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Sufjan Stevens

These last few years have been difficult on me. Having to deal rwith the loss of loved ones is never an easy task, and outside of rthat there have been numerous complications along the way. As a rperson who believes in the use of music as an outlet for emotional rrelease, I find that Sufjan's blend of acoustic, folk, classical, etc., rhas helped ease the pain of the many complications and difficult rtimes I've been faced with. Hitting a broad range of emotions, rSufjan's music has always been there for whatever mood I find rmyself in: whether I be yearning to see a loved one, wanting to rbe transported by an engaging narrative, or just wanting to put rsomething on to be moved by. This is a list of my top ten favorite rSufjan Stevens songs with descriptions.
10Sufjan Stevens

John Wayne Gacy Jr. -
'He took off all their clothes for them / He put a cloth on their lips, quiet
hands, quiet kiss on the mouth'. The very definition of the term 'hauntingly
beautiful', 'John Wayne Gacy Jr,' is a disturbing yet gorgeous masterpiece
of a song chronicling the life of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Sufjan ends it
in an almost disturbing fashion as it seems on the surface as though Sufjan
- in some capacity - likens himself to Gacy with the lyrics 'Look beneath the
floorboards for the secrets I have hid'. However, it comes across more, to
me, like as a reference to scripture in that all sins are of equal severity in
the eyes of God. We all have secrets, but (hopefully) none so vile.
9Sufjan Stevens
Seven Swans

To Be Alone with You
Just listen:
8Sufjan Stevens

Casimir Pulaski Day -
'In the morning when you finally go and the nurse runs in with her head
hung low'. 'Casimir Pulaski Day' brings to mind the term 'It's better to
have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.' Speaking of his
terminally ill friend/love, Sufjan has wondrously captured the very essence
of frustration and confusion with life and death. 'All the glory that the lord
has made', he observes, before submitting to the realization that he (the
lord) 'takes, and he takes'. Keeping in with his religious ideologies, he
observes the conflict when temptation is presented: 'And the complications
you could do without when I kissed you on the mouth' and perfectly
portrays that breaking point where realization sets in. A picture of a
confused, scared, and heart-broken boy, disheveled as he mourns such a
loss: 'On the floor at the great divide
With my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied, I am crying in the bathroom'.
Sufjan's ability to all at once capture the fun and exciting escapades of
adolescent love and the pain felt from losing someone dear to you is an
ability not possessed by many songwriters.
7Sufjan Stevens

Come on! Feel the Illinois! -
'Even with the rest belated everything is antiquated'. Looking at this song
very analytically, it seems as though Sufjan is trying to find the
apprehension between art and commerce by posing the question: have we
progressed artistically or have we regressed due to materialism? Being
another song of great inner conflict, Sufjan explores the idea of people
being rational thinkers. The latter half of the song becomes introspective as
Sufjan analyses and considers his own art, and the importance of it being
his and not something that's been done before. Musically one of his most
brilliant works, Sufjan disguises this song in an upbeat manner with
stunningly beautiful vocals and string arrangements. Probably Sufjan's best
song detailing the many problems brought on by consumerism.
6Sufjan Stevens
Seven Swans

All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands -
'And I am throwing all my thoughts away.' I think the reason I appreciate
[i]Seven Swans[/i] as much as I do is because of how threadbare and
honest it comes across. Unlike later output from Sufjan, [i]Seven Swans[/i]
is an album stripped of grandiosity and large builds. 'All the Trees of the
Field Will Clap Their Hands' is a fine example of this. Utilizing piano and
banjo, this is easily one of Sufjan's more mournful/yearning songs. Again
the lyrical focus is on religion - the second coming of Christ, more
specifically: 'Will I be invited to the sound? And will I be a part of what
you've made?'
5Sufjan Stevens
The Age of Adz

