Sufjan Stevens
Silver & Gold


5.0
classic

Review

by Thompson D. Gerhart STAFF
December 26th, 2012 | 25 replies


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sufjan Stevens creates the modern Christmas masterpiece our generation has been waiting for.

Sufjan Stevens is a beautiful, functioning paradox. His massive gimmick in the "50 states" series gave us the inventive, fresh, and encapsulating sounds of Michigan and Illinois. His mental breakdown and near self-removal from music gave us the darker, introspective electronic sounds of The Age of Adz and one of his greatest achievements to date in the sprawling, tone and style shifting "Impossible Soul." And now, his seeming attack on the way we all perceive and attempt to relive the commercial holiday of Christmas has produced one of the greatest holiday collections of all time in Silver & Gold. Yes, from the traditional to the original and everywhere in-between, Sufjan has managed to hit the nail right on the head straight through to track 58.

And part of that paradoxical success on Silver & Gold comes from the fact that, though Sufjan has been vocal about his displeasure with the Christmas shop-first attitude, the music shades things in a subtler way. Can it be said that the re-timed, banjo bop of "The Midnight Clear," one of the easiest examples of Sufjan's hybrid approach to mixing the traditional with his own well-established style, is a jab at the tune or its longstanding fanbase? Probably not. Can the bizarrely catchy bells, trashcan drums, out-of-tune fuzz guitar, and childish singing of "Baby Jesus is the king, king-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling" on "Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling" be mounting an anti-commercial, possibly even anti-church front? Possibly. Are the slightly-less-psychedelically-inspired-than-Lewis-Carroll's-"Jabberwocky" lyrics to "Christmas Unicorn" an all-out assault on everything supposedly improper that we hold dear at this time of year? Absolutely. And its music is an assault on everything you expect out of Sufjan Stevens, not unlike its predecessor in prolificity and scope (and sound), "Impossible Soul." Yet, take the bitterness and sarcasm where you will, there is still passion and joy in all 2.7 hours of Silver & Gold, and when matched with the top-notch songwriting Sufjan Stevens seems to knock out in his sleep, all of the ingredients seem to mix into that paradoxical Christmas morning wonder many of us still feel years after we learned the truth about Santa Claus.

And, for the most part, these tracks are emblematic of what you're going to get out of Silver & Gold. Traditionals and old favorites with an indie-pop twist of banjos or bells, whistles, and bloops throughout the album, as any fan of Stevens would expect. Piano, harp, and orchestral interludes are scattered here and there, much like on Illinois, providing a sense of intermission and functioning as a palate cleanser. There are a few more restrained and simplistic traditionals (mostly found on Gloria), which serve as a nod to predecessors who have tackled the ever-commercially successful Christmas cover. And, of course, the album is chock-full of original tunes carried out in the same sort of indie-pop vein we've heard from Sufjan up through Illinois... until the all-out electronic approach of Infinity Voyage's "Do You Hear What I Hear?" from synthetic keys and drums to processed, robotic vocals. From that point on, the whole of Infinity Voyage and selections of the collection thereafter cue off of an Age of Adz array of electronics from full immersion (borrowing directly from "Impossible Soul" on "Joy to the World") to a mere toe in the water ("The Child With the Star on His Head").

In the end, the beauty of Sufjan Stevens is that in his attack on Christmas and our expectations of it, he has somehow rekindled our sense of holiday cheer. Re-imagining the Christmas canon and adding to it in a way that is sure to live on in the hearts of a younger generation that never really got a Christmas special to call its own, Sufjan has managed to take that which he found imperfect and undesirable and tinker with it until it became what he wanted it to be. By putting together those elements of tradition and modern commercialism he has embodied the Christmas paradox musically and, in some ways, shown us just how that crossroads of the old and new has made his sound the intelligent, well-crafted, and simply enjoyable thing that it is. So, maybe he's still disenfranchised with the holiday, but he's certainly given the rest of us something to enjoy this Christmas season, and many more to come. And if you ask me, that's what it's really all about.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2012


2004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Some derp made an LP selection for this with just as I went to submit it (when I got the login bug and had to pick an album again) and I had to play eeny-meeny-miney-mo with which of the two to pick and somehow this was the top-most choice.

