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Seasonal sounds: discover something new this Christmas
November 17, 2013 | By:
It doesn't all have to be about Slade, you know! We pick four Christmas records you'll actually want to hear this year, alongside four of our favourite 2013 releases for your audio pleasure
Seasonal sounds_Christmas music 2013_620

Some seasonal stereo selections from high50

Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow

OK, so not strictly a Christmas album, but it’s a concept album about snow and that’s good enough for us. Aerial, her last album proper, saw Ms Bush in domestic bliss mode, but here she transforms into an ice queen and spirits us away into long and floaty tales of frosty fantasy. Stephen Fry pops up on the endearingly bonkers title track to list the said 50 words in his best Viv Stanshall voice. Sorbet de luge, anyone?

She & Him: A Very She & Him Christmas

In which on-screen cutie-pie Zooey Deschanel and musical partner M.Ward turn their retro She & Him stylings to some yuletide favourites. With its brandy-warm production and front-room intimacy, its rendering of Christmas classics will be a stereo staple for years to come.

Various Artists: Where Will You Be Christmas Day?

If you have any annoying muso neighbours, who delight in nothing more than boring you with their extensive knowledge of 1970s Mexican jazz or some such, then this is the record to put on when they come round for a polite glass of eggnog. It’s perhaps the most unlikely Christmas album you’ll hear, collecting 24 tracks recorded between 1917 and 1959, with ragtime, early blues, scratchy calypso and hillbilly hoedowns all celebrating that day in December. As well as earning you muso cred points, it’s also in fascinating contrast to the commercial glitz of Christmas present.

Tracey Thorn: Tinsel and Lights

In 2012, Our Trace returned with one of the most endearing Christmas albums in years. In the spirit of the subject, it’s a family affair, recorded with Everything But The Girl partner – and husband – Ben Watt, while their children sing backing vocals on one of the two self-penned songs. Elsewhere, Thorn swerves the box marked ‘classics’ in favour of rarer holiday fare from Joni Mitchell, Stephen Merritt, Jack White and Randy Newman, all benefitting from her honeyed tones.

Mark Kozelek & Desertshore: Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

For those well aware of the Kozelek oeuvre, this LP – recorded with former Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon bandmates – is another worthy addition. For those unaware, finding Kozelek in this reflective mid-life mode is a useful entry point. More sonically engaging than some of his solo efforts, it’s a fine example of his best traits: dry wit, a blurring of dear-diary observations and flights of fancy, all set to delicate instrumentation. A winning collaboration.

Jon Hopkins: Immunity

If you’re of a more electronic persuasion, then Eno sidekick, Coldplay collaborator and film soundtracker Jon Hopkins should warm your winter nights. After his acclaimed double-header with King Creosote last year, he returned with solo effort Immunity, which won a rightful Mercury nomination. The album pulses with life, from the darker, dancier diversions of ‘Open Eye Signal’ to the poignant ambience of ‘Abandon Window’, and proves wrong the tedious notion that emotion can’t be wrought through synthesisers and computers.

Haim: Days Are Gone

Of course, sometimes being cooped up indoors, overindulging, makes you pine for sunnier times. Thank heavens, then, for Haim. The LA sisters (who once toured with their parents as Rockinhaim) seemed to take forever to deliver their debut album, but it was a wise move to let the hype die down and have the songs speak for themselves. And what songs: a glorious hybrid of Seventies Fleetwood Mac harmony, Eighties soft rock sheen and Nineties r’n’b groove.

Phosphorescent: Muchacho

Muchacho’s opening track, a grandly titled hymnal called ‘Sun, Arise (An Invocation, An Introduction)’, has a certain festive feel to it, albeit a big-sky, backwoods, bear-country one. The widely praised sixth album from Alabaman Matthew Houck is worthy of overplay while you recline with a bourbon this year. It manages to distil his love for Nashville-style heartache, bar-room country-rock and widescreen evocations into a cohesive whole, and then chucks in some mariachi mystique for good measure.

We could go on, but you get the idea. The Christmas holidays are a great time to curl up and spend some time enjoying some favourite records of old, and discovering some new ones you might have missed. So pour yourself a glass, put your feet up, and press Play.