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For some years now, Sufjan Stevens has been recording little EPs of Christmas songs for people he knew, to "make himself appreciate Christmas more."

Now thankfully he's sharing these songs with his eager listeners, in a five-disc collection that includes his folky reinterpretations of classic carols -- and then the festive ones he made himself. This is not the treacly garbage they put on the radio or in malls -- this is enchanting, festive, fresh music for the holidays.

The first EP -- recorded in 2001 -- is very much old-school Sufjan. Much folkier and banjoey, especially in the lo-fi "O Come O Come Emmanuel," folksy little songs about going to the country, and "Amazing Grace." But there are exceptions -- a shimmering reinterpration of an old hymn, and some bouncy sleigh bell pop.

But the collection blossoms with the sparkling "Angels We Have Heard on High," which is the lead-in to his more polished style. In the four EPs that follow, Sufjan flourishes out into synthy pop, xylophone tunes, dancey holiday music, mellow folk, and exquisite piano balladry. There's the occasional banjo tune, but they grow rarer as time goes on.

And as the collection moves forward, Stevens' music becomes more accomplished with each passing year. His music becomes more complex and more enchanting, right up to the rather pensive and downbeat fifth disc -- which is album-length -- with the shimmering piano of "Winter Solstice" and the offbeat synthpop of "Jupiter Winter."

Sufjan does repeat himself occasionally -- there are multiple versions of "O Come O Come Emmanual," "Lo! A Rose E'er Blooming," and "Once in Royal David's City." Fortunately each time he records the same song, it's radically reimagined. And even songs that most people are heartily sick of -- like "Jingle Bells" -- lose that appalling shopping-mall feeling when Sufjan plays them.

As well as the traditionals and classics, Sufjan injects a lot of his own songs. He makes a festive mishmash of instrumentals -- Hammond, guitar, a little flute, banjo, and lots and lots of bells! Lyrically this is right up his street. He can switch effortlessly from "K-Mart is closed/So is the bakery" to singing about the little Lord Jesus laying down his head in a manger.

And Stevens isn't afraid to look at the side of Christmas that isn't filled with love, joy and goodwill ("Our father yells/Throwing gifts in the wood stove... Silent night/Nothing feels right"). But then, he also has whimsical pop tunes like "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" which is suitably jolly for the holidays. Not to mention the sweetly romantic side as well ("I might kiss you on the back of your neck/Because it's Christmas time."

Sufjan Stevens is in excellent form with his collection of Christmas tunes. Old songs get a new spin, and new songs are absolutely enchanting in his psychfolky way. Now that it's Christmas time...
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on 22 November 2006
You'd think that having created 2005's instant classic Illinois Sufjan would be over-protective and angst ridden about his growing reputation. Instead, in 2006 we got 75 minutes of Illinois 'outtakes and extras', and now this, a collection of his informal Christmas songs he recorded as gifts for family and friends each December since 2001. Rather than compile and cherry pick from these he has presented them in their original form, giving us 5 short CDs with a running time of 2 hours. Additionally, the box has all the lyrics, complete with chords and tongue-in-cheek advice, stories, pictures and stickers making this a very festive package, at a price that is a gift in itself.

And so to the music - each CD features a range of traditional Christmas tunes, some more familiar than others, interspersed with Sufjan's quirky compositions. The usual collaborators and friends are found here. Matt Morgan (the guy providing the excellent duet on Illinois's Decatur) features prominently on Disk 1, and later come Vito Aiuto, Shara Worden, Denison Witmer et al. Highlights and lowpoints may well depend on the listener's own associations with these well-known songs, although some of these interpretations are a delight. The track that seems to epitomise this whole project is The Friendly Beasts - which is both rustic and sophisticated at the same time, and may bring a tear to your eye when Shara Worden sings her wispy lines.

Disk 5 (Peace) recorded in July 2006 stands apart because (unlike the others) it was recorded with this release in mind. Thus, it is more polished and much like a typical Sufjan CD, if there can be such a thing. Sister Winter is a top drawer Sufjan song, its portentous opening chords blossoming into something beautiful. Star of Wonder is a miniature symphony. Just when you think this track will fade out (Hey Jude-style) an altogether more creative and satisfying ending occurs. Just brilliant!

I'd much rather have the next state CD, but taken for what it is this boxed set is a delight. Merry Christmas Sufjan!
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on 2 November 2006
As if there wasn't enough cheesy Christmas music already, Sufjan churns out another 5 EP's (which makes that now 12 records in 8 years) of Christmas covers and completely original Christmas-themed songs composed by Sufjan over the past 5 years. Not quite as serious/purposeful as his focal projects (Illinois, Michigan, Seven Swans), but he must love it. I do...

