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Sufjan Stevens: music's greatest lover of Christmas

By: Katelyn HarropAssistant Entertainment Editor

Sufjan Stevens returns after a six-year holiday music hiatus to remind the musical community of one thing: he loves Christmas more than any other human that has ever walked the face of the planet. I open this review with a disclaimer: I’m not the diehard modern Christmas fan that so many seem to be. More often than not, I find it to be too cheesy, too unrealistic, too over played and too infused with pop melisma. Yet Sufjan Stevens has found a way to make seasonal music creative, diverse and interesting to listen to once again. Returning with another wonderfully offbeat “album” entitled “Silver & Gold,” the 37-year-old singer-songwriter provides an excellent alternative to the often-tiring holiday music littering the radio. I use quotations around the word “album” because the term is really an unkind understatement for the fifty-eight track musical extravaganza that Stevens has combined into a tremendous five EP box set. “Silver & Gold” has been six years in the making, conceived soon after the release of his first seasonal album, “Song for Christmas,” in 2006. The Detroit-born musician started his career in 1999, producing his first album on still-existing label Asthmatic Kitty that Stevens started with his stepfather. The label has grown to support 27 groups and artists including My Brightest Diamond and Julianna Barwick. Although Stevens’ work over the last 13 years has ranged from electronica to ambient pop, he is most well known for his raw folk pop style characterized on his most popular album, “Illinois.” “Silver & Gold” pulls from this style while showcasing Steven’s excellent lyrics and passion for experimental genre mixing. Whether a classical holiday tune or grassroots original, every track feels perfectly thrown together, laid back and filled with personality. Stevens’ rendition of “Jingle Bells” (EP 2, track 5) is so raw that it’s reminiscent of his live recordings. The box set is broken up by the third EP’s sixth and seventh tracks, “Alphabet St.” and “Particle Physics,” which have absolutely no connection to the holiday season and rely greatly on electric beats and noises. Instead of these tracks breaking up the set’s continuity (a set aspect that I value so greatly), I found them to serve as a reminder that the artist chooses not to comply with music industry standards and took advantage of his standing on an independent label. Whatever your favorite Christmas classic is, you can most likely find it featured on one piece of the set or another. A not-so-traditional highlight of mine was Stevens’ interpretation of “Do you Hear What I Hear?” which featured a generous helping of ever-changing experimental electronic beats and reverberation. Was it completely unexpected? Yes. Is it absurdly catchy? Without a doubt. “Silver & Gold” continues Sufjan Stevens’ streak of creating richly textured and well-rounded musical productions. All five of the set’s EPs can be found on Spotify and, for a limited time, NPR: First Listen. Because 58 tracks are simply not enough, Stevens brought a sizable group of rappers including Busdriver and Kitty Pryde together for an additional holiday hip-hop mix tape. The nine tracks feature remixed versions of songs featured on the “Silver and Gold” set and, although the holiday spirit gets a little lost, remains incredibly catchy and creative. Two terms that describes the excellent work of Sufjan Stevens.

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