Release Date: Nov 13, 2012
Record label: Asthmatic Kitty
Genre(s): Folk, Holiday, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Chamber Pop, Progressive Folk, Holidays, Christmas
Silver & Gold, Sufjan Stevens' holiday-themed follow-up to 2006's 42-song-long Songs for Christmas collection, stretches 59 tracks across nearly three hours. The box set includes a fold-it-yourself paper star ornament. And stickers. Also: temporary tattoos and a poster. There's an 80-page booklet ….
As Sufjan Stevens proves with Silver & Gold, his five-EP sequel to 2006’s Songs for Christmas, there’s a clear distinction between a “holiday album” and a “Christmas album.” Holiday albums are virtually all artifice—gift-wrapped, commercialized bundles of faux-cheer. Christmas albums—or, at least, Christmas albums as performed by Sufjan Stevens—are more intriguing and altogether weirder: exploring the holiday’s extreme contradictions through both Christian and secular lenses. In all its virgin births and snowmen and prayer and corporate greed, Christmas remains a genuine mess.
Sufjan Stevens really likes Christmas. The Michigan maestro’s obsession with all things Yuletide has now spawned 100-odd songs and two collections, the last of which – 2006’s ‘Songs For Christmas’, has become as much a staple of any hipster’s festive listening as Bright Eyes’ ‘A Christmas Album’ and Low’s ‘Christmas’. This follow-up sees Sufjan’s festive fascination darken.
Five long years stretched between proper Sufjan Stevens albums, from 2005's breakout Illinois to 2010's heartbreaking The Age of Adz, but for those who believe that he is anything but prolific, Asthmatic Kitty presents the second compilation of Stevens' Christmas EPs. Stevens somehow found time each year to explore the tensions between the garish commercialism and tradition and religious core of Christmas. With over 52 tracks (an even 100 when added to the first collection) Stevens veers from the silly to the serious to the pious.
Good God but Sufjan Stevens likes Christmas music. This 58 song collection, recorded as annual EP’s between 2006 and 2012 is his second box set of festive tunes, bringing his total up to 100 Christmas songs in 12 years. We can happily say 'fuck you, Cliff', Sufjan is the real King of Yuletide singsong, he couldn’t be more Christmassy if he was ho ho ho-ing through a mouthful of plum pudding with the baby Jesus in one hand, a jingle stick in the other and had his arse atop a be-tinsled Norwegian spruce.
Sufjan Stevens seems to be depressed about the upcoming Yuletide season. There are numerous signs. For one, the promo photo that accompanies Stevens’ new collection of Christmas songs, Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas – Volumes Six-10, shows the indie rock-folk-electronica musician looking dour as someone dressed up as Captain America showers him with confetti.
Any Christmas compilation that reconfigures Prince's Alphabet St as a song of seasonal hope in a cruel, commercialised world is clearly the work of a subversive genius. Sufjan Stevens' second outrageously profligate anthology – picking up from his comparatively restrained 42-song collection from 2006/7 – is laced with such frissons. He transforms Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! into a chilling duet for ghosts, and delivers I'll Be Home for Christmas as though under anaesthetic.
Silver & Gold, the 2012 follow-up to 2006's Songs for Christmas, offers up another five-EP set of schizophrenic seasonal cheer from one of indie pop's most prolific and maddeningly detail-oriented overachievers. Housed in an incredibly colorful box that yields volumes 6-10 of the series, they are presented in meticulously decorated, single cardboard sleeves that feel like part of a graphic design thesis, and are accompanied by an 80-page booklet filled with lyrics, chord charts, childhood photos, and personal and production liner notes peppered with rainbow headers, temporary tattoos that include a skeleton Santa, a Manga unicorn and an emo-Jesus, and a construct-it-yourself holiday ornament (comic book-style instructions are provided). Stylistically, it's a lot to take in which, not surprisingly, applies to the music as well.
The cover of Silver & Gold, the second (!) collection of five EPs of Christmas music from Sufjan Stevens, features a kaleidoscopically designed Christmas ornament set against a backdrop of outer space, with the name of the artist and album surrounding it in a typeface that would make Styx proud. This seems wholly appropriate for this particular record. Whereas the last Christmas record, Songs For Christmas, had a simple crayon-drawn Christmas tree on its cover and was made up of material that had been recorded from the beginning of Stevens’ career to 2006, Silver & Gold covers the ground after, and that ground has been decidedly more fitted to Silver & Gold‘s opening image.
Sufjan Stevens doesn't simply love Christmas. It's one of his most fruitful muses. Succeeding 2006 minibox Songs For Christmas, the Detroit native's second 5-CD set, Silver & Gold, collects an abundance of ephemera: DIY tree ornament, a large and rather frightening poster, stickers, temporary tattoos, and an 84-page booklet with liner notes, lyrics, and chord charts.