Top positive review
Not quite as good as Songs for Christmas, but still a must-own.
on December 6, 2013
Having previously listened to Songs for Christmas, much of Silver & Gold has a familiar sound. The one exception is the widespread use of synths as Stevens experimented with in The Age of Adz. Some songs, like "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" are almost all synth, while others, like "Angels We Have Heard On High", make more subtle use.
Much like my first time with Songs for Christmas, I tended to jump around to the more familiar Christmas songs. But I eventually realized that the real jewels on the album are the original songs and the seldom heard hymns.
Songs for Christmas introduced me to personally unfamiliar b-side hymns like "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Once in Royal David's City". Silver & Gold continues that tradition with even more obscure songs like "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light" and "Lift Up Your Heads Ye Might Gates". At times the renditions seem tongue-in-cheek, as if Stevens is poking fun at the laboriousness of the lyrics. But other times he seems more serious.
There are plenty of original songs. Most are catchy, like "Lumberjack Christmas" and on par with my favorite originals from Songs for Christmas, like "Get Behind Me, Santa". Others are fairly silly but still insanely catchy, like "Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling".
Some of the renditions of familiar Christmas songs, like "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" are among my favorite versions ever. He has a knack for capturing the emotions of the standard version of each song and exaggerating them such that it's almost a caricature of itself.
The album concludes with the 12-minute long "Christmas Unicorn". I can only compare this to a long electronica track that repeats the same phrase over and over, building and ebbing just enough to make it interesting. It incorporates the traditional Sufjan sound of fluty instruments and drums with a layer of synths.
The album deserves 5 stars even though I don't like it quite as much as Songs for Christmas. It's lacking original songs in the style of "Sister Winter", and seems to favor electronic instruments too much over the banjo I've become accustomed too. I was also hoping for a few songs that I wouldn't mind keeping in rotation at any time of the year, like "Come Thou Fount". But of course it's a must-own for any Sufjan fan.