Christmas music can be a touchy subject. Some people love it and listen to it year round, and others dread the thought of setting foot in a mall come November, fearful they might be subjected to Boyz II Men's syrupy rendition of "Let It Snow."
Then there are artists who take Christmas music to the opposite extreme.
If the holidays don't already make you depressed, then Bright Eyes has A Christmas Album for you, containing Conor Oberst's signature-style take on songs like "Blue Christmas" and "Silent Night." For those who like their emo with slicker production values, Fall Out Boy has recorded "Yule Shoot Your Eye Out," which includes the lyric "Don't come home for Christmas/ You're the last thing/ I wanna see/ Underneath the tree/ Merry Christmas, I could care less." Yikes.
Thankfully, Sufjan Stevens takes a much more light-hearted route than crooners like Boyz II Men and depressives like Oberst on his new box set Song for Christmas.
His renditions of Christmas classics like "Joy to the World" and "The First Noel" are mixed in with both straight-forward Christmas originals like "The Friendly Beasts" and more humorous compositions like his synth-filled dig at The White Stripes, "Get Behind Me, Santa!"
There are definitely plenty of entertaining moments on this collection, but with 42 songs total, the complete set is a bit overwhelming. Listening to it all in one sitting is an activity I would recommend for die-hard fans only.
Steven's voice is as pleasingly modest as usual and a lot of the recordings are decidedly lo-fi. Many of the songs have the air of having been recorded on the fly, and this makes sense as Stevens originally began the project by recording a few tracks to send to family and friends for the holidays. But depending on your musical leanings, this spontaneous feel will either please or frustrate you.
Although for every stripped down acoustic sing-a-long there is a more robust sounding track. Songs like "We're Goin' to the Country!" with little more than Stevens' signature banjo-playing and a few jingle bells stand in stark contrast to songs like the aforementioned "Get Behind Me, Santa!" which is replete with layers of vocals, synth and horns. This eclecticism is nice — it's one of the few things that save listening to this box set from being an exercise in tedium.
The one thing all of these songs have in common is Stevens' joyous attitude and his mood, which are certainly infectious. Even on carols like "O Holy Night" that traditionally sound somber, Stevens finds a way to work his magic.
Although much of this Christmas collection has been circulated around the Internet the past couple of years, the five-disc boxed set comes with tons of worthwhile extras, including illustrations, photos, a poster, a short story by Stevens himself and other essays including one by writer Rick Moody.
If you are already a Stevens fan or a big Christmas music fan, then this set is definitely worthwhile as it is pleasantly different from a lot of Christmas music that is out there.
But even then, the sheer quantity of songs is close to overkill. If neither Sufjan nor Santa is your thing, it would definitely be better to direct your attention elsewhere.