Music to Play on Christmas Day

Merry Christmas to all our readers who celebrate it! We realize that this is going to be a difficult Christmas for a lot of people who won’t be able to gather as they would like; and that many will spend the day alone. We’re especially thinking of our friends in the U.K. (where half of our writers are located).

We hope you have enjoyed our 16-day cavalcade of year-end lists (and if you’d like more, simply go to Boomkat for more than you can handle).  We love making our lists, and we love going on (locked-in) vacation, but we always fear that somebody will release something spectacular in December after we’ve wrapped up our festivities.  This year it happened more than once.

Here are three brand-new releases I’ve had on constant rotation for the past week, through card writing and present wrapping, because although they are not Christmas albums, they sound like Christmas.  We hope that they bring a bit of hope and cheer at the end of the year.

If you like “Silent Night,” try …

Max Richter ~ Beethoven – Opus 2020 (Deutsche Grammophon, released December 17)
This surprise release wraps up a year-long celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday (happy birthday, dude!).  Richter’s EP begins with a seven-minute ambient piece, which leads into an expressive 18-minute performance in which loops are played by live orchestra.  Toward the end, “Piano Sonata, No. 30, Op. 109” shines through in its near-original form.  Those who enjoyed the more orchestral parts of Sleep and the instrumental version of Voices will really enjoy this one.

If you like “Joy to the World,” try …

The Hamrahlíð Choir ~ Come and Be Joyful (One Little Independent; released December 4)
How good is this album?  It’s in my top three for the year, and may rise to #1 by the end.  This 52-member choir accompanied Björk on both disc and tour; the teenaged Björk was a member.  The album is comprised of Icelandic folk songs plus two Björk covers.  The golden highlight is “Vísur Vatnsenda-Rósu,” last heard on Homogenic Live and (way) before that, Hector Zazou’s Songs from the Cold Seas.  Sublime.


If you like “Little Drummer Boy,” try …

KASHIWA Daisuke, program music III (Virgin Babylon; released December 19)
program music (2007) remains a classic, so when program music II was released nine years later, many fans were surprised, excited, and ultimately disappointed.  But what a comeback Daisuke makes with program music III!  Returning to the template of the first album, III is one extended, consistently morphing track, traveling from ambience to breakbeat to fractured rhythm to even (we’ll allow it) a tiny bit of rap and song at the back end.  The album is so exuberant, it’s nearly irresistible, a perfect panacea to the holiday blues.  Once again, a Merry Christmas to all!

Richard Allen

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