Indie folkie and mini-orchestra director Sufjan Stevens is in a festive mood. Sort of. He's just released his second 5-EP set of Christmas music in the past six years, Silver and Gold, Vols. 6 – 10, this time in a handsome box set with a booklet, a poster, a make-it-yourself Christmas star, and a sheet of holiday tattoos and stickers. It's the kind of cheeky consumer-driven extravaganza that will provoke legions of his fans to purchase new music. And, because this is Sufjan Stevens, it's also the kind of ironic hipster cultural commentary that simultaneously begs for close analysis of complex, nuanced themes and for the easy dismissal that musical trinkets and baubles deserve.
The basic facts are these: Sufjan Stevens, a musician and singer/songwriter in his mid-30s, has now released ten EPs and 100 songs of Christmas music in a relatively short span of time. To say that Stevens is obsessed by Christmas and Christmas music is a vast understatement. Almost every musical artist releases a holiday album at some point in his or her career. The reason is simple: a holiday album is a safe, conservative cash cow guaranteed to appeal to the hard-core fans and draw in new fans looking for the musical equivalent of comfort food.
Sufjan Stevens, on the other hand, circumvents those expectations at every turn. He unleashes relentless torrents of this music, a dizzying, kaleidoscopic, and sometimes confusing survey of 500 years of the Christmas musical tradition. Silver and Gold, Vols. 6–10, like its predecessor, 2006's Songs for Christmas, Vols. 1-5, is a collection of songs that range from medieval polyphony and arrangements of Bach and Handel choral works to traditional carols done traditionally to ...1