The Gustavian Weekly

Indie artists take over holiday music | The Gustavian Weekly

By Mackenzie McCann Staff Writer | December 6, 2013 | Variety

Revamp your Christmas playlist with these fresh takes on Christmas classics.

No matter how hard you may try, the perils of overplayed holiday music are nearly impossible to avoid. Although the nostalgic crooning of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” might have an embarrassingly comforting effect on you as snow begins to fall from the sky, it’s inevitable that by the time Christmas actually comes around, you’ll be frantically changing the radio station every time that “Christmas Shoes” song begins to play.

Luckily there’s hope for those of you who wish to avoid the dreaded fate of falling out of love with “Feliz Navidad” and “Jingle Bell Rock” (and for those of you who wish just avoid them altogether). In recent years several refreshing Christmas albums have been released that capture the holiday spirit without making you want to rip your ear drums out after the fourth time hearing them in a day.

Sufjan Stevens’ Silver & Gold

The first album that comes to mind is Sufjan Stevens’ Silver & Gold, a five-disc box set of nearly 60 Christmas songs written over the span of several years. This three-hour long album released in 2012 is a follow-up to his first successful Christmas album Songs for Christmas (2006). Combining the two is the perfect solution to unbearably long car rides to your aunt’s house for Christmas dinner.

Silver & Gold accurately reflects Sufjan’s well-known experimental style with a mixture of traditional holiday hymns and original songs that range from cute and quirky to deep and reverent. Each disc takes you on a journey. Rather than focusing simply on holiday cheer and tradition, Sufjan explores the complexities of emotions felt during the holiday season.

One especially memorable song on the album is Sufjan’s electronic rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” The nine-minute song eventually spirals into a surprisingly wonderful mess of an overly-autotuned repetition of the lyrics “do you feel what I feel?” It’s immediately followed up by “Christmas In The Room,” a slow and beautiful original about spending Christmas with a special someone.

Although Silver & Gold might not appeal to all lovers of classical holiday tunes, it’s definitely a perfect remedy for those craving something different. Besides, any Christmas album that ends with an epic mash-up cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is at least worth a listen, right?

She & Him’s A Very She & Him Christmas

The next breath of fresh air is She & Him’s A Very She & Him Christmas (2011). Although it’s not quite as awe-inspiring as Sufjan’s holiday epic, this album’s low-key hipster vibe is the perfect background noise for cookie decorating and present wrapping.

A Very She & Him Christmas has a wonderfully calm and melancholy mood without absolutely ruining the Christmas spirit. The complimentary voices of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward combine to create an album that’s digestible for everyone from indie music-lovers to easily-offended grandmothers.

The standout song on this album is the gender-swapped version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Zooey sounds far less like a sexual predator with her charmingly innocent voice. “Mind if I move in closer” is much less creepy coming from her instead of a male voice. Rather than straying down the path of “too quirky,” She & Him played it safe with A Very She & Him Christmas. However, one can’t help but crave more of that “adorkable” appeal that Zooey is so well known for.

Indie Artists Collaborate in Holidays Rule

Finally, if you’re yearning for something a little more current, Holidays Rule is the album for you. Released in the fall of 2012 by Hear Music/Concord Music Group, this record features a collection of traditional holiday music covers by bands and artists like The Shins, The Head And The Heart, The Civil Wars, and Andrew Bird.

The beauty of Holidays Rule lies in the simplistic diversity of the songs. None are overdone and cheesy, yet they all encompass the style and uniqueness of each band or artist covering them. The album opens with Fun.’s rendition of “Sleigh Ride,” which adds just enough techno pop to traditional jingle bells and string instruments.

The best song on the album is Punch Brothers’ cover of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The bluegrass band holds back on the instrumentals for most of the song, letting their vocalist shine, until eventually bringing together guitar, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, and bass in an unforgettable harmony.

The thought of repetitive holiday music in general might leave you feeling like you’ve drank too much egg nog. However, if you expand your search for the perfect Christmas jams, you’ll find that there is indeed a plethora of seasonal music out there that’s actually worth repeating.