Customer Reviews: Silver & Gold
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VINE VOICEon November 13, 2012
'Silver and Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols. 6-10,' the sequel to 2006's 'Songs for Christmas,' features nearly three hours of holiday cheer from the inimitable Sufjan Stevens. There are 58 tracks here, with about a third of them being entirely original compositions from what I can tell. Not to mention a rather odd cover of Prince's 'Alphabet Street' that still somehow fits the overall tone of the set, though it also would have fit perfectly on 'Age of Adz.'

Sufjan has the uncanny ability to be both depressing and uplifting at the same time, which comes through very well here. The mood of these tracks ranges from silly and cute to powerful and moving, with song styles that cover an extremely wide spectrum--shifting from chamber-folk to post-rock to electro/dance--with more experimentation and use of electronics compared to the rather low-key, mostly acoustic first volume, providing a nice change of pace that keeps things fresh throughout the five discs, ensuring that it never gets old.

"Joy to the World" is a great example, starting out very subdued and beautifully sung, slowly building with more and more effects until an all-out techno track busts out, turning the Christmas classic into a dancefloor number. The two epics here, "The Child With The Star On His Head" and "Christmas Unicorn," both written by Sufjan, are extremely tripped-out, and make for perfect late-night headphone journeys. While not every song here worked for me, those that didn't were few and far between.

I may not be the religious sort, but for the hour or so per sitting I spend listening to Sufjan's rather faith-based music--'Silver and Gold' included--I feel moved to the point where, for that short time, I'm into it and believe wholeheartedly. His music is just so honest and sincere that, even if your beliefs don't mesh with his, when you're absorbed in his music, they will. That's just about the highest praise I can give any singer-songwriter. There are only a handful that can pull the listener so deeply into their world that, for a little while, nothing else matters, you're so wrapped up in their stories. And Sufjan is able to do that even with Christmas songs we've all heard a thousand times.

Now if that's not talent, I don't know what is.

(FYI: I'm not sure about the mp3 download here, but the Bandcamp and iTunes versions come with a digital booklet that I'm unfortunately unable to access for some reason. The physical set, which I do not own, comes with an 80-page booklet filled with lyrics, liner notes, illustrations, childhood photos, temporary tattoos and such, so it's possible the digital version is similar, but I'm not positive.)
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on November 15, 2012
Sufjan Stevens is a man who likes to push boundaries, experiment and come up with truly different music. This is a man who decided to turn his music into a 50 states project with a different album for each US state. Then he decided to abandon this after two albums. Did he ever intend all 50 states? Who knows. He also wrote an entire album and was involved in a film dedicated to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. He also came up with some of the most beautiful music ever. And he also recorded 5 ep's of old and original Christmas music and released that. He is now following it up with another 5 ep's in a box set. All Christmas music. Some old and some new. The question is does it sound like Age of Adz with its electronic noises or Michigan with its banjo, acoustics and hushed tones. The answer is both.

The box set is impressive. Its expensive as well. So what do you get? Well 5 ep's with a total of 58 tracks to start with. Each in a different cardboard case with different artwork. You also get an extensive booklet with 3 different essays on Christmas, lots of pictures and lyrics. A poster which is pencil art and quite nice and surreal. A make it yourself Christmas star complete with instructions. And finally some tattoo's and stickers.
However, this is all just a sideshow compared to the music. It sounds like it was recorded on a shoestring and includes Silent Night, Hark The Herald Angels and many other hymns that you will recognise. And then there are some classic american Christmas songs, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is an example of one that doesn't quite work. It has electronic squelches in the background and a trilling whistle accompanying the track. It sounds a mess and really isn't. But it doesn't quite pull it off. But that's the idea. Experimenting with Christmas songs and creating new ones. There are some tracks here which are just full of joy and spirit, take Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling. And other are very quirky. But it's great to hear the Christmas spirit being distilled in this way. Although quite how a cover of Alphabet Street meets the criteria of being a Christmas song I don't quite know. One track takes this quirkiness to levels previously heard on Age of Adz. Christmas Unicorn is 15 minutes and starts as quite a traditional sounding but new Christmas song and then during its time moves into electronic territory before turning (quite literally) into Joy Divisions Love Will Tear Us Apart.

