Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In House #1768: Sufjan Stevens' Songs For Christmas Box Set

What began as an annual EP recorded for friends has (ahem) snowballed into a five-disc holiday opus for Sufjan Stevens, recently collected and released as Songs For Christmas. The specially-priced box set includes 42 varied tracks, 17 of which are Stevens originals, in addition to a stocking's worth of stickers, animated comic and video, short stories and essays, a songbook with chords, and more. Given the sheer amount of creative output Stevens has managed in the past, with his states albums and otherwise, the girth here isn't surprising-- but how well the collection works is. Whether it's the layered, building quality of Illinoise-era originals like "Sister Winter," or the comparative simplicity of the earlier recordings-- the banjo-backed version of "Amazing Grace," for example-- it works as a whole with rare sincerity throughout. Perhaps most impressive is the ability Stevens shows in avoiding cliche where so many have failed. Endlessly-played, canon-entrenched songs like "Silent Night," "Joy to the World," and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," among others, are consistently unique and inventive without being ridiculously over-reaching. These songs manage to sit along side less than traditional numbers like "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" and "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" with little shock to the system, a juxtopasition that Stevens himself notes is not unlike the seamless melding of the sacred and the profane that only Christmas can produce. Songs For Christmas is a charming, if imperfect, alternate take on the Christmas canon, one that may eventually wind up alongside recordings like Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas or John Fahey's seasonal efforts.

Sufjan Stevens

In House #1768.
Airdate: 12/19/06
Focus: Sufjan Stevens' recent Songs For Christmas box set, plus new music from Pas/Cal, Mark Kozelek, Rosie Thomas, Bishop Allen, and more.

Sufjan Stevens, from Songs For Christmas:
"That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" (MP3)
"Sister Winter" (MP3)

Stream the whole box here.


In House PODCAST #223

Get Sufjan's Songs For Christmas box at Insound.


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