Sufjan Stevens, the indie-folk musician behind the amazing Illinois, follows up his 2006 collection of Christmas songs with Silver & Gold. Containing five reworked EPs, totalling fifty eight tracks, there’s a lot to see here.
The collection displays an amazing amount of variance, from his sweet folk affections prominent in Vol.6 Gloria, to the more aggressive electronic experiments found in Vol.8 Christmas Infinity Voyage. The real magic is that few tracks sound uninspired; each song has something interesting within. Even the many covers often come across as beautifully original (‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’). The exception is Vol. 7 I Am Santa’s Helper, which contains a larger amount of classic hymns. Fortunately no single one is drawn out for too long, and tracks like ‘Mr Frosty Man’ manage to keep some excitement.
Due to the variety of the songs, the collection can be incoherent and intrusive at times. For instance, much of Vol. 7 paints a quiet picturesque Christmas. If you plan to keep it that way you’ll have to race for the skip button, hoping the distortion and beat boxing in ‘Happy Family Christmas’ didn’t leave everyone listening confused. To his merit, Stevens did also manage to use seemingly contradicting sounds to great effect elsewhere, such as in ‘Joy To The World’ which manages to switch between gentle harmonies and aggressive industrial noises in wonderful ways (I swear I heard a printer towards the end).
Silver & Gold has something for many tastes and, surprisingly, contains a few songs that would fair just as well outside of the festive season. Although I feel that Vol. 7 produced far fewer stand out tracks than the others, the more traditional arrangements involving pianos and sacred harp singing have their purpose. With tracks like ‘Christmas Unicorn’, ‘The Midnight Clear’, and ‘X-mas Spirit Catcher’, this collection manages to capture a fair amount of what Sufjan Stevens is capable of.