If you want to give yourself a real gift this holiday season, avoid 2018 Christmas albums from Eric Clapton, Mike Love, Engelbert Humperdinck, LeeAnn Rimes, Michael McDonald, You'll have much better luck for glad tidings with these choices below instead. You'll find a nice variety here too, ranging from rap to country to 60's girl group to garage rock to ambient to jazz to indie rock to soul to surf music to tortured torch songs. If that doesn't get you through the shopping season, nothing will. As a bonus, see a Spotify playlist at the end that includes most of the listings here.
03 Greedo "Dear Winter" (Soundcloud)
This L.A. rapper is now a jailbird thanks to trumped-up gun charges but still manages to deliver some trippy spirits for the season.
Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers "All I Got For Christmas Is The Blues" (Pretty Good For A Girl)
Some gritty blues from this Florida singer featuring some steamy organ- all that's missing is her signature sax.
The Beths "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Carpark)
This New Zealand indie rock quartet's Future Me Hates Me is one of 2018's finest platters. Their Christmas ballad starts sweet and slow with strings but breaks into some biting guitar at the 2:30 mark.
Rodney Crowell Christmas Everywhere (New West)
This country songwriting legend has mixed feelings about the holidays, knowing that it drives us crazy with sales, mall trips, heartache, loneliness and a dead lawnmower. He does get the holiday spirit now and then but he never seems happier than when he gives out lumps of coal on "Let's Skip Christmas This Year" and "Christmas Makes Me Sad." We can happily commiserate with his upbeat misery here instead of getting the holiday cheer forced down our throat.
Freddy Coles "Jingles the Christmas Cat" (HighNote)
A breezy jazz tune about Santa's kitty- how much more in the holiday spirit can you get than that?
Greg Dulli "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" (Infernal)
Via the Afghan Whigs front-man, a quiet, tortured version that you'd expect from him but it's somehow moving nevertheless. The guy's a hell of an expressive singer, no matter what the material is. And his cracked, yearning voice really does get at the sadness that's the essence of the song.
Eerie Wanda "Listen the Snow is Falling" (Joyful Noise)
Croatian/Dutch singer-songwriter Marina Tadic gives us an adorable girl group, borderline-shoegaze holiday tune via Yoko Ono.
The Flytraps "Cha Cha Heels For Christmas" (Burger)
For those of us who don't always love sappy sentiment, there's this nice piece of trashy garage-rock from four L.A. grrls. How you'd wrap the present is a mystery that's not addressed in the song though.
Aretha Franklin "Silent Night" (Rhino)
Along with the incredible Amazing Grace documentary that just came out, there's this wonderful remix of the Queen via a 2008 recording minus the strings and backing vocals, leaving only her piano and unmatchable voice. What else do you really need?
Gurr "Christmas Holiday featuring Eddie Argos" (Duchess Box)
This duo of German garage girls found a good kindred spirit in Art Brut's Argos for a jaunty rocker that you could twist away to, evoking the B-52's. "I've gathered you all today to say I hope you're all enjoying Christmas exactly the same amount as I'm enjoying Christmas," Eddie intones in the middle and you might actually believe him.
Joshua Hedley "I Miss Spending Christmas With You" (Third Man)
A stirring honky tonk weeper from "Mr. Jukebox." The nice, low-key backing should be a template across Nashville for holiday tunes instead of the usual schlock that they serve up.
Jonwayne Yuletide Bangerz (Bandcamp)
A DJ mix (from a sometimes rapper, sometimes producer) of Yuletide cheer with beats piled over smatterings of the Beatles, soul crooning, the Peanuts, Chevy Chase, Ella Fitzgerald, Macca solo, Burl Ives, the Muppets, Bing Crosby, the original Grinch cartoon, South Park, A Christmas Story, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Mathis and the Chipmunks, all courtesy of two sampling machines.
Khruangbin "Christmas Time Is Here" (Dead Oceans)
The Peanuts go trip hop? Makes perfect actually. Would love to see it as an entire holiday special too. How hilarious is that they also have a "Version Mary" of the song?
Lola Kirke "Cross You Off My List" (Downtown)
The lead on the wonderful Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle played an wanna-be oboist on the show but here she steps out as a chanteuse. Though she also tackles the classic "Little Drummer Boy," this heart-warmer is the one you'll remember when snuggling up with your sweetie.
