Once an artist uses our platform to connect with an audience, we grandfather them into the NoiseTrade community for life and keep our antennae tuned to let you know about whatever future projects they’re working on. This week’s heads up: NT Alumni Sufjan Stevens has finally pressed his first five Christmas EPs onto wax for the vinyl box set Songs for Christmas, Vol. 1-5 capturing his wonderfully left-of-center holiday output from 2001-2006.
UPDATE: A small batch of vinyl box sets have been restocked in the Asthmatic Kitty store and can be purchased here: https://store.asthmatickitty.com/products/songs-for-christmas?variant=12673597702215
Having been one of those individuals who spent his Christmas seasons of the early 2000s scouring the mp3 blogs to try and locate the newest annual installment of Sufjan Stevens’ “officially unreleased” Christmas records for family and friends, I was supremely thrilled when Asthmatic Kitty announced earlier this year that they would finally be pressing the first five volumes for an incredible looking vinyl box set. Upon holding the weighty collection in my hands, marveling at its nostalgically warm holiday aesthetics, and (most importantly) hearing the songs in their full sonic-spectrum glory (after years and years of only having the digitally compressed mp3s), I can wholeheartedly say that the Songs for Christmas, Vol. 1-5 vinyl box set was incredibly worth the wait and unquestionably worth adding to your collection.
Before getting into the proper review of Songs for Christmas, Vol. 1-5, here’s a little background context on how this collection came to be. Between 2001 and 2010, Sufjan recorded an annual Christmas album of classic covers and holiday originals that he gave as gifts to family and friends (except in 2004 when the recording of Illinois kept him incredibly busy). While these albums were not given an “official” release (and not exactly intended for mass consumption, at least initially), they always seemed to find their way to the mp3 blogs that dominated the digital music landscape throughout the 2000s. For the first two or three years, Sufjan’s Christmas albums were talked about in hushed tones and the files were often only available via carefully considered (and hotly debated) trades. I myself was only able to secure the first two installments (Noel and Hark!) in exchange for the files to the Star Wars holiday album Christmas in the Stars and a handful of R.E.M. fan club holiday singles.
In 2006, Asthmatic Kitty officially released the first five volumes in the Songs for Christmas CD box set. Six years later they released the volumes from 2006-2010 in the Silver & Gold CD and vinyl boxset. (As a side note, you can still partake of the Silver & Gold NoiseTrade Holiday Sampler 12-track offering on our site HERE). This year’s release of the first ever vinyl pressings of Songs for Christmas, Vol. 1-5 truly completes the seasonal set of Sufjan’s holiday material for the entire 2001-2010 period.
Right off the bat, one of the most incredible things about the Songs of Christmas vinyl box set is its sheer presence: 42 songs across 5 vinyl albums, all housed in weighty outer box that is as sturdy as it is luminous. The entire packaging design is gorgeous and done extremely well, with the illustrations from Sufjan, Stephen Halker, and the family portrait painting by Jacques Bredy popping really vibrantly in the 12” x 12” vinyl size setting. The packaging also includes festively designed lyric sheets, chord charts, and full recording credits for all the songs on the back of each record sleeve. Even the center labels on the vinyl carry the folksy hand-drawn aesthetic all the way through. There is also a poster and download card for all five albums included. In the spirit of full disclosure though, it should be noted that the stickers and essays from the original CD boxset are not included.
The vinyl pressings for all five albums are incredibly clean and capture the simplistic intimateness of Sufjan’s recordings, especially the quieter songs with minimal accompaniment. For some of the songs, it almost sounds like you’re in the room with Sufjan as he was recording them. For me, this is a big sonic step up from the digital files that most of us have relied on when listening to these albums over the years. Take the songs from 2001’s Noel, Sufjan’s first entry in the collection: the folksier, banjo-led collection of tracks feels broader and more spacious on this vinyl pressing with the vocal harmonies and plucky banjo lines shining crisply. Even some of the louder, full-band moments on the collection – “Hey Guys! It’s Christmas Time!” from 2005’s Joy, for example – feel louder and richer coming off the wax. Consumed holistically, it’s also really cool to track Sufjan’s creative arc across the collection, through campfire singalongs, multi-part choral arrangements, chamber pop instrumentation, adventurous production choices, and more. The mixture of Sufjan’s exclamation-pointed originals (“Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!,” Get Behind Me, Santa!,” “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!”) with the more well-known carols and hymns also makes for a really entertaining listen that can soundtrack your holiday moments in a way that no other collection of albums truly can.
Although the Songs for Christmas, Vol. 1-5 vinyl box set is currently sold out on the Asthmatic Kitty website, you can still pick it up through your local record shop or order it through the following online retailers:
Tower Records (Ireland)
You can also find a flurry of Sufjan’s Christmas material (Music videos! Ordering info! Spotify links!) at: https://christmas.sufjan.com