Tag Archives: Sufjan Stevens

Stars and Stripes and Sufjan

The first time I saw Sufjan Stevens he played in a church in Madison, Wisconsin. Despite the church’s every nook and cranny being crammed with the hundreds of bodies in attendance, you could hear a pin drop. At the end of the show, we were rewarded with Sufjan’s revision of the National Anthem. It gets a little political towards the end. We Madisonians were a little weepy.

A couple of years later, I saw him perform in San Francisco, and I wanted to hear him play the song again. So I passed a note to the stage requesting it on behalf of his Madison fans.  He read the note and played the song.

All of that is to say, if you don’t know it already, his latest album, The Age of Adz, is streaming this week on NPR’s First Listen, and so far, I give it a wow.

Below is Sufjan singing his revisionist national anthem in San Francisco. I can’t remember if this is the show I attended, but I like to think it is.

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We get it, Asthmatic Kitty: Sufjan controls the news cycle

<a href="http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/track/i-walked">I Walked by Sufjan Stevens</a>A track from Sufjan Stevens’ new album that’s not his EP dropped. “I Walked.” It’s good. Sounds pretty similar to “Heirloom,” which we posted on Wednesday, which is to say: very different than his previous work.

I’m as surprised as anyone that I’ve posted on Sufjan Stevens three times this week. Like everyone else wearing a hoodie or Westerns, I was bowled over by Greetings from Michigan. I even have an eidetic memory of where I first listened to it: Catacombs, a now-closed coffee shop in the basement of a church in Madison, WI. And I immediately recommended it to a woman (married) whom I had a crush (platonic, admiring) on. And I liked Illinois a lot. And then… I got really sick of him. That voice. Those damn xylophones. The chirpy woodwinds. When it was fresh, that sound blew my mind; and then it wasn’t fresh, and I just found it cloying. Like most crushes.

All that's left of Catacombs is this crappy Yelp pic

So I never bothered to listen to Avalanches, which was like Sufjan’s Amnesiac, a full album of excess tracks from Illinois. Until now. And it’s pretty damn good. And it has three versions of Illinois‘ best track, “Chicago.” Two are superior to Illinois‘. And one of those is superior enough to make me crush all over again. Crushing so hard I post on Sufjan Stevens three times in a week. So hard I shut off that voice in my head that wonders how you make that “Wicked Games”-esque guitar lick with an acoustic.

Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago (Acoustic Version)”

[Stream all of Avalanche FREE at Bandcamp and then buy it there]

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Okay, Sufjan, you can keep your fake EPs

as long as you follow them up with weeks-later albums with covers as awesome as this:

We can say it shows an extensive use of electronics (banjos and acoustic guitars give way to drum machines and analog synthesizers), and an obsession with cosmic fantasies (space, heaven, aliens, love), to create an explicit pop-song extravaganza, augmented by heavy orchestration, and maybe even a few danceable moments. Enjoy Your Rabbit meets the BQE. But with songs.

[Asthmetic Kitty]

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Taking Sufjan to Record School

Remember the days when late ’90s britpop bands would release all sorts of B-sides on their CD singles, but they’d be inexplicably split into three CDs? Turns out it wasn’t just an attempt to squeeze money from desperate Radiohead-ites. Back in the days when vinyl laid the roost, it was not uncommon to see “Maxi singles” with several extra tracks on the B-side. Even more if it was were [took myself to subjunctive school] a 12″ rather than a 7″ single.

At first, CDs followed suit and featured several tracks, but in 1998, after complaints from non-remixing dance acts, the UK Chart Supervisory Committee reduced the maximum running time from forty minutes to twenty, though vinyl was still allowed forty minutes. The result, for bands that still wanted to release large number of B-sides with their singles, was the multiple CD morass, with a single being released multiple time. In 2003, they changed the rules again to allow forty mintues, but at that point, who was buying CDs anymore?

The likely Masonic-linked (lie) UK Chart Supervisory Committee also has rules about EPs. Anything longer than 25 minutes or four tracks (excluding multiple versions) is an LP.

Which brings us to Sufjan Stevens, who dropped his All Delighted People EP on an unexpecting world on Friday. Sure, it’s great. Beautiful and familiar, yet taking his music to new sonic places. For instance, the overlapping guitars beauty of “Heirloom,” with its haunting promise that “when you walk inside I feel the door.” But EP? C’mon, now: 8 tracks, 60+ minutes? Fess up, Mr. Stevens, your five-year silence is over: this is a follow up to Illinois, an LP. And a good one. So sayeth the Holy Society of the UK Chart.

Sufjan Stevens, “Heirloom”

Stream All Delighted People FREE at Bandcamp or buy it for an EP-priced $5.

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