Sufjan Stevens - Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols 6-10

by Greg Spencer Rating:7 Release Date:2012-11-12

Sufjan Stevens has long been a mercurial and enigmatic songwriter. Here, he brings us his follow-up to his 2006 release Songs for Christmas, Vols 1-5. There are 58 songs on this collection, and it's pretty clear that Sufjan enjoys the festivities and all the baggage that Christmas brings. What's fantastic is how well Stevens delivers a bunch of classic songs which everyone knows and adds his own unique touch, as well as offering a handful of his own compositions and new Christmas tracks.

Stevens kicks it all off in traditional fashion with 'Silent Night', which is done in the perfectly sombre and emotionally melancholic tone we all know. It tells us instantly that even though there are some of Stevens own songs in this collection, tradition is still something he feels strongly about. As an opener it works magically. Following this, 'Lumberjack Christmas' is a track which wouldn't sound out of place on Stevens' 2005 album Illinois as it has that delicate touch which has become somewhat of a trademark of his, fusing gentle vocals and acoustic guitars effortlessly, with a hint of electronics for good measure.

'Jingle Bells' is delivered in that low-key, indie style. It sounds like his entire family then joins in and the song turns quirkily (and a little amateurishly) into a large chorus. The next track, an instrumental titled 'Mysteries of the Christmas Mist', is typical of Stevens, adding a subtle yet sinister element to proceedings even if it is ambivalently played. Where Stevens falls down slightly is when he takes the record by the throat and does something totally off-kilter, as in 'Alphabet St', a short, electronic cover of the Prince song which simply adds nothing to the record at all and throws the Christmas theme momentarily out of the slay.

The 12-minute 'Christmas Unicorn' fairs much better because the electronics and bucket-load of instruments are used to good effect and really add to the atmosphere and ambience of the song. The same can be said for 'Happy Karma Christmas', as the electronic sounds merge effortlessly with the slow-paced nature of the track and, as a whole, the song is balanced well.

Sufjan Stevens is quite clearly brimming with ideas and he obviously records a lot of material. Some of its brilliant and some of it isn't. Creating a coherent narrative on this album probably wasn't the goal, but if you listen to each volume then there's something for everyone. Overall, Silver & Gold is a record full of songs to make you excited about Christmas. Sufjan Stevens obviously loves the event enough to make a huge album on it. There are plenty of misses but it's a thoroughly, enjoyably optimistic listen and one which will definitely get you in the mood for the festive season quickly approaching.

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