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'Silver and Gold' will make even the biggest Scrooge get into the holiday spirit
on 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.)