Alan Cross’ weekly music picks: It’s never too early for Christmas tunes

The Monkees pose for their Christmas card at the Athletic & Convocation Center in South Bend, Indiana on November 11, 1986. Paul Natkin/Getty Images

With the turning of the leaves comes more big-name fourth quarter releases. A few of them involve Christmas music. And so it begins …

1. Eric Clapton, Happy Xmas

In all his years, Slowhand has rarely released anything remotely seasonal other than appearing on 1999’s A Very Special Christmas Live. His 24th studio album is a 14-track collection of standards (Away in a Manger, White Christmas, Silent Night) with a few lesser-known Christmas songs, all with a slight bluesy twinge. His rendition of Jingle Bells is dedicated to the late Avicii, a DJ Clapton admired greatly. And while you’d think that an album with this title would include John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over), it doesn’t. Odd, no?

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2. The Monkees, Christmas Party

The surviving Monkees, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz (along with a few archived vocals from the late Davy Jones) have decided that the best way to follow up 2016’s 50th-anniversary album Good Times! is with a Christmas collection. The whole production has a definite alt-rock bias, too. New Christmas songs are provided by Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo (What Would Santa Do), Peter Buck of REM (the title track), and XTC’s Andy Partridge (Unwrap You at Christmas), while the whole project was overseen by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. Paul McCartney will no doubt be chuffed to see a version of Wonderful Christmastime included.

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3. St. Vincent, MassEducation

St. Vincent (Annie Clark to her mom) had one of the most critically-acclaimed indie records of the last 12 months with Masseduction (pronounced “Mass Seduction”). For an encore, she’s re-imagined the album as a stripped-down, mostly acoustic re-do, entitled MassEducation (note the addition of one extra letter). The piano parts — which can be achingly beautiful — are provided by longtime collaborator Thomas Bartlett. The whole thing has been in the can for a while, having been recorded over two days while mixing the original album.

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4. Tom Morello, The Atlas Underground

The guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, Prophets of Rage, and Audioslave set the bar high for this solo record. I quote: “The album features artists of diverse genres, ethnicities, ages and genders and that, in itself, is a statement of these divisive times. The idea was to forge a sonic conspiracy” and “make a new genre of rock ‘n’ roll.” Since we first discussed this album in this space back in August, Tom embarked on a low-key mini-tour that saw him play the entire record in front of small audiences and tell stories of his time in the music business. The current single from the album features contributions from Portugal. The Man.

5. Black Eyed Peas, Masters of the Sun

The Peas’ seventh studio album finds them Fergie-less (she officially bailed earlier this year, a departure described as a “break,” but don’t bet on it) and more political than ever before. The album is inspired by a sci-fi graphic novel of the same name and delves into the current social and political mood in the U.S., encompassing police violence, racial issues, and guns. Dance beats and pop aesthetics move to the background as early BEP sounds based on hip-hop are resurrected. And yes, it’s been eight years since the last album.

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London Calling: She Drew the Gun, Resister

This Liverpool band beat out 5,000 other hopefuls to win Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition and haven’t slowed down since. The whole band is very activist, very socially aware, and most uncompromising. One to watch for sure.

Undiscovered Gem: Junko Daydreams, Bug Bites

Based in London, Ont., this four-piece call what they do “post-hardcore” influenced by “anger depression, and anxiety.” You can add to that, Alexisonfire, PUP and the Melvins. Bug Bites is from a debut EP entitled I Will Show You a Fear in a Handful of Dust on Nov. 1.

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Throwback Thursday: Oleander, Why I’m Here

After grunge burned out, 1990s guitar rock had so much momentum that these sorts of bands kept popping up for the rest of the decade. This was the era of Creed, Collective Soul, Eve 6, Seven Mary Three, Lit and Fuel, along with Sacremento’s Oleander. Their time came in 1999 with their debut album, February Son, which was close enough to the Nirvana sound that they scored a gold record in the U.S. Yes, this song sounds a bit like Heart-Shaped Box, but that was the point.

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Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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