Music, Not Muzak
New Indie Christmas Albums
John Roderick and Jonathan Coulton put out a holiday record; Sufjan Stevens puts out five.
Odds are you’ve already been bombarded by a steady onslaught of Christmas music. Tis the season. And while the classics are (mostly) great, there’s no need to shun new Christmas tunes. Two indie-rock offerings give listeners vastly different ways to freshen up their Christmas catalogs.
The Long Winters’ front man John Roderick (Seattle’s official indie Santa Claus) has teamed up with his geek rock pal Jonathan Coulton to release a new holiday album One Christmas at a Time. Here are 10 reasons why it’s awesome:
1. All the songs are originals. No need for the 1,400,572th cover of “Jingle Bells.”
2. The album is legitimately funny. Ex: On “One Christmas at a Time,” Roderick plays the part of a man who's horribly inept at Christmas, delivering lines like, “I put all this year’s presents on my credit card, and kind of went overboard, but by this time next year my podcast will be earning serious money.” #supertrain
3. Coulton incorporates classic holiday film references (a drunk Jimmy Stewart from It’s a Wonderful Life, the Island of Misfit Toys, etc.) for the melancholy “Christmas Is Interesting.”
4. No holiday tune better captures the want—the all-consuming childhood longing for this one toy at Christmas— than “2600” (in this case, it’s the Atari 2600 video game console).
5. Jason Finn of the Presidents of the United States of America handled the drumming duties. Coulton and Roderick did everything else.
6. The guys take a country turn on “Christmas in Jail,” where Roderick busts out his best old school country voice (a little Johnny Cash).
7. “Christmas With You Is the Best” is basically an anti-Christmas tune about sweet lovin’.
8. Umm… beards?
9. All the songs were written and recorded in five days when Coulton was in Seattle for PAX—and somehow, it doesn’t feel rushed.
10. The song “Wikipedia Chanukah” is exactly what it sounds like. Roderick dryly reads Wikipedia’s Hanukkah entry over a dance beat. It rules.
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While One Christmas at a Time is casual fun, the new Christmas collection from Sufjan Stevens, Silver and Gold, is bipolar and exhaustive. It’s his second five-disc holiday box set in the past six years. If you’re a diehard fan of Stevens’ enigmatic charm, Silver and Gold is a 58-track treat. If not, it may seem rather grating. Filled both with holiday classics and quirky original tunes, the albums shift back and forth between meticulously crafted choral arrangements and intentionally messy music. One moment there’s an angelic arrangement (“Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates”), the next it's sloppy; “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is noisy for its own sake with off-time background vocals and buzzy guitar noodling. At the end of one of the songs (“Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling”), Stevens literally says, “Alright, let’s do a real song.”
Let’s hope he does one or two “real songs” at his December 8 show at the Neptune. The fans do love him—tickets sold out almost instantly when they went on sale.
Dec 8 at 8, Neptune Theatre, sold out