Here are songs #40 to #31 in the 2019 edition of Indi’s alternative holiday playlist.
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Jimmy Rankin is one of the younger members of The Rankin Family, and of all the Rankins, Jimmy has had the most successful solo career by far. He’s won a pile of CCMAs and East Coast Music Awards, and has been nominated for Junos twice – once for Best Country Artist (2002), once for Country Album of the Year (2012, for Forget About the World).
“Tinseltown” is the sorta-title-track off the 2012 Christmas album Tinsel Town, which was released in a special sleeve that allowed the album to be sent as a Christmas card. It’s a gentle song, with an insistent percussion track, perfect for easy listening. The title might seem to imply disdain at the gaudy trappings of the holiday, but the lyrics themselves don’t bear that out. Instead, the idea of a “tinsel town” is passed off as a good thing.
The Daou released just a single album, but had some success with the #1 dance hit “Surrender Yourself”. This song comes from that album. The band fell apart after contract problems, and Vanessa Daou went on to further success as a solo dance artist, but the real story has to be then-husband Peter Daou.
After a stint as a producer, Peter Daou went into politics, and has become one of the most aggressively partisan voices of the US Democratic Party. He worked with the Kerry campaign in 2004, then joined the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2006. Most recently, he and new wife Leela created the website Verrit, which appears to be about shareable factoid images pushing Democrat talking points, each of which is attached to a short article giving more information and links to sources and supporting data. What Verrit is most known for, however, is going offline three hours after Hillary Clinton tweeted in support of it due to what Daou claimed was
significant and sophisticated DDOS attack. But that’s just the tip of the Peter Daou iceberg. I could tell you about the man’s stint with a Christian militia fighting Hezbolla in Lebanon – something you’d more likely associate with a far right-winger… or about the concept album he produced about his aunt-in-law’s sex book where she described an incident where his father tried to coerce her into a blowjob… or about how he claimed to be responsible for creating The Huffington Post. I could go on and on, but really, the man’s story is far too expansive to be covered here.
Mew is a Danish indie band with a big sound: rich, layered harmonies over a driving, lush, wall-of-sound base. They were influential in the early Danish indie scene, racking up awards and critical acclaim. Commercial success came five years later, with Frengers in 2003. This song is actually the first and only (official) single from their first album, A Triumph for Man, but since that album only had a very limited release – purportedly only 2,000 copies were printed – it was included on Frengers as well.
Fans have been poring over the lyrics for years, struggling to find an interpretation. The most popular theory is that the song is about a woman who was abused – likely sexually – by a family member, and after staying away for the family for many years is now coming back for a Christmas get-together. The story is told by another family member – perhaps a younger sibling – who is torn between sympathy for what the woman has gone through, and a feeling of betrayal due to her running away.
Local Natives is a band out of California formed mostly by a group of high school friends and some post-college buddies. They got significant buzz for their debut album, 2009’s Gorilla Manor. One of the interesting quirks of the band is that – at least at the time – everybody was involved in everything: all song and even art credits are shared by all members. In fact, the album’s name comes from the house they all shared while putting the album together… apparently it was a chaotic mess, with instruments all over the place and people randomly picking out tunes on whatever was in reach.
This tune came about a year after Gorilla Manor (but a couple years before their follow-up, 2013’s Hummingbird), following bassist Andy Hamm’s ejection from the band. The lyrics are about coming home for the holiday and reconnecting with friends and family. There’s no drama here, just warmth.
I’m surprised My Morning Jacket isn’t more widely known. This is a band that had a difficult time getting critical and commercial notice, but since it came, MMJ hasn’t looked back. They have racked up three Grammy nominations for best alternative album – the same as Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., The Smashing Pumpkins, and The White Stripes – one for each album since they first broke out. In 2008, they performed a legendary four-hour set in the pouring rain at the Bonnaroo Music Festival that featured guests Zach Galifianakis and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett – a set that has been called the greatest ever set played at the festival. And in 2009, they were featured in an episode of American Dad! called “My Morning Straightjacket”, in which Stan becomes a groupie of the band.
This track comes from 2001’s At Dawn. The band’s debut album, The Tennessee Fire, had made little or no impact States-side, but had attracted attention in Europe. At Dawn would be the album that got them a following this side of the pond. Front man Jim James’s vocals were recorded in an empty grain silo, giving the track the characteristic reverb-y sound of the period. Following At Dawn, and through the subsequent album It Still Moves, the band would make several lineup changes and eventually release Z, starting the band’s modern era, and finally earning them critical acclaim and success.
Glasvegas released their self-titled debut album in 2008 to critical acclaim, commercial success, and a pile of major awards. Mere weeks after that release, they released a second record: A Snowflake Fell (and It Felt Like a Kiss). To say it was rushed would be a massive understatement; it was intended to be a full album, but they could only manage to finish six tracks in the time allotted. But in the end, even though it got only a limited physical release – or perhaps because of that – thanks to digital downloads, every single song on the EP ended up charting in the UK (and Sweden!).
