“Snowman,” a single from Sia’s great new holiday album Everyday Is Christmas, is one big relatable mood. On the midtempo, ’60s-inspired track, the Australian artist laser-focuses her mastery of pop hooks to craft a yearning tribute to a lover with coal for eyes and a carrot for a nose. Describing herself as Mrs. Snow, she tenderly confesses love for her frosty paramour, and casts the pair as Icarus-like fugitives from the sun’s melty heat. “A puddle of water can't hold me close,” she sings. If you’ve ever dated someone with a heart of ice and a penchant for ghosting, this may seem like a familiar metaphor.
Amidst its sleigh bells and Darlene Love-esque vocal layering, Everyday Is Christmas is dotted with eccentric moments that make its riff on Spector-era sounds feel bang up to date. “Underneath The Mistletoe” pairs a strident piano line with Kate Bush-like vocal tricks, and “Ho Ho Ho” has a touch of the untethered hedonism that characterized Sia’s biggest hit, “Chandelier”: “Bring a bottle of booze / We got nothing to lose.” Meanwhile, the pared-back “Snowflake” would neatly sit alongside “Death By Chocolate,” a heartfelt ballad from her 2008 album, Some People Have Real Problems.
Sia worked with her longtime producer Greg Kurstin on Everyday Is Christmas, and the pair find impressive space for originality in a genre that operates within pretty narrow margins — as Sia admitted to Zane Lowe in a recent interview, the traditions of holiday music are basically “mistletoe, ‘Ho Ho Ho,’ Santa Claus, Christmas lists, elves,” and variations thereof.
So why bother with a Christmas album at all? Well, one obvious answer is that a holiday hit is a surefire route to lucrative royalties, year-on-year. (Just ask Mariah!) But Sia doesn’t need the money, what with her “refrigerator that David Guetta built” and “artwork that Flo Rida built.” Like with her forthcoming directorial debut starring Kate Hudson and Maddie Ziegler, it seems that the artist was most motivated by the project’s creative challenges. In the same Beats 1 interview with Lowe, she said: “I thought we had a bit of a shortage of good Christmas music. Anything new, I wasn’t vibing that much on it. And so I thought, Wouldn’t it be nice to do something that I liked, and my managers were like, “obviously it’s [...] ‘an evergreen’” — which is a song that makes money forever.”
No self-respecting holiday party would be complete without Kelly Clarkson’s sleighbell-dotted “Underneath The Tree” and Ariana Grande’s Christmas and Chill EP, but Sia’s point is broadly true. Many recent attempts to create “evergreen” holiday songs have been sadder than a christmas pudding that won’t flambé (see this year’s efforts from Gwen Stefani and Hanson). Often, artists looking for an extra festive buck stick to covers of the classics, like 2017 releases from Fantasia and Reba McEntire — whose new CD, My Kind Of Christmas, is exclusively available at Cracker Barrel.
When many Christmas albums feel like new decorations are being hung on the same old synthetic tree, Everyday Is Christmas is an unexpected pleasure. Sia’s personal point of view is never far away, either: “Puppies Are Forever,” a big band production that could be the centerpiece in a festive edition of Hairspray, is a wink to her work as an animal rights activist. For the album’s closing pair of tracks, though, Sia and Kurstin dial down the bell chimes in songs that you might just want to listen to all year round.
The album’s title track is a ballad in the vein of Sia co-writes like “Diamonds” and “Pretty Hurts,” with an earworm hook that creeps up on you much like the song’s titular holiday. On “Underneath The Christmas Lights,” she sings with haunting restraint amidst a simple accompaniment of piano and strings. The effect is a hushed intimacy that recalls her cult breakout, “Breathe Me.” But unlike on that 2002 song, Sia’s voice doesn’t crack here. It soars assuredly, like the sound of a lone choir singer as the first snow falls.