The High Plains Drifters aren’t setting out to remake the musical wheel or provide life-altering experiences through their music with their new single. “Alone on Christmas Day” has relatively modest aspirations, at first listen, but there is something more going on here. On the surface, this is a light and entertaining single where the singer rues his inability to connect with a beautiful woman that he’s longing for over time. A deeper listen, however, does reveal that it’s a curt and often funny reflection on the vagaries of desire around a time of the year when we put a high premium on togetherness.
Don’t get confused, however. This isn’t weighty material. It never means, however, that it’s easily disposable. The High Plains Drifters have consistently delivered the musical goods since their formation late in the last decade and their most recent EP release, Songs of Love and Loss, positioned them as one of the most promising indie acts working today. “Alone on Christmas Day” further burnishes their reputation.
It comes along with a video that any band would be proud to claim as their own. The Drifters spare no expense or effort in giving listeners an eye-catching promo video that complements the song from its first frame through the last. Accentuating the humor present in the song enhances it rather than overshadowing the musical merits of the tune; it is, after all, why we’re here. The humor, much like the music and lyrical content, resolutely avoids anything that smacks of heavy-handedness. It’s full of laugh-out-loud moments and surprises, however, and should be considered a must-see for anyone who enjoys the song.
The song, in general, is a must-hear. The nuanced and careful arrangement Studnicky and his cohorts concoct for the recording carries listeners forward at a mid-tempo pace. It nevertheless pops with genuine energy. I chalk much of that up to the electric guitar work and Kyle Cassel’s steady drumming that cracks his kit with percussive force throughout the arrangement. The unobtrusive bass, credited to Cohen as well, syncs up tight with the drums and gives “Alone on Christmas Day” necessary ballast.
Studnicky’s singing doesn’t test the limits of his range, without a doubt, but it’s nonetheless quite effective. His vocal phrasing delivers an excellent performance that captures the full potential of the situation without ever succumbing to melodramatic highs or lows. I enjoy how he ends scattered lines with a clear smile in his voice, you’ll hear what I’m writing about, and it doubled my pleasure in hearing this track.
The High Plains Drifters’ “Alone on Christmas Day” avoids all of the usual customary cliches about holiday tunes while still capitalizing on the Yuletide spirit. That’s an impressive balancing act given the tradition behind such fare, and they make it sound easy. There’s no doubt in my mind that they labored harder than it sounds to make it come out all right, but the great ones always make the difficult sound relaxed and natural. They accomplish that here with flying colors and I’m sure they’ll do it many more times in coming years.