Despite its commercial proliferation at a rate faster than an STD on a college campus, I love Christmas music. It’s the one time of year I couldn’t care less about genre. I’ll listen to country Christmas music, pop Christmas music, metal Christmas music…if anyone from Li’l Wayne to Rick Astley came out with a Christmas album I’d probably at least give it a listen.
Every year I’m on a quest to find the perfect Christmas album. Here’s a few top albums I discovered in Christmases past:
Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Christmas Eve and Other Stories
You’d have to be a deaf person living under a sound-proofed rock not to have heard of TSO by this point. And while I understand that they’re not everybody’s cup of hot chocolate, I’ve loved this album since I first heard “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” almost 15 years ago and drove straight to the mall to buy the CD (because iTunes hadn’t been invented yet).
Gary Hoey: Ho! Ho! Hoey
I’m pretty sure my dad found this. Gary Hoey is a wicked guitar player and Ho Ho Hoey! is instrumental versions of Christmas songs done in the key of rock. While most of the songs shred like Nixon’s entire staff circa 1974, some of the songs are quite slow, melodic and touching. But I’ll admit: I listen for the shredding.
Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked for the Holidays
The more I listen to them the more I’m convinced the guys in BNL are some of the most talented musicians making pop music. This album is full of great harmonies and interesting arrangements. With guest appearances by Sarah McLaughlin and Michael Bublé, it’s a veritable tour of everything awesome that’s ever come out of Canada except Crown Royal.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Dig that Crazy Christmas
First, just look at this guy.
He’s got more tattoos on one arm than an entire sorority would have on their lower backs! He walks around in leather and with a sweet pompadour that I’m quite certain brings all the ladies to the yard. But to prove just how friggin’ hardcore he is, this guy plays big band music. And does it amazingly well. He came around in the late-nineties, post-Nirvana world playing happy, bouncy music bereft of irony or shame. And this Christmas album (he has two but I like this one just a little better) is every bit as bouncy and fun as Nirvana and pretty much everything from 1990-2001 wasn’t.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: Jingle All the Way
Are the Flecktones bluegrass? Are they jazz? Luckily, there’s no need to decide! But what they most certainly are is talented. Check out their “12 Days of Christmas” in twelve different friggin’ time signatures. Check out Victor Wooten’s “The Christmas Song” played solely on a bass. Check out the fact that they do J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. But unlike a lot of talented, brainy musicians, these guys are full of heart. This album has the only version of “Christmastime Is Here” that I’ll actually listen to, because it’s heartbreaking. All that, plus Tuvan throat singing, some Tchaikovsky, and the best version ever of “Linus and Lucy.” Once Halloween is over and I can safely listen to holiday music without breaching protocol, this is the first album I listen to.
Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas
Let’s begin with Sufjan’s completist tendencies: this album boasts 63 songs. Well, but that’s not quite accurate. There are 63 recordings, yes, but he’s giving us a couple of versions of some songs…and I can honestly say that in each case I love both versions. In fact, there’s not a bad song on here. He’s thrown in some original songs too that are whimsical and heartfelt, hallmarks of Sufjan’s songs. I listen to the Flecktones’s album first, but I listen to Sufjan more than any of the others.
But this year I’m particularly blessed. I’ve managed to find two new Christmas albums that I already love…and it’s not even Christmas yet! But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. I’ve shilled enough for the music industry for one day.