I’m not gonna sugarcoat it–I hate the holidays, and most of all, I hate holiday music. That being said, I love spending time with my nearest and dearest, eating good food, enjoying plenty of drinks, and wrapping gifts. (I like fancy gift wrap that would make Marie Antoinette envious, OK?) However, you will not catch me putting reindeer antlers on my car, singing carols, or freaking out because the holiday dinner isn’t “perfect.” So it should surprise no one that my idea of a holiday playlist doesn’t include carols and has everything to do with something akin to “at least there’s wine.” While there are plenty of lists out there, I decided to do something a bit different. Such as choosing underrated tracks (like Nick Cave’s “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow” rather than “Hallelujah”) and mixing in other genres. Alright, that’s enough of my anti-holiday ranting—let’s get on with my subjective holiday playlist, post-punk (and more) edition!
“Frosti” by Bjork
Some might grumble as to why an artist like Bjork is featured on a holiday post-punk list. But it might come as a surprise as to how many major pop artists have their roots in dark, subcultural underbellies. Madonna, whose original band produced a ton of gritty, static punk tracks, was heavily in the New York punk scene. Similarly, Bjork emerged from a punk and goth rock background, citing influences like The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and Killing Joke.
It can be said that there is no artist in music quite like Bjork. She’s successfully bridged several genre gaps while unapologetically being herself. Bjork is the avant-garde, experimental twisted sister to Madonna–trumping Lady Gaga in the ‘weird’ department a thousandfold.
“Frosti” off of Bjork’s 2001 album, “Vespertine,” is unique in the sense that Bjork created ‘micro beats’ from a variety of household sounds—like cracking ice and shuffling cards. “Vespertine” was the answer to the grueling work Bjork was doing on the film “Dancer in the Dark.” She chose to make the tracks on “Vespertine” an ideal escape, adding to the album’s fantastical sound. In particular, “Frosti” was made as a purely instrumental track crafted from a music box. Described previously as a “metallic tundra,”—a snowy one—“Frosti” captures a winter feeling that inspires warmth and cannot be said with words.
*Bjork will be on tour in 2022, go to Bjork Live for tickets!
“The New Year” by Death Cab For Cutie
Yes, yes, I know—Death Cab For Cutie isn’t a post-punk/darkwave band. But this is my list, so…Hailing from Washington state, Death Cab For Cutie was formed in 1997. It was their fourth studio album, “Transatlanticism” (2003) that launched the band into mainstream popularity–with good reason. “Transatlanticism“ is a cathartic masterpiece, full of emotional passivity that can only be expelled by lead singer Ben Gibbard. The album opens with “The New Year,” describing the reality of what New Year’s Eve is actually like: ‘So this is the new year/and I don’t feel any different/the clanking of crystal/explosions off in the distance.’
This song always reminds me of that sense of aloofness that comes with the overinflated excitement of the holiday, as if something will be different in the next year. (Get ready, “New Year, new me” posts are coming.) Perhaps I’m being a bit of a cynic because that’s not 100 percent true–after all, things do change, but not so much as they stay the same. No song evokes the apathy for New Year’s Eve as well as “The New Year”: ‘So this is the new year/and I have no resolutions/for self-assigned penance/for problems with easy solutions’—I mean, it’s absolutely lovely in its raw simplicity.
*Death Cab for Cutie will be touring in 2022. Go to their website for details!
“Evening Star” by Gene Loves Jezebel
Sometimes the holidays are about finding your way back. “Evening Star” by the British rock band, Gene Loves Jezebel, might be lumped into ‘80s goth rock/post-punk, but their sound fits nicely in the classically ‘rock’ genre. Seriously, your dad (or even granddad) would probably love them without realizing they’re listening to one of the forefathers of the subculture he hates so much.
Originally formed in 1980 by twins Michael and Jay Ashton, a rift formed between the siblings that continues into the present day–along with various legal issues. These factors culminated into two operating versions of Gene Loves Jezebel—and what’s any good holiday without a solid family argument? In “Evening Star,” the basic lyrics talk of being lost and questioning the reliability of the evening star. It’s a viable track for coming home for the holidays, whether you’re traveling far and wide, just a few miles–or not at all.
“Day of Lords” by Joy Division/ Peter Hook and the Light
I would be remiss if I failed to mention Joy Division or Peter Hook and the Light. “Unknown Pleasures” is one of, if not the most influential post-punk albums of all time. “Day of the Lords” is as much about life as it is about death, or presumably the loss of the safety of childhood. In reality, it’s hard to say for certain since Ian Curtis kept his lyrical symbology to himself–like any good artist.
Regardless, “Day of Lords” deserves a place here. While we may never see Curtis sing live, you can experience the next best thing in Peter Hook, a founding member and bassist of Joy Division, and current forerunner of Peter Hook and the Light. Hook has famously been bringing the beloved ballads of Joy Division to the stage since 2010. Be sure to catch them on tour in 2022—it’s always a good time!
*For Peter Hook and the Light tour dates, go to Peter Hook and the Light Live.
“Reindeer” by The Knife
In 2003, Swedish siblings Karin and Olof Dreijer (a.k.a. The Knife) won Pop Group of the Year at the Swedish Grammis Awards. The duo did not attend, boycotting the ceremony in protest of a male-dominated music industry. In 2007, The Knife won again. This time in all six categories in which they were nominated—again, they were not present. Maybe The Knife isn’t post-punk as far as genre labels go, but nothing says it like snubbing your nose at the industry—one which keeps loving them anyway.
