Sick of the Same Old Christmas Music?



Let's face it - Christmas and music go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows.

Every other major holiday boasts some other distinct partner - Thanksgiving is all about good food, St. Patrick's is "amateur night" for booze-hounding,  and Halloween is never without scary movies. But the pride and joy of Christmas is its beautiful carols and hymns. (In fact, my brothers are all convinced that it's something like sacrilege to not pair Christmas with the instrumental classic Winterlude.)

That's why it never ceases to amaze me how we settle for the same old insufferable dross masquerading as Christmas music on the radio throughout the month of December. Sure, some classics elbow their way in - but for the most part, Mariah Carey, Brenda Lee, and "Feliz Navidad" are on replay ad nauseam. And we all hate it - just google "annoying Christmas songs" and watch the hits roll in.

So, as a respite from your torment, we'd like to showcase the Christmas music of Sufjan Stevens - an artist whose mellow folk style restores some much-needed mindfulness and leisure to the holiday season.

Stevens has been an emerging presence on the indie-folk scene since the release of his 2003 album Michigan, a tribute to his home-state. Since then, his unique sound, which blends classical, folk, and electronica, has garnered quite a bit of attention - his 2005 album Illinois even hit number one on the Billboard heatseekers chart.

Just a year later, he released a five-volume album Songs for Christmas filled with Christmas songs that he had given as gifts to friends and family over the course of five years.

The album is remarkable for many reasons. First, because he puts a refreshingly chill and meditative twist on a wide breadth of classical Christmas songs, including "Away in a Manger," and "Joy to the World":


While most of the songs follow this pattern of a relaxed, acoustic banjo, he also cranks it up a notch with songs like "What Child Is This Anyway," which includes heavy drums and wild keyboard solos.

But Stevens also digs deeper into the Christmas vaults. Whether you're looking to infuse Christmas with more spiritual or historical depth, or are just hungry for something new or different to listen to, you can't miss his captivating covers of "O Come O Come Emmanuel," "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming," "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing":


Even Mumford & Sons couldn't help but take notice, borrowing Stevens' arrangement for a live performance of the song in 2009.

As if that weren't enough, Stevens recorded over a dozen original Christmas-themed songs for the album - from the playful ("Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It)") to the sorrowful ("Sister Winter"); and his haunting instrumental "The Incarnation" reminds us of the profound theological mystery at the center of Christmas:


You can get all five volumes for just $16 (or 89 cents a song) on Amazon - and if, after the holiday, you're craving more acoustic Sufjan in the vein of his Christmas album, we recommend picking up Seven Swans.

2 comments:

  1. All I hear when I hear Come Thou Font of Every Blessing is Sing a New Church into Being! WAAAH.

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  2. @Meem

    I've never heard it - but I'll assume for your "WAAAH!" that I should stick to the former!

    ReplyDelete