Hive Five: Indie Rock Christmas Songs to Avoid

Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

We’re in the holiday home stretch and that means in between uncomfortable mistletoe encounters you’ve had to fend off countless aural assaults from tired Christmas tunes. Thankfully, contemporary groups have been trying to inject new life into the genre while staying faithful to the spirit of the standards. But it’s not as easy as pairing a few power chords with some sleigh bells and a little xylophone action. While even indie rock’s resident mad hatters the Flaming Lips managed to get it right, plenty of groups have botched their Christmas originals, which means for every “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” there are a bunch of neo-holiday duds. So here are five alt holiday song misfires that you’ll want to avoid when you put together that ugly sweater party playlist.

1. The Killers, “Boots”

We’re not quite sure how it happened, but the release of a Killers Christmas song has become an annual holiday tradition. This year’s track, “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball,” is a jaunty saloon hoedown that adds some variety to the stale yuletide formula. Unfortunately, their just-released (RED) Christmas EP also includes last year’s dreary offering, “Boots.” The tune is overwrought with sappiness and drama, with a chorus that nobody would ever sing along to, no matter how many cups of egg nog they’ve downed. “Cinnamon candles burning, snowball fights outside” — these are wonderful things, and yet with his typical quavering delivery Brandon Flowers makes them sound exasperating and hopeless. The song’s proceeds to go the (RED) AIDS charity, so we can’t be too hard on them, but still … why so drab? [Listen here.]

2. The White Stripes, “Candy Cane Children”

While some of the songs on this list are too heartfelt and earnest, this one is too raw to be a Christmas song. Acts like Billy Idol or the Pogues managed to marry their rock edge with festive pop sensibility on their Christmas releases but there’s nothing festive about this bleak and violent cut from Jack White. As a tinny, punch-in-the-gut rocker, it’s great. As yuletide background music, not so much. [Listen here.]

3. My Morning Jacket, “Welcome Home”

Sorry dudes but we don’t need to add an acoustic snoozer to the Christmas canon —  the general Christmasing public already has plenty of sappy classics to keep track of (“White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” etc.). If a band wants their modern Christmas carol to stick, they have to go the upbeat route, using quirkiness (Julian Casablancas’ “I Wish It Was Christmas Today“) or joyous swells of emotion (“All I Want For Christmas Is You”). Thus, we can’t help but feel disappointed that the rockers of MMJ missed a prime opportunity to dye their beards white and sing about Santa over some noodling guitars. [Listen here.]

4. Okkervil River, “Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas”

Behold, the most pretentiously indie Christmas song ever recorded. It’s sure to make you reminisce about the following nonexistent holiday memories: wearing your finest patched houndstooth sportcoat, you enter the study to see your parents have already poured you a warm glass of fresh mulled cider, as the fireplace crackles and Otis Redding tunes spin on the gramophone. The song is a meandering downer, with no semblance of a hook until the very end (which employs, you guessed it, an Otis Redding lyric), making it the exact opposite of what you’re looking for in a Christmas song. [Listen here.]

5. Sufjan Stevens, “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!”

There are Christmas fanatics, and then there’s prolific singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, who’s released enough Christmas songs to sustain an entire holiday radio station. Dude is the Ryan Adams of Noel whisper-singing. But even machines like Adams and Stevens turn out the occasional crapper. So we went dumpster diving through Sufjan’s massive pile of eccentric yuletide offerings and found this cut. Don’t let that jovial exclamation point fool you, this is one bleak tale. The protagonist’s dad tosses the kids’ presents into their woodburning stove, and if that’s not depressing enough, they live in a house with an old-timey woodburning stove. We think Sufjan forgot to put the word “song” in this track’s title. [Listen here.]

 

 

RELATED POSTS