A Very Tolerable Christmas

Great holiday music comes in many genres, from the melancholy solo piano of Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas to the effervescent girl-group soul of A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. But these five soft selections hang together just right, making up a wintry mix of songs that, when heard collectively, simulate a soothing bath in a tub of warm cocoa.

1. Bing Crosby & David Bowie

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  • "Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy"
  • Album: Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics [2006]
  • Artist: Bing Crosby
  • Label: Capitol
  • Released: 2006
 

Drawn from the 1977 TV special Bing Crosby's Merrie Old Christmas, the inspired and historic pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie is enough to instantaneously trigger nostalgia-induced weeping in anyone over, say, 35. But this is no novelty trifle: Hopeful kindheartedness emanates from it in palpable waves. (from Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics)

2. Low

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  • "Just Like Christmas"
  • Album: Christmas
  • Artist: Low
  • Label: Tugboat
  • Released: 1999
 

The Duluth trio Low is most widely known for playing 1) slowly; and 2) sparsely. Consequently, for fans of the band, the sleigh bells that open the irresistible eight-song Christmas EP are as jarring as sleigh bells can get on a song with "Christmas" in the title. Both "Just Like Christmas" and the EP itself provide an ideal mix of sweet seasonal joy and minor-key melancholy. (from Christmas)

3. Sufjan Stevens

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  • "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
  • Album: Songs for Christmas
  • Artist: Sufjan Stevens
  • Label: Asthmatic Kitty
  • Released: 2006
 

In recent years, Sufjan Stevens has responded to the holidays the way he's responded to everything else: by releasing a honkload of music. His five years' worth of Christmas EPs were released in box-set form last year, and they're wonderful — as sonically inventive as they are generous in spirit. Best of all is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," which builds from a gentle voice-and-banjo reading to the soul-stirring sounds of a heavenly choir. (from Songs for Christmas, Vol. II: Hark!)

4. The Weepies

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  • "All That I Want"
  • Album: Happiness
  • Artist: The Weepies
  • Released: 2004
 

The Weepies' "All That I Want" currently classes up the TV ads for some retailer or other, which instantly makes it one of the finest songs in heavy rotation right now. A sweetly loping rhythm, punctuated by sleigh bells, provides a rich backdrop for some of the sweetest boy-girl harmonies around. As with all everyone on this list, the rest of The Weepies' catalog warrants further exploration, too. (from Happiness)

5. Eef Barzelay

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  • "Joy to the World"
  • Album: Bitter Honey
  • Artist: Eef Barzelay
  • Label: Spin Art
  • Released: 2006
 

Former Clem Snide singer Eef Barzelay is renowned for his clever wordplay, but he's nowhere near renowned enough for his uncommon warmth as a singer. His gentle phrasing gets put to soul-massaging use on this wonderfully spare reading of "Joy to the World," on which the air in the studio seems to be singing backup. (from Bitter Honey)

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Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics [2006]

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  • Album: Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics [2006]
  • Artist: Bing Crosby
  • Label: Capitol
  • Released: 2006
 

Christmas

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  • Album: Christmas
  • Artist: Low
  • Label: Tugboat
  • Released: 1999
 

Songs for Christmas

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  • Album: Songs for Christmas
  • Artist: Sufjan Stevens
  • Label: Asthmatic Kitty
  • Released: 2006
 

Happiness

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  • Album: Happiness
  • Artist: The Weepies
  • Released: 2004
 

Bitter Honey

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  • Album: Bitter Honey
  • Artist: Eef Barzelay
  • Label: Spin Art
  • Released: 2006
 

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