Christmas comes early with new holiday releases from Sufjan Stevens, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

Christmas comes early with new holiday releases from Sufjan Stevens, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

Pick Of The Week: New

Sufjan Stevens, Silver & Gold (Asthmatic Kitty)
Though The A.V. Club would be loath to really commit to listening to Christmas music this early in the year, if we were going to listen to tunes chock full of jingle bells, we’d be listening to Sufjan Stevens’ new record. Silver & Gold is the twee singer’s second holiday record and is composed of material released on Stevens’ friends-and-family-only EPs from 2006 to 2010. The record features some choice guests, like The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, but Stevens’ angelic holiday crooning is enough to make this record soar. Add to that some neat super-deluxe packaging that includes tattoos, an ornament, stickers, and “hallucinogenic photographs and psychedelic graphic design” by Stevens himself, and Silver & Gold should make for one hell of a stocking stuffer.

Reissue Of The Week

The entire Beatles catalog on LP (EMI)
Though used Beatles records have never exactly been hard to come by at thrift stores and in record shops, copies that aren’t scratched to hell are few and far between. Turns out people have an attachment to those things for some reason. Luckily, EMI has finally given in to all those Beatles nerds itching for clean vinyl and clean sound and has reissued the band’s entire catalog on 180-gram LPs. While the records will be available in stores individually, McCart-nerds can splurge on the deluxe package, where all 12 of The Beatles’ British releases, the U.S. version of Magical Mystery Tour, and the Past Masters singles set come packaged in a fancy box complete with a 252-page hardcover book by BBC producer Kevin Howlett. While these stereo reissues might not be for the purest of Beatles purists—the mono recordings won’t be available until 2013—they’ll satisfy anyone just building a record collection or who has a thing for heavyweight vinyl. 

Greatest Hits Of The Week: 

I Will Always Love You: The Best Of Whitney Houston (RCA)
Whitney Houston had some problems—both in her life and in her music—but when she was on, she was great. I Will Always Love You celebrates the life and work of Houston by collecting 16 of the singer’s biggest hits, including—of course—the title track. The other 15 songs are a non-stop pop assault, plunging listeners up and down the emotional spectrum with a chest-smacking arsenal of diva jams, from “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” to “I’m Your Baby Tonight” to “Exhale.” Each mega-hit is better than the last, and back-to-back, the record is nearly unstoppable. The only exceptions come on two “new” Houston tracks, “Never Give Up,” which was produced by Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox, and an ill-advised posthumous duet with R. Kelly, “I Look To You.” Those sappy cuts have the potential to suck all the life out of a great record, so just skip those two and celebrate Houston’s life with the rest of her best.

Do Not Break The Seal: 

John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, This Christmas
Few press releases raised more eyebrows in The A.V. Club office than the one announcing this collaboration—and it wasn’t even because Travolta’s hair looks mind-blowingly fake on the album cover. Rather, what shocked both the A.V. Club staff and the world was that these two former Grease stars could think that anyone would actually want to hear them team up again. And team up they do, for songs like “I Think You Might Like It,” a ditty penned by the very same guy who wrote “You’re The One That I Want.” The rest of the record is just a little less painful-sounding, given that it features drop-ins from other, more musical celebrities like Barbra Streisand, Kenny G, and James Taylor. All sales proceeds go to charity, so the duo clearly had their hearts in the right place when they dreamt up the idea, but the fact that audiences might actually be forced to listen to the resulting dreck is a lump of greasy coal in the world’s musical stocking. 

What Else?

Christina Aguilera, Lotus (RCA)
Though Christina Aguilera’s last record, Bionic, didn’t fare too well, critically or financially, the belter has been doing okay for herself lately. She’s gone through a divorce fairly unscathed, starred in a movie—albeit not a good one—and is one of the judges of The Voice. All that has become fodder for Aguilera’s new record, Lotus. The record does boast a few electro-tinged songs and duets with fellow Voice stars Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton, but fans of Aguilera’s bread and butter—vocal runs and sultry ballads—won’t be disappointed.

Bobby Bare, Darker Than Light (Plowboy)
Bobby Bare has been an outlaw country icon for 50 years. He’s had more than 30 top-20 hits, multiple Grammy nominations, and has produced at least one musical child, the aptly named Bobby Bare Jr. Now Bare has teamed up with Plowboy Records—owned in part by former Dead Boy guitarist Cheetah Chrome—for his latest record, Darker Than Light. Featuring both a cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and a guest appearance by Vince Gill, the record sheds light on what it means to be an aging country legend—as well as one of the late Shel Silverstein’s best friends and frequent collaborators. One of the tracks on the record, “The Devil & Billy Markham,” puts music to a poem Silverstein first published in 1979.

