Low - review of Christmas
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Low, Christmas (ChairKickers' Union)

Christmas albums don't seem like Low material. Usually this band's music is minimalist and its lyrics filled with Eastern religious references. To suddenly go all Christian and sentimental is kind of weird, even for a corn-fed indie cult band from Minnesota. Still, the pulse races at the thought of what this slow-moving trio -- guitarist Alan Sparhawk, drummer Mimi Parker and bassist Zak Sally -- could do with "Silent Night." Ditto "Little Drummer Boy." You'll hit a fever pitch by the time you tear the wrapper off Christmas, a luscious collection of traditional and original holiday tunes, some of which have already appeared in other Low projects.

Low? Christmas music? You might think you had some of that funny egg nog.
As it turns out, Low's version of "Silent Night" is sung by Sparhawk and Parker in tender harmony, backed by just an acoustic guitar. And they sing all the verses, even the ones we've forgotten. "Little Drummer Boy" is haunting, as a guitar hums throughout and drums boom way off in the distance while Sparhawk's and Parker's voices float, as though lifted by the sonic steam of the guitar drone.

"Long Way Around the Sea," on the other hand, is an original composition told from the point of view of one of the gift-bearing wise men. In two-part harmony, Sparhawk and Parker sing of one wise man's journey to bring the Christ child his treasure. It's beautiful.

Not so captivating is Low's take on "Blue Christmas." Covering one of Elvis's trademark tunes is risky, especially for a wavery-voiced chanteuse like Parker, though she does bring a deeply sorrowful feel to it.

The opening track, "Just Like Christmas," is a shocker to anyone accustomed to Low's plodding pace. It's upbeat. Parker's voice sounds like every other indie rock chick's, instead of like the sultry, sweet mystery woman of Low. But despite the happy polka beat, the lyrics -- about getting lost in the Netherlands -- are pure, unadulterated Low. In other words, a downer.

Low fans tend to be maniacal about trading tapes of live shows, as well as B-sides, unreleased singles, bootlegs and different pressings of the same recording. So this collection should continue to fuel the madness. Kranky, the band's most recent label, has a few copies of the limited pressing, and it has been released in Europe and the U.K. through Tugboat. Christmas is also available on Low's own Chair Kickers' Union label, sold at the band's live shows and through mail order. -- Liz Belile


Christmas on Amazon.com