If there's anything worse than cloying Christmas carols it's listening to Justin Bieber's renditions of cloying Christmas carols—not that all celebrity holiday albums are terrible. Take Silver & Gold, Sufjan Stevens' newly released follow up to his 2006 Songs For Christmas. It's only the most recent example of serious musicians taking a break from their normal routine to produce an album that won't make people wince at your next holiday party.
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Sufjan Stevens, Silver & Gold (2012)
A hilarious, seven-part infomercial for Silver & Gold recently went viral on YouTube, giving viewers a hint of the fun, irreverent tone of Sufjan Stevens' second Christmas album. Alongside twee versions of holiday classics are funny originals with names like "Christmas Unicorn" and "Lumberjack Christmas," both likely to woo the hottie in the oversized glasses and ironic sweater standing under the mistletoe. The 58-track album is so good you might find yourself listening into January and beyond.
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The Polyphonic Spree, Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays (2012)
This album brings The Polyphonic Spree's signature eclectic and wildly enthusiastic sound to the holidays with an upbeat collection of new and classic Christmas songs. Lead singer Tim DeLaughter and company keep it fun and accessible enough even for non-fans. Our favorite? A rollicking version of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)."
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Tracey Thorn, Tinsel and Lights (2012)
You might know Tracey Thorn from British pop-jazz-electronica duo Everything But the Girl. These days she's flying solo and, apparently, in the Christmas spirit. In Tinsel and Lights, Thorn lends her warm yet melancholy vocals to a collection of originals and covers of refreshingly modern songs, including the White Stripes' "In the Cold, Cold Night" and "Taking Down the Tree" from slow-core pioneer Low's fantastic 2000 album Christmas. It's a moody, beautifully sung homage to the great Christmas albums that came before it and definitely worthy of a spot on your wish list.
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Various Artists, Holidays Rule
Can't bear the thought of listening to just one artist tackle holiday classics? This collection offers diversity: Paul McCartney, The Shins, Fun, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird and 12 others show up. It's upbeat, easy-going music that's hip enough to placate the music nerds in your family while not offending your grandparents. Assuming, of course, that no one minds that this is on Starbucks' record label, Hear Music. Extra street cred for getting Chris Funk of The Decemberists to produce the album.
—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.
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