The logo for The Sleigher.
Credit: Julia Terbrock

HO HO WHO: You might not immediately recognize the name Ava Max, but if someone put on “Sweet but Psycho,” the pop singer’s synth-filled 2018 megahit, you’d be singing along before you knew it. The 26-year-old rising star is coming off a big year following the September release of her debut studio album Heaven & Hell. “Christmas Without You” is the first single released after the album dropped.

CAROLING, CAROLING: Typical to Max’s vocal-driven ballad style, the song starts off with bare piano chords before the first chorus brings some classic jingle bells. It builds with a bass line, a simple beat, and harmonies as it moves into the second chorus. The production is good, but that’s not what we’re here for. Max’s vocals carry the show, and the latter half of the song gives them the chance to shine. You can’t have a Christmas pop song without a few runs, and Max tops it off with a whistle tone in the final chorus.

PANDEMIC POETRY: Sweet, simple songwriting captures the feeling of waiting for a lover to come home, a message that feels especially pertinent this year. Although the titular line, “It won’t feel like Christmas without you,” may apply to many of us spending the holiday away from loved ones, the song’s descriptions send a positive message. “I hope that you’ll make it back home soon” could mean next month or next year, but for now, what matters is the love that keeps us connected.

CHEER FACTOR: 8/10. We’re not looking for someone to reinvent the wheel here: Ava Max delivers heartfelt lyrics and solid vocals on top of a simple chord progression with chiming bells. If you’re spending Christmas this year away from your usual crowd, Max knows how you feel. “Christmas Without You” is just the song to cheer you up.