Christmas m/

Digging: Thank You Scientist - Maps of Non-Existent Places

ILJ
December 26th 2012


6709 Comments


sweet. surprisingly enough my local library has this (and the first five volumes) but i'm still waiting to get this.

ILJ
December 26th 2012


6709 Comments


also, ask a staff member to move this to the compilation entry. they should be able to do that, or at least allow you to re submit.

AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2012


2004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Already did.

A good friend of mine is in the media department of the city library near me... I should tell her she needs to follow suit with your library haha.

AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2012


2004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The number of times I've listened to this whole collection is throwing my last.fm way off.

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
December 26th 2012


19918 Comments


thought about getting this. mad props for reviewing this even though christmas was yesterday. insta-pos cause xmas

Digging: Transit - Joyride

ILJ
December 26th 2012


6709 Comments


Reviewing something as long as this takes soooooooooooo much time. Took me about a month before I was comfortable reviewing The Seer.

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
December 26th 2012


19918 Comments


where's the cover art and tracklisting? ;P

AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2012


2004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

mad props for reviewing this even though christmas was yesterday.


Reviewing something as long as this takes soooooooooooo much time. Took me about a month before I was comfortable reviewing The Seer.


Yeah, man. Yieeeeesh. Wish I could've gotten this in earlier, but oh well. Not bad listening since it's such good music and the proper time of year for it!

where's the cover art and tracklisting? ;P


Dammit haha

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
December 26th 2012


19918 Comments


review is well written but there's one thing i noticed... (and i could be wrong) but my understanding is you're not supposed to start sentences with the word "and" or but" still pos'd though

Adabelle
December 26th 2012


4258 Comments


Hasn't Sufjan released like 8 Christmas albums?

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
December 26th 2012


19918 Comments


hmm maybe i'm wrong nvmd.

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
December 26th 2012


19918 Comments


"hasn't sufjan released like 8 christmas albums?"

I think this is only his second christmas release but both contain a shitload of songs

AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2012


2004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

review is well written but there's one thing i noticed... (and i could be wrong) but my understanding is you're not supposed to start sentences with the word "and" or but" still pos'd though


Nah, that's bullshit that kids are taught in middle school to keep them from being totally shit writers. Once you're grown up and you know how to do it, it's perfectly valid. No guff, this is shit they actually told me during my undergrad.

AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2012


2004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"hasn't sufjan released like 8 christmas albums?"

I think this is only his second christmas release but both contain a shitload of songs


Yeah. Not gonna lie, I haven't heard the other one. Maybe I'll pick it up and give it a spin, though. Dunno if I really need it after this, though.

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
December 26th 2012


19918 Comments


yeah i was just googling how english teachers used to teach people not to use and and but to start a sentence but it's actually acceptable.

So don't mind me! Great review

AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 26th 2012


2004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah, I think it's mostly to coax kids into using different transitionary phrases at the beginning of each sentence rather than saying "Bob went to the mall. And Bob sat down. And Bob had a sandwich. And Bob punched a toddler." or whatever nonsense.

There's a lot of dumb crap like that when you study the English language and how we teach it, at least in the US. I definitely appreciate the look, though!

Atari
Contributing Reviewer
December 26th 2012


19918 Comments


no problem, somebody had actually told me not to use "but" to start a sentence on one of my first reviews so that's where that came from.

good to know i can start a sentence like that if i want to now!

dosia
December 26th 2012


64 Comments


I'm a Christmas unicoooooorn.

ILJ
December 26th 2012


6709 Comments


Starting a sentence with "and" or "but" and other transition words can actually be a very effective tactic when used correctly.

But people seldom know how to do that.



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