Being an avid fan of Sufjan Stevens (and I ♥ Christmas music), I couldn't ask for a more appropriate Christmas present off the back of buying `The Avalanche' for my birthday in July, and I have to refrain myself from foaming at the mouth from the amount of BREATHTAKING new material he manages to keep producing in such a short space of time (NB. these EP's are the result of mini recordings over various winter breaks in between his main records). Despite having heard the whole box set already from a sincerely generous stream on the website of Sufjan's label Asthmatic Kitty, one must surely look forward to the "suf-goodies" included in the box set: an essay by Rick Moody, a music video and a comic book by Tom Eaton, extensive liner notes and short stories by Sufjan Stevens, a "Christmas Songbook with lyric sheets and chord charts," stickers, and last but not least, the "Official Original Christmas Family Portrait of Santa Sufjan painted by Jacques Bredy!" It's going to be a good Christmas.

Onto the music, and as noted, the 5 EP's are made up of a mix of covers and original compositions. They show the progression of the Sufjan 'sound', and the technical/production quality of the songs (particularly in the last two EP's) delineate how he has become one of the great modern songwriters of our generation. The covers get a Sufjanized make-over in the style of the indie-folk genre, sometimes completely obscured from the original as we know them (but occasionally as we know them), with soft boyish vocals from Sufjan that reach into your soul when he stretches to falsetto, accompanied by kindred male/female voices and the occasional trademark banjo plucking. There are some instant classics (Star of Wonder), Epic anthems (Sister Winter), Sufjan-esque acoustic thought-evoking songs (That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!) and delightful little short instrumentals (Jingle Bells). The titles get wackier and more exclamation-ridden as they go along chronologically, to purvey Sufjan's tongue-in-cheek wit. My personal favourite is `Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)'. The cheesiness of `Get Behind Me, Santa' is furthermore appropriate in the spirit of the season as the box set emphasizes on the cover (one cannot help but begin "singing along" to the C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S. fanfare). Some holiday favourites get treated to more than one version such as classics `Once in Royal David's City' and `O Come O Come Emmanuel' (three versions of this one, but no "Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Version", alas). While most tracks are not exactly essential for playage all year round, `Put the Lights on the Tree', `Only at Christmas Time', and `Christmas in July' are nevertheless worthy ventures for any follower of Stevens' work.

Albeit the verity that Sufjan is going to be a very, very old man when he completes his ambitious "50 States" project, there is always time for quirky side projects. So when Sufjan was discussing which state to do next, in which his reply is "The State of Christmas", he wasn't to jest this time. With respect to the evidence that his best material is yet to come (listen to a recording of `Majesty, Snowbird' if you can), and already quite a novice at covering songs (Tim Buckley, The Beatles, John Fahey), it's a pleasure to hear any new material from the brilliance of Sufjan Stevens, and that he'll be remembered as King Midas Jnr, turning everything into gold, if not, again.
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VINE VOICEon 6 January 2008
It's 6th January and I'm going to play this one last time before I put the Christmas decorations away. Have played this again and again all through the holidays since it arrived.
It is perfect Christmas music, I think, even/especially if your have mixed feelings about the "festive season". The traditional carols are done in his kind of weird, jangly, sincere-but-cool, home-made kind of way (esp on the earlier cds), just beautiful. But nothing at all like carols sung by soaring-voices-of choristers, far from it!
The light hearted stuff is catchy and fun, but not in a tacky commercial way so you can surrender to the silliness of the season without feeling you're selling out, if you know what I mean.
I have two favourite tracks, a poignant song called Sister Winter (on the last cd) and the one that had my kids dancing round the Christmas tree every time, Get Thee Behind me Santa. No, seriously, that's what it's called, but it's great! My children would have put it on repeat all day long for a fortnight if I'd let them. That's also on the last cd and it is the soud of Christmas 2007 for us.
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on 4 November 2006
First, let me say that this review is based soley on the music contained on these discs (which are now fully streamable from the Asthmatic Kitty web-site), and so does not take into account the ridicuous amount of stuff you get with it (videos, pictures, essays, and lots of other stuff).

Sufjan here takes another break from his 50 states project to tackle another, huge, concept - Christmas!

While at least the first 3 discs of this collection have been lurking around on the internet for quite a few years, there is still a lot of very good music. Mostly made up of short instrumentals and covers of Christmas hymns, there is the odd brilliant original song hidden away ("Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!", "Get Behind Me, Santa!", "Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!") which in themselves are almost worth the £!6.99 pruce-tag.

There is a surprisingly dark feel to a lot of these sets of music, and a lot of bitterness hidden beneath the surface. But it's still recognisably Sufjan, even if the choirs and orchestras are often missing. The changes that Sufjan have gone through as both a singer and songwriter are on show here, as these discs span from way back in 2001, and were released one at a time for each year since (except 2004, for some reason). They were originally only made for Sufjan's close friends as a unique Christmas present, but he's finally decided to release them commercially.

