It’s the holiday season once again, and that means it’s high time to revisit one of Halftime’s (read: my) favorite Christmas albums. Sufjan Stevens’ one-hundred-song ode to the Christmas holiday is a wondrous and weird compilation of beloved classics and super original deep cuts. So for the third (and final) time, Halftime Presents: A Sufjan Stevens Christmas.
1. “Joy to the World”
This track is a really fun cover of a Christmas standard. It has multiple distinct acts that are full of surprises and texture. “Joy to the World” takes the listener on a ride as it journeys from ethereal to electropop to acoustic to a wonderful mixture of all three until the song completely deconstructs and peters out.
2. “Jupiter Winter”
“Jupiter Winter” begins with ominous sounding violins that are a precursor to an alien landing and subsequent attack. With its almost emotionless vocals, the track sounds as if aliens had landed on earth during Christmastime and tried to piece together human life based on context clues. The horns that appear in much of Stevens’ early work are prevalent next to an ethereal chorus that lends an otherworldly appeal.
3. “Star of Wonder”
A lot of Sufjan Stevens’ work explores the juxtaposition between soft and hard, ethereal and grounded. “Star of Wonder” is a textbook example. Starting out with light vocals and airy woodwinds, the song abruptly pivots to heavy drums and group vocals. The wonderful blending of textures takes the track to a higher level.
4. “Up On The Housetop”
Both Songs for Christmas and Silver and Gold present new twists on Christmas classics. This undeniably cool version of “Up On The Housetop” simmers with smooth slinky vocals lent by Chicago Soundcloud pop group Vesper. As per usual, this version is a little darker than you’ll remember, but that’s half the fun.
5. “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!”
This is the Christmas song for the current moment. The vocals by Matt Morgan sound really unsure about being able to be glad during the Christmas season. The first line implores you to be glad “even if your life is bad” and the song later talks about getting on the nice list when graded on a curve. The track is about trying to be happy for the holidays while trying to desperately ignore the raging dumpster fire around you. I feel that. “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!” is the sonic equivalent of that one meme.
6. “Mr. Frosty Man”
Frosty the Snowman is now much cooler than you. He listens Yo La Tengo, knows Coolio, Vanilla Ice and Ice Cube, and in the music video he’s a badass zombie slayer that has to fight off a zombie Santa. It’s pretty rad.
7. “Good King Wenceslas”
Off of the experimental section of Silver and Gold called Infinity Voyage, the track is an electro update of the stodgy medieval tune of the same name. “Good King Wenceslas” is a continuation of the sound Stevens adopted on his 2012 album Age of Adz. What’s even cooler is the way it flows into a cover of Prince’s “Alphabet Street”.
8. “Alphabet St.”
We’re covering “Alphabet St.” now because why not?
9. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
This track is probably the closest Stevens ever gets to a straightforward cover of a Christmas song. There’s xylophones, harps, and choral ahhhs that make for a lush version of a lovely and melancholy song.
10. “Justice Delivers Its Death”
In what could be thought of as the title track of the album, Stevens sings about the true meaning of Christmas with much melancholy. The idea that material possessions should not be the central focus of the holidays essentially serves as the thesis of the album. With his haunting vocals Stevens sings “Silver and gold, silver and gold/Everyone wishes for it/How do you measure its worth?/Just by the pleasure it gives here on earth”. He believes that one should eschew earthly pleasure for something higher.
Image Credits: Photo: Daniel Varghese