Published Dec 24, 2009Aside from the ironic fuzzy sweaters, hipsters and Christmas don't normally go hand in hand. After all, 'tis the season for Christianity and consumerism, two ideologies often sworn off by the skinny-jeans-wearing crowd.
So this list top indie Christmas songs is intended for indie kids who are willing to set their cynicism aside and indulge in a little holiday cheer. After all, in recent years, many of their favourite artists have recorded Christmas songs, releasing them via the Internet, compilation CDs and, in the case of one banjo-toting baroque folk savant, a five-disc box set.
All of these songs are originals - no traditionals or holiday classics allowed - and all except for one were released this decade. And while it's by no means an exhaustive list, considering it a means to some building blocks for your next Christmas playlist.
Exclaim!'s Top Indie Rock Christmas Songs:
Badly Drawn Boy - "Donna & Blitzen"
Shimmering strings and jingling sleigh bells usher in the last song on Badly Drawn Boy's About a Boy soundtrack. Years after its 2002 release, it still stands as a majestic, Christmas-themed love song in which the singer Damon Gough triumphantly declares, "This year is ours."
Belle & Sebastian - "Are You Coming Over for Christmas?"
This jazzy lounge ballad evokes the laid back sweetness of Burt Bacharach, as Stuart Murdoch duets with guest vocalist Celia Garcia. (She later appeared on his God Help the Girl album.)
Lightning Dust - "Ho Ho Ho"
A typically haunting offering from Black Mountain cohorts Amber Webber and Joshua Wells, it combines gentle acoustic plucking with sci-fi synth squiggles and distant, echoing vocals. It's sombre, haunting stuff. That is, until it reaches the chorus, during which Webber sings, "La da dee / La da dum / Ho ho ho / Hee hee hee."
Dan Mangan - "Reason to Think Aloud"
The standout from Dan Mangan's Postcards & Daydreaming is a poignant break-up epic about the loneliness of the Christmas season. It's Mangan's attention to detail that makes it so heart-breaking, as he reflects, "Now that the TV's gone / I can see why you placed it there."
R.E.M. - "Christmas Griping"
Based around a tribal groove, this fanclub-only single features brief interpolations of well-known Christmas songs as the band members offer petty complaints about the holiday season. (Sample: Peter Buck promises, "If I have to hear 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' one more time, I'm gonna go up on a tower with a high-powered rifle.")
The Raveonettes - "The Christmas Song"
Despite their tendency to get a bit gloomy, the Raveonettes sound practically cheery here, singing about Santa with "sequins in his hair." Sonically, it's typical Raveonettes fare, with whispery boy-girl harmonies buried in a dream pop haze.
Rilo Kiley - "Xmas Cake"
Singer Jenny Lewis lays the pathos on thick, repeating, "Cry into your Christmas cake / Don't know what else to do," over a shapeshifting arrangement of harp flourishes, choral vocals and arena-sized rock-outs.
Ryan Adams - "Hey Parker, It's Christmas"
Alt-country's most prolific oddball sets this sombre lament in New York City, singing about closures on the Long Island Expressway and the distant New Jersey lights. "It's Christmastime," he repeatedly reminds us, before inexplicably switching to "It's summertime" during the outro.
Said the Whale - "Puddleglum"
An anti-Christmas rant turns into a giddy fantasy in which the protagonist dies while gift shopping and wakes up on a "white sand beach," surrounded by his family and declaring "I don't wanna go home."
Sufjan Stevens - "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!"
Appearing on the third disc of Sufjan's Songs for Christmas box set, this song was recorded in 2003 (just after Michigan), and captures the singer-songwriter at the height of his powers. Jokey title aside, its a chilling banjo/guitar ballad about family tensions during the holidays.