So, is it worth it and is it any good. I think both answers are yes. Its possibly better than the first box set and it is a great mix of traditional, experimental and quirky. Not everything works. But then there is so much here to take in that some will not hit at first and others (take Joy to the World and its descent into electronics) may never. But its gotten this listener smiling, nodding and enjoying it far too much. Sufjan Stevens is one of those few artists prepared to take some risks and experiment every time. That should be applauded.
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on November 20, 2012
I LOVED the first box set of Christmas music and I assumed I would equally like this one. There are some great songs on this set too. I appreciate his effort in doing things different and attempting new stuff which can be extremely hard with Christmas music which has been done over and over. I don't really love synthesizer, so needless to say there was a good portion of this set that didn't really do much for me. I would STRONGLY suggest previewing the songs before purchasing the album to see if you will enjoy the direction this set goes.
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on November 13, 2012
Sufjan did, in my mind, did the impossible by taking his last Christmas album and making it better and even more magical. Silver and Gold is very much like his last Christmas album, but way more crisp and musically impressive. It draws from the musical elements he used from the Age of Adz albums, but stills has the "bedroom" production feel to it. You also want to do yourself a favor and purchase the physical box set rather than the mp3's. Like the last album, it's such a treat to flip through all the contents. I highly recommend this album to just play on repeat through your house. It will put you in the Christmas mood so well.
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on November 30, 2013
I like that Mr. Stevens takes us on a new journey for some holiday music. There are some songs in this group that I really like. However, there are others that feel like half-completed experiments that were thrown in for filler. With the sheer volume of songs, I wonder what would have happened if it had been pared down to just the top batch of songs.
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on February 6, 2013
"Lumberjack Christmas" is this follow-up Christmas album's answer to "Put the Lights on the Tree." It doesn't disappoint.

"Christmas Unicorn" will blow your mind with it's depth of cultural exegesis, even if you don't know what he's even talking about.

"Why four and not five stars?" you ask me if you're a Sufjan junkie. Because when I go to my mother-in-law's house for Christmas, I have to create four playlists on my iPod: 1.) Sufjan Fun (all the fun songs from this album and his first); 2.) Sufjan Religioso (all the songs that reference religious imagery/Christian theology); 3.) Sufjan Both (1 +2 combined); and 4.) Wacko Sufjan (actually, this playlist only has "Christmas Unicorn" on it). I can never play this one for my mother-in-law. So, that's my one star reduction, which really reflects on my mother-in-law and not on Sufjan. I love them both.

Also, the stickers and stuff inside were creepy. That has nothing to do with the star rating. Just an observation. Bought the box set for the music.
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on January 23, 2013
there are moments of reflection, moments of celebration, and a few moments that piss me off. kind of like the holidays, really. but this is such a thorough set of music for the money, the few songs that annoy me are lost in the shuffle of overall great music.
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on January 24, 2013
We enjoyed Sufjan's previous 5 disc Christmas music, so thought we would get some new music to play during the season. My wife and I enjoy the mix of original and traditional Christmas music. A nice addition to our seasonal music collection.
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on November 26, 2012
I bought this as a digital download at an unbeatable price, considering it's 58 songs. I wanted to get a few listening hours in before I saw Sufjan live on his current tour.

If you are a fan, you'll know that Sufjan Stevens' music is highly eclectic, with widely varying styles throughout his various studio albums. Like his previous Christmas set, these five CDs contain a range of traditional Christmas songs as well as his own work.

Several of the traditional songs are done in his quieter Seven Swans-like style, relying mostly on vocals, banjo, or acoustic guitar ("Coventry Carol"). As you would expect, however, some of the familiar songs are presented in entirely new ways, often delving into electronic music approaching what we heard in Age of Adz (e.g., "Do you hear what I hear", "Good King Wenceslas).

As for his original work, it's hard for me to pick a favorite. "Justice Delivers Its Death" is a lovely, haunting, introspective work. "X-mas Spirit Catcher" is more upbeat, and the final track "Christmas Unicorn" (clocking in at 12 minutes plus) may take a few listens, but it will grow on you.

If you get the digital download, I'd recommend listening to the songs in order, or at least by album... The transitions between styles make more sense that way. And if you get a chance to see him in concert, don't pass it up! It was an incredible show.
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on April 30, 2016
I loved the I-V collection, but this collection is far superior in my opinion. The musical maturity, the lyrical maturity, the essays and additional content in the box ... all a notch above the first box.

Though, at the end of the day, I recommend both. If you want an alt-hipster December to counterbalance the hell of top 40 radio Christmas music, you want this 5 CD set and the older 5 CD set.
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