Christmas music can be a tricky genre for musicians to do well. Therefore, mainstream Christmas music tends to stick to a small collection of classics, and it adds new albums to its roster only very rarely. In this post, we would like to suggest a few albums that very well could be new Christmas classics (at least in your homes). Some of these won’t catch on as classics, but they offer an interesting take on the genre nevertheless.
Imagene Peise – Atlas Eets Christmas by the Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips are perhaps the most popular band that can get away with a specific brand of downright uncomfortable strangeness. Their concerts purportedly range from epic to torturous, and the same can be said of their music. However, the Lips treat Christmas with a certain reverence that’s decidedly opposite of their standard irreverence. Strange notes still make an appearance: the eerie “Laughing/Crying Gliding Synthesizer,” the two original and vocal tracks of the album, and the overall concept of an undercover release with an accompanying backstory for the “Imagene Peise” pseudonym. However, in the overwhelming majority of the album, we find a jazz piano release with Middle Eastern undertones. Given Christmas’s origin in that region, it’s a surprise that very few musicians incorporate these styles in the music. Therefore, the Flaming Lips offer a peculiar and refreshing rendition of the instrumental Christmas album.
Holy Night by Kevin Max
This is the most traditional sounding album on this list, and it’s one of the favorites in my household. Kevin Max lends his outstanding voice to classic Christmas hymns and a delightful rendition of “Greensleeves” (from which “What Child is This?” borrows the melody). The arrangements follow a traditional orchestral and jazz pattern, which showcases his knack for stellar musicianship. It’s a curiosity as to why this album doesn’t have a strong presence in very many Christmas playlists. It’s definitely worthy of a purchase.
Jolly Time! By Sam Billen & Friends
Sam Billen has set a tradition of releasing a free Christmas compilation every year, unbeknownst to pretty much everyone. This year, one of the contributors was W\A\M favorite Half-handed Cloud, who introduced me to this release. Almost all of the tracks are original compositions, which directly relate to Christmas in varying degrees. Quirkiness and nostalgia reside in abundance, but there is something uniquely satisfying about this release. Though the songs can seem a little strange, you never doubt that these are Christmas songs. Given the fairly wide range of styles present in the release, this is quite a feat. Jolly Time! is sure to become one of my favorite Christmas albums in the years to come. You can stream and download this release in the player above.
Songs for Christmas Volumes I-VI, IX, & X by Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan has been recording Christmas EP’s every year since 2001 (skipping 2004 to focus on Illinois and recording two in 2006, one featuring Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the National).Years 2001-2010 have been released through two massive Christmas collections: Songs for Christmas and Silver & Gold. The biggest drawback of the second collection is that the seventh and eighth EP’s are so bad that they really deserve to be skipped entirely (except “Christmas in the Room” from Volume VIII). The first collection/first five EP’s are straightforward folk/singer-songwriter approaches to Christmas standbys, obscure hymns, and some delightful originals. The sixth is a more experimental approach that discusses the contemporary idea of Christmas rather than the real Christmas. The final two volumes return to the straightforward song selection, though its instrumentation is reflective of Sufjan’s Age of Adz/All Delighted People stage. Since there are 100 songs total in the collections (including the awful ones) here are some recommended highlights:
“Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming” from Volume I
All of Volume II (it’s perhaps my favorite lyrical Christmas release of all time)
“Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” from Volume III
“Sister Winter” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” from Volume V (the best version of this hymn ever recorded)
“Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You from Christmases Past” from Volume VI
“Christmas in the Room” from Volume VIII
“Sleigh Ride,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Christmas Face” from Volume IX
“Justice Delivers Its Death” and “Christmas Unicorn” from Volume X
What are some of your favorite Christmas releases? Let us know in the comments.