Friday, December 18, 2009

What we're listening to: Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens

The same old Christmas songs dominate the radio and the insides of stores and malls; how many times can you hear "The Christmas Song" overdone by chart-topping singers? For something different, listen to this five-disc set of Christmas songs from Sufjan Stevens. Released in 2006, each disc is an EP that was previously only given to his friends and family from 2001-2006. Well-known traditional Christmas songs like "We Three Kings," "Little Drummer Boy," and "Away in a Manger" are included, as well as lesser known traditional songs (at least to my ears), like "Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming." Stevens also contributes original songs with unique titles you won't find anywhere else, like "It's Christmas! Let's Be Glad!" and "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!"

I really enjoy the arrangements of the songs, especially the ones where Stevens plays the banjo. I feel that the musicians on each song are genuinely celebrating the spirit of Christmas; the performances have a grassroots, down home feel to them. The music is a perfect fit for walking in the snow, putting up decorations, or baking cookies. I keep finding myself replaying the first disc, Noel, with its stripped down sound and arrangements of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming." On these songs especially Stevens' vocals and the song arrangements convey a particular "joyful sadness" that I can't help but be drawn to. In the essay "Christmas Tube Socks," included in the CD booklet, Stevens comments on the "joyful sadness" of Christmas songs, and I think that phrase is a good descriptor for many of the Christmas songs included in this set.

The boxed set also includes a fun booklet with chord charts, song lyrics, and drawings!
Find it in the catalog!