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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Very Sufjan Christmas

Sufjan Stevens and friends.
by Chris Tyler

“You know, to be honest, I hate Christmas,” a tinseled Sufjan Stevens would often remark during his Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant On Ice tour back in 2012. Indeed, for Stevens, Christmas proves a contradictory tradition: it is, after all, the focal point of a season marked by equal parts spirituality and consumerism. But given the Round-Up artist’s affinity for the carol—he’s released exactly 100 Christmas tunes over the last 10 years—it’s a delightful tradition at that. As described by Mark Hinog for The Verge, “Stevens' yuletide catalog transcends the treacly holiday tunes favored by easy listening radio stations and musty shopping complexes. It borrows hyperbolic enthusiasm of obligatory pop star holiday albums, while highlighting the season’s social, economical, and existential pressures." In anticipation of Stevens’ upcoming run at the BAM Harvey Theater January 20–25, we've rounded-up (so to speak) some of our favorite video tidings of ambivalent (but whimsical) holiday cheer:

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Directed by Round-Up collaborators Aaron and Alex Craig of We Are Films, this gorgeous video for Stevens' melancholy take on an old Bing Crosby standard anticipates the similarly dreamy aesthetic world of Round-Up.

Mr. FROSTY MAN (18+)
From Silver & Gold, I Am Santa's Helper: Songs for Christmas, Vol. VII

Although potentially NSFW, this deranged claymation spectacular created by Lee Hardcastle is our favorite for reasons that will become immediately apparent upon viewing. Extra kudos to Stevens for releasing this original song directly into the public domain.

Christmas in the Room
From Silver & Gold, Christmas Infinity Voyage: Songs for Christmas, Vol. IIX

Number one on Mark Hinog's definitive ranking of every Sufjan Stevens Christmas carol, this simple song articulates the only thing we're really meant to cherish each and every holiday season: one another. This song is also in the public domain, so feel free to share with any and everyone you hold dear.

Justice Delivers Its Death
From Silver & Gold, Christmas Unicorn: Songs for Christmas, Vol. X

While we might prefer Stevens' moody (and critical) riff on Johnny Marks' "Silver & Gold" to the original, it is tough to top a snowman playing the banjo.

Put the Lights on the Tree
From Hark!: Songs for Christmas, Vol. II

Tom Eaton's delightful animated video for one of Stevens' earliest Christmas compositions reminds us to follow an essential maxim of the holiday season: "call your grandma on the phone" and "tell her you are coming home."

That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!
From Ding! Dong!: Songs for Christmas, Vol. III

And last, but certainly not least, enjoy this live performance of "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" from a 2012 stop at New York's own Bowery Ballroom. Although Mark Hinog deems it the "saddest Christmas song in [Stevens'] catalog", Stevens' charming preamble detailing early larcenous tendencies again highlights the dissonant ways in which we all strive for joy during such a complicated time of year.

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