The Christmas record trend seems to never ebb out, and just goes from strength to strength. This year, it feels like the dam has burst, releasing all the pent-up recording urge that was held back by the pandemic. It may be a record year for unusual Christmas releases, and there are seemingly many more small-scale projects than ever before. All this, of course, has made selecting a top 10 Christmas albums of 2022 rather a daunting task – there have probably been more almost-included albums this year than ever before, and eking out this list has meant ignoring some worthy entries indeed.
10. Pär Olofsson – Simultan Krippenspiel: Christmas according to Dada
Dadaism was an art movement, started in neutral Switzerland during the first world war, that turned its back on the horrors of the frighteningly rational modern war machine by embracing the random and nonsensical. In 1916, dada artist Hugo Ball wrote a short manuscript consisting of a completely nonsense-language retelling of the Gospel of Luke. What on earth has possessed the serious and pious ecclesiastical composer Pär Olofsson to suddenly turn this into an hour-long oratorio (Spotify), full of weird sound effects and bizarre humour? No idea, but I’m along for the ride.
9. Jacob B Wyldin – A Merry Wyld Christmas
Hip-hop Christmas albums are sadly few and far between. Lyrically talented up-and-coming Atlanta rapper Jacob B Wyldin has done something truly unusual: He’s released a fully-developed, all-original rap Christmas album (Spotify) with an overarching theme and introspective explorations of grief, materialism and survival. That he has brought in guest verses from Dancehall legend Mr Vegas and West Coast hitmaker The Game certainly doesn’t hurt either, but it’s his solo turns and the musically inventive collaborations with labelmate Epifan3 that really shine.
8. The Laurie Berkner Band – Another Laurie Berkner Christmas
Last year’s Mandulka és a Karácsonyvár by Rutkai Bori Banda was the first really good Christmas record for years that was explicitly directed at children, but what do you know, here comes another one! Laurie Berkner, of “We Are The Dinosaurs” kiddie-fame, released a middling mainstream Christmas album a decade ago, but this quirkier indie-label follow-up (Spotify) is the superior effort. Bright and energetic, it mixes inventively arranged takes on traditional carols with lovingly child-centred originals, and should keep your tots full of Christmas cheer throughout the season.
7. Gloria Estefan – Estefan Family Christmas
In the 1960s especially, doing “family” Christmas albums was a bit of a micro-trend, usually involving a famous singer and their lesser-known offspring trying to evoke a jovial home atmosphere for the record-buying public. It’s absolutely this trope that 1980s star Gloria Estefan is going for on this record (Spotify), with lush orchestral arrangements and the requisite amount of corniness making for a compelling package. The true revelation is her daughter, Emily, whose voice is the record’s true standout and who you wish was allowed to take more of centre stage.
6. Eva Bjerga Haugen, Morten Askildsen, Simen Kiil Halvorsen and Thomas Bang – Stille Grender
Straddling sheer folk, improvisational jazz and unusually arranged pop, this impromptu Danish-Norwegian quartet creates some truly atmospheric Christmas music on their inauspicious Christmas album (Spotify), one of the most beautiful of the year. The interplay of Bjerga Haugen’s elegant voice, Askildsen’s gentle guitar and Kiil Halvorsen’s playful trumpet experiments ties the seemingly disparate songs together – and creates an intimate closeness, stopping these often highly unorthodox takes on classic material from drifting into weirdness for weirdness’s sake.
5. Macy Gray and The California Jet Club – Christmas with You
It’s interesting that The California Jet Club, her long-time touring band, get equal billing on Macy Grey’s brief Christmas album (Spotify). You can truly tell that the “I Try” hitmaker and her musicians are a tightly-knit unit, craft honed through months of touring, and that is an important reason why this album succeeds. Featuring soulful ballads and funky uptempo dance numbers, all replete with the singer’s characteristic raspy vocal energy, these cheerful, good-vibing tunes all feel straight out of a wonderful club night concert, one you leave humming and laughing.
4. Jane Monheit – The Merriest
This year has had a real bumper crop of excellent vocal jazz Christmas albums by women, and I wish I could have included them all. Hannah Svenson (Spotify), Lyn Stanley (Spotify) and Emma Salokoski (Spotify) are all fantastic, but even so Jane Monheit’s album (Spotify) stands out with its perfectly recorded warmth and breathtaking virtuosity. And I’m not just saying that because she’s covering some of my favourite lesser-known Christmas songs on an album that comes across like a true love-letter to the jazz Christmas records of the 1960s golden age.
3. Bjéar – A Christmas with Bjéar and Friends Vol.1 + Vol 2
Imagine recording a full indie Christmas album with thoughtful instrumentation, intimate vocal harmonies, powerful emotional connections and a disarming earnestness… and then immediately recording another one. Australian singer Bjéar has done just that, and despite 26 songs, a mixture of old carols and new material, and a total runtime of over 80 minutes, the quality rarely dips below stellar on his two new Christmas albums (Spotify and Spotify).
2. Loreena McKennitt – Under a Winter’s Moon
It truly is Canada’s year this year – both of my favourite albums are from the same country. And Loreena McKennitt’s stunningly sung live album (Spotify), based on a series of concerts held last year, really feels deeply connected to that country and its history, connecting both to its folk tradition and its First Nations heritage. Some of the spoken sections drag on a bit, but it doesn’t matter, the music glows. Starting with the barest of folk a cappella arrangements and blooming into multi-instrumental intricacy, these are some of the most graceful arrangements of traditional carols I’ve ever heard.
1. Damoizeaux & VoxA4 – La Liste de Noël
Over in Quebec, we’re diving into an entirely different part of history on this immensely cozy record (Spotify). Jazz five-piece Damoizeux and tight a-cappella group VoxA4 combine to create nebulously anachronistic nostalgia for a place that never existed and everything all at once, combining parts of 1920s trad jazz, 30s Django Reinhardt-style jazz manouche, 60s yéyé, 70s vocalese and many more unexpected strands. It’s all tied together in a modern pop production that never goes overboard into being clichéd or silly, and couldn’t possibly fail at making you smile.
A playlist with all of the top 10 Christmas albums of 2022, plus an assortment of other interesting new Christmas music, is available to listen to here on Spotify.