Dec. 23, 2012 at 3:04 PM ET
When was the last time you took a sleigh ride to grandma's house? And have you ever actually roasted chestnuts on an open fire? Have you? Really?
We love our traditional holiday songs this time of year, but after a while one can't help but long for a little Christmas music that's more ... relevant to the times.
That's where the new album from geek and gamer cult fave Jonathan Coulton and his collaborator John Roderick of the The Long Winters rides to the rescue (in a rocket-powered sleigh pulled by robots, that is).
"One Christmas at a Time" — which you can download for $10 here, here and here — is chock full of quirky, funny and even heartwarming songs for the kind of modern holidays we all know, love and sometimes loathe.
After all, who hasn't watched that annoying/drunk relative ruin the Christmas dinner (or at least make everyone really uncomfortable)? And who hasn't longed for that gift that they might not get?
In "One Christmas at a Time," Coulton and Roderick sing songs about awkward holiday celebrations, failed shopping efforts and that strange week between Christmas and New Year's Day, offering up some tech-themed tunes along the way. For example, in "Wikipedia Chanukah" Coulton and Roderick take us on a tour of the online encyclopedia's explanation of the Jewish holiday (perhaps the closest you'll hear these two come to performing dubstep) And "2600" is a zippy ode to Coulton and Roderick's childhood longing to find an Atari 2600 game machine under the tree. (Coulton was fortunate enough to get one but Roderick, alas, was given an Intellivison instead).
Coulton, a former computer programmer, has earned a dedicated following among gamers, geeks and nerds of all stripes thanks to his intelligent song-writing infused with a sense of humor. His song "Code Monkey" — a jaunty, simian ode to programmers everywhere — became a hit among the tech crowd. And his song "I'm Your Moon" about Pluto's demotion from planet status and its unusual dance with the moon Charon is a stargazer favorite.
Meanwhile, Coulton has written a couple of gaming world's most famous and most covered songs. That is, he wrote "Still Alive" the song sung by the malevolent artificial intelligence GLaDOS at the end of "Portal." The brain-consumingly catchy tune has been covered by furries, a children's choir and even some computers. And Coulton followed that hit up with the song "Want You Gone" for "Portal 2" (check out the excellent fan-made video here.)
Of course, the question is, why a Christmas album?
"It’s one of those things that, when you are a musician and you’re working on stuff, putting albums out, it’s this thing that’s always on your radar as a thing you’re eventually going to do before you die," he told NBC News in a recent interview. "You’ve already done the first album, then you’ve done the difficult second album. Then there’s a bunch of other albums in the middle. Somewhere near the end, you do the duets album — right before you die probably. But before that, you do a Christmas record and you do maybe a kid’s record."
Oh and he adds, "You’ve got to do an electronica album in there somewhere. That’s in my future I think."
Certainly Coulton doesn't shy away from doing the unexpected. The singer/songwriter has carved out his own niche (and inspired a passionate following online and off) ever since giving up his career as a programmer.
"You spend nine years at the same company working on the same software package and you start to wonder what else is out there," he said. What was out there for Coulton was music — and a unique project that still inspires him to this day.
"When I started doing music full time, the first thing I did was this Thing a Week Project, which was a year of releasing a new song every Friday whether I wanted to or not," he said. "And the thing that I learned from that is that I really blossom creatively when I’m challenged and afraid."
Coulton said he uses that lesson as a compass when deciding what to do next.
"If somebody says, 'Hey do you want to do this thing?' and it makes me a little frightened, then while my lizard brain says, 'No no no you shouldn’t do that!' my higher brains says, 'You should think about doing that because that might be really interesting.'"
And Coulton has no shortage of interesting projects in the works. In addition to the Christmas album and a recent tour, he is the co-host for the NPR puzzle and word games show "Ask Me Another," season 2 of which begins in January. (If you'd like to attend one of the upcoming live tapings, check out this link.)
Coulton is also gearing up for the third annual Jo Co Cruise Crazy event — a weeklong Eastern Caribbean cruise in which fans are invited to sail the high seas aboard a Royal Caribbean ship while the singer and an amazing array of artists and entertainers perform for and amuse them. Among the confirmed stars who will be onboard this geek-filled ship starting Februrary 10 — John Hodgman and Wil Wheaton as well as Coulton's "One Christmas at a Time" collaborator John Roderick.
"It's a ton of fun," he says of this unique seafaring adventure (which you can still sign up for). "It's about the cruise, but it's also about this community of people who are fans of things that are awesome who all get together in this one space. And the bonus is, that space is this cruise ship in the Caribbean!"
If you can't afford to join Coulton on the high seas, you can still get your dose of his brand of music and humor by downloading "One Christmas at a Time." And this time of year it's also worth downloading an earlier Coulton science-fiction-themed holiday favorite — "Chiron Beta Prime."
It's a little ditty about a family celebrating the holidays from an asteroid ruled by robot overlords — with nary a roasting chestnut in sight. Go on, sing along ...
This year has been a little crazy for the Andersons.
You may recall we had some trouble last year.
The robot council had us banished to an asteroid.
That hasn't undermined our holiday cheer.
And we know it's almost Christmas by the marks we make on the wall.
That's our favorite time of year.
Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime,
Where we're working in a mine for our robot overlords.
Did I say overlords? I meant protectors.
Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.