Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Listeners hungry for celebrity cheese and yuletide camp best be warned: This album of brooding instrumentals is a real downer, morose enough to wilt the merriest Christmas tree into a weeping willow. Originally released in 1956, the perversely titled Merry Christmas shares the lugubrious qualities of Gleason’s other mood-music LPs, such chart-topping fare as Music to Make You Misty. Gleason leads his orchestra through the standard holiday tunes, but the maudlin, slo-mo arrangements bury the familiar melodies in a snowdrift of sentimentality. Gleason even manages to strip the joyous jangle from “Jingle Bells,” transforming the anthem of outdoor, wintertime glee into an interior soundscape more apt for an opium den than a family-room fireside. The orchestra’s secret weapon is the mysteriously named Hercules, an electric celeste virtuoso who adds a dublike resonance and makes this reissue ripe for a gloomy sample on a future Portishead remix. With the Keith Textor Singers as a chorus of inarticulate angels condemned to an eternity of humming (“vocalise performances,” according to the liner notes), Merry Christmas provides a haunting, if mostly unlistenable, reminder that the holidays are a time for reverie as well as celebration.—Eddie Dean