Holiday Music for the Joyful, the Lonely and the Skeptical

JD McPherson is a vivid reinterpreter of the strutting rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s. His holiday album, “Socks,” is a collection of original songs with startlingly original conceits. The mopey “Socks” is a tongue-lashing to unoriginal gift givers. “Bad Kid” is a lite-rockabilly boast from someone with “a black leather jacket and a real mean streak” who wants to find a way to enjoy the holiday: “I can’t help it, I was born like this/A permanent spot on the naughty list.” And “Hey Skinny Santa!” encourages Kriss Kringle to pack on the pounds after several months of slacking. The peak might be “Claus vs. Claus,” a duet with Lucie Silvas, which portrays the North Pole as a site of domestic disappointment, where a long-married couple air out their gripes, then settle them just in time for the big flight.

Polite and precise Golden Age Christmas carol revivalism from Ingrid Michaelson, who is a better singer the less affect she deploys. And so the ornate first half of this album is pleasant, but the looser second half — with a cheeky “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” a spunky duet with Grace VanderWaal on “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and a surprisingly understated and tactile version of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” with Leslie Odom Jr. — has real joy.

This is the fourth Pentatonix Christmas album in six years, a mercenary pace for a holiday-mascot group that specializes in an especially synthetic brand of mirth. Refreshingly, “Christmas Is Here!” is the least antic of its holiday albums, with a patient “Where Are You Christmas?” and non-asphyxiating moments of expanding the holiday canon, including a cover of the Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather.” But this a cappella group still loves its laser-pointer syllables, which arrive like cruel bullets on “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and make for a genuinely harrowing “Making Christmas.” And it’s jolting when more lustrous, nuanced singers arrive for duets — Maren Morris on “When You Believe” and, most strikingly, Kelly Clarkson, warm and robust on “Grown-Up Christmas List.” But they are a temporary dam: The Casio-preset vocals are an unstoppable torrent, and these eerie, plastic songs may well make Pentatonix the Mannheim Steamroller of the 2030s, the 2050s, maybe even the 2110s.

This EP by the South Korean indie-rock band Say Sue Me refracts holiday music through several different unexpected lenses. “Out of Bed” is morbidly downtempo — it sounds like seasonal affective disorder. “After This Winter” is a slowcore lament about dark winter nights. And the title track is a rousing surf-rock number that exuberantly calls into question why people even bother singing about Santa at all: “Christmas, yeah, it’s not a biggie/It’s not your birthday/Wonder why people look so excited.”

Could we not? Signed, the Grinch.

The gospel singer Deitrick Haddon has over the last decade been one of the genre’s limit pushers, tugging at its musical and ideological boundaries. In the producer Zaytoven, one of the architects of Atlanta trap music — and also a church-trained musician — he has found a worthy collaborator. “Greatest Gift,” out Dec. 14, includes hip-hop-inflected gospel on “Christmas With U” and the title track. But hearing Haddon lean in to the secular songs here is the real holiday surprise: “I’ll massage you from head to toe,” he sings on the cheesy adult-contemporary R&B number “Holiday Bae-cation,” while the excellent “Make Love on Christmas” is deeply sweaty: “It ain’t gon’ be a silent night/Ain’t trying to wake up the kids with the noise/But she can’t take it when I unwrap the toys.”


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