Sufjan Stevens

Songs for Christmas

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AllMusic Review by

Like Avalanche, Songs for Christmas is nothing if not eclectic. A whole sleigh-load of carols and original tunes collected from 2001 to 2006, these songs were written and recorded off the cuff, and naturally many of them feel a little ragged and underdone. But they're far more mature than any of the songs on A Sun Came, and there are moments of quirky holiday splendor -- moments akin to some of the best material on Greetings from Michigan and Illinoise -- that make plowing through the entire five-EP set a pleasure. If you're worried that Sufjan Stevens will sound a trifle predictable or indulgent covering traditionals like "Silent Night," your worries are justified. Recorders, oboes, glockenspiels, and banjos abound, and Stevens approaches these songs with the same vulnerability, preciousness, and weird religious overtones (à la Seven Swans) as he has on his previous work. That aside, "O Holy Night" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel" are deeply affecting, especially because they rely on Stevens' idiosyncratic arrangements and frail voice. The real sugarplums, though, are the original tunes. "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" is all meandering banjos and luminous harmonies reminiscent of "Romulus" and "Casimir Pulaski Day," and the jumpy "Get Behind Me, Santa!" reaches "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" heights with some of the best Santa-related lyrics the world has yet known ("You're a bad brother breakin' into people's garages!"). Stevens fans will love Songs for Christmas. Unabashedly, almost frighteningly, with the kind of glee normally attributed to a certain jolly old elf, fans will revel in this little blue box with its silver lettering and scribbly Christmas art. In addition to 42 shiny new tracks, the lucky recipients of Songs for Christmas will also receive: An animated short by Tom Eaton! One (mildly creepy) poster of Stevens in full holiday regalia! Two short stories by Stevens! A weird essay by Rick Moody! And a complete singalong book for the entire EP set! Not to mention stickers! And comics! Songs for Christmas is a veritable stocking's worth of doodads and oddities lovingly embroidered with Stevens' kitschy crayon drawings, scribbly pencil sketches, and extra-long song titles. Which adds up to one merry Christmas indeed for Sufjan Stevens fans.

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