It's not the 1980's
anymore so it often feels like the golden age of contemporary
Christmas songs has come and gone. Of course Sir Cliff is always
good for something new every December but how many Christmas songs
from the current century would you include on your festive
compilations? Not many I'd wager. But then, chances are you many
not have been looking in the right places because the indie scene
has been producing gleaming new Christmas tunes every year since
the internet and cheap modern recording devices gave them an
opportunity to do so. What we've done here is chosen 2000 as year
zero and picked the top 30 indie Christmas songs (in no particular
order, although our fave is probably Low's 'Just Like Christmas')
that have arrived in that time. We think all 30 are pretty
fantastic and the hope is that you'll find some that will sit
neatly beside 'Last Christmas', 'Stop The Cavalry' and 'Christmas
in Hollis'. You'll find videos for many of the songs at the bottom
of this page.
Top 30 Indie Christmas Songs
1) The Very
Most - Away In A Manger (2009)
Let's face it there
is nobody who can argue about the longevity of this standard but
how many versions of it have made you want to dance? None really,
well not until Idaho's best kept secret the Very Most indie-popped
it up. This sort of thing could give cover's a good name.
Weepies - All That I Want (2007)
This has a country
feel, almost Aimee Mann but a bit gentler. With soft sleigh bell
edges this California duo create the seasonal sound despite another
hot one outside.
Sexsmith - Maybe This Christmas (2002)
A true Christmas
classic from the softly singing Canadian, who has released a batch
of understated but beautiful albums. Sexsmith leaves the irony
aside and sings for traditional values and hopes for a bright new
future. It's only 2 minutes long but what a memorable little ditty
4) Venice Is
Sinking - The Grey Line (2007)
This is undoubtedly
the saddest Christmas song we've ever heard. Sad but triumphant all
the same, from a Georgia band that offer so much but who receive so
little in return. All 'The Grey Line' needs is a solitary viola,
some sleigh bells and Karolyn Troupe's vocals to have us curling up
in front of the yuletide log.
Hawley - Silent Night (2006)
Ex Pulp member
Richard Hawley sounded all demure as his deep voice and a distant
slide guitar gave this old classic the attentive treatment it
Prass - No Better Time (2010)
Natalie Prass may
not be that well known (yet), even in indie circles, but the
Nashville songstress has already recorded one of the most startling
Christmas songs this century. Her vocals are playful, like a small
tot at 5am on Christmas morn, and the surrounding jazzy ensemble
just recreates the feeling of the holidays of yore.
Frightened Rabbit - It's Christmas So We'll Stop
Ever since it
appeared a couple of years back we've been entranced by this
genuine article from Scotland's Frightened Rabbit. It has so much
potential they even recorded a choral version, which just increases
the amount of goosebumps you'll experience each time it comes on
the radio at Christmas time.
8) Low -
Just Like Christmas (2000)
As we've mentioned
already this is probably our favourite Christmas song from the new
decade. It is taken from Low's 1999 Christmas release (we only
heard it in 2000 on a compilation from that year called 'It's A
Cool, Cool Christmas', so there! ) and unlike the slow march of
most of their other tunes it boasts an ingenious momentum. The
percussion is immense and recalls Phil Spector's wall of sound,
then there is the heavy sleigh belling and Mimi Parker's eloquent
vocals in the midst of the wonderful brouhaha.
Parenthetical Girls - Do You Fear What I Fear
For most of their
career Portland's Parenthetical Girls have created an admirable but
near impenetrable sound. But, that all changes once December 1st
arrives as the Zac Pennington led troupe go all misty eyed and
tinsel led. On 'Do You Fear What I Fear' they sound demure and
glacial, like a quiet frozen lake.
Heavy Blinkers - Silence Your Drum (2010)
Nova Scotia band the
Heavy Blinkers enlisted singer Jenn Grant to give 'Little Drummer
Boy' a modern reworking and the result is one of the finest
renditions of the traditional tune.
Zipper - Christmas Song (2003)
Vincent Cafiso and
Tabitha Tindale are the dreamy Joy Zipper who create shimmering pop
classics. In 2003 they turned their hand to the subject of
Christmas and although it lacked the usual bolted on Christmas
symbols it presented a much warmer hearth than most bands could
even write to Santa for.
Darlin' - Baby, It's Cold Outside (2008)
It's been covered a
million times but Elizabeth Darling and her mandolin give ' Baby,
It's Cold Outside' just one more precious interpretation.
