Track Review: Sufjan Stevens – “Christmas Unicorn”

[Asthmatic Kitty; 2012]

It’s been six years since Sufjan Stevens dropped his whopping, holly-jolly four-disc Songs for Christmas collection. And on November 13, Sufjan will bring yet another sprawling holiday treat into the world, Silver & Gold. The dazzling, near-13-minute-long trotter that is “Christmas Unicorn” looks to be the last track on that collection (which will be delivered as a digital LP for those wise men bearing a modest monetary gift; or as a huge, stocking stuffer-laden vinyl boxset for those bringing a far more generous monetary gift…of $120).

And “Christmas Unicorn” is not unlike the perfect gift: you’d’ve never thought to ask for it, but upon receiving it, are too terrified to imagine so bleak a future without it. This long-galloping tune sounds like an Age of Adz highlight covered in the most brilliant of LED Christmas lights, alternately flashing between green and red at approximately 60 bpm.

Yes, this is a creature mystic, majestic, and pleasantly allusive. Lush, full wreathes laced with jingle bells adorn its snow-white coat, which in turn shines impossibly amidst a snow-white setting. In fact, “Christmas Unicorn” sounds exactly as the first page of a Google image search of “Christmas Unicorn” (SafeSearch moderate, of course) would suggest.

But fear not the Unicorn’s majesty. Approach it early, glean from its wisdom and appreciate its penchant for holiday metaphor. For the Unicorn shall deftly sum up the mission statement of all of Silver & Gold (as described in the italicized prayer at the bottom of Sufjan’s bandcamp). And then, after a curling parade that grows more and more rambunctious as the orchestral layers begin to pile up, the Unicorn will interpolate “Love Will Tear Us Apart”…?

“Find the Christmas Unicorn!” Sufjan cries intermittently in the song’s back half. And find the Christmas Unicorn you will, if only until those 13 minutes expire, and it’s back into the SoundCloud woods to once again seek the “play” button that summons this magical beast. It may only be October, and you may fear the self-guilt and social humiliation that comes with such premature indulgence–if it be made public!–in holiday carols is too much to bear. But take heed, and take comfort: the Christmas Unicorn will keep your secret.