Every year on December 1, like clockwork, the world collectively decides to bust out the Michael Bublé and the Mariah Carey and play the same ten songs on a loop. Although Michael’s flawless vocals will no doubt put you in the Christmas spirit and “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a classic, I am claiming the crown of Christmas music champ for another, lesser known artist. Sufjan Stevens has put out two massive Christmas albums that easily capture a wide range of Christmas experiences. With 100 tracks combined, Silver and Gold and Songs for Christmas are an extension of Stevens’ fascination with Christmastime and Christianity. He infuses his unique sound into traditional hymns as well as original tracks to create a diverse, beautiful, and wonderfully weird Christmas.
“Lumberjack Christmas/No One Can Save You From Christmas Past”
“Lumberjack Christmas” is the sonic equivalent of an ugly Christmas sweater. It’s cheerful, folksy, eclectic and recalls regrettable past choices. The song starts out with what sounds like a Christmas party (“Would you like to stay a while and dance with me?/Would you like to wrap the gifts and have a drink?”). The sound turns melancholy towards the end encouraging the listener to embrace this new holiday season (“No one can save you from Christmases past/You’ll have to love it or leave it at last”). It’s highs and lows perfectly capture the feeling of Christmastime.
“That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!”
Not all Christmases are joyful affairs. The lyrics of this track detail the story of a miserable childhood Christmas. The haunting backing vocals enhance the somber feel of the song as the lyrics “Silent night/Holy night/Silent night/Nothing feels right” leave no hope for the holidays.
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
Stevens takes an 18th century hymn and makes it an accessible holiday song for all. He starts out singing alone in the first verse with only a banjo to back him. As the song progresses, more and more instruments and voices join in until a wonderful collaborative and unified spirit emerges. The track beautifully embodies the idea that the holidays are about coming together.
“Barcarola (You Must Be A Christmas Tree)”
Using the classical form of a Venetian gondolier’s song, Stevens creates feelings of vulnerability and sadness in relation to love at Christmas. The delicate quality of Stevens’ voice beautifully contributes to the emotional resonance of the song. If lyrics like “You, you must be a Christmas tree, a Christmas tree/You light up the room, oh, you light up the room” don’t give you the warm and fuzzies, who knows what will?
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
Occasionally throughout the album Stevens pokes fun at Christmas convention. Starting out as a normal rendition of the Christmas classic, the sound gets progressively creepier until you feel like something isn’t quite right and Santa (Satan?) is “in the window/gathering info” keeping his “eyes on the prize of your personal.”
“Christmas in the Room”
By far the best song on the album, “Christmas in the Room” will put you in the Christmas spirit any time of the year. The elegant instrumentals and backing vocals create the cozy atmosphere that only comes with an intimate holiday setting. Stevens sings about getting that Christmas feeling not from decorations and presents but from genuinely enjoying being with a loved one. (“No gifts to give they’re all right here/Inside our hearts the glorious cheer/And in the house, we seek a light/that comes from what we feel inside”). The whole track comes together to depict a vision of what Christmas should be.
“Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day (Well, You Deserved It!)”
If “Christmas in the Room” is a perfect Christmas, “Did I make You Cry” is its antithesis. Coming off of Songs for Christmas, the track documents the ups and downs of a tumultuous relationship. It’s not exactly a heartwarming Christmas song, but it’s great during an angsty breakup.
“Happy Karma Christmas”
Stevens sings sullenly about flat out rejection at Christmastime. You can’t help but feel bad for him as he sings about an unrequited love during a time when you’re supposed to be your happiest.
“Happy Family Christmas”
“Happy Family Christmas” sounds like you’ve been dropped right in the middle of a family Christmas jam session. It doesn’t seem like the most perfect of Christmases (The only lyrics to the song are “Just this once for Christmas/I want us all to be/Like on great big happy/family”) but no matter how dysfunctional they get they can always have a good time playing together.
The last song on Silver and Gold clocks in at around 15:00 minutes and is told from the perspective of the Christmas Unicorn, a mythical creature made up of a mishmosh of Christmas and religious ideas and symbols. The track is whimsical, kind of funny and the perfect closer to Stevens’ prolific Christmas music career.