Silver and Gold
It’s estimated that Sufjan Stevens, like a distant quasar pulsing out its signals, emits a fully formed album once every few months. He falls asleep in his recording studio and wakes to find a stack of CDs bearing his latest set of genre-destroying meditations on various U.S. states, the lord Jesus, and a prog-folk opera on the problem of dust bunnies — plus another three discs worth of outtakes from the dust bunny project. That’s how it is with Sufjan Stevens.
So it’s not surprising to see Silver and Gold, a five-disc set of Christmas tunes. The set comprises volumes six to 10 of a presumably infinite series; this is actually the second multi-disc Christmas album that Stevens has released, and it’s a doozy. A mix of original songs, classic Christmas carols and what I think is an early Prince tune (someone explain to me how Prince is Christmassy?), Silver and Gold also charts the development of Stevens’ music over a five-year span, from the acoustic melodies of 2006’s Illinois to the buzzing electronics of 2010’s The Age of Adz.
The result is an uneven but occasionally beautiful three hours of music. The second disc, “I Am Santa’s Helper!”, has the least to offer, with little more than throwaway jams and fragments. At the end of the track “Ding-a-Ling-a-Ring-a-Ling” (really) Stevens can be heard saying “Let’s play a real song now.” Thanks, Sufjan.
Things get increasingly strange on the third disc, “Christmas Infinity Voyage,” which features a nine-minute vocodered version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” And the weirdness doesn’t stop until the music stops, when Stevens closes out the set with “Christmas Unicorn”, a jam that segues into “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.
All this is to say that I really, really want to go to Stevens’ house for Christmas.
Cee Lo’s Magic Moment
I worked at Future Shop one holiday season and before I was fired for apathy and gross incompetence, I learned the value of serviceable Christmas music. Christmas music doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be not horrible. Thank goodness Cee Lo knows the deal. Cee Lo’s Magic Momentgives us hard serviceable. Holiday standards (“This Christmas”, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, “White Christmas”) sung in exactly the manner you’d expect 2012-era Cee Lo to sing them, complete with a healthy dollop of rollicking joy to make the experience a bubbly one. Amongst all the goodish frankincense and okay-enough myrrh is a track made of solid gold. “All I Need Is Love” is an equal parts awesome and ridiculous original track featuring the Muppets, yuletide romance, “Mahna Mahna” and a chunk of “Mambo No. 5”. It’ll turn your brain into a fine Christmas pudding. In a good way. /Dan MacRae
A Cup of Kindness Yet
Every holiday season, you can count on a couple of things. One: you’ll be inundated with TV commercials featuring blond moms with perfectly curl-ironed hair setting down juicy turkeys in front of their cherubic children, or husbands handing their wives the keys to a brand new Audi parked out in the driveway, a red bow wrapped around it. And two: in the music world, you can guarantee Rod Stewart will be pushing his latest Christmas schlock. Thankfully, we’ve got an antidote to all this relentless cheer courtesy of Hey Rosetta!’s new four-song EP of holiday music. Opening track “Carry Me Home” features a narrator who’s moved to the city with big dreams, but is now barely scraping by. (“This hotel is cheap / and the pillows stink / and there’s not a single thing / to say it’s Christmas Eve.”) The angst-y lyrics are tempered by a rollicking beat and luscious “ooohs” sending everything skyward. If you’re a traditionalist, check out “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and hear how these Newfoundland indie rockers have updated the classic hymn. It begins with Tim Baker’s haunting vocals and sparse strumming only to switch to a snarling, Neil Young-esque guitar breakdown. This EP’s definitely going on my Christmas playlist. /Gillian Mahoney
Cheers, It’s Christmas
Some of the songs here are pure autopilot. When Shelton’s singing “White Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, he could be doing Christmas karaoke from one of the million renditions of these songs. Different choices work well for him, like the easygoing “Oklahoma Christmas” with Reba McEntire, or “Home”, a Christmas cover of the Michael Bublé song performed with the man himself.
“Santa’s Got a Choo Choo Train” poses some problems. If you’ve ever heard one of those science jerks explaining how Santa’s sleigh would burst into flames if it travelled as fast as he would need to on Christmas Eve, imagine if he’s driving a conventional train. Their killjoy heads would explode.
The worst song on the album is “There’s a New Kid Town”, where guest Kelly Clarkson reminds everyone that Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s a dire, ponderous retelling of the nativity story. /James Brotheridge