Sufijan Stevens, Songs for Christmas

I wrote this review last year on Christmas Eve for my now languishing livejournal account. Keep in mind this Sufijan Stevens’ Christmas album came out two years ago. I find however that Christmas albums keep their relevance longer than other albums. Christmas introduces more universal themes that make older music mre palatable than other music of similar age. I plan on excavating my Christmas music collection now that Thanksgiving is over and playing it ad-nauseum until Christmas is a few weeks past (until Epiphany?). I love Christmas music and somehow my standard of quality is adjusted…a few notches lower…not sure why. I decided not to give a point value for quality and clean for this album. I reviewed it last year and also I don’t quite trust my quality radar when it comes to Christmas music.

“I didn’t buy this Christmas album last year when it came out even though its rave review on NPR piqued my interest. Songs for Christmas is a monster box set which includes 5 discs and extensive liner notes. Over the course of five years Sufijan had recorded at home these discs which he then sent out to friends and family as Christmas gifts. He also used them as “Christmas therapy” for himself

“I had never heard of Sufijan until last year and a huge box set seemed like a big commitment. This year however, I craved serious Christmas music to an extent that listening to jingle bells and deck the halls laden secular christmas compilations (which I seem to have collected over the years) didn’t do it for me. Plastic Santas, candy canes, and good ol’ american consumerism made me want to puke. I NEEDED to listen to music about Jesus, why do we celebrate Christmas, whats the point etc… The only music that I could stomach was Rebecca St. James’ CD from 1997 or so. Some would say, even for a Christian artist, her music is too “religious” but it was perfect for me. I discovered the carol, O Come O Come Emmanual, anew this year because of her. The words speak of a dark cloud of sin looming over us that is only dispersed with the news of Jesus’ birth and death on the cross. This was perfect for my candy-induced nausea–yet I wanted something new as well.

“Sufijan Stevens is an indie artist and sounds like an indie artist. To me, he sounds like a solo-artist non-band version of Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree. They all have that scruffy indie-orchestral aesthetic, lushly layered and optimistic but also paying tribute to the overwhelmingly depressing aspects of life. Josh (my husband) hates this type of music, but I can enjoy it when its not bad.

“All five discs together, present a wonderful mix of traditional Christmas hymns, Sufijan’s own Christmas creations and even a couple of just plain hymns (Amazing Grace and O Come Thou Font). Musically and lyrically the box set is varied and diverse. Among the many themes he explores are, the joy of Jesus’ birth, the giddy fun of consumerism, family strife, coming together in spite of family strife and winter cold.  As many instruments as could be found in his house were included. Upbeat, serious, sparse and luscious sounds make the album shine. I am not surprised to find out that Sufijan is a Christian, yet he is not obnoxiously so. It comes out because it is part of who he is, not because he is trying to “send a message.” In fact he wasn’t trying to send a message at all. Possessing an “inherent aversion to the standard Christmas carol” he embarked on the project in the beginning as an exercise to make himself “appreciate” Christmas more. In his liner notes he expresses that the experiment must have worked. This compilation is magnificent and honest.”

links:
review on pitchfork
what his website has to say about it

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