Low - review of Christmas
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Low, Christmas (Chair Kickers' Union)
Rating: 7.9

Here is where the trio of perpetual sadness take on the season of perpetual joy. For the novelty alone, Low's eight-song Christmas EP is worth investigation. So many questions arise just at the concept. Why did Low do this? Do they have a message (they are Mormons, you know)? Are they the Grinch in disguise, attempting to take all the fun out of the holiday? Are they just fucking with us?

The opener, "Just Like Christmas" tends to say, yes, indeed, Low are fucking with us in a big way. Mimi Parker's ethereal voice and a slew of sleigh bells hover while a muted backing track reminiscent of Darlene Love-styled '60s Christmas radio hits plays in the back. The song is upbeat, and not just upbeat for Low. Really upbeat. It's a pop song, straight up, and sounds, surprisingly, like nothing Low have ever done. But however alarming the genre shift is, concern is immediately answered through Low's uncanny ability to write original Christmas songs that feel like classics. "Just Like Christmas" could easily slide onto any Top 40 station's playlist during the holiday season and sound like it belongs. And for what they seem to be trying to achieve with this track, that's a compliment.

The other originals on Christmas find Low in familiar musical territory, where it becomes apparent that Low are indeed taking the material seriously-- perhaps too seriously, given Low's track record of misery. "Long Way Around the Sea," like many other of their other songs, teeters the line between beauty and boring. Alan Sparhawk sings over a slow, acoustic guitar, familiar lyrics like, "Here for us/ A humble birth/ The son of God/ Descends to Earth."

Similarly, "If You Were Born Today (Song for Baby Jesus)" finds Low in all of their slow-core glory, singing about how if Jesus were born in this day, he'd be killed by age eight and never get the chance to say: "Joy to the world/ And peace on Earth/ Forgive them for they know not what they do." It's heavy-handed, alright, and a bit grim in the face of the holiday spirit. But this is Low we're talking about, a band who conjures sweetness with their twinkling ode to the end of the Christmas season, "Taking Down the Tree." They may forsake fun for being thought-provoking, but at least they made this album on their own terms.

The covers of older Christmas favorites are the highlights of the album. Low are ultra-considerate with their remakes. No melodies are altered, yet all of the songs are given Low's unique treatment. "Little Drummer Boy" is packed with reverb from a distorted keyboard while Alan's and Mimi's vocals shine through the fog like candles in frosty windows. "Silent Night" is sparse, with just an acoustic guitar backing their harmonies. And if there ever were a Christmas song for Low to cover, "Blue Christmas" is it. Parker takes on the standard by slowing it down a bit (surprise!) and peppering it with her distinctive drumming.

On the inside cover, Low offer another Christmas message, this time directly to the fans: "Despite the commerce involved, we hope you will consider this our gift to you. Best wishes." Well, Low, thanks. I realize that I'm not an easy person to shop for, especially since you don't really know me. I didn't know that I wanted this gift before I got it, but I'm really happy to have it now. More so than even a jam-of-the-month club membership, this record will keep on giving. Every time another banal Christmas song comes on the radio, I'll seek comfort from your own take on the seasonal tunes.

- Richard M. Juzwiak



Christmas on Amazon.com