Friday, December 15, 2006

Sufjan Stevens "Songs For Christmas"

Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: Songs For Christmas [5 EPs]
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Release date: 21 November 2006
Genre: Rock
Style: Folk Rock


Volume I: Noel (recorded in December 2001)
01. Silent Night
02. O Come O Come Emmanuel
03. We're Goin' To The Country!
04. Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming
05. It's Christmas! Let's Be Glad!
06. Holy, Holy, Etc.
07. Amazing Grace

Volume II: Hark! (recorded in December 2002)
01. Angels We Have Heard On High
02. Put The Lights On The Tree
03. Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing
04. I Saw Three Ships
05. Only At Christmas Time
06. Once In Royal David's City
07. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!
08. What Child Is This Anyway?
09. Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella

Volume III: Ding! Dong! (recorded in December 2003)
01. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
02. Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!
03. We Three Kings
04. O Holy Night
05. That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!
06. Ding! Dong!
07. All The King's Horns
08. The Friendly Beasts

Volume IV: Joy (recorded in December 2005)
01. The Little Drummer Boy
02. Away In A Manger
03. Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!
04. The First Noel
05. Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)
06. The Incarnation
07. Joy To The World

Volume V: Peace (recorded in June 2006)
01. Once In Royal David's City
02. Get Behind Me, Santa!
03. Jingle Bells
04. Christmas In July
05. Lo! How A Rose E'er Blooming
06. Jupiter Winter
07. Sister Winter
08. O Come O Come Emmanuel
09. Star Of Wonder
10. Holy, Holy, Holy
11. The Winter Solstice

Total running time: 122' 54"

[Sufjan Stevens - Put The Lights On The Tree - Video Clip]

"Come Christmas, the release schedules are an orgy of cloying cheeriness and excruciating olde worlde sentiment. Where once Phil Spector and the Beatles made respectable festive bonbons, these days the charts are clucking with musical turkeys. Even baby Jesus won't thank Sir Cliff for '21st Century Christmas', his 2006 contribution to proceedings made with Brian May and a bloke from the Shadows.

Thank the Lord for Santa Sufjan, then, a man with such a magnificent work-rate that you wonder if he ever takes a wee moment to kick back and slob out in front of the TV to watch Lassie re-runs like the rest of us.

Songs For Christmas is a five-disc set that began as a bit of fun. In 2001 Stevens began recording a Christmas EP for friends and family and he's done one every year since, 2004 excepted, when he was busy with Illinois, the second in his projected series of albums detailing every one of America's 50 states.

It's not as toilsome as you'd think. Each disc lasts about 25 minutes and has an appealing assortment of Christmas standards and Stevens originals. It was recorded 'hastily, off the cuff,' admits Sufjan, mainly at his Brooklyn home with friends, family and, appropriately, a Presbyterian pastor and his wife.

Stevens is oblique about his Christian faith in interviews, but it is there for all to hear in his potent, spiritual lyricism, most prominently on 2004's striking, Blakeian Seven Swans

This set, though, is motivated not so much by pious beliefs as reasons that are, perhaps, familiar to us all. Grisly holidays with his hippyish parents and five siblings in rural Michigan left young Stevens with a pathological hatred of Christmas. These songs are his attempt to rekindle an appreciation of the season.

The result splendidly combines piety with celebration and musical tradition with creative boldness. When you hear the acid-dipped jig of 'Come on! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance' and 'That was the Worst Christmas Ever!' alongside graceful renditions of 'We Three Kings' and 'O Come O Come Emmanuel', it's clear that Stevens frequently has his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek.

The songsmith's tonsils are perfectly suited to Christmas, possessed as they are of a spooky elegance that suits seasonal creations. His choices of tracks helps, too. He avoids ersatz cuts such as 'Frosty the Snowman' on account of their inability to convey the authentic spirit of the occasion and patches each EP together with elegant instrumentals. Better still, Stevens has a deadly streak of pre-emptive sarcasm. Can there be a song title that better captures the fractious nature of a family Christmas than Vol III's catty 'Did I Make You Cry on Christmas? (Well, You Deserved it!)'?

The earliest songs on Vol 1 and II are fun: lo-fi, twangy and sung on occasion by slightly atonal friends. As each year passes, the tunes become more accomplished, the arrangements more complex. The most complete is this year's undertaking, its baroque arrangements and swelling choruses resembling the ornate structures of Illinois

A sublime antidote to the horrible festive hokey of Christmas present, Stevens pulls off the seemingly impossible: instilling reverence and jocularity into festive listening." [source]


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