December 24, 2018 / 9:00 am

A Very Indie Christmas

The 8 best indie/alt/rock covers of your favorite Christmas songs to make your family members sad-boogie when you take control of the aux chord. 

Maybe it’s my general distaste for Christmas music that made this list difficult to compile—are the songs really trash, or is it the fact that there only seems to be 12 core songs at the root of an entire genre? Anyways, here are a few covers of Christmas songs by your favorite indie artists that aren’t entirely hate-able:

  1. “Blue Christmas” – FUR

Relatively new to the scene, FUR began producing alt/indie oldies-inspired love pop songs in 2017 and have already taken a chance on the Christmas cover trend. Vocalist Murray’s already melancholy, sometimes whiny tone is perfectly suited for this somber holiday tune. Curl up by the fireplace and find something to cry about with this cover’s lo-fi guitar and dragging harmonies, saved from overwhelming gloom by the twinkles of chimes and jingle bells.

  1. “O Come O Come Emmanuel” –Sufjan Stevens

Leave the vaguely creepy biblical songs to Sufjan Stevens, whose soft yet powerful voice and folksy guitar make this cover captivating. The entire, 42-song album of Christmas covers, Songs for Christmas, is a dynamic and ambitious foray into the entire genre of holiday music. However, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is particularly resonant in its selective choice of an orchestra: some kind of pan flute perhaps, and a banjo-like string that feels both mysterious and somehow authentic to the song’s origins.

  1. & 4. “White Christma$” and “Wonderful Christmastime” – Mac Demarco

Would it even be ~indie~ Christmas without Mac Demarco? The face of indie rock brings his eternal chill and trademark goofiness to Christmas classics, creating relaxed and just plain fun holiday jams. Another One era Mac Demarco released “White Christma$” in 2015, the day after Christmas, of course. His famously nasal, blasé voice and muffled synth piano are set to a gentle jingle bell beat, adding a tasteful amount of cheer without overdoing it.

Two years later, on Christmas day itself, Demarco released a synthed-up cover of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” The cover art is a goofy ode to the song’s original creator, as Mac and Paul are cartooned as a blob of flesh on a couch surrounded by a moat of cigarette butts and beer cans. The text around their bodies read: “It was a Christmas miracle. We had become one, we melded. Paul’s thoughts became mine and mine became his. Flies had gathered to feed on all the beauty of Christmas that seeped from our pores.” A strange yet cheery message to further the always questionable motives of Mac Demarco. Voice distortions, occasional creepy laughter, and a fun clap beat give this cover the casual creativity that most Christmas covers lack.

  1. I Wish it Was Christmas Today – Julian Casablancas

Former frontman of The Strokes, Julian Casablancas, has really worked to explore every corner and genre of the music world, from leading experimental rock group The Voidz, to fun solo projects like this cover of a celebrated SNL Christmas song from 2000. Given his past work with fellow creative genius, Andy Samberg, in producing the smash hit (in my books) “Boombox,” one can gather that Casablancas likely has a sense of humor in covering this comedic skit, although the production value and effort put into the cover is certainly no joke. Lacking only a comically small guitar and an adorable baby Jimmy Fallon, Casablancas’ version of “I Wish it Was Christmas Today” is still fun, upbeat, and quick paced—not very common for indie covers that often favor a more somber tone.* Even if the chiming bells may have pushed this cover a little over the top, the chorus of Casablancas’ characteristic shout-singing passion earns this catchy carol a spot on my playlist.

  1. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – The Raveonettes

Danish alternative noise rock group, The Raveonettes, bring their lo-fi guitar and raw vocals to a four-song album of both Christmas covers and originals. When the sun goes down (at 4 pm) and you’re getting ready for a jingle bash, put on Wishing You a Rave Christmas, whose haunting harmonies, synth builds, and reverb guitar aren’t as much techno club as they are unfinished basement party. The most dance-y cover is Darlene Love’s beloved “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” The original is hard to top, but because The Raveonettes take their cover in a completely different creative direction—slow, echoey vocals and an electronic melody—it kind of works.

  1. “Hark! The Harold Angel’s Sing” – Julian Koster

Not alternative enough? Wanna get weirder? Look no further than Julian Koster, the singing saw-ist of Neutral Milk Hotel, covering a few Christmas carols such as “Hark! The Harold Angel’s Sing.” This cover, comprised only of a singing saw and some distant chimes, feels like ascension to heaven, or perhaps an alien abduction. To give it some context, check out Koster’s live performance of the carol. The low-quality home recording of an intimate living room concert features some expectedly strange (and admittedly made up) stories about the origins of the songs. If you’re hooked, or at least intrigued by the extra-terrestrial instrument, follow the six-part series of thirty-second carols.

*Editor’s Note: Casablancas recently released a separate demo version that takes this very tone!