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Alternative Christmas Tunes

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At Christmas time, my family traditionally engages in a mild battle of wills over what goes on the stereo. My father is a collector of Christmas music (both secular and religious), and when we're at my parents' place, he is the acknowledged Master of the Playlist. But this year, my family is coming to stay with me...so I have to come up with some tracks to put on!

My favorite Christmas music is the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. Actually, pretty much anything that Vince Guaraldi touched is good Christmas fare -- it's quiet, pleasant jazz that can happily fill the background. To get started with Guaraldi's catalogue, check out the Peanuts stuff (get the newer remastered CD's with bonus tracks!), then check out 1964's The Latin Side Of Vince Guaraldi, which is pretty much the best cocktail party album ever.

Sufjan Stevens - ChristmasMoving past Christmas jazz, I enjoy Sufjan Stevens's Christmas EPs, which were recently released on CD (previously they were mostly available via illicit web downloads). The new under-$20 CD box set (which has five discs!) includes Sufjan's Christmas albums recorded each year since 2001, featuring banjo, vocals, and lots of indie rock Christmas cheer. These EPs feature a mix of traditional songs and originals, all with that great Sufjan Stevens feeling. Check out the box set, and try the MP3 listening/download links (in the right-hand column) to get an idea of the sound.

Finally, for some free old-time Christmas recordings, check out Vintage Christmas Wax: Revisited, a collection of free links to online MP3s recorded on wax cylinders -- including tracks recorded by the Edison Concert Band in the very early twentieth century! (Thanks to Whitney at Pop Candy for the link!)

Try the NPR story A Very Tolerable Christmas for samples of the Sufjan Stevens material, plus great music from Low and The Weepies.

So what music do you play at Christmas? Share your suggestions in the comments!

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Animals
Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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technology
ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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