The Best Christmas Albums of 2008

Have a headbanging holiday.

Sixpence None the Richer

The Dawn of Grace (Nettwerk)

It comes as no surprise that Sixpence None the Richer (whose 1999 hit "Kiss Me" was a little gem of 10,000 Maniacs/Innocence Mission folk-pop) has released a Christmas record; the band was always forthcoming about its Christian influences. Accordingly, the group sticks largely to holiday hymns. The original "The Last Christmas" is a lovely lullaby to the narrator's unborn child, and singer Leigh Nash has the right amount of fragility in her voice to take a stab at Joni Mitchell's ubiquitous "River."

Julian Koster

The Singing Saw at Christmastime (Merge)

Fans of the long-dormant Neutral Milk Hotel have a few reasons to smile these days. Reclusive frontman Jeff Mangum has been making public appearances lately, and NMH bassist (and Music Tapes leader) Julian Koster has collected these 12 Christmas songs. But the "singing saw" in the title is no joke: A pair of musical saws is all that can be heard on this instrumental album. The shivering tone of the saws is most akin to the wavering pitch of a Theremin, and accordingly, these songs toe a thin line between exquisite beauty and ear-raking annoyance. Koster fares better on more reverent hymns such as "O Little Town of Bethlehem," where the high, lonesome saw tone sounds as if it's being carried on the wind from a nearby church on Christmas Eve.

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