Christmas songs are the perfect terrain for Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberstís ravaged soul: on the Nebraska outfitís latest Saddle Creek album, Lifted, Oberst and his wide circle of enablers wove gorgeous, expansive tapestries of complicated folk rock as a foundation for his fits of over-the-top vocal and lyrics. And since weíve all heard holiday nuggets like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" more times than we want to count, Oberstís shtick turns out to be a useful means of bringing new life to these worn-out classics.
The result is a lower-fi indie-rock version of the Phil Spector holiday standard A Christmas Gift for You. Oberst plays Spector, leading members of the bands Azure Ray, Lullaby for the Working Class, and Now Itís Overhead through delicately handled arrangements that embellish indie rockís usual guitar din with lots of creamy keyboards, vocal harmonies, and snazzy jazz chords. The pretty "Bethlehem" sparkles like an outer-space luau; a white-noisy "Little Drummer Boy" almost outfuzzes the version Low had featured in a Gap commercial a couple years ago. Throughout Oberst offsets the careful playing with his cracked, post-pubescent vocals.