As we enter the fun-filled and festive month of December, chances are Christmas is on your mind at the moment and you might be stuck for present ideas for friends and family. Well, fear not, for UNTITLED is here to provide some yuletide cheer!
It can be difficult to decide what to buy those closest to you for Christmas, but one thing that's always remained popular is giving someone music, be it in the form of a CD, vinyl and now a digital download. Getting a new album from your favourite artist or reissues and remasters of old ones makes for a great present and here, in my eyes, are some of the best albums out there from the last couple of years to fill someone's stocking.
Fish - Weltschmerz (2020)
It's fair to say that I'm starting off with one of 2020's best albums, if not the best. Fish's incredible final offering Weltschmerz only got released in September and in the following couple of months has made a profound impact.
As Fish's final album, Weltschmerz arrived back in late September with mighty high expectations and it's definitely fair to say that even with those, the big Scot smashed it out the park. It contains some of his best pieces of songwriting to date and one of the tightest sounding albums of the last twenty years. Before Weltschmerz, I'd compared other Fish albums to his sterling nineties efforts of Internal Exile and Sunsets On Empire; Weltschmerz even blows those out of the water.
There's no doubts that it is a pretty dark affair, discussing everything from climate change and political turmoil to cancer and dementia but even with those subjects, Fish manages to put a poetic spin on it that makes for otherwise incredible listening. From the opening heart monitor on Grace Of God right through to the epic Rose Of Damascus, the effervescent Garden Of Remembrance and the final rallying cry in the record's title track, it's one of the best collections of songs from the last few decades, let alone just this year.
If you're wanting something a little left-field of your traditional listening habits but are looking for an album to simply blow you away, Weltschmerz is guaranteed to do just that. In my eyes, 2020 didn't produce a more stunning and varied collection than this, and it should be top of your shopping list for any music fan out there.
Arctic Monkeys - Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2020)
If you're looking for some live cuts and are also feeling charitable, then look no further than this next offering which comes courtesy of the Sheffield rockers, Arctic Monkeys.
Their latest release is a live album from the Royal Albert Hall, a concert originally from June 2018 and the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino tour to support the record of the same name. Much like Fish before, I've waxed lyrical about Tranquility Base a lot in the past with several articles on this site dedicated to just that album. I even had the pleasure of seeing the band live on this tour, and if that performance at the O2 was anything to go by, then the Albert Hall live album should be absolutely incredible.
It captures the intimacy of the shows from the last tour as opposed to portraying the arena sound the Monkeys became synonymous with thanks to their previous offering AM from back in 2013. One thing especially noteworthy about this particular gig is that it features the live debut of Tranquility Base's opening track, Star Treatment, which when combined with how small the gig sounds and the acoustics of the Albert Hall, make for a jaw-droppingly great listen. There's also all the fan favourites that people have come to know and love such as the obvious I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor and the effervescent Arabella, but it's fair to say that it's all in all a great setlist.
If you're looking for something away from the traditional offerings by artists and want to relive a proper concert as best you can, then live albums are the best you can get. What's more, when that record is coming courtesy of one of Britain's best musical exports, you definitely can't go wrong.
Chris Kamara - Here's To Christmas (2019)
As it's Christmas, it would be wrong to ignore festive albums completely and I've picked one of the best releases from last year from one of its most unlikely stars. Chris Kamara's Here's To Christmas got a glowing review on here last year and it only seems right to revisit what was 2019's best festive offering.
The sheer brilliance with Here's To Christmas lies within its simplicity. Whilst some might say it's a plain album, I'd argue against that with the point that a Christmas album or any festive tune doesn't aim to be groundbreaking from the outset. Kamara's debut record is one of the more traditional heartwarming affairs which sees the jolly pundit covering everything from It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and Silent Night but the way it's been executed is not in the novelty or ironic way you might expect at first. Kammy's voice is genuinely soulful and as far as debuts go, Here's To Christmas hits all the right spots.
It harks back to the days of crooners like Dean Martin and the Christmas stalwart Andy Williams with a smooth orchestral sound that backs Kamara over the course of the record. He even has a crack at creating his own Christmas hit with the album's title track which is definitely one of its best offerings. It's the big band style that sets it apart from any of the other contemporary tracks that instantly makes Kammy's a whole lot more timeless.
It's fair to say that there's nothing novelty about Here's To Christmas which only increases its appeal and also how genuinely great of an album it is. If you're wanting something a bit more festive from an artist you may never have expected, then Kammy's Christmas debut is definitely going to be a surefire hit.
Chicago - What's It Gonna Be, Santa? (2003)
For my final recommendation, I'm sticking with the festive theme and moving to what is undoubtedly one of the best Christmas records of the last twenty years and also one of the smoothest.
Much like Chris Kamara before it, Chicago's 2003 album offers their signature touch on some real Christmas classics. There's no need to reinvent the wheel here and Chicago's way of playing the classics makes for a refreshing change to your usual staples. With it being such a vast collection of songs too, there's sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.
What makes Chicago's Christmas albums one of the best out there isn't just the variety of songs and the way it's executed, but also its under-the-radar status. I guarantee that if you ask anyone about famous artists who've recorded festive tracks then they won't mention Chicago. It's this obscurity compared to the traditional raft of hits that makes it all the more appealing - it can become tiring to hear the same songs every year and the likes of Chicago ensure that you don't become bored at all.
Besides Chicago, there's a raft of records from the likes of Hall and Oates and Jethro Tull that demonstrate that the scope for Christmas music is a lot wider than the same five or six songs you hear on the radio each year. Chicago's What's It Gonna Be, Santa? acts as a fine starting point for an obscure Yuletide journey into the back catalogue into some of music's best and most under-rated artists.
Purchase What's It Gonna Be, Santa? from Amazon here (affiliate link)
With the selection of albums discussed above, it's definitely fair to say that there's some real standout tracks to get stuck into. Whether it be the incredible Fish and the groundbreaking Weltschmerz, the stylish live cuts from the Arctic Monkeys or some Christmas cheer from Chris Kamara and Chicago, then there's a properly good range of music to pick from that should make for some fantastic presents and some very happy friends and family when the 25th December rolls around.
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