Christmas time is here and the one commodity more ubiquitous than Christmas trees might be the Christmas album. Although Christmas songs aren't uncommon in the pop world, we always find ourselves surprised when an indie artist sacrifices their cool to show the world they actually spent time recording a cover of "Jingle Bells". Well, we caught these underground acts red-handed and compiled some of the best indie Christmas songs that we could find.
1. The Wedding Present, "Step into Christmas"
This Leeds indie pop covered Elton John's catchy piano-pop hit "Step into Christmas" and somehow managed to make it both more pop and stranger. The band ditches the piano and layers on the guitar, turning the song into roadhouse anthem. On the other hand, the band's vocals don't match up to John's powerful vocals that he's loved for. Not that The Wedding Present are trying to compete. David Gedge makes no attempt at having great vocals, and the result is a Christmas song that's both fun and personable.
2. The National, "Silver Bells"
Earlier this week, the National joined with Steven Colbert and Greg Allman to cover the Bing Crosby's Christmas classic "Silver Bells". The song has a slight country twang to it (most likely influenced by Allman's presence on the track) but remains fairly true to the original. Despite Colbert's constant comedic temperament, this cover is totally endearing and even (this might damage the satirist's reputation) intimate.
3. Crocodiles and The Dum Dum Girls, "Merry Christmas Baby (Please Don't Die)"
Two Californian garage rock bands teamed up and cranked this somber Christmas love song out over the coarse of a night. While that might make this song seem like a careless attempt at making music, it's actually an excellent song. The chorus is such a simple request it almost comes off as humorous, but the urgency in front woman Dee Dee Penny's tone negates any silliness in the sentiment. Even though it carries pounds of static and emotional grief, the song still manages to sound catchy. Not bad, for a song written in a matter of hours.
4. Flaming Lips, "Christmas At the Zoo"
One of the more lighthearted songs on this list, "Christmas at the Zoo" sounds like an absurd take on an 80s Christmas charity song, focusing its mission on liberating all the caged animals in zoos across the world. Strange enough that it feels like a parody of any holiday song but colorful enough that it actually brings in the holiday spirit--"Christmas in the Zoo" is a staple for any holiday playlist.
5. Cocteau Twins, "Winter Wonderland"
Elizabeth Fraiser is known for her otherworldly vocals, so it probably was a requirement for her to sing a Christmas song at some point. Winter Wonderland works well for her, she strips the song down from it's typically bouncy pace and turns it into a dreamlike soundscape. Not surprising that the singer of this could make one of the best indie Christmas songs.
6. Sufjan Stevens, "I'll be Home for Christmas"
If anyone in indie rock is a fan of Christmas, it's definitely Sufjan Stevens. In 2006, Stevens released a five-disc box set that featured songs and carols that he recorded from 2001-2006 and last year he followed that up with another 58 more holiday songs. "I'll be Home For Christmas" comes off that second release and is one of his best. Opting for vibraphones over intricate big band strings, the song sounds like a 60s bossanova take on the classic. It gets more traditional midway through as backing vocals break through the percussion, but Stevens alternates between these two worlds and creating a holiday anthem that only Stevens could pull of with such a bizarre grandiosity.
7. Andrew WK, "Silent Night"
Andrew WK covered this one for AV Club's Undercover series and it's perfectly strange in a signature Andrew WK way, you can never tell whether this is sincere or facetious. Although he refrains from his classic heavy guitar riffs, and this cover won't leave you punching the air in excitement, Andrew's absurd vocal delivery in this cover is somehow delightful. Think if Randy Newman tried imitating Randy Newman, and that's basically what you're left with in this cover.
8. Bright Eyes, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
Eleven years ago Conor Oberst, the dark soul of emo-folk music, released an album of Christmas carols (for what reason, we're still not quite sure). But his cover of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is definitely a standout on the album. Oberst sounds as if he's disintegrating, whispering the lyrics and letting the piano keys take control of the melody. The fragile cover is bolstered by string arrangements, but even those violins feel wobbly. Oberst manages to heighten the intimacy and vulnerability of the earlier Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra versions, giving us an incredibly haunting take on a Christmas classic.
9. Low, "Just Like Christmas"
Along with Sufjan Stevens, Low are probably the other most famous Christians in indie rock. Despite their differences from the indie herd, Low wear their spirituality with pride and have become well-loved by critics and fans. Surprisingly, this song might be one of the more upbeat songs in Low's catalog. Documenting getting lost in Scandinavia, Mimi Parker compares the vulnerability and excitement of being in a foreign place with celebrating Christmas while young. It's a catchy and eloquent depiction of holiday nostalgia.
10. Los Campesinos!, "A Doe to a Deer"
Los Campesinos! have a tradition of releasing Christmas songs every year and this one might be their strongest. Gareth Campesinos! packs the song with so many great lines, including "an angel teetering atop a tree, vomiting from vertigo". This is one of the best indie Christmas songs for anyone that's experienced a holiday season that didn't quite match up to their lofty expectations.ds