Low, Christmas (Kranky)
Our recent holiday CD roundup ("Time of the Season," December 9) was intended to be as complete as possible, but a handful of Yuletide discs undercut this goal by arriving after deadline. Among them were Kenny G's Faith: A Holiday Album, which I wasn't nearly foolhardy enough to spin (a guy's got to draw the line somewhere), and Low's latest, arguably the oddest offering of its type this year -- and one of the most pleasurable.
For those out of the loop, Low is a Duluth, Minnesota, trio that specializes in indie-pop of an especially droney, meditative sort. It comes as a surprise, then, when "Just Like Christmas," the first track here, announces itself with a fairly jaunty melody and a peppy turn by vocalist/drummer Mimi Parker, plus roiling timpani, a prominent Zak Sally bass line, and sleigh bells shaking in the background. What follows, however, is more characteristic of the group. "Long Way Around the Sea" and "If You Were Born Today," both crooned by guitarist/vocalist Alan Sparhawk, are hushed, reflective and almost impossibly lovely, "Taking Down the Tree" practically turns an annual chore into a religious rite, and "One Special Gift" uses spareness and simplicity to gorgeous effect. Add to that a buzzing, ominous "Little Drummer Boy," a "Blue Christmas" far more dour than any Elvis Presley ever warbled and a "Silent Night" that almost is, and you're left with an album that's beautiful, depressing and serene at exactly the same time.
With disc art by John Porcellino, familiar to Denverites through his work with the late, lamented Felt Pilotes, and the sweetest possible liner greeting from the musicians ("Despite the commerce involved, we hope you will consider this our gift to you. Best wishes"), Christmas isn't something you should spin on December 24 after being stood up by a date; no one needs to feel that bad. But it captures better than most music the emotions of the season.
by Michael Roberts
Christmas on Amazon.com