Review Summary: Sufjan, baby, you failed us.
And it’s such a surprise, too, this EP, this disappointment, this
very breakup letter: All Delighted People
. We just didn’t expect it. We simply had no expectations for this release – and yet, deep down we had high hopes for it all the same. For five long years did Sufjan Stevens wait at our listening residence, living off our welfare and
our patience. He soon became disillusioned with his art - but we stubbornly persevered and didn’t become disillusioned with him. Day after day, year after year, we waited eagerly for a word from Stevens on his next project: we couldn't help but believe
Because he did the unthinkable in the last decade, two indie pop-folk epics in the insurmountable “50 States Project”, his Michigan
albums. When it was announced that the whole thing was a joke
, an impossible task, true, but given the quality of the first two entries, eagerly anticipated, a part of us wanted to believe that he could
have actually pulled off forty-eight more gems. Alas, we were heartbroken – but we still stuck with him. Even if another state wouldn’t see another album-ode, we could still, at the very least, await the proper follow-up to 2004’s Seven Swans
. The crafter of one (two) of the Noughties' best albums deserved every single bit of that trust:
’s Conor O’Brien broke out earlier this year as a songwriter with a striking degree of potential, who was it that we used to gauge his skill? Stevens
. When Perfume Genius
’ Mike Hadreas literally came out of nowhere in the summer as a lowly, broken, yet phenomenal songwriter, who was it that we compared the strength of his melodies to, his tone even? Stevens
. When The Tallest Man on Earth
’s Kristian Matsson made what appeared to be the singer-songwriter album of the year earlier in April with The Wild Hunt
, for whose album did we patiently wait word for before the official title was given? Sufjan fuckin’ Stevens
The rumor of a collaboration between Stevens and The National
cemented all the reasons why to wait in our minds, practically earning the title of 2010’s best album, just by the implications of such a union - with a High Violet
context of course (well, duh
). But alas, here and now, so suddenly, we have our All Delighted People
EP: in essence, Sufjan Stevens betraying us. What has marked Stevens’ work up until this point is his lovely sugary and pin-point focused melodies, the crux of which such sprawling epics as Illinois
’ “Chicago” and Michigan
’s “Vito’s Ordination Song” are built upon. It’s very frustrating in what seems to be an attempt to expand his range and palette of sounds, Stevens loses much of this focus for many of the EP’s songs.
Songs overly drag out on All Delighted People
in what initially sounds like grandiose splendor and animate instrumental workings, but soon reveal themselves as pieces just wondering around aimlessly, when listen after listen fails to reveal any sort of intentional direction. The obvious candidates for such an error are the overextended and wearisome bookending pieces of the EP, “All Delighted People” (11:38) and “Djohariah” (17:02), both essentially making up half of the release’s total one-hour length. This is a very detrimental problem as Stevens will have you lost going into
and out of
this thing, often losing for you in the static bits and pieces of the gems to be found between these two songs.
One such new-Stevens-gone-right is “The Owl and the Tanager”, a song that rivals “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” for the songwriter’s most chilling, mournful track. “I punched your ears instead / I punched you in the head / You only laughed and laughed and laughed
” is the type of morose imagery that Stevens’ brings to the table here, aided by the songwriter’s voice that has aged noticeably in the five years since Illinois
. It’s a tone that can reach piecing heights, used effectively here, on the quirky, yet well composed “From The Mouth of Gabriel”, and the light, comparatively stripped-down “Heirloom”. However, Sufjan’s new-grown-up tone suffers strongly in both versions of “All Delighted People”, “Djohariah”, and most acutely on “Enchanting Ghosts”, in which it sounds as if Steven’s vocals are about to cave in all around him, much less the track itself.
Things “caving in on” Stevens is not something new to his career, if perhaps only a recent happening since his 2005 critically acclaimed Illinois
album. He has told us that he “doesn’t believe in the album anymore
,” and that music as a whole has lost its charm on him. Now, make no mistake: All Delighted People
is proof that Stevens does in fact believe this. It’s a messy, over-indulgent hour-long work that most often over-extends its instrumentals but can’t ever effectively go anywhere with its own ammo; or as one Alex Robertsona puts it, “[it’s] floating around in search of a good hook or melody
.” This, in essence, is Sufjan Stevens’ career at this very time: He’s lost, still trying to find his love of music again, but is essentially floating helplessly in some sort of limbo. All Delighted People
is the sound of a songwriter that has not only failed us, but has evidently failed himself as well.