Sufjan Stevens, "Silver & Gold"
Sufjan Stevens, "Silver & Gold" (Courtesy photo)
Holy Christmas. If you like your holiday music to sound totally unhinged, Silver & Gold is for you.

The five-disc record is nearly three hours long and packs in songs written between 2006 and 2010. And, if you get a hard copy, there's a lot more crammed in there -- a poster, stickers, temporary tattoos, a booklet of lyrics, chords and essays -- all of it screaming “unstable genius.”

There's a highly varied mix of things going on over Silver & Gold's 59 tracks. There are batty sing-alongs for classics like “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” that sound as if some lovely-voiced mental patients were given instruments and sent carolling. Then there are the songs that wouldn't be out of place at the symphony, most of which are on the too-long second disc, I Am Santa's Helper. “Eternal Happiness Or Woe” is the sound of nightmares and “Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past” is delightfully cheesy.

Silver & Gold's strongest disc is probably the third, Christmas Infinity Voyage. There's a great cover of Prince's “Alphabet St.” for no apparent reason. “Christmas In The Room” is as lovely and minimalist as its message, a Christmas just for two. On the other hand, there's “Do You Hear What I Hear,” which changes the refrain to “Do you feel what I feel?” in highly synthesized vocals over clattering and bleeping. “Joy To The World” is similarly robotic, but without the creeping feeling of existential depression, and ends in a total descent into madness from drum machine/synthesizer/keys/everything else.

The remaining discs, Let It Snow and Christmas Unicorn (!), are the least nutty, with lots of standard Sufjan fare. It all ends on “Christmas Unicorn” with hilarious and fantastic lyrics hammering home the whole looney thing.

The 15 and a half minute long “The Child With The Star On His Head” is one of the album's best moments. It starts as a somber ballad with lines like “I am right here, waiting for you to expect something more.” But five or so minutes in, Stevens gives up on words and lets the distorted guitars and piles of electronics deliver the message.

So, what is the message? Maybe don't ask questions. Stevens is very clearly conflicted about Christmas and all the love, commercialism and existential crises that come with it. Silver & Gold will bring you along as he sorts it all out, and it's a spectacular sleigh ride.

Follow Ashley Dean on Twitter: @AshaleyJill.