In December 2001, Sufjan set out to create a Christmas gift for his friends and family. The result was a seven-song recording that he called "Noel Vol. 1". Over the next several years, he created new EPs to add to the collection. This 5-CD box set includes all five volumes, plus a 42-page booklet with an original Christmas essay by acclaimed American novelist Ricky Moody, two essays, a short story by Stevens, a holiday sticker, chord charts, lyrics, comic strip, family portrait poster, photos, and an animated video.
Every year it's an issue: how does one stomach the onset of holiday music? With an endless stream of overplayed pop stars stirring what Sufjan Stevens calls "That Creepy Christmas Feeling," how does one navigate the sound of the season? Back in 2001, Stevens began making annual EPs of traditional carols and songs mixed with his own holiday-themed tunes. With 2006 and Volume 5, he's compiled a perfect gift for the Christmas-inclined indie rockster: all five EPs in one box, separately slipcased, plus a booklet filled with lyric sheets, chord charts, a Rick Moody essay, and more. Yes, Stevens knows that "Jingle Bells" features him playing (as he notes) "insipid piano," but he also writes gorgeous arrangements. Check out the three versions of "O Come O Come Emmanuel"; each aches. And "O Holy Night" from Volume 3 is lo-fi genius, never mind anyone's resistance to theology; it's a time-stopper. Stevens's own tunes are unmistakably his, hushed vocals highlighting a unique mix of whimsy and yearning--much like the justly-lauded Illinois
. In the end of the liner essay, Stevens writes that the Christmas story is about love, and on that note, he proclaims that these songs and the "Creepy Christmas Feeling" prompt "a transformation of the heart" for him and bring out affection and reflection. Isn't that a great holiday vibe? --Andrew Bartlett