Sufjan Stevens has just released the second Christmas EP box set of his career, Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Volumes 6-10. Stevens started his career as a pretty straight forward indie folk artist but his sound has progressed to include electronic aspects to the point where his latest album can hardly be defined as folk at all. This collection consists of covers of classic christmas tunes that Stevens works with to make them sound like Age of Adz outtakes mixed with some original music, and it serves as a tremendous way to get into the holiday spirit. To hear all the songs I was once in love with because of the associations they carried be torn apart and rebuilt into electronic pop is wonderful, and it leads to a product that makes the transition to the holiday season more welcome than ever.
Click to learn more about each volume
Covers: Silent Night, Coventry Carol, Auld Lang Syne
Analysis: The best EP in the box set, the covers are nice but the best part of Gloria is that it’s the only EP where the focus is on the originals. It can also claim my personal favorite track from the box set in Barcarola (You Must Be A Christmas Tree), a song reminiscent of the Illinoise track “Casimir Pulaski Day” in it’s buildup. This being said, Gloria’s strength lies in the consistency between the tracks, as Stevens packs A lot of quality into a little time on the opening EP.
Volume 7: I Am Santa’s Helper
Covers: Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light, Jingle Bells, Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Ah Holy Jesus, How Shall I Fitly Meet Thee?, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Maoz Tzur
Analysis: This EP looks like a GBV album in it’s format, packing 23 songs into 42 minutes. The way it’s reached is unfortunately not as artful though, as it’s truly just a wide array of underdeveloped songs(or at times single concepts) mixed with instrumentals. This being said, “Happy Family Christmas” is an enjoyable track for what it presents, and “Christmas Woman” does exist as the one fully developed original song on I Am Santa’s Helper. It’s worth noting that the title track is just the repeated phrase of “I Am Santa’s Helper, You Are Santa’s Slave!”, a line that’s pretty damn cool, but it doesn’t make sense to present it alone when Stevens has a great talent in working his way up to the sudden realization in songs. As it is it just feels like a wasted concept that could’ve fit nicely into another song.
Volume 8: Christmas Infinity Voyage
Covers: Angels We Have Heard on High, Do You Hear What I Hear?, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Good King Wenceslas, Alphabet Street, Joy to the World
This EP is essentially all covers, including a hysterically included cover of the Prince song “Alphabet Street”. I particularly enjoyed Stevens’ cover of “Joy to the World”, and an original track on this EP titled Christmas in the Room. This whole EP leads up to a chaotic mess in “The Child With the Star on his head” or as Sufjan introduces it in the recording “Positive Christmas energy, desperately seeking Santa”. The song contains itself for 5 minutes before breaking into nonsensical electronic outbreaks ala Of Montreal, outbreaks that I tend to enjoy, but this one just carries on for far to long to the point where randomly battling noise becomes a meaning of the song.
Covers: I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Sleigh Ride, Ave Maria, Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!, Holly Jolly Christmas
Analysis: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is one the cooler covers of the album, especially after watching the creepy music video created for it. In fact this EP has amazing covers in general, the sudden shift is “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” is a great effect (that felt really odd to type out) and Stevens’ interpretation of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “Holly Jolly Christmas” are great listens due to the unique approach taken. Cat Martino appears on this EP twice for the tracks Ave Maria and The Sleigh in the Moon
Covers: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Up on the Housetop, Angels We Have Heard on High, We Need a Little Christmas, We Three Kings
Analysis: Right up there with Gloria, the cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is presented in a wonderfully sincere fashion, while “We Need a Little Christmas” exists as the happiest song in the box set. In terms of the “Christmas Unicorn“, it’s the title track and the ending to both the EP and the box set as a whole. It’s easy to be wary of the track title, but the song exists to be analytical of christmas’ elements, and Christmas Unicorn succeeds in simultaneously attacking elements of christmas while celebrating the beauty that can still exist for the holiday despite them. The song ends with 6 minutes of electronic beats backing continuously controlled echoes of “I’m the Christmas Unicorn, You’re the Christmas Unicorn too! It’s all right, I love you.”