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For many Christmas music has been relegated to being a background soundtrack while shopping in crowded stores. This blog is about my search for the past 15 years for songs that breathe life back into Christmas music and make it worth listening to all year long.
The Inspiration & Process
Fifteen years ago, I got some email spam advertising a custom Christmas mix as a gift for friends. I promptly ripped that idea and made my own mix from a collection of Death Metal, Goth, and Indie Rock Christmas music, beginning a tradition that lasts to this day.
What I’ve realized over these years is a Christmas mix is unique in the fact that the songs, for the most part, stay the same year after year. It’s the artists and their arrangements that can change and that’s one of the reasons I don’t repeat songs. I love listening to 15 different versions of Joy to The World from Bluegrass to Metalcore.
To find fresh songs year after year and not duplicate them takes some work. I’ve got a lovely color-coded Excel spread sheet that breaks down, artist, song, volume and year. Because most Christmas music is made by independent artists you’ve never heard of, I start my hunt in September and go to the end of November. I look at sites like Amazon, Bandcamp and multiple music news sites, looking at album release dates in that window of time. Most albums don’t have Christmas in the title but over the years I’ve learned to look for certain phrases that hint it’s a Christmas release.
Once I build a collection of songs I begin dwindling it down with multiple rounds of listens, looking for how songs blend and fit the overall feel of the mix. Before I finalize the mix I get my wife’s feedback--it helps to get someone’s perspective who hasn’t heard the playlist 50 times.
To say the least, I have some expertise when it comes to Christmas music so below are some albums (mostly EPs) that have stood out to me. Beneath that is a collection of Indie Gems I’ve enjoyed over the years.
Future of Forestry– Advent Christmas Ep 1, Ep 2, Ep 3
Recommended Song: "O Come O Come Emmanuel", "Joy To The World", "O Come All Ye Faithful"
If Sigur Ros and Radiohead got together to release three Christmas EPs this is what it would sound like. This is one of the best blends of a bands sound and Christmas music I’ve ever heard.
Kings Kaleidoscope– Joy Has Dawned
Recommended Song: "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus"
Take Jazz, Funk, Classical and Indie Rock and then mix that with Christmas Carols to get this classic.
Citizens & Saints– Repeat the Sounding Joy
Recommended Song: "Joy to The World"
Many artists change their sound when doing Christmas music, stripping all the unique qualities they bring. Citizen & Saints break that trend and bring their signature Indie Rock sound to these known and obscure Christmas Carols.
Relient K– Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer
Recommended Song: "Sleigh Ride"
This is the perfect Pop Punk Christmas album. Relient K's upbeat sound fits, amazingly well, with these Christmas classics.
Seabird– Over The Hills And Everywhere: A Christmas EP
Recommended Song: "Go Tell It On The Mountain"
Taking every song and completely reimagine the arrangements and often flipping them on their heads. This is a great EP for those who traditionally don’t like Christmas music.
The Modern Post– Lowborn King
Recommended Song: "Child of Glory"
The side band for Thrice singer Dustin Kensrue, this is for fans of Thrice's more melodic side.
Benjamin Dunn And Friends– Adventus Christmas
Recommended Song: "Little Drummer Boy"
If you’re a fan of the Low Christmas ePs you’ll be a fan of this. I’d classify it as chilled progressive folk. Beautiful and haunting takes on the classics you know.
Beta Radio– The Songs the Season Brings, Vols. 1-4
Recommended Song: "Coventry Carol/King Without a Mountain"
Mesmerizing chilled folk for fans of slower Fleet Foxes.
August Burns Red– August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin' Hill, A Holiday Album
Recommended Song: "Carol Of The Bells"
No metal band has been as prolific and successful as August Burns Red in translating Christmas classics.
Josh Garrels – The Light Comes Down
Recommended Song: "Gloria"
Soulful Indie rock that filled with the amazing voice of Josh Garrels. For fans of The National and Ray LaMontagne.
This is a playlist of Indie Christmas "Hidden Gems".