December 24, 2014
It’s a Sufjan Christmas
BY EMMA SPANJER Perhaps you’re wondering if, after his last Christmas album, there are any songs left. Well, Sufjan Stevens has responded to our doubt with a resounding, “YES!”, with five separate CDs totaling fifty-eight songs, Silver and Gold appears to be another Christmas miracle. Just like 2006’s Songs for Christmas, this is a stranger-than-ever collection of the familiar, the obscure, and a few trademark originals from our beloved Indie King. Everything about Silver and Gold is immediately odd. A lovely rendition of “Sleigh Bells” is interrupted by a techno breakdown, while “Angels we have heard on High” strays to ask, “Have you seen a flying saucer?” Perhaps the most outlandish song is “Christmas Unicorn,” in which Sufjan declares, “Oh I’m a mystical apostasy/I’m a horse with a fantasy twist/though I play all night with my magical kite/ people say I don’t exist.” We have come to expect this sort of thing from Sufjan but that doesn’t make it any less shocking when he starts singing about tangoing with frisky frosty men just as the notes to Bach’s “How Shall I Fitly Meet Thee?” end. This album isn’t all laughable, as the real bright spots are some of Sufjan’s serious Christmas originals. A few true standouts include a haunting song titled “Barcarola (You must be a Christmas Tree)” that could very well have been something off of 2003’s Michigan. Possibly autobiographical, it begins as the story of an innocent would-be romance, but by the end Sufjan slowly and tunefully whispers; “Don’t run away my friend/you won’t be back again/you said you needed me/but I know that you needed yourself to be clean of me”. It’s so very Sufjan; dreadfully sad, yet somehow it manages to elicit joy. Another standout beauty is “Justice Delivers Its Death,” a rather spiritual song in which Sufjan laments wasted time on earth and wonders what the end will be. Each of the five albums has two or three songs like this—songs that make us think about ourselves and Christmastime and just how pleasant life can be. So yes, it’s weird. Those of us who unapologetically prefer a traditional Christmas carol might reject it, but if you’re either an unconditional Sufjan believer or simply think Christmas songs titled “Particle Physics” sound like fun, give it a listen and it will turn into love. I guess we just need to accept Sufjan’s need for unconventional album assemblage and appreciate the variety. If you should so choose, the boxed set comes with stickers, song books, DIY ornaments, and temporary tattoos of glittery pin-up girls in sexy elf attire. One senses that Sufjan truly doesn’t mind how his music is received, and it’s that assurance that makes this album so easy to appreciate. Your parents might call it sacrilege, but we know that Sufjan Stevens’ spiritual interests lead to some of the most simple and divine tunes, Christmas or not, that we will ever know. Silver and Gold is certainly no exception.