Hi everyone! It’s the most wonderful(ly frustrating) time of the year! Whether you’re scrambling around trying to finish your shopping, getting prepared to cook Christmas dinner, or trying to avoid all the advertisements on your TV, you need some festive music! Now I know, Christmas music is a really weird thing that apparently every musical artist is obligated to perform at one point or another for reasons I don’t quite understand and nobody seems to discuss, but it doesn’t have to make your life miserable! The great thing about Christmas music being such a huge tradition is that literally everyone and their cat has recorded a Christmas album, so statistically speaking a large portion of them aren’t bad.
Not bad? Come on, we can do better than that. I mean look, with how many Christmas albums there are floating around in the winter wonderland, there has to be at least one masterpiece (what’s that saying about a bunch of monkeys writing Shakespeare?). Granted, I don’t claim to be an authority on Christmas music, but I do have a couple of favorites that I think might liven up your holiday season this year. So let’s look at three very different and very good Christmas albums! And you know what? We’re going to do it countdown style!
#3 Bright Eyes – A Christmas Album
Okay, kind of a weird one. I know. But I love Bright Eyes. Something about the consistent use of pedal steel guitars and Conor Oberst’s weird voice always makes me happy no matter what music they’re involved in.
This particular album was released in 2002, right around the time LIFTED was released, which makes sense if you’re familiar with Bright Eyes’ sound. This album lives in the space of time where Conor was still exploring really experimental sounds while contributing his solid songwriting. And this album is, oddly enough, no different. It ranges from typical folk/country, to lo-fi electronic sounding, to ambient string based soundscapes. And it’s all Christmas music. Very different Christmas music.
#2 Aimee Mann – One More Drifter In the Snow
Seriously, I love Aimee Mann. Something about an artist with a well-defined sound I guess. You always know it’s her and that’s fantastic. Back in 2006, shortly after her The Forgotten Arm album, Mann released her Christmas album. It’s full of those minor 7th blues chords, analog synthesizers, and muted drum tracks that populate her music and give it her unique blues-pop sound.
One of the greatest things about this album is that it doesn’t feel like a Christmas-album-cop-out like so many festive albums before it. There are two originals, as well as “Whatever Happened to Christmas”, a tune left off of many compilations. The Mann originals are suspiciously not festive sounding at all, which offers a good break for you in an otherwise oversaturated subset of music.
#1 Chicago – XXV: The Christmas Album/What’s It Gonna Be Santa?
So I included both of these albums here, because one is really just a re-release of the other. Chicago XXV is a conveniently titled album from a band who titled all of their albums with roman numerals (yes, all 36 of them). All gimmicks aside, this is my favorite Christmas album of all time. If all Christmas music was this good, I wouldn’t mind any of it. I find Chicago’s renditions of Christmas classics stuck in my head all year round, but I always know it’s time to start the season when I actually hear the tunes drift through my speakers.
Where to start? This album has everything I look for in an album. It has great production, amazing musicianship befitting of Chicago, that ever elusive “flow” I talk so much about, and just fantastic composition throughout. Not surprisingly, this is a very horn heavy album, and this is where it shines. I don’t know why nobody ever realized that Christmas music should always have a horn section, but it should. It’s just a fact of life. And vocal harmonies. Plenty of those. Throw in some funky drums and bass lines, and you’ve got an incredibly upbeat Christmas album. So go throw it on and liven up your boring Christmas party! Just do it!
So there it is. The official MYBM Christmas Top Three As always, these albums are up for streaming on Spotify for your listening pleasure. What are your top three? Hate Christmas music? Love it? Discuss it below! (I officially have the ability to comment back. Huzzah!)
(Keep your eyes peeled, I’ll be discussing some of Bright Eyes’ and Aimee Mann’s secular works in the near future!)
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