Most of the time, it takes a while to ease into the Christmas music spirit, right? You hear it too soon—sometimes before Thanksgiving—and you want to destroy something. ‘No! Not yet!’ you yell at yourself, ‘And I don’t even like half of those songs!’ Then, usually the day right after your Turkey Day pigout, you realize that, yes, ‘tis the season, and there really are only a few more weeks before the big day, for which you get off work again and eat hard again, only this time you get presents. And, everyone’s all sentimental about it. Next thing you know, you’ve not only heard Donny Hathaway’s iconic “This Christmas” on the radio, but you‘re blasting that Waitresses song (“Christmas Wrapping”), turning up the volume when you hear the Paul McCartney jawn (“Wonderful Christmastime”) or groovin’ to that boss Beach Boys track (“Little Saint Nick”). You may even, in the spirit of the season, endure Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or another go-round—or five—of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas.”
Typically, I throw as many as I can find into an On The Record roundup of old-school Christmas schlock. This time, though, I thought we’d raise up five solid brand-new ones for your tree-trimming and holiday partying needs. When you get into it, once you let the incessant waves of holiday cheer nearly suffocate you between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you do want an appropriate holiday soundtrack. (Full disclosure: I’ve jammed A Very She & Him Christmas real hard for the last two Decembers.) Obviously, always defer to the masters in moments of doubt: Bing Crosby, by virtue of the White Christmas score, Nat King Cole or Manheim Steamroller. However, if you want to feel a little more current, there are five solid new LPs for your consideration this year.
Kool for the Holidays, Kool & the Gang
You read that correctly. The Jersey City legends ride again, this time in a horse-drawn sleigh through Southwest Philadelphia. This one would be a huge hit with your O.G. grandparents who don’t mind a little finger-snappin’ and some swerve in their yuletide groove. This is no throwback record—well, it is, actually, because it’s the brothers Bell, and they’re chillin’ in their 60s by now—but the production and the overall flavors are current. The standards are here, of course, but some lesser-known jaunts like “Christmas Always” and “Christmas Tyme (The Perfect Time For Love)” feel like a breath of fresh air blown into the and drab seasonal canon. And old classics like “The Little Drummer Boy” get the Herbie Hancock treatment (which can never be a negative).
Christmas Songs, Bad Religion
It’s a punk Christmas, but done just right. There’s a little bit of a Flogging Molly moment here, that kind of tarting up of punk to make it digestible to the masses, and maybe a little irony by covering Capitalism’s pride and joy’s anthems, but it’s flawless. Seriously. You’d never imagine that “O Come All Ye Faithful” would sound so good pounded out by aging L.A. punks unafraid to feverishly blast two-minute carols.
Christmas, With Love, Leona Lewis
It’s not all amazing, but her back-to-back finish with “Ave Maria” and “White Christmas” is arresting. Shocking to say, but these are gorgeous renditions of already-classics. Almost makes you want to buy diamonds, cars and televisions for everyone you truly love.
A Christmas Album, Bright Eyes
Before you say it, I know—I’ve lost patience with Conor Oberst over time, too; a lot of us have. But every once in a while, you go back to I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, and you think, ‘Oh yeah, this is actually still pretty boss.’ Well, this one actually came out in 2002 (but only exclusively through Saddle Creek Records with all of the proceeds going to the Nebraska AIDS Project). It gets a national re-release this season, and that’s a good thing because it’s spooky and raw and stark. And, it thrives in this creepy rock band-meets-mariachi-meets-a-beat-machine Bermuda Triangle. These are all fairly straightforward and loyal interpretations, and tying it all together effortlessly is Maria Taylor’s magic whisper. It’s quite stunning in parts, making you unconsciously grab for firewood, a blanket and some whiskey. Sort of surreally, the album concludes with an honest to goodness recitation of “The Night Before Christmas” by an appropriately old and jolly (presumably also bearded) grandpa type.
Wrapped in Red, Kelly Clarkson
This record is so pleasant simply because Miss Kelly can blow. There’s no disputing this. Her voice is extremely capable and easily handles a batch of new and old Christmas tunes. In one of the cuter moments in the pop Christmas season, Clarkson gives us some originals. They are, some might say, the most exciting content on the record. The opener and title track feels like Ronnie Spector meets Love Actually (with a pinch of Dirty Dancing). She delivers on tightly executed standards in a variety of styles, too. From country to soul to doo-wop, she gives listeners a solid breadth of styles to choose. It’s totally a Michael Bublé fan-pleaser—meaning, play it for your relatives, and they’ll probably think you’re super young.