Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Silver & Gold’ Overflows with Christmas Cheer
Sufjan Stevens is no stranger to the Christmas music scene. Songs for Christmas, released in 2006, contained 5 EPs with a total of 42 traditional, original and instrumental tracks recorded between 2001 and 2006. Silver & Gold is its follow-up, totaling 58 tunes on five volumes recorded over the past six years. Silver & Gold is just as grand and all-encompassing in its scope as its predecessor.
The album contains both original and traditional Christmas songs that encompass a multitude of styles, sources and instrumentations. There’s sacred harp singing (a powerful harmonic choral style), Jewish hymns, a cover of J.S. Bach and one of Prince, a cappella, reed organs and flutes, and electronic instrumentation and synths as well. The diversity of the music on the album—besides the massive number of songs—is exciting and engaging.
Stevens’ style is perfectly suited to Christmas music. The bells, vocal harmonies and pastoral lyrics all have a traditional churchgoing, carol-esque feel to them as it is, and when he applies them to these holiday tunes it works perfectly. Whispery vocals and wavering organ chords remind me of quiet church services; sweetly singing choirs summon memories of caroling; flurrying wind instruments and piano riffs paint images of swirling snowflakes. Stevens’ undeniably optimistic tone permeates every song and tickles those holiday heartstrings.
The standout track is “Christmas Unicorn,” a 12-and-a-half-minute-long epic ballad from the perspective of a festive mystic horse, who declares to be, among other things, a “pagan heresy,” a “criminal pathology” and a “mystical apostasy.” The song (which also samples lyrics from Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”) seems to be a bit of a critique of the “hysterically American” extravaganza that Christmas has become while also celebrating the unbridled joy that the holiday can bring.
Overall, the album is a sweeping, majestic celebration of the Christmas spirit, besides being an outstanding work of the heart. The sheer volume of the album, coupled with the beauty of the music, makes this a singular, unique Christmas album that I’d recommend to fans of Sufjan Stevens and fans of the holiday season alike.