There are many highlights, so I will stick to the best of Sufjan's original material's highlights - "Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!", "Get Behind Me, Santa!", "That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!". I would suggest that you purchase these EPs, as it is very likely that you won't be disappointed.

[...]
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For some years now, Sufjan Stevens has been recording little EPs of Christmas songs for people he knew, to "make himself appreciate Christmas more."

Now thankfully he's sharing these songs with his eager listeners, in a five-disc collection that includes his folky reinterpretations of classic carols -- and then the festive ones he made himself. This is not the treacly garbage they put on the radio or in malls -- this is enchanting, festive, fresh music for the holidays.

The first EP -- recorded in 2001 -- is very much old-school Sufjan. Much folkier and banjoey, especially in the lo-fi "O Come O Come Emmanuel," folksy little songs about going to the country, and "Amazing Grace." But there are exceptions -- a shimmering reinterpration of an old hymn, and some bouncy sleigh bell pop.

But the collection blossoms with the sparkling "Angels We Have Heard on High," which is the lead-in to his more polished style. In the four EPs that follow, Sufjan flourishes out into synthy pop, xylophone tunes, dancey holiday music, mellow folk, and exquisite piano balladry. There's the occasional banjo tune, but they grow rarer as time goes on.

And as the collection moves forward, Stevens' music becomes more accomplished with each passing year. His music becomes more complex and more enchanting, right up to the rather pensive and downbeat fifth disc -- which is album-length -- with the shimmering piano of "Winter Solstice" and the offbeat synthpop of "Jupiter Winter."

Sufjan does repeat himself occasionally -- there are multiple versions of "O Come O Come Emmanual," "Lo! A Rose E'er Blooming," and "Once in Royal David's City." Fortunately each time he records the same song, it's radically reimagined. And even songs that most people are heartily sick of -- like "Jingle Bells" -- lose that appalling shopping-mall feeling when Sufjan plays them.

As well as the traditionals and classics, Sufjan injects a lot of his own songs. He makes a festive mishmash of instrumentals -- Hammond, guitar, a little flute, banjo, and lots and lots of bells! Lyrically this is right up his street. He can switch effortlessly from "K-Mart is closed/So is the bakery" to singing about the little Lord Jesus laying down his head in a manger.

And Stevens isn't afraid to look at the side of Christmas that isn't filled with love, joy and goodwill ("Our father yells/Throwing gifts in the wood stove... Silent night/Nothing feels right"). But then, he also has whimsical pop tunes like "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" which is suitably jolly for the holidays. Not to mention the sweetly romantic side as well ("I might kiss you on the back of your neck/Because it's Christmas time."

Sufjan Stevens is in excellent form with his collection of Christmas tunes. Old songs get a new spin, and new songs are absolutely enchanting in his psychfolky way. Now that it's Christmas time...
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on 8 December 2010
This is a work of genius, pure unadulterated genius and pleasure. There is an argument that this is his best work ever. All the owners of Illinois, Seven Swans etc know that Sufjan has written some of the most beautiful and poignant songs ever. But some of his work is less accessible than others, always worthy but sometimes inaccessible. Therefore I always approach any work that I haven't heard before with mixed feelings. I want it to be good, it could be exceptional but you never know. Therefore I approached Songs for Christmas with some trepidation. I didn't want it to be all Christmas novelty plus repeats of well known carols. There is some Christmas novelty ( perhaps 10%) but I like it. However there is lots of beautiful original material. "Did I make you cry at Christmas", " The worse Christmas ever", " Sister Winter", "Its Christmas Time" are up there with the best tracks he has ever written. He makes some favourite carols sound like he wrote them. This is a joy. Sufjan fans who don't have this in their collection should go out and buy it straight away. You won't be disappointed.
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on 21 August 2014
Excellent value. Boxed set, so it's easy for guys to wrap!! Includes song/chord book n sticker set. Makes a quirky Xmas gift. I've been giving them away since it first came out. Amazing Grace with banjo, you've got it. Mainly carols and some of his own tunes.
There is a follow up, Silver & Gold with more new songs (they may grow on me, not sure yet), some carols and more mainstream songs, "I'll be home for Christmas", "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Again, song/chord book, stickers n a poster.
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on 6 December 2012
This is a lovely album. Some of it will make you smile and some of it will break your heart. You should buy it
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on 16 November 2009
Want a fresh approach to listening to Christmas music? Then what are you waiting for? Buy this really endearing heart warming album! It's fun for those parties and it's fun for those Christmas after dinner games! It's also good for relaxed back ground music! Embrace the Sufjan this Christmas! Some love him, some don't love him so much, so give it a brief listen before you buy! But recommended with 5 stars!
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