Album: Julian Koster, The Singing Saw at Christmastime (Merge)

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The Independent Culture

If there's a danger of the Pet Shop Boys' glass-half-empty attitude putting a bit of a damper on the kids' Christmas spirits, then this could completely creep them out.

Julian Koster, former accordion-botherer with US lo-fi indie combo Neutral Milk Hotel, here offers versions of seasonal classics played on the musical saw, which has a genuinely haunting quality – its wavering, organic timbre suggesting that the instrument is actually alive, or inhabited by a ghost - in this case, of a rural Christmas past. When used effectively, it imbues songs such as "The First Noel" with a strange, distinctive dignity; though plastering a random jangle of sleigh bells behind the saw's eerie whine doesn't help "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". Koster struggles to make the more light-hearted material work: call me old-fashioned, but I don't think "Frosty the Snowman" is improved by a sinister undercurrent of unease; while the subtle melody of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" tends to dissipate on the saw. But it can bring something extra to the more classic carols, with "Silent Night", in particular, boasting beautiful, tremulous harmonies; and even that hoary old crooner's favourite "White Christmas" is lent an almost unbearable poignancy.

Download this Silent Night; White Christmas; The First Noel