Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sufjan Stevens: Songs For Christmas

While you are celebrating Christmas and New Year's day with family and friends you might want to use Sufjan Steven's latest album as this year's holiday soundtrack. It was released at the end of November, and a frenzy of favorable reviews have followed, which is typical with Stevens' records; but I must admit that I am not sure about this one.

First of all let me say that I have only had the album for about a week and therefore have only listened to the record in its entirety 6 times or so--my point being that it may grow on me as Stevens' other records have. However, at this particular moment my reaction to the music is lukewarm. The songs are a collection of traditional Christmas songs and his own holiday-themed compositions ranging from lo-fi productions to the more elaborate arrangements that have made his previous work unique in today's music scene. Some of the lo-fi tracks, like "O Holy Night" on the third disc are solid and make the collection worth purchasing, but other tracks, like "Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)" are confusing; and "Jingle Bells" is just bad.

Stevens is a genuine artist whose clever ideas have intrigued many listeners, including this writer, and the sing along style of this production is a far cry from the over-produced wailing that we get from pop divas this time of year. So I am happy to see Stevens' approach to Christmas music which I think has been absent for too long. The sticker, tablature, and other goodies make it a fun purchase and well worth the twenty dollars it is sold for (we're talking 5 discs, mind you), but the execution seems sloppy to me, and on the whole the quality of the performances are mediocre.

Sufjan has produced such interesting, well-arranged, well-thought-out music before that anytime he falls a bit short of that awe-inspiring level some of us are taken a back. Or at least one of us has been. And this collection of songs almost, ALMOST, gives off the impression that he just wanted to get something out on the market to serve as a counterpoint to "That Creepy Christmas Feeling."

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