Grandaddy - Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland
meloncholy indie pop these Modesto bearded wonders nailed 'Winter
Wonderland' with much too many words, about their idol Alan
Parsons, and some wonderfully rendered harmonies. You'll cry but
most of all you'll smile at the glory of this much underrated
Remington Super 60 - Here Comes Christmas
A classic winter
melody from Norweigan band Remington Super 60 which included a
sing-along chorus and an avalanche of winning harmonies.
Stevens - Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!
Artists don't get
more artistic than good auld Sufjan but come festive time each year
he really lets his hair down. In fact Stevens has recorded more
Christmas songs that most bands record for their entire back
catalogue. 'Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!' is a priceless
original with the charm of the Polar Express and the giddiness of a
Muppet's Family Christmas.
Eyes - God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (2002)
Got to admit that
this standard is often lost on us but Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes
does a wonderful job of giving it the kick up the pants it
requires. Oberst cleverly retains a sense of the traditional sound
but 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' is also given a pleasing
My Love - Snow Is Fallen (2010)
L.A. rockers Darker
My Love hit the target with their sweetly jangling stomper 'Snow Is
Falling'. Your frozen limbs will thank you for letting this warm
audio into their life.
18) The Keys
- Queuing Up For Christmas (2009)
Welsh retro janglers
the Keys would seem ideal for Christmas recipes. And so it proved
to be in 2009 when 'Queuing Up For Christmas' lit up our hearts to
the same degree as the city centre's over ambitious lighting
Fanclub - Christmas Eve (2000)
This was originally
written by another indie band called Gorky's Zygotic Mynci but
Teenage Fanclub's version has the edge. In what is just a very
short near-instrumental it seems utterly odd that it should sweep
us off our feet every time.
Hynes - Twinkle (2008)
Nina Hynes is not
exactly prolific but that doesn't stop her from recording precious
tunes every now and then. This one was created especially for
Dublin's Indiecater Records' Christmas compilation in 2008. And yes
it does twinkle and in many ways it is also a little star.
Chica - Not On Christmas Eve (2010)
Chica play a cute strand of alt-country that generally comes out
all quietish in nature. But that all changed with 'Not On Christmas
Eve' where they kicked out the jams for a good old yuletide rant.
Gotta stay off the mulled wine Hallie.
Pond PA - Holiday Road (2005)
Matt Pond took
Lindsey Buckingham's non-Christmas tune 'Holiday Road' and turned
into a very special one indeed. Or maybe they didn't, it just
sounds that way to us.
Koster - Jingle Bells (2008)
How about something
different, very different. Julian Koster recorded a whole Christmas
album in 2008 with the help of his singing saw (actually a real saw
but with added bauble articulation). It's a bit weird but then that
doesn't stop you wearing a Santa Hat every December 24th.
Dandy Warhols - Little Drummer Boy (2000)
Talk about a radical
reinvention! Cover songs don't get this disruptive normally but
Portland's the Dandy Warhol's were approaching their high watermark
when they upturned this standard and made it into a party animal.
And in an instant the boy doth become a man. Taken from the
extremely rare 'It's A Cool, Cool Christmas' comp.
Sills - George Bailey (2007)
Santa Cruz's Carolyn
Sills went all Phil Spector for their homage to the much loved
character from 'It's A Wonderful Life'. A retro classic for those
who prefer old style Christmas treats.
26) Idaho -
Santa Claus Is Weird (2001)
He is not the only
weird one given the framework of this little oddity. But for all
its sadcore leanings there is something loveable about the way we
reach the end of this story. Piano and voice rarely make better
unions that this.
Fare - Tinsel Politics (2009)
Little known, even
in their home town of Sheffield, Standard Fare hit top gear on
their battle of Christmas wits in the hilarious 'Tinsel Politics'.
This is undeniably twee but also great fun for the season.
Furry Animals - The Gift That Keeps Giving (2007)
idiosyncratic Welsh indie popsters went straight-laced with this
gorgeous Christmas tune which they gave away to their fans from
their website in 2007.
Claws - Christmas Love (2008)
It may be only 90
seconds long but Fort Collins duo Candy Claws pack so much cheer
into that short space of time to ensure they're embraced to the
same degree each winter as they are for the rest of the year.
Garneau - It's Almost Christmas (2007)
If only I had this
to sing when I was growing up, when the gap between the start of
December and Christmas week felt like 10 whole lifetimes. Chris
Garneau is a gentle sort and this is such a warm innocent little