard's year-long songwriting project. There's nary a scrap of jingling bells or mythical jolly elves here. But there's enough longing, intimacy and that magic of a beautiful winter day to last you well into January.

"It's a rose winter day, and the sun it fades away
And I wonder the aim of your thoughts.
Are your arrows on me as you stare into the sea."


18 Scales, Dre Trav: 'Stay Warm / Rules & Exceptions'

18Scales (Ric Scales and Ralph Quasar) put out this album, "Sometimes It Rains…" in 2018, and much of the record is rooted in our unique regional experience of winter. I mean, the opening introlude is just called "Traffic's Gonna Suck."

"Stay Warm" is structured in two parts. The first has an urgency to it, a feeling of metaphorical overwhelmedness that puts the "adverse" in "adverse weather." After the music cuts, briefly, to rain sounds, the second act feels more ethereal, melodic, and in some ways more at peace with the rain.

Coral Bells: 'Krampus'

Freshly remastered and re-released this year, Coral Bells' beloved, subversive Christmas jam about folklore's beloved, subversive Christmas monster is weirdly catchy. The tune is riotous, delightfully evil and pure fun. Perfect for you grinch-hearted souls out there, or anyone who just wants to wail "Ohhh Krampus" while snapping your fingertips.


Coral Bells recently put out a holiday livestream on YouTube if you'd like a taste of the chaotic, festive energy they bring to live performances of "Krampus."

Echobaby (Julianna Zachariou and Josh Flowers): 'Christmas Dinner'

This 2020 holidays-while-apart anthem still fully tracks. Echobaby is the brainchild of local Julianna Zachariou and UK-based Josh Flowers.

"We miss you today
Your favorite dish is on the table in ten.
We made you like you would
But it'll never be as good."

There's a sweetness here that triumphs over any of the tragedy or even relentlessness of being apart — whether it's from your run-of-the-mill long distance friendship, love or family situation, or now being on our second pandemic holiday season.

Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra: 'Abdominal Snowman'

First of all, that "abdominal" is not a typo. Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra — the work of Michael Buchmiller (AKA "The Professor") and his robot — has the ultimate in absurd holiday music. Buchmiller feeds lyrics through an archaic, obsolete text-to-speech software on an old computer, and has no control over cadence or pitch. The resultant robotic voice becomes the lyrics.

This track is from 2018's Christmas album, "Go Caroling," which is a delight. Another great, original holiday song is "Just Buy a Gift Card."

Rebecca Jade: 'Weather the Storm'

Released in 2015, Rebecca Jade's stormy ballad is full of bleakness. It's a perfect chaser to "Blue Christmas," and even though she kicks off the lyrics with "I know it's winter," I recommend putting this on year-round whenever you feel like wallowing and staring out of the proverbial rain-soaked window, regardless of the weather.

Find a playlist here of these tracks plus more unconventional wintry music by locals The Elephants in the Room, Little Hurricane, Tori Roze and the Hot Mess, Ellis Bryant and The Widows.

If you'd prefer some more traditional holiday fare, here's another playlist with songs featuring artists with local ties like Johnaye Kendrick, Berkeley Hart, Whitney Shay, Gaby Aparicio and (of course) Adam Lambert.