Clinic, Free Reign (Domino)
Masked British art-rock band Clinic is back with a new record, the follow-up to 2010’s Bubblegum. Free Reign is out this week on Domino and was mixed in part by Daniel Lopatin, better known to music nerds as Oneohtrix Point Never. In addition to the usual formats records are released in—CD, LP, digital, and so on—Free Reign is also available in “limited edition UFO format,” meaning buyers of that option get a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee and a download code.

Crystal Castles, III (Casablanca/Fiction/Universal Republic)
Three albums in, fans of Crystal Castles should pretty much know what they’re going to get from the fairly dark synth band. III doesn’t disappoint in that regard, harnessing the band’s signature crunchy noise and quasi-anarchic style into a record that sounds a lot like, well, Crystal Castles. It’s slightly darker than the band’s previous work and supposedly based on lead singer Alice Glass’ belief that the world is a dystopia rife with corruption, but as far as this band goes, that kind of rhetoric is par for the electro-tinged course.

Brian Eno, Lux (Warp)
Eno’s first solo record since 2005’s Another Day On Earth, Lux finds the ambient pioneer exploring soundscapes. Originally created for an art installation, Lux comprises just four tracks, each about 20 minutes long. The record itself is an exercise in sound and space that’s arty for sure, but should please even the most blasé Eno fan.

Green Day, ¡Dos! (Reprise)
The second record in the Bay Area band’s ongoing ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! trilogy, ¡Dos! is meant to showcase Green Day’s take on garage rock. It’s anything but pure garage rock, of course, but it’s gritty enough. This record comes out at a tough time for the band, which had to recently cancel a whole slew of tour dates due to frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s ongoing stint in rehab.

Hercules And Love Affair, DJ Kicks (K7)
Andy Butler’s Hercules And Love Affair is the latest group to take a crack at K7’s flexible DJ Kicks series, which ostensibly lets artists just release a mix composed of whatever they want, as long as it’s at least a little bit dancey. Butler’s set definitely fits that bill, taking listeners through their steps with songs from ’90s house producers like Victor Simonelli and disco cuts from Mankind. Hercules And Love Affair contributes one new track to the mix, a Hacienda-influenced cut featuring L.A. DJ Whitney Fierce on vocals.

Lana Del Rey, Born To Die: Paradise Edition (Interscope)
Lana Del Rey’s debut, Born To Die, only came out this past January, but Interscope is already reissuing it—albeit with eight new tracks. One of those tracks is “Ride,” a dramatic piano ballad produced by Rick Rubin that Del Rey flutters over, whispering about dying young and getting left high and dry. Sounds about right. 

Madness, Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da (Lucky 7/Cooking Vinyl)
Madness first wooed the world with its ska stylings on 1979’s One Step Beyond, later changing to become a little more mainstream and single-friendly on records like 1982’s The Rise & Fall, which included the group’s biggest single, “Our House.” 20-odd years and one breakup and reunion later, Madness is back with a new and very positively titled record. Oui Oui finds the band back to its ska roots, as big and brassy as ever.

One Direction, Take Me Home (Syco/Columbia)
It might not seem like One Direction has been around long enough to have two records, but that’s kind of the catch with boy bands: Labels have to release enough material and keep them in the media enough that fans don’t get tired. Hence Take Me Home, which finds the five lads teaming up with more established songwriters like Ed Sheeran and pop producers like Dr. Luke.

Soundgarden, King Animal (Seven Four Entertainment/Republic)
King Animal is Soundgarden’s first new record in 16 years, and its first since Chris Cornell’s disastrous, Timbaland-aided turn as an electro-pop artist back in 2009. Fortunately King Animal finds Soundgarden back sounding like itself, and Cornell helming the whole operation with his gravelly screeching. Fans of the band and no one else will like the record, but that’s probably the point.

The Rolling Stones, GRRR! (ABKCO/Universal Music Group)
Formidable Brit-rockers The Rolling Stones have a boatload of greatest-hits records out already, but it’s apparently never too late to add another to the pile. The 50-track GRRR! commemorates the band’s 50th anniversary and features two subpar new songs, “Doom And Gloom” and “One More Shot.”