“Reindeer” off The Knife’s 2001 self-titled album is, intentionally or not, a Christmas song. Its general plot is about Santa sweeping the Northern sky, being a shadowy creep while its narrator chases him to “the end.” There’s a sweetness to it though–the memory of Christmas Eve and the magic it holds for you when you’re a kid. When shadows seemed mystical and everything appears to glisten with a dash of the unknown.
“Bring Your Own Wine” by Lebanon Hanover
Lebanon Hanover is a darkwave duo consisting of Larissa Iceglass (from Germany) and William Maybelline (from Britain). Formed in 2010, Lebanon Hanover made waves with their 2012 record, “The World is Getting Colder.” What I appreciate about Lebanon Hanover is their talk the talk, walk the walk persona. They aren’t just snagging at the old school looks while belting out pop ballads—they’re respecting what came before, and using that as a blueprint. (And let’s face it, Europe always does it better.)
Basically, if you’re wondering what goth looks and sounds like in the 2020s, look no further than Lebanon Hanover. “Bring Your Own Wine” from their album, “Why Not Just Be Solo” (2012) is lyrically full of all the annoyances that can come at any place and any time. It’s perfect for a holiday post-punk list. Especially around the dinner table where it’s more than appropriate to bring your own bottle of wine. How else are you supposed to deal with that person?
“Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
My idea of the perfect holiday is one where there are no children at all–and in Nick Cave’s “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow,” he seems to have lost all of them under. Taken off of “No More Shall We Part” (2001), the cathartic album is said to have been written for the woman who would become his wife, Susie Bick.
Better known as Susie Cave, she’s the brilliant mind behind the famous The Vampire’s Wife fashion brand and whose gowns were named “Dress of the Decade” by British Vogue. The usual choice I’ve seen for a holiday post-punk list is the equally brilliant “Hallelujah,” but come on! Besides losing children to a snowstorm, the holidays can be enough to make you feel this low. And sure, it’s more than likely an allegory for depression, but isn’t that in the spirit of things? Remember to save yourselves, charge your phones, and put your mittens on.
“Bells” by Shannon Wright
“Game of Thrones” has taught us that the ringing of bells isn’t always a good thing. And Shannon Wright’s “Bells” is the solidifying anti-tinkering, silvery sound that rings in the winter chill instead of cheer. Wright has a special place in my heart, I fell completely in love with her legendary album “Dyed in the Wool” (2001). It remained the background track to all my writing feats for well over 15 years.
In 1998, Wright ditched New York City for the woodlands of North Carolina after departing her former band. While there, Wright wrote music that she shared only with close friends–until they encouraged her to send a demo tape to Overcoat Records. This led to Wright’s solo release, “A Tin Crown for the Social Bash.” The rest is history. “Bells,” off of “Dyed in the Wool,” has a distant and longing effect, like most of the album. It is chilling, painful, and beautiful. The perfect haunting, winter track.
“Israel” & “Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant” by Siouxsie & The Banshees
I think it would be a sin to have a list that didn’t include Siouxsie Sioux in one way or another. “Israel” is a favorite for holiday post-punk lists. Released in 1980, “Israel” came about when the band decided they wanted to write a Christmas track. “Israel” is also rumored to have a deeper political meaning that isn’t immediately obvious (of course). Then there’s the Banshees cover of “Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant,” whose accompanying music video features Robert Smith from The Cure.
Siouxsie Sioux is a natural at singing this French Christmas carol–and yes I know I said no carols, but it’s Siouxsie so I’ll make an exception. Plus, you can take your pick here—political tribute or French divinity—your choice.
“Don’t Believe in Christmas” by The Sonics
Before there was post-punk, there was just punk, and before punk, there was garage rock. If Gene Loves Jezebel and Joy Division are some of the post-punk forefathers, The Sonics are the godfather. Considered “the first punk band,” The Sonics came out of Tacoma, Washington in 1960 with an aggressive edge and snarling teeth sounds that made The Beatles look like child’s play. So who better to release a Christmas song that is literally an anti-anthem to the holiday?
“Don’t Believe in Christmas” was released in 1965, and in essence, follows the story of a mischievous kid who decides he doesn’t believe in Christmas because he never got a “thing at all.” Not to mention, we’re told that the reason Rudolph’s nose is red is because Santa gives him moonshine…you gotta admit it’s good for a laugh.
“Reindeer King” by Tori Amos
Tori Amos is not of this earth. When she was five, she received a full scholarship to the Peabody Institute at John Hopkins University. She also taught herself piano by the time she could reach the keys, sees music in literal streams of light associated with chromesthesia, and inspired Neil Geiman’s “The Sandman” character, Delirium. Those of us that are old enough to remember Amos from the ‘90s with her “Cornflake Girl,” off her iconic album “Under the Pink” are well aware of her renowned status.
Today, Amos is still a euphoric goddess who produces haunting, memorable tracks, such as “Reindeer King” off her 2017 album “Native Invader.” The album covers an array of topics, one being the relationship between man and nature—and our hand in its destruction. “Reindeer King” explores these topics in a spiritual and political fashion, all with a metaphysical twist that only Amos could create. “Reindeer King” speaks of coming back to oneself, and to a figurative home. The holidays are really about getting together, coming into our own, and getting back home. What better song is there for the season?
*Check out Tori Amos tour dates at toriamos.com
What post-punk, or indie tracks would you add to this winter holiday playlist? Let us know in the comments!
Main photo by Mila f.