US - New York - Full Moon 200 - 12/28/12
Silver & Gold
Asthmatic Kitty Records
What can one say, other than merry X-mas, Mr. Stevens. Again Sufjan Stevens has launched a massive box collecting X-mas songs. His 5 EP box-set Songs for Christmas (the EPs had been given as gifts to friends and family) was released 6 years ago. Now, 6 years later comes another collection, Silver &
Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols.
6-10. Silver & Gold (in short) includes traditionals, standards and originals (the originals are mainly penned by Sufjan Stevens, but some are also co-written with the Dressner brothers of The National) side by side. The link is (or supposed to be) Xmas, or X-mas related songs and carols. But, hey, here's even "Alphabet St." by Prince. Ho-ho-ho. let's go!
Silver & Gold counts 58 (!) songs, and you'll probably find something to like and dislike in here. There's a big chance you'll become a little seasick by X-mas, or sick of X-mas as such. yet, here's quite some trademark Sufjan folk-pop included. Neatly written, performed and orchestrated. Of course, you'll find the heavy trad.
songs such as "Silent Night", "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" (which is a 16th-century English Carol), "Jingle Bells", "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", "Joy to the World", "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", "Sleigh Ride", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and more.
When listening through the collection of songs gathered for Silver & Gold, you'll notice that the majority of the songs (with some
exceptions) clock in at less
than three, or even less than two minutes. In fact, quite some clock in at less than one minute. This helps ease up the listening experience.
Yet, this isn't easy listening.
But it's not heavy stuff, either. In fact it's quite comfortable to sit through the album. Of course, it's got its up, and it's got its downs.
The really disaster track
to my ears is "Do You Hear What I Hear?"; a horrible modern electro-dance-floor, vocoder-voiced version of this Xmas song. And, what's really bad: it lasts for more than
9 minutes... But, mind you, there's plenty of uppers. Such as the lovely "Coventry Carol", a 16th-century English Carol. Or "Christmas Woman", "Angels We Have Heard On High" (based on the original hymn), and "Christmas In The Room", and "X-mas Spirit Catcher" (all with music and words by Sufjan Stevens).
Then there's "Barcarola (You
Must Be A Christmas Tree), by Sufjan and the Dressner brothers, and "Joy To The World" (words by Isaac Watts, music by Lowell Mason). The latter being a signature version of this mid-19th century Carol. The beautiful hymn "Ah Holy Jesus"
(words by Johann Heermann, music by Johann Crüger) is neatly contrasted by the charmingly silly "Mr. Frosty Man" (words & music by Sufjan Stevens). Then there are two lovely songs sung by Sufjan's friend (and co-player/co-singer) Cat Martino (she's also performed with Sharon Van Etten, as well as Swedish artists Anna Ternheim and Nina
Persson): the hymn "Ave Maria", plus her own "The Sleigh In The Moon".
I'd also like to mention
the version of "Up on the House Top" (a 1864 Xmas song, written by Benjamin Russel Hanby), featuring another of Sufjan's girlfriends, Vesper Stamper, as well as the merry "We Need A Little Christmas" (by Broadway musical composer Jerry Herman). Plus, "Justice Delivers Its Death" (arrangement by Sufjan Stevens, based on the song "Silver & Gold" by J. Marks), just to see merry fought by moody.
Then there are two key tracks included, saving and securing the album's quality the pair of them (they're clocking in at nearly 30 minutes added together); "The Child With The Star On His Head" (which closes EP three, Christmas Infinity
Voyage) and the closing "Christmas Unicorn" (being the title track for the 5th EP). Both penned by Sufjan, the latter holding a theme from Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart". Brilliant! Joy Division as jolly Xmas music! Merry Xmas, Mr. Curtis...
Well, if you're asking me Silver & Gold is way too much X-mas.
I guess that's Sufjan Stevens idea, or red thread, for the whole thing, as well. Because he's not just up for a widescreen celebration of Xmas. Bliss and beauty aside, this is tongue-in-cheek stuff, and should not be taken at face value.
I'd like to use some quotes
from the release notes/credits just to underline the deadpan humour of the project: "Christmas is a drag. [..] ...against all odds, we continue to sing our songs of Christmas. If Christmas is the holiday of 'worst case scenarios' then its carol has become its most corrupted currency, intoning rhapsody and romance with mistletoe and Marshmallow Fluff, placating the public with indelible melodies propagating a message of peace, love, and venture capitalism.
[..] 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! [..] Who can save us from the infidels of Christmas commodity? Look no further, tired shopper, for your hero arrives as the diligent songwriter Sufjan Stevens: army of one, banjo in one hand, drum machine in the other, holed up in his room, surrounded by hymnals, oratorios, music charts, sacred harp books, photo-copied Readers Digest Christmas catalogs - all the weaponry of Yuletide incantations - singing his barbaric yawp above the snow-capped rooftops. [..] His song conjures the fruitcake world of his own imagination with steadfast pursuit of the inexplicable bliss of Christmas Promises - "Gloria in excelsis deo" - summoning the company of angels, the helper elves, the shepherds keeping flock, the innkeepers, the coupon-clippers, the marathon runners, the cross-country skiers, the bottom feeders, the grocery store baggers, the bridge and tunnel drivers, the construction workers, the ice cream makers, the toll booth workers, the street sweepers, the single mothers, the custodians, the rich and the poor, the walking dead, the community of saints, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, the Prince of Persia, and all the invisible hosts of heaven to participate in this absurd cosmic adventure, pursuing holly-jolly songs of hope and redemption with a sacred heart for the love of the holidays, for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."
Copyright © 2012 Håvard Oppøyen