by Claire Ma, Reporter
The holiday season is here, which means you’re going to need the perfect soundtrack for snuggling up together like two birds of a feather with that special someone. If you need a little something to spice up the holiday classics, look no further: here’s a list of the alt-est holiday jams to make the season bright in the hippest way possible. Be sure to scroll to the bottom and check out our playlist on Spotify.
12. Magnetic Fields – “Everything is One Big Christmas Tree,” Realism (2010)
What could be more festive than Stephen Merrit’s monotonous bass voice? “Everything is One Big Christmas Tree” has everything there is to love about the Magnetic Fields – the glittering imagery, the subtly depressing irony, the jingly-jangly instrumentation. If ‘sad man’s acid trip’ is the kind of holiday vibe you’re going for, the Magnetic Fields have got you covered.
11. The Shins – “Wonderful Christmastime,” Single from Holidays Rule (2012)
We all love Paul McCartney’s Christmas classic, but that heavy-delay synth is so…80’s. The Shins are the perfect band to give “Wonderful Christmastime” a fun and faithful update. Plus, there’s plenty of sleigh bells and colorful keyboards to keep the song contagiously upbeat.
10. Of Montreal – “Christmas Isn’t Safe for Animals,” If He is Protecting Our Nation, Then Who Will Protect Big Oil, Our Children? (2003)
“Christmas Isn’t Safe for Animals” is more of a criticism of Christmas’s capitalist culture than a holiday celebration. (Part of the song is just people saying “Why rent when you can own your own washer and dryer for $225 each? Put it on your Sears card!” in scary voices.) In this day and age, there’s no escaping our nation’s wretched state of unbridled consumerism, so you might as well remind yourself of the fact in your holiday music.
19. LCD Soundsystem – “Christmas Will Break Your Heart,” Single (2015)
Sometimes, you need a little doom and gloom to balance out all that holiday cheer, and this song is probably the doomiest and gloomiest of all of them. If four minutes and thirty seconds of James Murphy telling you you’re all alone in the world doesn’t sound like your cup of eggnog, well, you’re out of luck.
8. They Might Be Giants – “Santa’s Beard,” Lincoln (1988)
Love them or hate them, you have to admit that They Might Be Giants’s quirky sensibilities make for some pretty interesting holiday takes. “Santa’s Beard” is basically just “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” but in this case, the girl is actually cheating on our narrator for Santa. Sad? Yes. Weirdly catchy? Also yes.
7. Descendents – “Christmas Vacation,” I Don’t Want to Grow Up (1985)
That’s right – punk legends the Descendants have a holiday track. To be fair, it’s less about Christmas and more about getting dumped by someone over winter break, but the super-upbeat song is perfect for moshin’ around the Christmas tree, anyway.
6. Guided By Voices – “Father Sgt. Christmas Card,” Universal Truths and Cycles (2002)
In classic GBV style, Robert Pollard has once again shown us that even the most straightforward, festive-sounding song can be super cryptic if you try hard enough. (Consider: “Hunting a heart/ Backed away in his pig/ Father Sgt. Christmas Card/ Gone jogging.”) Even though the song is only tangentially related to Christmas, it’s still worth a listen if just to hear Pollard sing “Fa la la la la.”
5. Emerson, Lake & Palmer – “I Believe in Father Christmas,” Works Volume 2 (1977)
Greg Lake meant for “I Believe in Father Christmas” to be more of a protest of the commercialization of Christmas than an actual Christmas song. Ironically, it might be the most conventionally festive song on this playlist, with mellow instrumentation, glittering synth and sleigh bells galore.
4. Dikembe – “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Single (2016)
Here’s a shocker: emo band Dikembe covering Mariah Carey’s Christmas anthem. To be honest, they did it hilariously well, with sobering guitar bits and plenty of sad-boy vocals. This is the perfect song for staring out the window at the falling snow while reminiscing about that Christmas you spent with your ex.
3. Mark Kozelek – “Christmas Time is Here,” Sings Christmas Carols (2014)
It should come as no surprise that Mark Kozelek, the man behind Sun Kil Moon and the Red House Painters, is also the man behind the most devastatingly beautiful Christmas album ever. Sparse, intricate guitar arrangement and raw vocals make this Peanuts classic feel strangely sacred. Plus, Kozelek and a friend do a cute, weirdly touching rendition of Charlie Brown’s and Linus’s famous exchange in the middle of the song: “Of all the Mark Kozeleks in the world, you’re the Mark Kozelekiest.”
2. The Waitresses – “Christmas Wrapping,” Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? (1982)
“Christmas Wrapping” is like every good thing about 80’s new wave wrapped up in one. Patty Donahue’s kinda sung, kinda spoken delivery is perfect for impromptu karaoke sessions, and the song also features the best brass band flourishes ever heard on a Christmas track. And, oh, don’t get me started on that bassline. If I could simultaneously project one song into the mind of every human being on earth, it’d be “Christmas Wrapping,” because that’s just how much of a banger it is.
1. Sufjan Stevens – “Christmas Unicorn,” Silver & Gold (2015)
The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but sometimes, with the sheer flood of shopping and glazed ham and visiting relatives, Christmas can lose its magic. Sufjan Stevens’s “Christmas Unicorn” represents all that is strange and wonderful about our beloved holiday: “Oh, I’m a Christian holiday, I’m a symbol of original sin/ I’ve a pagan tree, and a magical wreath, and a bow-tie on my chin.” This twelve-minute epic doesn’t have the sentimentality of some holiday classics nor the flashiness of others, but what it does have is a sick techno breakdown, a whole lot of character, and a poignant insight into the real meaning of Christmas.