The Polyphonic Spree goes psychedelic for the season.

Photo of the Polyphonic Spree by Steve Wrubel.
By Steve Wrubel

The Polyphonic Spree seems like a natural for Christmas music, but so far we've had to make due with a couple of tracks including a version of John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" that's too literal a use of the band's talents. The new Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One  is a better, truer representation of their sensibility and a Beatlesque Holiday Mystery Tour.

For it, Tim DeLaughter writes two lovely framing instrumentals. "A Working Elf's Theme" opens the album with an attractive, buoyant instrumental with the melody expressed through whistling, and the title track ends it with a brief, echo-drenched, faintly mechanical composition that closes the project on a nostalgic echo. But in a sense, DeLaughter's writing hand is all over the album as he makes some liberal substittutions in classic melodies, giving new life to "Let it Snow," "Silent Night," and particularly "Winter Wonderland" and "Silver Bells." The latter two are the dramatic heart of the album as they're slowed to an almost glacial pace so that they have a shimmering beauty, but all sing-along value is sacrificed in the process. "Do You Hear What I Hear?"/"The Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy)" is also ambitously revised into an epic, slightly spacey suite, complete with sci-fi keyboard noises, echoed, tubular bells and a flute that create a sonic haze from which the Spree's army of voices can surge powerfully to sing, "A child, a child" and put the Spree stamp on the song.

Holidaydream may go a little far for purists, but there isn't a trace of cynicism in DeLaughter's treatments of the songs. He has made them beautiful and instilled his very specific sense of wonder in them. It's a warm and lovely album, with all the musical imagination he would apply to his non-seasonal song is brought to bear for these very familiar songs, making them new again.

  

The Polyphonic Spree's Holidaydream is part of a gift package of holiday CDs that one lucky reader will win. The package will also include Holidays Rule and A Charlie Brown Christmas. To enter to win, subscribe on the home page to "Condensed Milk," My Spilt Milk's weekly email newsletter. If you're already a subscriber, you're already entered. Contest closes December 20 at 7 p.m. CST.