Here are songs #90 to #81 in the 2020 edition of Indi’s alternative holiday playlist.
This is not Ingrid Michaelson’s first time on this list; she has previously appeared in a collaboration with Sara Bareilles on the absolutely beautiful “Winter Song”. Interestingly, Michaelson has recently embraced holiday music with a passion. This song was originally released in 2008, but in 2017 Michaelson finally included it on an EP—a holiday-themed EP titled Snowfall. (Unfortunately, it’s not on her 2018 Christmas album Songs for the Season, which is all covers of holiday standards, with nothing original.)
Michaelson’s career has been a slow burn, but she is definitely on the rise. Her biggest hits may be 2007’s “The Way I Am” and 2014’s “Girls Chase Boys” – near as I can tell, those are her only songs to chart in Canada, which is surprising; the latter especially is quite good:
All the broken hearts in the world still beat; let’s not make it harder than it has to be. She’s also had some fairly big hits as a songwriter for others, such as the memorable 2010 hit “Parachute”, by Cheryl (formerly of the rather good TV-show-created girl group Girls Aloud) … though I prefer Michaelson’s own take on the song. Michaelson has also started dabbling acting, starring in 2018’s Humour Me alongside Flight of the Conchords’s Jemaine Clement. 2020 also saw her earning her first Emmy nomination, for the song “Build it Up”, from the finale of Little Fires Everywhere (unfortunately losing to “All for Us” by Labrinth and Zendaya, from Euphoria).
Low has been around since the early 1990s, when their debut album, 1994’s I Could Live in Hope, became one of the defining albums establishing the genre that would eventually become known as “slowcore”. Slowcore is all about minimal arrangements and extremely slow tempos, often with very depressing lyrics. Indeed, slowcore is sometimes called “sadcore”.
Take this track for example; despite being a Christmas song from a Christmas EP… which was literally titled Christmas… it’s not actually about any of the celebration of Christmas itself, but rather about the aftermath of the holiday—that depressing time when you’re taking down all the Christmas decorations, with the underlying suggestion that even if maybe the holiday wasn’t really all it was cracked up to be after all, it’s still kind of a downer that it’s over.
While The Raveonettes are pretty big in Denmark, they haven’t had huge success elsewhere… except that their songs are frequently used in movies and commercials. This list previously featured “The Christmas Song”, probably one of their biggest hits, if you’re counting by how often it’s been used in other works (for example, Christmas with the Kranks).
One thing The Raveonettes are known for are their publicity stunts. In 2016, for example, they recorded and released a song every month, creating what they called an “anti-album”: 2016 Atomized. They’ve also released an entire album full of songs in the same key. Even their origination was a bit of a gimmick: the story goes they were discovered at a music festival by a respected critic… the reality is they got wind the critic would be there, and hastily slapped a band together just to catch his eye.
You may have heard the phrase “big in Japan”, referring to the phenomenon of artists who, despite attracting little interest in their home countries, become absolutely huge in some other, unexpected country… stereotypically Japan. Well, Cheap Trick is the ultimate example of “big in Japan”. Their first three albums—Cheap Trick (1977), In Color (1977), and Heaven Tonight (1978)—triggered barely a ripple in the US… but in Japan, they were huge. I’m not exaggerating; they were actually called the “Japanese Beatles”, and when they toured the country, they were thronged by masses of screaming fans. In late 1978, they recorded a live album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, in Tokyo in front of 12,000 fans, sometimes screaming so loudly they almost drown out the band. It has since been recognized as one of the greatest live albums of all time. It was never even intended to be released in the US… but suddenly there was a huge demand for it (they eventually did release an American version in 1979). And just as suddenly, songs that had failed to chart just a year or two earlier were suddenly racing up the charts. Their older albums retroactively went Platinum, as did a few of the follow-up albums, and Cheap Trick eventually went on to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in in 2016.