Though this is the first time this song has appeared on the list, it is not the first time for Glasvegas. Last year, the list featured “Please Come Back Home”.
Parenthetical Girls is an experimental band that is basically Zac Pennington and a revolving door of collaborators. It’s a project that seems intended to snub everything “standard” about pop music. For example, at the height of their popularity, rather than releasing another album, Pennington instead released a series of vinyl-only EPs, six months apart, over a period of almost three years. The best tracks from these were later collected in the band’s final album, Privilege (Abridged).
Given that biography, it may surprise to learn that Parenthetical Girls has numerous Christmas songs in their catalogue – upwards of two dozen by my estimate. In fact, their very first EP was 2002’s Christmas with Swastika Girls – they were called Swastika Girls at the time – and right after their first album, 2004’s (((GRRLS))), came another EP:Christmas with Parenthetical Girls. And another three or four Christmas EPs followed. Indeed, their very last EP – their last release other than the album that collected the five Privilege EPs – was 2012’s Good Christian Men Rejoice, It’s Parenthetical Girls.
The Mynabirds is a band that’s pretty much a single person: Laura Burhenn. The band is known for being openly political, with particularly feminist, progressive, left-leaning messages – the most recent album BE HERE NOW, for example, covers issues such as the Standing Rock protests, and Trump’s Muslim ban.
With a reputation like that, it probably won’t surprise that “All I Want Is Truth (For Christmas)” is a very political holiday tune. The opening lyrics start by suggesting that you have yourself a merry little Christmas while you still can, because global warming is going to end the hopes of seeing any snow; later there’s a clever section that talks about everyone preferring to ignore the crises and focus on their TVs – flat screen, of course – that comes with a warning: just don’t turn on the news. But it’s not all anti-capitalist rage; there’s a lot of heart buried in the lyrics, and the lovely tune is like icing over the depressing messages, making for an enjoyable listen.
You could be excused for assuming The Neighbourhood is not an American band based on the spelling of their name. But the truth is they’re from California, and chose that spelling simply because another band named “The Neighborhood” already existed.
“Sweater Weather” has actually appeared on this list before, in the form of an incredible a capella cover by Pentatonix. It is unarguably The Neighbourhood’s best song. It was first released as a single in 2012, then placed on the band’s first EP (2012’s I’m Sorry…), and their first album (2013’s I Love You.), and as a single it went double platinum in the US. While it may be the peak of the band’s commercial success (so far), the band’s critical reputation appears to be on the rise. So keep an eye out for them – they may have a fourth album coming out soon.
It began as, of all things, an attempt by three high school friends to meet the cast of Glee. Kirstin Maldonado, Mitchell Grassi, and Scott Hoying entered a radio contest… and lost. But their signing captured the attention of their friends, and eventually even got some interest on YouTube. However, Maldonado and Hoying graduated and moved on to college. In college, Hoying learned about The Sing-Off, and got the old trio back together to audition. Along the way they picked up Avriel Kaplan – who was already a fairly well-known vocal bass – and Kevin Olusola, on the strength of a YouTube video where he beat-boxes while playing the cello. Maldonado and Hoying had to drop out of college for the audition, and Grassi missed his high school graduation… but they got on the show, and eventually won the third season (winning with – I shit you not – an a capella version of “Eye of the Tiger”)>). Success, right? Not quite. Although the group won a contract as part of their Sing-Off victory, Sony dropped them almost right away. The group then went back to their roots: YouTube. There they found massive success with a series of viral videos, mostly covers of popular songs. But superstar status came after an incredible rendition of the Imagine Dragons’s “Radioactive” in collaboration with violinist Lindsey Stirling won them the 2013 Response of the Year at the YouTube Music Awards. That same year, they released an absolutely astounding medley, “Daft Punk”, which would eventually win them the first Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella in 2015. They’d win the same award the next year, and yet another Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance with Dolly Parton for a cover of her 1973 classic “Jolene”. They’re currently one of the top channels on YouTube.
There is only a very small number of artists who have multiple songs that I’ve had a hard time deciding between for this list. Pentatonix has the distinction of being the most difficult choice of all – there are at least a half-dozen Pentatonix songs worth of this list, both covers and originals. Previously I chose a cover of The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather”, but other contenders include a cover of Imogen Heap’s “Just For Now” and a cover of Kanye West’s “Coldest Winter”. Pentatonix has made Christmas their business – they’ve released three Christmas albums, including 2018’s Christmas Is Here!, and now this year’s compilation The Best of Pentatonix Christmas, all of which have been massive successes. This year, I’ve chosen a song from Tim Burton’s classic The Nightmare Before Christmas (this list has also featured KoЯn’s insane cover of ”Kidnap the Sandy Claws” from the same film).