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Sufjan Stevens, ‘Songs for Christmas’ (Asthmatic Kitty)

Collecting four privately distributed EPs, plus a new one, this two-hour, five-disc retrospective of the Brooklyn songwriter’s Christmas-themed output documents Stevens’ transformation from unremarkable folkie Jesus freak to unorthodox Christian mega-talent. Recorded in December 2001, the first disc features feeble banjo plucking, forgettable original tunes, awkward renditions of traditional hymns, and patently atrocious singing. The next two, recorded in ’02 and ’03, are slight improvements. But Stevens extends the vibrant ambition of last year’s breakout album Illinois to ’05’s confident Joy, then tops himself on this year’s lush and livelier Peace with bejeweled pop ornaments like “Get Behind Me, Santa!”

Now Hear This: Sufjan Stevens – “Sister Winter” DOWNLOAD MP3

Now Watch This: Sufjan Stevens – “Put the Lights on the Tree”