Timing is everything. We’ve known for a while that Mark Kozelek was going to be releasing a Christmas album before the end of the year, but for much of that time Kozelek was riding a wave of goodwill following the release of (the still very good, even if I’ve stopped bringing it up at parties) Benji. Now Sings Christmas Carols finally comes out and it feels like an unwanted present from the obnoxious uncle you try and avoid at family gatherings. What happened in between? Kozelek saw the reaction he got from a typically cranky and offhand comment about War on Drugs’ music bleeding into his own at a festival and somehow thought releasing not one but two songs and a t-shirt about it would be amusing to someone other than himself. Suffice to say the joke isn’t funny anymore, and Kozelek is looking pretty sad, not to mention that he’s probably alienating new fans he may have acquired since Benji’s release. And now we’re supposed to allow him into our homes and into Mom and Dad’s 5xCD changer, slotting his CD next to Dolly Parton and Nat King Cole and A Charlie Brown Christmas? If nothing else, we can be thankful that Kozelek finished this album some time ago, so he didn’t alter his version of “The Christmas Song” to include the line “Although it’s been said, many times, many ways, War on Drugs can…”
Anyway. If you can listen to Sings Christmas Carols and think, “This too shall pass,” knowing that by Christmas 2015 Kozelek will have become bored of this game and we’ll have moved on to the next internet beef, you may well enjoy this one. There’s no doubt Kozelek has a voice suited to the material, that he comes up with solid guitar arrangements, and generally imbues these songs with a sense of calm and contemplation. This is by and large a traditional Christmas album all the way, something that you could play for your parents and have them say, “Hey, that’s better than the weird one you brought last year.” He layers his voice into a mini choir for the a capella on “O Come All Ye Faithful”, throws a funny spoken word interlude into “Christmas Time Is Here” that pokes fun at his sad-sack persona, and includes an overlooked Christmas-themed song into the mix, the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles”, which really should be a standard. It’s just voice and guitar throughout, but Kozelek’s nylon string work is consistently engaging, even as he falls back on some of his go-to fingerpicking patterns.
But the album’s strengths—the relaxed vibe, easy prettiness, and earthy undercurrent, all appropriate for a bloated eggnog buzz—happen to be qualities Kozelek can conjure at will. He has a weird way with covers; he can make any song sound like a Kozelek song, but that’s a double-edged sword. When he tackles someone else’s music it almost always sounds good, but there is rarely any depth, and the actual content can seem irrelevant. Two previous covers collections, the AC/DC set What’s Next to the Moon and Tiny Cities, featuring Modest Mouse songs, were more about domination than interpretation. Kozelek smothers the songs in his own aesthetic, and the same holds true here. The main differences being, Christmas songs lend themselves well to his particular concerns, and not too many people are thinking about the deeper layers of meaning inside “O Christmas Tree”. Is it going to bump Low’s Christmas out of the rotation? Not likely. But it’s not bad, and it very well may sound better with each passing year.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1uyRPNe