Gentleman Auction House

Christmas in Love EP
(Emergency Umbrella)

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9 p.m. Saturday, November 15. Billiken Club, in the Busch Student Center on the campus of Saint Louis University, 20 North Grand Boulevard. Free. 314-977-2020.

We know, we know: It's just the middle of November and Christmas music is already creeping ahead of its established day-after-Thanksgiving borders. And while those all-holiday radio-station programmers should be treated to a pinecone enema (we're looking at you, Movin' 101.1 FM), Gentleman Auction House has done a special thing with its Christmas in Love EP. Not only is the collection typically ambitious for a band that has already released an EP and a full-length this year, but it manages to capture that elusive Christmas spirit without being overly cloying or sanctimonious.

Singer and guitarist Eric Enger has written a handful of originals for the season, and in keeping with its mushy title, most of the six tracks collected here deal with the flush of new love and the ways in which the holidays promise perfection but often come up short. The production and instrumentation is in keeping with GAH's recent beat-heavy, keyboard-based sound. Aside from a few shakes of sleigh bells and some well-placed glockenspiel, there's not much sonic tinkering to define these songs as Christmas tunes. Instead, the seven-piece plays to its strengths, using well-layered arrangements and shared vocals to round out the songs.

Pianist Kiley Kozel squares off with Enger for the sing-songy "On the Rooftops," and elsewhere her high harmonies sweeten Enger's alternately fervid and reserved delivery. The only standard Christmas song on the disc is "Here Comes Santa Claus," which has been given a buzzy, bottom-heavy overhaul without sacrificing the charm and wonderment of the original. The whole EP is solid and well-tailored to fit the season, but the disc is worth picking up to hear "Home for the Holidays." Dealing with the drama and crises that often accompany family get-togethers, the song stands as one of Enger's best. In fact, it deserves a spot in the band's live shows regardless of the season; like the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York," it sounds good and rings true all year long. In the end, Love stands in place among Gentleman Auction House's other discs, showcasing the band's continued refinement of their approach and, in particular, Enger's considerable gifts as a lyricist and his increasing comfort as the band's leader.

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