Christmas music news today includes new releases from the Queen Diva and Passion Pit leader, Mars Williams leading a spiritual Christmas show tonight, and My Spilt Milk's holiday mixtape.
“Let’s get everyone super-fucking-Christmas-y,” Chris Hardwick said to start in interview with Zoe Deschanel and M. Ward of She & Him on “The Nerdist” podcast. They talk some about Christmas and play music from their Christmas Party album, but I’m not sure their conversation about the difference between Portland and Los Angeles gets me in the mood. Thankfully, there is a lot of new music that will do the job if their talk doesn’t.
We have already reviewed one batch of new Christmas albums and have a second batch to go, but new Christmas songs keep coming faster than we can review it. Last Friday, Big Freedia’s “Make it Jingle” debuted as part of the ass-shaking soundtrack to Office Christmas Party, which also includes tracks by Ying Yang Twins and OG Maco. The Queen Diva has also released a five-song bounce Christmas EP, A Very Big Freedia Christmazz. This is the second holiday season with at least one Christmas song for Freedia; last year, she made a guest appearance on RuPaul’s “Jingle Dem Bells,” which really has to be experienced on YouTube to be fully appreciated.
Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit has also released new Christmas music, but he has done so on an audio and video album titled Merry Christmas Mr. Fields. Angelakos worked with the Harlem Shakes’ Brent Katz and director Hana Haley on the project, which is due out in both forms on Friday. The first single, “Stained Glass Windows,” is available now for streaming on Spotify, Soundcloud, and YouTube.
Tonight, saxophone player Mars Williams returns to New Orleans to play “An Ayler Xmas” at Cafe Istanbul. The idea of mixing saxophone giant Albert Ayler and Christmas music isn’t new. Canadian saxophone player Bernard Stephan sums up the concept this way:
The concept of mashing up Albert Ayler with Christmas Carols has over the last half dozen of years of concerts slowly wound up into a well accepted tradition. in fact, a few days ago, I realized that I was in deed a fool because after all of these efforts to find matches between the two repertoires and writing the mash-ups, taking fragments from both repertoires and combining them together, I found out that it was already there all the time. For the last 50 years, everybody had already noticed that Albert Ayler's art consisted in combining spirituals with military music. Few, noticed that some of the spirituals were Christmas carols. In fact, Albert Ayler did the reverse process. He took Christmas Carols and transfused them in his own composition by adding, enhancing, modifying them with his own musical concepts giving them a total new perspective.
Williams has kept a similar tradition alive in Chicago, but in recent years has branched it out to improvisational communities around the country including New Orleans. The lineup for tonight’s show is Mars Williams (saxophones), Jeff Albert (trombone), Helen Gillet (cello), Rob Cambre (guitar & fx), Jesse Morrow (bass), and Paul Thibodeaux (drums). The show starts at 10 p.m.
I’ve long believed that Christmas music doesn’t suffer because it’s Christmas-themed. It suffers when it’s not good music or when it’s painfully overplayed—the things that kill people’s enjoyment of any song. I’ve curated an hour-long Christmas mixtape this year that I believe shows how good Christmas music can be. The mix is 99 percent sap- and snark-free, and it’s reasonably contemporary because another barrier to enjoyment of Christmas music is being asked to map your experiences to your parents and grandparents’ music. To get the mix, subscribe to “Condensed Milk,” My Spilt Milk’s weekly newsletter. The sign-up form is on the home page on the right.