The Alternative Christmas Album
he holiday album is an institution of speculative worth. For the first ten months of the year it’s an ill fitting or ironic sound gag, for the next it’s an invasive and obnoxious foreshadowing, and for that final month it’s a fitting yet begrudging necessity. Most holiday music is useful only as mall soundtrack, providing opportunity for Kenny G’s sweet sonic caress to help you soar on angel’s wings to the food court over the throngs of booger nosed brats, provocatively dressed 15 year-olds with Santa hats, and all the other grabby, grim-faced consumers. But provided that E sharp hits you just right, it can make that Cinnabon taste as satisfying as the body of Christ.
But given the breadth of musical endeavor nowadays, there are bound to be rebels; those bold and miraculous few looking to spike the cider with a little bit of holiday zaz. And hence there exists the Alternative Christmas Album, a way to balance the dueling imperatives of Christmas cheer and unending coolness. Unsurprisingly, just what constitutes the right amount of Christmas cool varies according to the tastes of each successive generation. So, for educational purposes, here are a few examples of alt-Xmas disasters and masterworks. Spread the cheer at your own discretion.
Twisted Sister - A Twisted Christmas
This is the prime example of generational drift at work in the alt-Xmas genre. Dee Snider and co. are back for what they say is to be—to the good fortune of all—the final Twisted Sister album. It’s not just that they look like a bunch of middle-aged Atlantic City transvestite hookers, it’s that they sound even worse; like they recorded this in an elf torture chamber under a mountain of reindeer compost. Guaranteed to test the faith (and tolerance) of even the most fervent believers, this may be the most religious alt-Xmas album of all time.
Various Artists - Punk Rock Xmas
It should be no surprise that Rhino has put together the best Christmas compilation that exists. It’s not just the variety of purportedly anti-Christmas anthems from the likes of DI, the Damned, Fear, and the Dickies, though—it’s the fact that under all the sneering sarcasm there is an undeniably sentimental side to it all. Just try and listen to the Ramones “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” without picturing some mohawked runaway in a leather jacket returning home to reconcile with his overbearing father on a frosty Christmas Eve. Hey Kenny G, have you ever smoove-jazzed your way to such emotional candor?
Various Artists - Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album
For those with serious cred concerns, this is the album to fling in the face of all the dorks that bought the Sufjan Stevens Christmas EPs. As soon as someone mentions how Sufjan has reinstated sentimentality to its rightful centrality in the American holiday song tradition, you can counter with how the Mary Timony Band’s version of “Happy Holidaze” subverts the working norms of Kraut Rock, adding a mystical atmosphere that is as mysterious as it is festive. And—BAM!—just like that, you’re the coolest grad student in the loft.
Various Artists - Sleighed: Other Side of Christmas
With contributions from Beck, Local H, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Sonic Youth, Sleighed hits that ‘90s modern rock radio sweet spot. A turd time capsule with a festive red bow, in other words. Who wants to spend Christmas remembering the glory years of skanking to Less Than Jake at a chaperoned dance? I sure don’t.
By: Sam Roudman
Published on: 2006-12-20