Thursday, November 23, 2006

Songs for Christmas

Sufjan Stevens
presents Songs For Christmas
2006, Asthmatic Kitty


Sufjan Stevens is without a doubt over the top in everything he does. While some artists tend to destroy their sound and ultimately their career by attempting to over do it, Sufjan seems to have settled into his comfort zone. At this point in time, everything he touches turns to gold. The man can do no wrong.

Songs for Christmas takes us on a journey that was never intended for us. Over the past 6 years Sufjan has been giving the ultimate cheapskate Christmas gifts to his family and friends. Of all the ways to save a buck. An EP every year of holiday classics, and fresh new holiday songs written by Sufjan himself. Quite honestly, the recipients of these albums must have been sprinting to their mailboxes every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas, desperately awaiting the arrival of their much privileged package.

For them, it was a CD-R decorated in stickers...for us it's a spectacular box set. The packaging of this collection is perfect, and no detail has been overlooked. Each of the 5 albums is in their own separate sleeve, all of which are covered in appropriate holiday symbolicness. The face of each disc resembles a classic vinyl album, each with a different color in the center, and each containing the track listing. There is a page of stickers, a poster size family portrait, comic strip, and massive Songbook. The Songbook contains more pictures and illustrations, detailed song credits, lyrics and chord charts for each song. All of this is packaged in a sturdy gatefold cardboard box. You couldn't ask for more than this for you $20 could you!

And then there is the music. I was quite hesitant to think that i was going to enjoy such a large collection of Christmas music. Music like this usually has such a temporary run in our CD players. As soon as those presents are all unwrapped, and you've finished making your rounds to all of your grandparents houses on Christmas morning, the music stops...and then collects dust until Thanksgiving. However, with this collection, I really feel like there is enough substance to make me want to listen throughout the entire year.

For the most part, all of the more traditional Christmas Carols are done as very short instrumental pieces. It is without a doubt something that i find refreshing. It gives you a brief hint of a classic melody. Something that you recognize and enjoy, but certainly not something that you want to hear over and over again. Nearly half of the songs were actually written by Sufjan (17 of 42), and all range from silly to serious lyrically, but have a very Illinoisesque quality to them in their sounds. Some of them you would swear were recorded for the album Illinois, but then at the last minute Sufjan substituted the words....."we drove to New York, with my friend, in a van"...scratch that out...."we flew to The North Pole, with Santa Claus, in his Sleigh"...eureka!, it's a Christmas song!

The brilliance of this album is the selection of songs that are not as traditional in the aspect of what is expected to be found by a popular artist on a Christmas album. There are many songs that I had never heard before, or could recall, but had never obtained. Several songs are traditional Christmas Hymns, including the song "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing", which is by far my favorite on the album. Not only for the warm quality of the recording, but also for the childhood memories in church on Christmas Eve that song sparks.

Sufjan Stevens presents Songs for Chrismas is for EVERYBODY. I think it deserves a perfect rating, because in all honesty, I can't find anything I don't like about it. Nothing. Period.

So don't even think about downloading it from eMusic. Don't consider sporting a burned copy from your buddy. Drive yourself the store, and go give Santa Sufjan and Jesus your hard earned $20.

And don't forget to sing along!


Anonymous said...

So my guess is that you really like this collection. =o) You should send this review to Rolling Stone. It's superb!

modage said...

I had actually tracked down the first couple EP's last year for this so it wasn't entirely new for me but I did buy it on eMusic anyway. (Oops! It was before I read your review). Despite being a pretty huge Christmas music fan, outside of a handful of tracks I'm not really feeling this 10.0. If you had to make a 1 disc collection out of this and condense it to 12-14 songs, what would it be?

The Dave said...

I have to tell you that in the songbook that comes with the box set, Sufjan actually says that he thought about making a "best of" and just releasing one disc, but that he decided that he couldn't break up songs, or part with anything.