The holiday season can be a complicated time for a lot of folks. Sometimes, a mostly heartwarming and joyous reunion is marred by the pressure to explain why you haven’t a) gotten married, b) had kids, c) found a viable and lucrative career, or d) generally lived up to the unblemished example set by [insert that one sibling or cousin you’re inevitably compared to every year].
Sometimes, it’s an all-out battle of the grudges to see who has been most scorned by the family. Sometimes, it’s an even more psychologically challenging time where old but still raw traumas bubble back to the surface.
Whether you’re the outcast, the “disappointment,” or just the one who needs a break from the conflict, a good mix of sad and angry music to scream or sob to can give you the catharsis you need to get through the rougher moments the holidays can bring. Here are some newer acts to freshen up your go-to catharsis playlist.
New York-based Sarah Kinsley is a classically trained pianist who brought the polished precision of the conservatory into her pop-indie solo work. Her voice is emotionally resonant and authentic while the instrumentals beneath it are incredibly disciplined and intricate.
Though she’s only produced a handful of songs so far, the clarity and complexity make them interesting enough to listen to over and over while you wait for her next release.
In “The King,” the titular track from her latest EP, you’ll hear everything that makes Sarah Kinsley such an astonishingly talented new musician/producer on the scene:
Another gorgeous ballad you can sob-sing along to is “I’m not a mountain:”
Some of JEEN’s tracks are 90% rock and 10% pop while others are the exact reverse, which creates a dynamic energy behind her melodic and introspective vocals. Each track will alternate between harder moments with distorted guitar riffs and heavy drums to poppier moments that almost twinkle.
It’s a good sound for those more restless moments when you can’t quite settle on what you’re feeling. To start, try “Disarray” from her latest album:
And for a taste of the poppier (but still dark) side of Jeen, try “Backyard” from her first album:
For a really on-the-nose anthem for the holidays, try “I Won’t Be Home For Christmas,” her Blink-182 cover released earlier this month:
Lucy Dacus blends confessional lyrics with piano, heavy drum tracks, and a rich alto voice that will warm your soul on these bitter winter nights. If you’re looking for songs to cry to, Dacus is your girl. She admits to crying on stage herself a few times while performing some of her more personal tracks. One of those tracks was “Thumbs:”
For something with a little more grit mixed into the grief, her first album, “No Burden,” has tracks like “Troublemaker Doppelgänger” that will hit that note perfectly:
Daisy the Great
Kelley Nicole Dugan and Mina Walker make up the duo that is Daisy the Great. Their breathy voices harmonize in a unique blend of edgy and playful indie-pop melodies, creating tracks that are emotional and bitter yet somehow upbeat. If you’re trying to decompress without falling into a complete pit of despair, this energetic but not abrasively peppy sound is what you need.
As a case in point, try “IDKW” from their 2019 album, “I’m Not Getting Any Taller:”
You should also check out “Seasoned:”
The alt-country singer-songwriter is based in Portland, Oregon where he self-produces his albums. His distinctive voice has a kind of gravel and bourbon timbre that lays over instrumentals that are somewhere at the intersection of country, classic rock, and indie.
As is almost obligatory for any country singer, his songs tend to be ballads of regret, guilt, and loss so it’s maybe less cathartic and more brooding but there are a few moments with a little more bite like “Live and Die” from his latest album:
And “Shot Down” from his last album:
The rawness of her decidedly punk influence adds authenticity to tracks that are sometimes a little emo, sometimes a little poppy, and sometimes a little folk. In short, Chicago-based Sincere Engineer is a well-rounded selection for all those feelings you’re having this time of year.
When you’re feeling like a disappointment and a bit of fuck up, try “Ceramic Tile:”
If you’re feeling something closer to despair or longing, try “Out of Reach:”
Squirrel Flower’s understated and delicate melodies underpin softly spoken poetic lyrics on tracks that will linger in the air long after they end. The Massachusetts-born, Iowa-based artist lets her haunting and emotive vocals dominate while minimalist instrumentals serve primarily as a touch of added dimension around her expressive voice.
From her latest album, “Planet (i),” check out “Desert Wildflowers:”
Then listen to “Midwestern Clay” from “Contact Sports:”
Home Is Where
A mix of atmospheric acoustic and synth rhythms with crashing guitar riffs and unconstrained vocals characterize the sound of Home Is Where. The Florida-based band offers a full range of cathartic anthems to lay on the floor or break things to.
For an atmospheric and understated vibe, check out “Sewn Together from the Membrane of the Great Sea Cucumber:”
But when you need to scream until your voice goes hoarse, try “Assisted Harakiri:”
The Michigan-based band, Charmer, is decidedly emo but they borrow extensively from a broad range of genres to layer in surprising dimensions to the typically hardcore and alternative sound. It gives each track a different flavor without straying from the emotional weight and atmosphere that make emo songs so cathartic.
For example, listen for the horns that make an unexpected appearance on “Topanga Lawrence,” from their first album. The ska-inspired trumpet adds another dimension to the emotional expression of the track:
Those horns come back in “Sunshine Magazine,” on their newer album:
For something a little harder, try “Windbreaker,” also from their new album:
Lincoln doesn’t blend genres so much as he mashes them up in glaring juxtapositions that barely flow together but somehow still feel cohesive. That might not make much sense to read but if you put on “Saint Bernard,” the song that made the new artist go viral last year, it’ll make sense:
The song builds, not by gradually layering in new sounds but by suddenly hurling them at you. The Ohio-based artist released a sequel to the viral song soon after that further showcases his talent for genre-mashing:
Outside his viral hits, Lincoln also offers energetic indie rock tracks that are just as catchy. Try out “How I Survived Bobby Mackey’s Personal Hell” for a sample of his non-dog songs:
If you’re already in the car, take over the aux cord and listen to the playlist with all the songs recommended above.