Christmas is right around the corner, which means it’s time for some celebrities to phone in a Christmas album that’ll play on repeat in your local Macy’s or K-Mart. Sorry, I shouldn’t be so pessimistic—there’s actually some really great stuff out this year, you just have to know where to look.
Here are a few good Christmas releases from 2021 that range from folk to dungeon synth to ska, so there’s a little something for everyone! Tragically, I did not find any new exciting Hanukkah releases, but there WERE the Kurstin x Grohl: Hanukkah Sessions, so check those out if you haven’t already.
The Aquabats! – I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas Too!
Inject some ska-filled whimsy into your Christmas with The Aquabats! This EP is only about ten minutes long, but it’s jam-packed with the goofiness that the band is known for.
The MC Bat Commander throws a fit on “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas Too!” and gives us a silly twist on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” with “Christmas Steve” (Christmas Steve will find you/he’s hiding in the ground/no one knows where he goes/he’s stealing someone’s doll!).
Best Track: “Christmas Steve”
Boris – Noël
Acclaimed Japanese experimental group Boris shared a Christmas single this week—a psychedelic drone metal cover of “Last Christmas.” It’s a pretty unexpected venture for them, as Boris is known for releasing albums full of gritty feedback and their collaborations with groups like Sun O))) and Merzbow. Surprisingly, though, the cover works really well. With its chunky guitar, feedback loops, and charming vocals, the result is shoegaze-y bliss.
The single release also includes a reimagining of the song “Pardon?” from their 2011 album, New Album, reworked by Lauren Auder and producer Dviance. “This is a Christmas present for everyone who lives with the various restrictions stemming from COVID-19,” Boris says. “We hope this Christmas will be the ‘Last Christmas’ of COVID-19.”
Brian Fallon – Night Divine
The Gaslight Anthem’s frontman Brian Fallon recently released this album of stripped down hymns and Christmas classics. Fallon’s vocals serve as the centerpiece here while twinkling percussion and guitar play behind him.
Faith is an important part of Fallon’s life, and he’s said that he released these songs to bring “peace and comfort” during the pandemic. After giving this a listen, I’d say he succeeded. “Virgin Mary Had One Son” and “Amazing Grace” are two of the most beautiful tracks here, with Fallon near-whispering on “Amazing Grace” in a very moving performance.
Best Track: “Amazing Grace”
Hiss Golden Messenger – O Come All Ye Faithful
MC Taylor released this country-tinged Christmas album back in October, and it’s honestly just as fulfilling a listen as the full-length he put out earlier in the year, Quietly Blowing It. This release is lush and uplifting, with saxophones, organs, and violins tastefully underscoring Taylor’s warm vocals.
The original songs here are the most interesting, and “By the Light of Saint Stephen’s” and “Grace” are the kinds of songs that you can get away with playing all year round. Of course, that isn’t to say that the traditional tracks aren’t great in their own right. The cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Hanukkah Dance” is energetic and fun, and thank goodness someone is out here putting out a new Hanukkah cover that isn’t just “The Dreidel Song”!
Best Track: “By the Light of Saint Stephen’s”
jonmiller and the background feat Bryan Pedersen – Merry Christmas, I’m Glad You’re Still Here
This was a fun little gem I found while perusing new Bandcamp releases. jonmiller and the background have put together a nice folksy mix of both classic and original songs for the holidays. While the takes on the classics are very nice, it’s the stellar original songs that really stand out.
“Hungover Christmas” is a Scrooge-tastic song with a nice mix of acoustic and fuzzy electric guitar, and the album also adds a new Krampus song to the canon (Out in the driveway clop clop clop/what I hear makes my heart stop/too few hooves to be a Claus). My favorite, however, has to be the title track. It’s a somber yet uplifting track, and “Merry Christmas, I’m Glad You’re Still Here” is a message that feels especially important to hear after the stressful year that was 2021.
Best Track: “Merry Christmas, I’m Glad You’re Still Here”
Krampusnacht – Krampusferatu
Betcha you don’t have any dungeon synth hybrid holiday albums in your collection! Well, now you can add Krampusferatru to your (digital) shelf. Man, it’s been a good year for Krampus tunes.
It’s not exactly your traditional Christmas album, but this instrumental album sets a very specific yuletide mood of eeriness. This would actually make the perfect score for a holiday-themed Dungeons & Dragons one-shot…or any tabletop campaign, really.
Best Track: “Invasion of the Snotgoblins From Outer Space”
Manchester Orchestra – Christmas Songs Vol. 1
Okay, so teeeeechnically this EP was released last year. It made quite a splash then, quickly jumping to the top of the Bandcamp charts—and for good reason. It’s a soothing collection of classic songs that are perfect for relaxing by the tree and sipping on some nog.
Now, it has physical copies available through Loma Vista Recordings. Take a listen if you missed it last year, and grab a CD or a beautiful blue vinyl copy if you like it as much as I do! Here’s hoping for a volume 2, 3, 4, and 57.
Any Christmas releases we missed? WAS there a really cool Hanukkah album that passed us by? Let us know!