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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holiday Music Recommendations


Winter break is here. Hallelujah. Sing choirs of angels, sing in exultation! It’s nice to slow down, relax, get some done tasks I’ve been putting off (among them Christmas cards and Christmas shopping), and sleep later (parents of three-year-olds only get to sleep so late…) We usually go to the East Coast for the holidays, but this year we’re staying home and the East Coast is coming to us. No holiday air travel = 1. a much more relaxed break, and 2. an impetus to put up our first full-sized Christmas tree.

This year is probably the most fully and enthusiastically I’ve gotten into Christmas since I was a kid, and partly this is thanks to the fact that I have a child who is just the right age for getting heavily into the holiday season. O. wakes up every day excited to open his advent calendar window. (And he’s such an enthusiastic innocent, he does not mind a bit that I have replaced the chocolate squares in half the windows with other small items such as almonds and vitamins. He exclaims “Look Mama, a almond!” and pops it happily into his mouth. This is the last year I’ll be able to get away with that.) He is counting the days ‘til Christmas, and his anticipation is infectious.

But I also have my Old Man to thank. I once loved Christmas, but over the years I’ve gotten jaded with all the crass commercialism, and my lazy ass has figured out that it’s a lot easier to do the bare minimum than go the extra holiday mile. Left to my own devices, I would probably put on a pretty half-assed Christmas, and thus my poor son would be deprived of much yuletide joy. My dear husband has a much more positive attitude toward Christmas, and in embracing the coolest aspects of the holiday, he has helped me find my way back to loving Christmas.

One aspect of Christmas that I enjoy is the music, but I’m very picky about which music. My tastes tend toward the traditional and away from the cheesy, aggressively jazzy , or cute. I’m all about “O Holy Night,” “Lo How A Rose Ere Blooming,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and not so into “Jinglebell Rock,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” or countrified renditions of any holiday song. Until last weekend, we had nary a Christmas song in the house. But after 45 minutes of browsing about on iTunes, with a few suggestions and nixings from me, my Old Man found an array of excellent holiday music that we’ve been spinning with great delight. So here are my favorites among this year's finds, two (Twentieth-Century ) classics and two new releases:

1. Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols . Britten is a Twentieth-Century composer, but this Christmas choral work is based on a series of medieval poems and the music grows out of Christmas carol traditional, with some interesting twists.

2. The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas . It’s cool, mellow-yet-upbeat piano jazz, and it also reminds you of that Charlie Brown Christmas special you watched year after year as a kid, which so perfectly captured the mix of joy and melancholy that is Christmas.

3. Speaking of Christmas melancholy, who captures ambivalence and artistic depression better than Aimee Mann? Improbably, Mann has put out a holiday record this year, One More Drifter in the Snow . Afraid that an Aimee Mann record would be too melancholy for Christmas? Well, it is. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s a perfect antidote to all the aggressive artificial good cheer you have to wade through at the mall. Come home, put it on, and sip scotch until a boozy stupor begins to melt away the stress of the season. Plus, her rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is funny and goofy, and counterbalances the delicate sadness of most of the rest of the record.

4. I’ve heard a lot about Sufjan Stevens, but had not checked him out ‘til a friend burned me Stevens’s five Christmas EPs . This is maybe my favorite discovery this holiday season. He does great understated versions of classic Christmas carols and songs, and offers original holiday tunes as well, and they’re all beautiful background music and reward close listening if you care to pay attention.

Please share any and all of your recommendations for listenable holiday music. And have a joyous Chrismukkah.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet you could keep the advent calendar semi-healthy for a few more years...it's all in the habit. :)

And I don't know about music, but I bought the boxed set of Charlie Brown specials: The Great Pumpkin, Thanksgiving, and Christmas! Best purchase ever. The boys adore Charlie Brown. And it makes me all weepy to see them loving MY shows. I had forgotten how melancholy the Peanuts gang was...

Anywho. I'm excited that you don't have to travel--as fun as it is to go "home" (or to hubby's home), it sure is nice to stay Home.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

This is always an issue for us, too - I'm totally with you about holiday music. Thanks for the recommendations, especially to Aimee Mann's new album. We personally like "James Brown's Funky Christmas", which includes choice tracks like "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto".

7:09 AM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

I saw the title of your post and was so excited to recommend Sufian Stevens' Christmas cd, but you had already found it. I love it more each time I listen to it and want the world to know about it, but not all the world because I don't want it played to death.
Enjoy your time off over the break!
Merry Christmas!

9:59 AM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

ps-
Have you heard Stevens' non-Christmas album "Illinoise"? Being from there, I think you would especially enjoy it.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Moose said...

You are my kind of Christmas gal. I love the Vince Guaraldi album. It gets played ad nauseum as soon as the decorations are freed from their basement cage.

1:41 PM  

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