Review Summary: Sufjan rebounds from musical indifference by going completely over the top.
Ever since Sufjan Stevens announced his intentions to record an album for all 50 U.S. states, not even the most cynical could question his musical ambition. Though the project was more or less discontinued after Michigan and Illinois, to even think
about embarking on such a monumental task seems absurd to the common man, let alone going two chapters into it (with huge critical-acclaim at that). The fact that this sprawling hour-long EP comes barely a year after he shocked fans with a question that seemed to indicate he'd begun his free-fall into some sort of inescapable existential crisis ("What's the point of a song?") is truly another testament to his character. This is a man not afraid to go completely balls out for his craft.
Think about it; the very same man who had become disillusioned with the art form itself has now unleashed upon us a track as massive, indulgent and spectacular as "All Delighted People" (two versions of it, nonetheless). It's not just his mood that's changed either; in terms of songwriting, songs like the title track, the classic rock version of it, and the huge 17-minute closer "Djohariah" are staggering leaps forward in his musical palette (guitar solos in Sufjan Stevens songs still seem like an oddly foreign concept) and show a boldness he seems to have picked up on his way back up from the doom and gloom. "From The Mouth of Gabriel" jumps right ahead of the pack as perhaps one of the best songs he's ever written, showcasing emotiveness in his voice that goes beyond the hushed tone of tracks like "Romulus" and "John Wayne Gacy Jr".
It feels like a comeback story. What have we had from Stevens since 2006’s Illinois
? A Christmas album, b-sides, re-releases, and a mixed-medium piece dedicated to a highway that, all things considered, wasn’t very interesting to the average man. Not great output from a guy who at one point seriously intended to write an entire orchestral indie-pop album about Wyoming. And then, completely unannounced, this: huge track lengths, backing choirs, electric guitars, Sufjan’s usually hushed tone going far beyond that, electronic bleeps and bloops, cryptic, Simon & Garfunkel referencing lyrics, and a self-proclaimed “17-minute guitar-jam-for-single-mothers” closer that’s 10-minutes of chanting and guitar/electronic wankery and 7-minutes of absolutely typical Sufjan Stevens folk music. If anything, it's all but secured the word 'typical' ever being used to describe him again. All Delighted
People is something else.
Here’s the trump card that makes his peers look even more like chumps: this is an EP - a behemoth of an EP, perhaps, but an EP nonetheless. It’s a staggering return from his alleged creative crisis, a terrific addition to his discography, and a wonderful addition to an already fantastic 2010. If this is Sufjan Stevens’ idea of an EP, his next LP is going to be colossal.