It’s that time again. You know, the most wonderful time of the year!
Anyone else struggling to get into the Christmas spirit? It’s not my year. Frankly, Thanksgiving came and went without much pomp, and I’m ready for January. Call me a grinch or Scrooge if you must, but despite my best efforts, I’m still not feeling it.
But what better way to feel it than to hear it? Music has been tied to Christmas ever since the birth of Christ, be it with the angel chorus in Luke 2, or the song of Mary in the previous chapter. No matter how you slice it, we’re stuck with Christmas music, for better or for worse, depending on your opinions.
As much as I love the classics (Perry Como is a beast!), I’ve been playing tunes a bit more contemporary this season. Am I feeling it yet? I don’t know, but perhaps you could use some help, too. While my musical tastes likely differ from yours, there is something here for everyone. Don’t be shy. Enjoy the following recommendations.
The Light Came Down, by Josh Garrels
As I begin typing, it is worth noting that this album is on repeat. I’ve heard it three times tonight already, and have no intentions of turning it off anytime soon.
Josh Garrels tends to be on repeat a lot when I’m controlling the radio, and not just this album. I’ve got six of his albums in my iTunes library, and when I click the “Shuffle Artist” button, all becomes right in the world. He’s just one of those musicians with a ridiculous amount of talent and a broad appeal. While certainly not a mainstream Christian artist, I’ve yet to meet a person yet who is familiar with his music, but doesn’t like it. Seriously K-Love. Get your act together.
This album was just released on November 25, and it’s going to get played all season long. I’m biased. I’ll admit it. But this one is a gem. If you’ve not heard of Josh Garrels, fix that, and quickly. This album is a great place to start.
Snowdrift EP, by The Vocal Few
The Vocal Few is one of those projects that I should really just love. They are composed of Matt McDonald (lead singer of The Classic Crime), and his wife Kristie, and they really do kick out some killer music.
The problem is that this EP is exactly what the band intended to create. I’ll let them speak for themselves:
Snowdrift EP is a “seasonal” album of original songs about existential crisis, joy, loneliness, snowstorm-induced camaraderie, and holiday-induced religious baggage. In short, it’s “Christmas music for those of us who don’t like Christmas music”
What an odd way to describe a Christmas EP, am I right? But honestly, it’s beautifully made. Matt and Kristie’s voices really do blend well together, creating something other-worldly. They’ve put out a few others EPs, and they’re doing something incredible together. On first spin, I will admit that I didn’t love this one, but it’s growing on me.
Must hear track: O Holy Night (There’s Only Love) — YouTube
Sleddin’ Hill, by August Burns Red
August Burns Red is not necessarily the first candidate for a Christmas album. I’m not sure where they fall on the spectrum of hard rock, metal, or whatever else, but they’re heavy. They plug in the guitar and just beat you over the head while screaming like a crazy person. Admittedly, I like the style, but August Burns Red isn’t one of my favorite bands.
However, they all but gave the lead singer a break for this release. Nearly every track on this album is instrumental. (However, I’m loving the gang vocals for Rudolph.)
Make no mistake, the guitars are still driving at times, but I suspect that this one would appeal to almost any music listener.
Without a doubt, the track off of this album that has received the most notice over the years in Carol of the Bells, which I’ll admit is not without merit. However, you’ve got to hear the rest of this one. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of my favorites, but it would be impossible to peg just one track from this one and call it a standout. (As I’m typing, O Holy Night is playing, and it might be my favorite. At least is will be for another 90 seconds. Seriously, this album is gold.
Silver City, by Falling Up
How does one even describe Falling Up? Honestly, they are like two different bands. Their early music, when they were signed to a record label, was an alternative rock of sorts. They had a sound all their own, but they certainly fit the mold of what a band was supposed to sound like circa 2005.
In 2011, they broke up with their label and went independent. The best way I can describe their sound now is simply ethereal. It’s too good for us. Most of their later music is relaxed, but not boring. It’s peaceful, and provides an atmosphere that has a way of making everything okay. It’s seldom powerful enough to pick a theme song for when I enter a room, but it would make an excellent score as I go about my daily activities. Wait… it already does. They are another band that often goes on shuffle.
This album has a rare beauty that most music today is lacking. This isn’t fit for radio. Radio isn’t good enough for Falling Up. If you find yourself agreeing with me, you don’t have to admit it, but I highly recommend picking up their entire independent catalog. It seems like it’s on permanent sale for $32 at Bandcamp, and that gives you eight full albums. Honestly, I just can’t give these guys enough credit. They have been a personal favorite for years.
Advent to Christmas, by Page CXVI
Available to stream for free: Spotify
Page CXVI is probably some of the most relaxed music available. I will admit that when I first discovered this band, I found them to be boring. However, after several listens, I found a beauty in the simplicity of the music, and the lead singer’s voice has a distinct way of making time stand still, if only for a moment. I beg that you forgive my previous criticisms. You are not boring.
Specializing in bringing hymns back to life for a new generation (which is something I can get behind), Page CXVI has quite the catalog of reimagined classics. Of course I’m addressing the Christmas album here, but everything they have released is consistently good. I’ve got several of the “Hymns” albums, and would not venture to pick a favorite. If you’re shopping, just by one with a hymn title that is familiar to you. These fine people have done it justice.
Concerning this release, it is pleasant to see song titles which are unfamiliar to me. Too many bands are playing the same Christmas songs over and over again, and I’m sure that this is part of why so many are growing tired of Christmas music. While bands may bring their own style, it’s the same song. I’m grateful that Page CXVI will play the familiar as well as the obscure. They do them all well.
In a few months, I would suggest you give the Easter album your undivided attention. It’s equally delightful. And really, who releases an Easter album? But they did, and it is right.
With that, I’m going to close. Hopefully, you’ve found something for your listening pleasure, and maybe some of that mysterious Christmas spirit in the process. Did I miss something worthy of note? Let me know in the comments. I’m down to hear your favorites, too.