Christmas music has gotten such a bad rap over the years, you could hardly imagine that it was once considered cool for artists like Elvis and the Beach Boys to record full albums of holiday classics. These days, an ironic twist of some sort is usually part of the mix, and that can be every bit as annoying as the straight stuff. But one thing you can count on is that holiday music — love it, hate it, or just don’t care — isn’t going away anytime soon. Here are four oddball picks that may raise your spirits or give you reason to raise some spirits of your own.
Los Straitjackets, “Here Comes Santa Claus”
If these masked surf-rockers had it their way, every season would be their season. But they get one thing right here on the lead track from their 2002 holiday disc ’Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc) — they get rid of the vocals, those annoying lyrics you’ve heard sung so joyfully on so many joyless excursions to the mall. Instead, they deploy guitars, guitars, and more guitars to deal with everything from the chordal structure to the vocal melody. Give this one a chance to sink in and you’ll be wondering, “Here comes who?”
The LeeVees, “How Do You Spell Channukkahh”
Given that this track comes from an album titled Hanukkah Rocks (Reprise), it's safe to say that eve the LeeVees, a joky side project led by Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonies, haven't quite figured it out. But they have teamed up with their fellow chosen rockers in Golem, SoCalled, and Shtreiml for what they're calling Jeweltide, an alt-Jewish party of sorts at T.T. the Bear's on December 21. Some of this so-called satire might get a little too goofy for your tastes. But at least this track addresses one of the universal questions.
Marah, “Handsome Santa (feat. Zuzu Petal)”
This is why it’s always a good idea to sample a song or two from a disc before buying the whole thing. Philly’s Marah are the kind of band you’d think you could trust to come through with an achy-breaky holiday set. And there may be some nuggets on A Christmas Kind of Town (Yep Roc). But this one really isn’t much of a song: it’s more of a naughty little idea set to some spare handclaps and the guileless little-girl voice of Zuzu Petal. Still, there’s more than a little hanky-panky suggested in the lyrics by these Philly boys — hanky-panky involving Santa, no less.
Takka Takka, “Are You My Friend?”
This Brooklyn indie foursome have put together a little homespun ditty for anyone prone to the holiday blues. Lyrics full of cinematic touches like Styrofoam snow and people made of clay, sung in a quivering voice against strummed acoustic guitar and some loose vocal harmonies, paint a less than joyful Yuletide picture as the question “Are you my friend?” lingers in the stale air.