I’m a sentimental fool about Christmas music. Every year I drag out an assortment of discs for the holidays, and each year I rediscover that they span from the sublime to the ridiculous. This year I wanted to put my notes down about the best so that I don’t (and you don’t) make the same mistakes next year.
Today’s disc is Duluth, MN slowcore band Low’s unlikely Christmas EP. You may remember one of the songs, their version of “Little Drummer Boy,” from a Gap Christmas commercial a few years back. But don’t let the commercial association fool you. This is an absolute classic Christmas album of the finest order. From the direct-to-flexi-sounding lo-fi upbeat—nay, downright jangly—original song “Just Like Christmas” that opens the year, to the faithful if slow covers of “Blue Christmas” and “Silent Night,” the disc covers all the expected bases for a holiday album. But the covers subscribe to Low’s uniquely intense, spare vision, and the songs are transformed.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the cover of “Little Drummer Boy.” Here the “rum-pa-pum-pums” are slowed (each verse takes about a minute and a half) and laid over an organ drone, which in turn sounds like it’s laid over about 40db of tape hiss. At that speed, the words (conveyed by the sweet harmonies of Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk) stop being trite and start being deeply meaningful.
Add to this the unique originals “If You Were Born Today,” “One Special Gift,” “Long Way Around the Sea,” and “Taking Down the Tree,” which is the only paean to after-holiday-cleanup that I’m aware of, and you have a short but essential holiday classic.