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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Songs for the season: Seven holiday albums to wrap up the semester

It is no coincidence that Spotify Wrapped’s name is a nod to festive paper and that it tactfully cuts off its tracking in November to avoid Instagram stories dominated by a deluge of Christmas music. But why shouldn’t yuletide classics count as ‘real’ music? After all, the annual repetition of certain songs creates a powerful emotional nostalgia with which most new albums cannot compete. However, if you’re looking to mix up your holiday soundtrack this year, here are seven recommendations for Dec. 7.

1. For tried and true classics: “Christmas (Deluxe 10th Anniversary Edition)” (2021) by Michael Bublé

What is not to love about this perfect album? Coming from a listener who has had Michael Bublé in their Spotify Wrapped several years running, it is always shocking when people don’t realize that Bublé has more music than his Christmas classics. Nonetheless, if Mariah Carey is the queen of Christmas, Bublé is the undisputed king. A modern-day Sinatra influenced by crooners of yore, Bublé’s 10-year-anniversary version of the album is jam-packed with 25 holiday classics ranging from the best version of well-known tunes like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas” to fun originals like the cheerily romantic “Cold December Night.”

2. For melancholy merrymaking: “Wintersong” (2006) by Sarah McLachlan

For those stuck somewhere between Scrooge and Santa, this is the album for you. If you can’t quite place McLachlan’s breathy mezzo-soprano, you might recognize her heart-wrenching song “When She Loved Me,” featured in Disney’s “Toy Story 2.” This December, “Wintersong” toes the line between festive and depressing with haunting, slow renditions of holiday classics and originals like the titular track. Her clear voice makes one think of ice, but it is hard to decide whether it is part of a cheery skating rink or a frozen tear. For the heartbroken, “Song for a Winter’s Night,” “In a Bleak Mid Winter” and her cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” can take you through Christmas, New Year’s and into January.

3. For lively reimagined classics in harmony: “Christmas With The Puppini Sisters” (2010) by The Puppini Sisters

Hosting a holiday dinner with friends or seeking the perfect soundtrack for tree trimming? Look no further than this spunky Christmas album from British vocal trio The Puppini Sisters. The group takes inspiration from the close harmonies of the early 20th-century singers the Andrews Sisters. Their accelerated version of Elton John’s 1974 “Step into Christmas” kicks things off with a bang, while tracks like “Let It Snow” showcase the members’ strengths as both solo singers and as an ensemble. Their “All I Want for Christmas” nods to the kind of creative, offbeat reimaginings that characterize the group’s five other studio albums, successfully transitioning from a sweet and emphatic opening to brassy big band and rich harmonies. 

4. For lovers of musical: “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (Original Soundtrack)” (2017) by the cast of “Frozen"

If you too were rocked by the recent tenth anniversary of the smash success “Frozen,” consider tuning into the songs of the festive animated short that originally preceded the 2017 film “Coco.” Broadway fans will be delighted to hear Idina Menzel (“Wicked”), Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”) and Josh Gad (“Book of Mormon”), while fans of “The Good Place” will appreciate Kristen Bell’s honeyed soprano. Menzel’s and Bell’s opening duet, “Ring in the Season,” captures the eager rush of preparing for a holiday gathering. The short’s closing song, “When We’re Together,” offers thoughtful, heartfelt musings on the importance of being with loved ones during the holiday season, featuring sharp harmonies that capture the sisters’ complementary natures. (Bonus: “Hamilton” co-star Leslie Odom Jr.’s second Christmas album features his signature silky vocals on classics and the standout original, “Snow.”) 

5. For the a cappella fan: “That’s Christmas to Me (Deluxe Edition)” (2015) by Pentatonix

Undoubtedly the a capella group with the most Christmas spirit, Pentatonix has released six distinct holiday albums filled with high-energy, poppy versions of Christmas classics and originals. Although any of the six are worthy of mention, this album presents particularly creative tracks, including an unexpected mashup and a complex original. The precision of the multipart vocals makes this buoyant album the ideal accompaniment to a crafty holiday activity like cutting paper snowflakes or decorating a gingerbread house. Favorite songs include “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and “That’s Christmas to Me.” (Bonus: Didn’t get enough of Kristen Bell? Check out her feature in a cappella group Straight No Chaser’s “Text Me Merry Christmas.”)

6. For work-friendly instrumentals: “The Holiday (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)” (2006) by Hans Zimmer

Nestled among Zimmer’s oeuvre of hard-hitting scores for characters as iconic as Jack Sparrow, James Bond and Batman is his music for a beloved rom-com. For some, a young book-editing Jude Law is a holiday figure on par with St. Nicholas himself. Whether or not this feel-good story about a house-swap-induced romance is on your radar screen, Zimmer’s delicate melodies seem to suggest that no problem is really as bad as it seems — or can’t be cured by a holiday romance. Favorite tracks include “Gumption” (may we all have more of it) and “Cry,” which swells to a thrilling, joyful climax with just the right combination of guitar and violins. This is the end-of-semester deadline soundtrack you need. 

7. For the ones who think they’ve heard it all: “A Very Chaise Lounge Christmas” (2012) by Chaise Lounge

Convinced you’ve heard every holiday song out there? Think again. Little-known ’60s-inspired band Chaise Lounge has a short but sweet Christmas album stuffed with original tunes that manage to sound like classics. Band member Charlie Barnett penned the anticipatory “December 25” and the snuggly ballad “The Heart of December.” The album’s standout original, however, is the gleeful, cheeky “Snow Day.” The song evokes the scene from the 1974 classic film “The Year Without a Santa Claus” in which the mayor joyfully sings “It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie.” Sandwiched between covers of songs like “Christmasville, Usa” and “The Man with the Bag,” this jazzy album is the rare pearl you need on your playlist of Christmas classics.

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Acadia Klepeis

Acadia Klepeis ’24 (she/her) is an Arts & Culture Editor. 

She is an English major and a French and Francophone Studies minor. Last year, Cadi studied literature in Paris and in Oxford through Middlebury’s school abroad programs. She spent this past summer working as a communications intern for the Vermont Arts Council. Previously, she completed internships with Tuttle Publishing, Theatre in Paris, and Town Hall Theater. Cadi is also on the board for Middlebury College Musical Theatre.


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