I’m a sucker for Christmas music. I marvel every year on how holiday album sales go, which songs get a redux from popular artists, how new originals reflect the immediacy of our times. Christmas carols, hymns and songs are not only written with a sense or urgency — due to the season and any religious connote — but are frequently performed and delivered with an affecting earnestness, that even the sarcastic odes or parodies are dropped with a sense of projected purpose. Christmas music has weight, and its performers are allowed to indulge.
Sufjan Stevens’ first boxed set of Christmas music was five discs long, and was a collection of EPs and long-players intended for dispersal to family and friends from 2001 to 2006. And it sounded that way. Stevens already has this bright-eyed, left-of-center innocence to his voice, and classic anthems on acoustic and banjo is already so divine. His Christian roots also plays into the authentic selection, when he recorded non-Christmas hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Come Thou Fount” to include instead of non-religious regulars like “Jingle Bell Rock” or its ilk. He, of course, included some obnoxious and cheeky originals like “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” and “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas? (Well, You Deserved It!).” (You can tell those, by the excess exclamation points.)
The singer-songwriter will be releasing another new set of Christmas albums, a collection of those from 2007-2012, under the boxed name “Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Volumes 6-10.” These, too, were originally released to family and friends. Some of the individual titles (and their respective covers) have dipped into the “silly” costume box, including “Christmas Infinity Voyage,” “I Am Santa’s Helper” and “Christmas Unicorn.”
(Click on the image above for the larger images.)
The title track to the latter is funny. The beast in question is like a Katamari of yultide cliches, mashed with child-like love and an insertion of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It’s also a firm reminder of Steven’s last non-Christmas studio set, the psychedelic and paranoid meanderings of “The Age of Adz,” which I actually still like very much.
Collaborators from these albums include a slew of former collaborators, Asthmatic Kitty cohorts and Brooklyn friends: the Dessner brothers from The National, Richard Reed Parry from Arcade Fire, Cat Martino, Sebastian Krueger of Inlets, Gabriel Kahane, Vesper Stamper, Raymond Raposa of Castinets, and members of Danielson (and his weird Famile).
All together, are 18 originals among the classics. It’s available Nov. 13, with a limited edition of 2,000 vinyl box sets available later this year or early 2013.
Stevens and AK have posted a manifesto of sorts on the Christmas boxed set’s Bandcamp page. You can read it all here, but I like the part below:
So what is it about Christmas music that continues to agitate our aging heartstrings? Is it the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen? Or the boundless Potential Energy inherent in this bastard holiday so fitfully exploited, adapted, and confounded with no regard for decency? Maybe this: Christmas music does justice to a criminal world, marrying sacred and profane, bellowing obtuse prophecies of a Messiah in the very same blustery breath as a candy-coated TV-jingle advertising a string of lights and a slice of fruitcake. Gloria!
Further mention of the single mothers, the Holy Spirit and the walking dead still has Stevens and he crew walking that line of earnestness I spoke about above. There’s something to be said for breaking up the slow-gaited meditations of a previously pagan season, and for inserting some goobers in with the pearls. And I’m nervous, too, about Stevens’ new spin on folkloric Christmas: what if it sets the garland on fire with lasers?
But there will be a bunch of boxed set extras to comfort me, like temporary tattoos, “hallucinogenic photographs,” liner notes with “words on the end times” and a post-millennial Christmas coloring book. Ain’t it just like Christmas.