In short: BUY THIS ALBUM.
Why? Here are a couple reasons, in no particular order:
1. The music. Sufjan’s covers are wonderful treatments of classic hymnal carols such as “Once in David’s Royal City” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” He also thoughtfully includes non-carol hymns with content befitting the Christmas subject, such as “Holy, holy, holy.” Especially excellent, however, are his original pieces. Sufjan manages to capture a “Christmas Song” feel in songs which still sound very much like his creations. Thoughtful lyrics and intricate orchestration – his hallmarks – are present as expected. The subject is simply Christmas rather than a state’s popular historical figure. Highlights here include “Sister Winter” and “Star of Wonder.”
2. The box set itself. The album comes in a fold-open box containing the five EPs in their own sleeves with details about each on the back. There’s also a humorous Christmas comic strip, stickers, and a nice thick booklet containing essays, stories, and the lyrics – with chord names! This last bit is fantastic for musicians who want an idea of the song structure should they ever desire to learn/play the tunes. The essays and stories are also excellent, including the final, “Christmas Tube Socks,” by Sufjan – a personal description of his experience with Christmas, from his initial disdain to his present awe and reverence.
Sure, the subject matter on these discs is fairly holiday-centric, but I think I’ll keep these tunes in my regular iTunes/iPod rotation, even after December 25th.