Review: Sufjan Stevens—Silver & Gold
There are very few artists who can make me break my (mostly) solid rule of not listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. Turns out Sufjan Stevens is one of those artists.
He’s already come out with one enormous Christmas album—2006’s 42-track Songs For Christmas. Now he’s back with Silver & Gold, a 58-track behemoth of even more Christmas-y goodness.
While Songs For Christmas sounds just as you’d expect a Sufjan Christmas album to sound, this one’s from his latter years, and it’s got some real weirdness to it. Beautiful weirdness, but weirdness nonetheless.
The album is divided into 5 EPs, and each has its own feel. The first one, Gloria, is a mixture of traditional songs and Sufjan originals, and it’s lovely. The second EP, I Am Santa’s Helper, is long—maybe too long. There are 23 tracks on it, and though they’re mostly shorter pieces—again a mixture of traditional and original tunes—it’s starts to grow old after a while. It has its moments: “How Shall I Fitly Meet Thee?” is simply gorgeous. I even love the completely whack-a-do “Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling.” I just wanted him to be more choosy in what made the cut, and finish a thought, rather than give us just a taste of these songs.
Christmas Infinity Voyageseems at first blush that it might be fairly straightforward—and then we’re treated to Prince’s “Alphabet St.” Why? I have no idea; it’s utterly out-of-place. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” sounds like it came from some insane Christmas-themed Nintendo game from the ‘80s. “Good King Wenceslas” continues the electronica; I still can’t decide if I hate it or if I love it. “The Child With the Star on His Head” is a sprawling 15-minute epic that devolves into a screeling cacophony that I know would quickly elicit The Look from my wife if it was playing anywhere near her…
Let It Snow, the fourth EP, features only one Sufjan-penned tune. The rest are traditional songs worked through with his unique brand of remake. That means keyboards, synths, and electronica, mixed with banjos and guitars. I love, love, love this version of “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.”
The fifth EP, Christmas Unicorn, lulls us in with a fairly straightforward rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” along with a few others. In “Happy Karma Christmas” I don’t think he’s turned New Agey; he just seems to be wishing an old love the sort of Christmas she “deserves.” Christlike? No. Honest? Yes. “Justice Delivers Its Death” features the titular Silver & Gold, but it isn’t the classic Burl Ives one we’re used to hearing during Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This is a melancholy look at how the world has turned to Things rather than the King.
Lord, come with fire
Everyone's wasting their time
Storing up treasure in vain
Trusting the pleasure it gives here on earth
He ends this eclectic collection with the inscrutable “Christian Unicorn”—a 12-minute lament that somehow, magically morphs into Joy Division’s classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It makes as much sense as anything else on this ambitious album—but it also seems exactly right.
If I had to pick one ridiculously large collection of Sufjan Christmas songs to get, I’d go with the earlier Songs For Christmas. But this one still has enough great moments to make me think it’s worth a purchase, too. After all, when you throw out 58 tracks, the odds are something will resonate. This album resonates.