Of course, it's not a surprise to hear Kozelek sing carols; he's released versions of "White Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy" before. On this 14-track collection, his stripped-down, sombre carriage provides relief from the countless versions that push holiday music as fireside, nog-chugging schmaltz.
The biggest surprise with Sings Christmas Carols is how he doesn't just take the easy route by playing them all on an acoustic guitar. Some arrangements are just him and his guitar ("O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Oh Christmas Tree," "What Child Is This"), and they work well, but more interesting is what he does with the others. "O Come All Ye Faithful" is purely Kozelek leading a choir, which he repeats with a hushed guitar and falsetto on "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." To close, he treats "The Christmas Song" to a solo piano rendition, which should inspire some holiday filmmaker to hire him for a sad airport lounge scene.
We shouldn't be surprised by just how well these standards work out for Kozelek. As indie rock's own Ebenezer Scrooge, he seems born to sing them in his own dour way. And while Sings Christmas Carols could provide any miserable person some relief at Christmastime, it also works nicely for anyone who loves these songs to hear someone other than Michael Bublé or Justin Bieber sing them. (Caldo Verde)