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Thursday, November 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 13.0° F  Fair
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Sufjan Stevens
Songs for Christmas (Asthmatic Kitty)

Last year's definitive college-radio Christmas album was Marah's Christmas Kind of Town, and it smacked of the raucous drinking humor you might expect at tree-trimming parties along Fraternity Row.

This year's definitive college-radio Christmas album has the feel of hot apple cider at a campus ministry study break.

The college-music literati will nonetheless be pleased, and that is the irony of Sufjan Stevens, a young, deeply religious artist who has managed to climb to the apex of blue-state hipster popularity.

Songs for Christmas is a box set compilation of Christmas EPs Stevens has released over the past five years. The collection provides a perspective on his evolution from guitar folkie to chamber-pop arranger.

Stevens' sparse, somber vocals and meandering banjo create a haunting sense of spirituality on tracks like "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." The chamber arrangements are reserved for the exclamatory tracks, like "Come On! Let's Boogie to the Elf Dance!" Songs for Christmas may not be right for a night of spiked eggnog revelry, but as Linus would tell Charlie Brown, it's what Christmas is really all about.

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