One of the songs off Cheap Trick at Budokan that shot up to number one in Canada was the now-classic “I Want You to Want Me”. In a move that I can’t help but wonder was inspired by the goofy remake of “Love is All Around” done by “Billy Mack” (Bill Nighy) in the 2003 film Love Actually—which became “Christmas is All Around” in a crass attempt cash-in on the season—in 2012 Cheap Trick re-made that song as… “I Want You for Christmas”. It’s such a daffy idea, I couldn’t help but include it. But hey, it’s also a great tune, and not exactly a holiday staple, so, it does fit the theme!
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.
Enuff Z’Nuff is a perfect example of 1980s hair metal, and if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of them, that’s because of one teensy little issue: they kinda missed the 80s. Their self titled debut album was released late 1989, and by the time they rolled out a second album, well, let’s just say that the musical zeitgeist was now smelling like teen spirit… not so much glam metal anymore. That, along with serious substance abuse problems and terrible business dealings pretty much kept the band from ever reaching their true potential. But to my surprise, Enuff Z’Nuff is still alive and kickin’. In fact, just this year, they released their fifteenth studio album and… it ain’t bad! If you’re curious, here’s the track “Fatal Distraction”.
This track goes back to 1992; it was written for the film Home Alone 2. Luckily for the band, the song was rejected, and they ended up including it on their 1995 album Peach Fuzz. Since then, it’s become one of their better-known tunes, by virtue of being included on numerous compilation albums.
Parenthetical Girls was an experimental band that was basically Zac Pennington and a revolving door of collaborators. It was a project that seemed 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.
I’m not sure if Owl City is actually a band, or just a name that songwriter Adam Young uses for some of his stuff. Young hails from Minnesota, but he may actually be more popular in Canada, thanks in no small part to collaborations with the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen (“Good Time”) and Lights (“Cactus in the Valley”). His biggest success is his debut track, the absolutely wonderful “Fireflies”.
Young/Owl City has released a few Christmas tunes, all of them worth mention, starting with 2010’s “Peppermint Winter”, with the most recent being 2016’s “Humbug”. This one may be the most upbeat, though, and after this year, I felt that was probably the best way to go.
You may not recognize the name, but you have almost certainly heard Snow Patrol’s biggest hit. 2006’s “Chasing Cars” has been called the most played song of the first decade of the 20th century, and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song in 2007, losing out to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’s “Dani California”.
This song actually comes from the very early days of Snow Patrol, back when they were signed to the independent label Jeepster. Under Jeepster, the band released two albums, their 1998 debut Songs for Polarbears, and 2001’s When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up. Both garnered widespread critical acclaim… but no sales. In fact, the band was so broke that they were reduced to pretending to be members of Belle & Sebastian just to get into clubs. It was in between those albums that this song was included on a 2000 Jeepster Christmas compilation, It’s a Cool, Cool Christmas. Not seeing the sales they wanted, and not cluing in to the hints of greatness swirling just out of reach (and there were a lot of hints), Jeepster dumped the band in 2001—even at the time, the decision was mocked as idiotic. Front man Gary Lightbody, annoyed at having to shop around for a new label, took the time to work on a side project—the supergroup The Reindeer Section, which had its own massive success. But Snow Patrol’s very next single, 2003’s “Spitting Games”almost broke the UK top 50 (hitting #54)… and then the next single was “Run”, which hit #7 and went Gold, and propelled their third album, Final Straw to 6× Platinum in the UK… and of course their next album was Eyes Open, with “Chasing Cars” as its lead single, and the rest is history.
There are many bands with rags-to-riches stories, but few can really claim the “rags” title as honestly as The Used. These guys weren’t just poor; they were homeless and panhandling for change to pay for food. Their efforts to get their band off the ground even cost them friends—band’s name comes from complaints from friends that they felt
used by the band members. And even when they did start to find real success, tragedy struck in the form of lead vocalist Bert McCracken’s girlfriend dying of an overdose… while pregnant with his child. Nevertheless, the band has kept on going on, and this year they just released their seventh album, with new guitarist Justin Shekoski, formerly of Saosin.
This track was actually written for a compilation album titled Kevin & Bean’s Fo’ Shizzle St. Nizzle, the 2002 release of a (mostly) annual holiday charity album produced by The Kevin & Bean Show, a LA morning radio show—a show that once featured a just-starting-out Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla.