Low, Christmas (Kranky)
You've got to admire Low for releasing a Christmas album. It's not terribly in vogue to support what many people claim to be a holiday far too commercialized, and Low admits that commercialism in the CD packaging. But then, there's something about holiday music that almost anyone can enjoy, and it's obvious that Low is a big fan of the holiday tunes.
On this CD, which I believe was actually released last year (but I could be wrong), Low contributes some original holiday tunes and a few covers of old favorites. They don't shy away from the Christmas songs with holiday meaning, either, which is another reason why I respect them for this wonderful album. And the band lends their classic slow-core approach to most of these songs, giving them the kind of sparse, melodic, and introspective feel that Low is so well known for.
"Just Like Christmas" may be my favorite Low song, and that's saying a lot. This is one of the band's most upbeat songs, with a rollicking pop beat, sleigh bells, and gorgeous vocals from Mimi Parsons. I find myself singing this one all the time, especially this time of year, and I think this song could go down as a holiday classic if anyone ever heard it. "Long Way Around the Sea" tells the story of the three kings, and it's absolutely gorgeous. Slow and moving, with soft and low acoustic guitar and vocals from Alan Sparhawk (with Mimi backing him perfectly on the chorus), this song has a classic feel given a modern, slow-core approach. The classic "Little Drummer Boy" is very slow and moody with a wash of slightly distorted sound behind the echoed vocals for a very unique and powerful effect. "If You Were Born Today" is the only song that I think is too slow here. The vocals are clearly featured over very sparse guitar in this song about what today's society would do to Jesus today. It's a very sobering song, and although it is a bit too slow, the male and female vocals together are gorgeous. "Blue Christmas," on the other hand, benefits from the very quiet and moody, even bluesy approach that Mimi's soulful vocals and the echoed acoustic guitar supply. Alan and Mimi pair up again on an absolutely beautiful version of "Silent Night," a song that is supposed to be quiet and contemplative, and who does that better than Low? "Taking Down the Tree" puts a sorrowful approach to an act that always depressed me, and it expresses the sentiment of those post-holiday days perfectly and in a quite lovely manner. The finale, "One Special Gift," is short and quiet, but it's heartfelt and quite emotional.
You don't have to be Christian to appreciate the beauty and meaning behind some holiday songs, so don't shy away from this release this holiday or next just because Low sings "Silent Night" and "If You Were Born Today." This band is known for somber, introspective, and sparse pop music, and that treatment is applied perfectly to these holiday songs. But this album is worth getting even if just for "Just Like Christmas." Holiday music can be enjoyed by everyone, and if you're sick of another rendition of Jingle Bells, this is the album to play to get you in the spirit.
Want another holiday album? Read a review of the My Pal God Holiday Record Volume 2, chock full of today's indie artists putting their own spin on holiday music.
Christmas on Amazon.com