John Legend "Merry Merry Christmas" (Columbia)
Even if you think he's a little too jolly for his own good, the first half of his holiday record (A Legendary Christmas) has a nice Motown vibe to it- try the soul swing of "What Christmas Means to Me" and the jazzy "Give Love On Christmas." The real keeper is this loose-limbed, horn-howling New Orleans bounce that he saves 'til the end,
Los Straightjackets Complete Christmas Songbook (Yep Roc)
Everyone's favorite instrumental surf-rock Mexican wrestler clad band has always been about fun so it's surprise that they could do a good holiday album as a follow up to their previous holiday album, 2009's Yuletide Beat. Squeezing 27 songs into 73 minutes (only two songs break the 3 minute barrier), they're old school rock and roll and proud of it and without the syrupy vocals we're used to on holiday songs or anything vocals for that matter, Remember that long along, the Ventures had their own fun-filled holiday album. This carries on in that great tradition.
The Mavericks "Hey! Merry Christmas!" (Mono Mundo)
You'd expect that this rootsy country band wouldn't have to strain too much to make a decent holiday record and they don't. The title track is a stand-out as a sax-honking, shout-a-long bit of 50's rock and roll.
JD McPherson Socks (New West)
Like the Straightjacket clan, JD's a rock and roll revivalist but not the kind that's sickening retro- he really enjoys the music and you do too. Maybe it's the Brian Setzer factor but this record became a surprise holiday hit though you can see why. McPherson's cheer is infectious, even when he complains about the crappy clothes that he gets as presents. As least he has his sweetie (or sweeties) to cheer him up during the holiday so all's well.
Memphis Ukulele Band "Gee Whiz It's Christmas" (Memphis International)
Covering the Carla Thomas classic recycled for Stax's Christmas album, this version was recorded at Sam Philip's studio during last August. Thankfully, it's got none of the corniness you'd link to ukelele music- singer Kyndle McMahan just belts it out and shakes some sleigh bells.
Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert Ghost Stories For Christmas (Rock Action)
Not spooky (except the story of a tree turned kindling), this folk Xmas is sad and wistful but not miserable, with a touch of sweetness to it. If you like a heavy Scot brogue, then Arab Strap singer Mr. Moffat is definitely for you. Try "Lonely This Christmas," a 50's style rock ballad that you could slow dance to over its drum machine thump. Very touching too- their cover of Yaz's "Only You." Even more touching- the little girl who sings acapella at the end.
Old 97's Love the Holidays (ATO)
This reliable alt-country combo has enough songwriting skills to pen their own holiday tunes and while they're not sickeningly gooey about Xmas, they do find some cheer during the end of the year and as always, they're as tuneful as hell about it. The title track's a horn-filled, rockabilly hoot but the one they really need to do a video for is the lovely "Snow Angels."
Mark Peters "Jingle Bells" (Bandcamp)
Following in his now annual tradition of holiday songs (last year had him doing "Silent Night"), this Manchester ambient master gives us ringing echoed guitar and percussion splashes to make for a spacey holiday vibe. As a bonus, the single's profits goes to a homeless charity.
Mitch Ryder "Santa Claus" (Goldenlane)
This grimy 60's rocker remembers his garage roots with twangy guitar (shades of the Other Half's "Mr. Pharmacist") and demands for Santa that include money, honey, a guitar and a brand new car. Sad to say, Old St. Nick gives him no presents.
Say Sue Me "Christmas, It's Not A Biggie" (Damnably)
X-style rockabilly with breathy vocals via South Korea. Rarely do you hear anyone so upbeat about the holiday and so ambivalent about it too. Love the little bit of "Jingle Bell Rock" that they throw into the solo too.
Shame "Feliz Navidad" (Dead Oceans)
A lot looser and friendlier than the usual fare of this UK indie band, it's nice to hear them finally have some silly fun, even with some obvious auto-tune thrown in. Maybe some lager loosened them up?
Thirty Curses "Holly Jolly Christmas" (Thirty Curses)
Courtesy of a bunch of Raleigh rockers, this jaunt Xmas classic becomes a pained torch song that has the lilt of a Jewish prayer you'd hear in a Synagogue. Perfect for any multi-denominational sing-a-long.
Twin Kennedy "Cold Weather" (Twin Kennedy)
An angel-voiced country duo imagine a nostalgic Christmas, wisely skipping the strings and overblown choirs.
Wavves "Emo Christmas" (Ghost Ramp)
It's gotta be a joke, even if these aren't the guy(s) you'd expect a holiday laugh from. Emo isn't not and that's not a minus. Just a nice chugging li'l indie tune. "Watch the snowflakes fall out of the sky"? Sounds nice.
Whyte Horses "Next Year Will Be Mine" (CRC)
This Mancunians band, which claims it might not be a group, also claims to be 'psychedelic pop' but they're more sing-songy girls who could have time-warped from the early '60's with booming Phil Spector sound and all, which is perfectly fine and very tuneful to boot. Their message is hopeful, at least for 2019.
And there's also this late breaking video...
And there's also this late breaking video...