A Christmas Album
While alternative band Bright Eyes initially offered a very limited run of this album in 2002, it wasn't widely released until this year. Interestingly, tortured soul Conor Oberst—who at the time was almost anti-everything—managed to break from the lament-filled lyrics of his original music to make a strikingly pleasant Christmas album. While there are still some very shaky moments—a sonic lo-fi version of "Little Drummer Boy" and a slightly disturbing take on "Silent Night"—the rest is delicate and full of fancy, bringing in sweet-sounding vocals from Maria Taylor to temper the tremble of Oberst's voice.
Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family
New wave punk legend Nick Lowe, known for early work with the band Brinsley Schwarz and his solo hit, "Cruel to be Kind," added to his extensive catalogue of music this year with a holiday record.
Lowe's Quality Street is a vintage-inspired album featuring an anthology of genres. Everything from 50s rockabilly ("Child Go Where I Send Thee") to 70s adult contemporary folk ("Old Toy Trains") is represented, and the result is vinyl-ready songs ready to be played on a mid-century, wood-ensconced console, hi-fi system.
The Sounding Joy: Christmas Songs In & Out of the Ruth Crawford Seeger Songbook
Digging deep into the vault of renowned composition, New York children's singer Elizabeth Mitchell released a Christmas album this year tugging at the career of storied classical/folk composer Ruth Crawford Seeger.
This album tucks in classics like "Silent Night" among a robust offering of Seeger songs from her iconic holiday record, 1953's American Folk Songs for Christmas. Featuring appearances by Natalie Merchant and Dan Zanes, Mitchell's old timey musical project is as rustic as they come. Hand claps, banjo and Mitchell's porcelain voice build The Sounding Joy into an album akin to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
Most people in the U.S. know Erasure solely as the new wave band that spawned hits like "Chains of Love" and "A Little Respect" off of their 1988 album, The Innocents. In total, their story is much bigger, having released 11 albums since; including 2013's pseudo Christmas record, Snow Globe.
While Snow Globe does include traditional songs like "Silent Night" and "White Christmas"—albeit with the synth-heavy and gloomy sound of '80s alt-pop—the bulk of the album is an experiment in non-Christmas, Christmas music. Lead singer Andy Bell sings, "I don't believe in your religion," before asking for a kind of unifying love that doesn't require confidence in the Christmas story. It's spacey music that some will find empty and others will find refreshing.