Inspired by Ben Cohen’s endorsement of Bruce Springsteen’s Christmas classic, I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite holiday songs. Because I’m not from New Jersey, Springsteen didn’t make the cut. Sorry, Ben. This list, however, evokes a side of Christmas not seen in Mariah Carey’s or Bing Crosby’s respective Christmas albums. A side that is best described by Charlie Brown in his famous Christmas special:
“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I guess I just don’t understand Christmas. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
Enjoy a break from the Bon Iver-filled top 10 lists. Happy Christmas?
Sufjan Stevens. “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” The song ends “Silent night/Holy night/Silent night/Nothing feels right,” encapsulating Charlie Brown’s sentiment in the most Jesus-loving, Sufjan Stevens way possible.
The Trekky Yuletide Orchestra. “The Best Christmas Ever.” Chapel Hill-based Trekky Records formed the Trekky Yuletide Orchestra a few years back when they launched their annual Christmas at the Cradle concert, now in its third year. They also released an album of Christmas standards. The warm string section and acoustic guitar paired with the anti-consumerist message is a kind of endearing but the lyrics’ desolate imagery of barren hearths and “no presents anywhere” still pack a depressing punch.
Nine-year-old Colorado-native Alec Greven just secured his Ivy League acceptance. The elementary school student’s foray into the field of dating-advice books has earned him appearances on “Ellen” and “The Today Show.” His book, entitled How to Talk to Girls, offers timeless advice like “don’t wear sweat pants,” “comb your hair” and “moms are girls, so do what moms would like.” There are some misfires (“Girls don’t like the class clown”), but it’s generally pretty cute.
After watching his interview with Meredith Veira and considering how interested in girls and relationships he seems, I question the author’s credentials. Don’t most nine-year-old boys think girls have cooties? I’m sure the accusation I’m about to make is wholly inappropriate, and maybe its his prepubescent voice coloring my opinion, but I suspect in 10 years, we will find out that this author is not particularly interested in talking to girls.
Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste at 2008's Lollapalooza. Courtesy brooklyn vegan
10. Girl Talk. “Play Your Part (Part 1).” Any track off Feed the Animals—the unquestionable album of the summer—could have made this list. Dr. Gillis gets by with a little help from his friends Lil’ Wayne and Sinead O’Connor, a combination that makes for one of the best Girl Talk moments since Biggie rapped about the Twin Towers over “Tiny Dancer.”
9. Grizzly Bear. “Two Weeks.” It’s hard to judge a track solely on a live recording, but I have evidence beyond recording of a performance on Letterman that leaked in July: When Grizzly Bear broke out “Two Weeks” (sure to be a highlight of their upcoming ’09 release) during their show at a synagogue in D.C.’s Chinatown, the infectious piano stomp and soaring harmonies stood up against the rest of their remarkable set. The studio version has a lot to live up to.
Duke Stop Motion Crew. Courtesy Glen Gutterson.
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Best of the Rest
We cover some of the better discs that we missed over the year, including Frightened Rabbit’s Midnight Organ Fight, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, Noah and the Whale’s Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, Marnie Stern’s This Is It & I Am It & You Are It & So Is That & He Is It & She Is It & It Is It & That Is That and Why?’s Alopecia. Also, our most eminent critics endorse The Fashion’s Self Titled and Ryan Adams’s Cardinology.
The Fashion – Self Titled
I never know whether to feel impressed or terrified when foreigners trump Americans at something we created (See: Dirk Nowitzki winning the NBA MVP award). The same goes for the Fashion, a four-piece from Copenhagen. Their 2008 self-titled release was the best rock released this year.
Their album is devoid of abstract metaphors or melancholic odes about failed relationships, both seemingly prerequisites for rating on “Best Of” lists nowadays. Instead, the Fashion simply produces song after song of innovative, guitar-driven, danceable pop music. “Solo Impala,” with its string intro and catchy chorus, is sure to make feet move and heads bang. The up-tempo “Letters from the Ambulance” showcases Jakob Printzlau’s fervent vocals and fluid lyrics.
The only downside to The Fashion is that there just isn’t enough of it, clocking in at a mere 35 minutes. But since it’s only the band’s second album, let’s hope we haven’t heard the last of these great Danes.
Ryan Adams – Cardinology
With Cardinology, alt-country’s Amy Winehouse continues his remarkable winning streak. The album, which derives its kitschy name from Adams’ excellent backing band, feels like an improved version of last year’s Easy Tiger. The similarities between the two releases are bizarre—from the sound to the song sequencing to the cover-art color scheme. But Easy Tiger didn’t satisfy for some reason, never quite quenching appetites despite good musicianship and some great songs. Cardinology is far more fulfilling, ineffably working where its predecessor did not.
Well, actually, not entirely ineffably. First, there are fewer songs in the melodic-but-dull category. Second, there’s a harder edge, but still plenty of twang. Third, although Adams insists on including one silly rocker on each record, the bizarre “Magick” (sample lyrics: “You’re like a storm tower/if it had fire power/Everything you touch burns/Scorched earth/Water tower burned up to the ground/Zombies runnin’ all around”) is a vast improvement over Easy Tiger’s mortifying “Halloween Head.” With luck, this record is the harbinger of a period that balances the effusive but unfocused genius of Adams’ three-albums-a-year phase with his more recent steadiness.