Vesuvius -
'Sufjan, follow the path - it leads to an article of eminent death'. As
everyone knows, Sufjan's subtlety and deft use of metaphors makes his
songs open to interpretation, but none are quite as cryptic as 'Vesuvius'. I
firmly believe that 'Vesuvius' is - much like many of Sufjan's songs -
surrounded by religious connotations. Consider that 'Vesuvius,' 'Fire of
fire,' and 'Permanent blast' are all the same thing: God. In this context,
Sufjan's struggle then becomes clearer: 'Sufjan, follow your heart: fall on
the flame or fall on the floor'. Detailing Sufjan's internal struggle with his
faith ('I'd rather be burned than be living in doubt'), 'Vesuvius' perfectly
encapsulates the difficult decisions people of faith are faced with, and the
personal conflict in choosing between following the spirit which resides in
them, or the flesh. 'Why does it have to be so hard?', he asks. Ultimately his
crisis is put to rest as he chooses to follow the 'murdering ghost' (the holy
spirit), because it's much better to fall on faith than to 'fall on the floor'. Of
course one could also perceive it as a take on an internal struggle with
oneself in the context of 'Vesuvius' being an encapsulation of Sufjan's rage,
but that's just my take.
4Sufjan Stevens
Songs For Christmas

That Was the Worst Christmas Ever -
'Can you say what you want' Can you say what you want to be'I can't
really relate to Sufjan here; Christmas has always been a warm time where
my family (for one night of the year) would act like an actual family.
Detailing the troubles within his family: his father's absenteeism and his
mother's irrational behaviour, Sufjan's holidays seem to be troubled times,
and what better way to express one's sentiments regarding the holidays
than to write a song as gorgeous as this. Although it's decidedly a
'Christmas' song (not in the traditional sense), this is a song that doesn't
necessarily have to played around the holiday season to be appreciated.
3Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People EP

All Delighted People -
'I tried my best, I tried in vain'. The Age of Adz was met with adorning
praise from critics all around, but I still say that Sufjan's finest moment in
2010 was his 'EP' (seriously, this thing clocks in at 59 minutes and sounds
like a full album). No song in 2010 captured this apocalyptic/ end-of-the-
world concept as well as 'All Delighted People'. Some take it as a
reprimand of those who claim to be of christian faith but don't see it
through ('I tried my best; I tried in vain'), but for me it sounds more like
Sufjan's struggle with past relationships and the materialism and overlying
conflict of people in general (ie:'The people bowed and prayed to the neon
God they made'). I could go on for paragraphs dissecting this song and
explaining each line, but I'll save you all of such torture and instead just say
that this song has the largest scope of any Sufjan song and NEEDS to be
heard. 'When the world's come and gone, shall we follow our
transgressions or shall we stand strong' Magical.
2Sufjan Stevens

For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti -
'I did everything for you'. Like many of Sufjan's songs, 'For The Widows' is
chock-full of religious undertones. That isn?t a detractor though: Sufjan has
a canny ability to veil these in a way where it doesn't seem like these
topics/metaphors are ever suffocatingly preachy. Presented in the context
of Jesus being the narrator, lines like "If you have a father, or if you haven't
one, I'll do anything for you." are simultaneously heart-warming and sad,
especially when Sufjan cries 'I did everything for you'. With its somewhat
cold, wintry feel, this is one of my go-to songs for the season - and it makes
me desperately wish I owned a banjo. Definitely recommended for those
seeking Sufjan's more emotional side.
1Sufjan Stevens
Seven Swans

The Dress Looks Nice on You -
'I can see a lot of life in you'. Coming from a person who typically interprets
most of Sufjan's lyrics as cryptic works, it's easy to forget that not all of his
songs invite analysis. For some time I had this ambiguous and
misconstrued perspective of what this song meant - something about it
exploring the notion of life being one big dream - but perhaps it's just as
simple and charming as it appears on the surface, with little to no hidden
connotations; written about a person Sufjan once loved and was willing to
change for: 'I can see a bed and make it too'. Whatever the case, it's a
summation of what he does best: capturing the essence of beauty in a
short but sweet indie/folk song. For me, it reminds (as do many of his
songs) of a simpler, younger time of innocence, and that initial euphoria
from teenage love.
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