A Guide to Unconventional Christmas Music for the Whole Family

The 2010 holiday season has already seen announcements of a Paul Simon song called “Get Ready for Christmas,” as well as a Target compilation headlined by a Best Coast/Wavves duet and contributions from Bishop Allen, Blackalicious, and Crystal Antlers. In other words: the abundance of Christmas music already out there is about to get even more abundant. But for listeners whose musical tastes stray away from the traditional, finding appropriate choices to spin whilst trimming the tree or setting the Yule log alight can be a difficult task indeed. Attempting to balance the musically esoteric with the varying sensibilities that can arise during familial holiday gatherings can be virtually impossible. (We have personally seen several December 24th arguments break out over the relative merits of John Fahey’s New Possibility.)

What follows is a list of 10 albums, singles, collections, and compilations that might achieve that balance between general accessibility and an intriguing, offbeat sensibility. These may be your best bet for holiday music to satisfy a wide range of musical tastes — at least, until some microhouse producer spins the dulcet tones of the Jingle Cats into bliss-inducing gold.

Sufjan Stevens — Songs for Christmas

There’s always been a bit of Vince Guaraldi in Sufjan Stevens’s more baroque-pop side. On this five-EP collection of Christmas songs new and old, that sensibility comes even more to the forefront, and the short, simple renditions of traditional songs are neatly played with an abundant sense of yearning. And on volume five, one can find more than a few Stevens originals (“Christmas in July,” “Sister Winter”) brilliantly illustrating his fondness for large-scale pop.