The Minus 5's holiday offering should be subtitled "A Melancholy Christmas" because so much of the music on this 11-song band outing, which includes help from a strong cast of guest performers, is just so darn sad. None is sadder than "When Christmas Hurts This Way," though, as it grapples with how to 'celebrate' the holiday after a bad romantic breakup. Mike Mills may be singing about the Hanukkah miracle with "Festival of Lights (Hanukkah Song)," yet he sounds sadder than Leonard Cohen. "Yule Tide Me Over" is a lovely, steel guitar-colored song about a holiday love affair. Kelly Hogan helps main Minus man Scott McCaughey sing this pun-y little number about the kind of lover that need not be introduced to mom. Again, not exactly tidings of great joy.
The Decemberists' Colin Meloy performs the piano-based "The Fourth Noel," sounding like woebegone Richard Thompson, back when he was still making down-in-the-mouth folk-rock with his (then) wife Linda. "Can we forgive ourselves for all the wrong we've done," McCaughey asks (begs?) on the jangly "Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp Gulp."
"Your Christmas Whiskey" adds a small touch of cheer, while "See You in December (featuring M. Ward and Chuck Prophet) revs up some Chuck Berry-esque rock & roll. Perhaps, Ben Gibbard's "I See Angels" offers the biggest dosage of optimism, as he sings about spying angels everywhere this time of year. He sings it over a woozy, wonderful psychedelic groove. The album ends with another guitar-driven rocker called "I Still Believe in New Year's Eve."
Yes, there are a few bright bulbs on this Christmas tree. But these are not enough to raise one's spirits above a numb haze.