Album: Sufjan Stevens, Silver & Gold (Asthmatic Kitty)
Stevens strikes gold with some Christmas crackers
"There is a time when young men must grow up and be brothers," sings Sufjan Stevens in "The Child with the Star on His Head", a rumination on the festive impulse. "Are you afraid of growing up too quickly?"
It's a good question. Stevens himself is the most prolific enthusiast for Christmas. Silver & Gold is his second 5CD collection of Christmas songs old and new, offered in a bewildering diversity of styles and attitudes . It's a cornucopia of delights that both focuses on the core characteristics of the festive form, and tests its outer margins to the point of fracture.
Part of its success is due to Stevens' uniquely ambivalent position, at once ingenious and ingenuous. His obvious sincerity and new age Christian attitude, combined with his classical training and avant-garde temperament, enables him to take the kinds of risks that wouldn't even occur to most performers: swathing traditional carols and yuletide standards in arrangements of dreamlike bathos or spooky mystery; seguing nonchalantly between hoedown fiddles and fizzing synthesisers; slipping from spartan, Amish-style "Sacred Harp" chorales to abstract drone-whines akin to Tim Buckley's "Starsailor"; and in the extraordinary "Christmas Woman", building a Faust-like Krautrock groove with woodwind and keys as the backing for carol singers.
Meanwhile, the standard seasonal sentiments are interspersed, in songs like "Barcarola" and "The Child with the Star on His Head", with Stevens' trademark reminiscences of the moments of shame and elation that helped build his character: small, intimate episodes elevated into his own personal advent calendar.
Each of the five discs takes a different approach to the material, from the folk-baroque stylings of "Gloria" (Vol 6) to the sci-fi synth and drum-machine extravaganza of "Christmas Infinity Voyage" (Vol 8). The set ends with the psychedelic pop of "Christmas Unicorn" (Vol 10), whose 13-minute title-track concludes the epic 58-track voyage with a suitably fantastical meditation on myth and fable.
Download: Christmas Unicorn; Barcarola; Christmas Woman; Up on the Housetop; The Child with the Star on His Head
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Syd Barrett's inner visions
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Simon Cowell 'feels like an idiot' after Jules and Matisse scandal
Game of Thrones season 6: George RR Martin doing 'anything he can' to get new book The Winds of Winter out before next HBO series airs
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers