Review Summary: we're on first name terms, don't you know.
There’s a lot I admire about Sufjan Stevens. Too much, in fact. I like that he put Michigan and Illinois on the map for me and that in my ignorance I’m hard-pressed to name any other state. I like that he bursts into breakcore rock songs midway through charming acoustic sets. I like that he can’t decide whether to be super-serious or super-silly because let’s face it, posing with a banjo and a cowboy hat ends in frowns. I like his music a fair bit, too, even if it's just an excuse for him to wear outlandish costumes. Angel-wings, anyone"
When I don’t
like him I probably just end up admiring him more. Remember that musical mid-life crisis he had" You’d think that’d be the end of the road for any self-respecting fan, but it turns out it’s easier for us to believe in Sufjan than it is for him to believe in ‘the song’, or ‘the album’, or whatever else he tried to hate. He called the state-project a gimmick, and that probably swung it for us. No one in their right mind would call Illinoise
gimmicks- they’re so personal they could be postcards from your best pal. And now All Delighted People
comes, aptly titled and generously packaged, and I know I’ll be spending more time celebrating than I will telling Sufjan we told him so.
All Delighted People
is drowned in its own celebration, actually, and only comes up for air thirteen minutes into closer “Djohariah,” the sequel to Seven Swans’
“Sister” in many clever ways. Maybe the fact that this EP most resembles that sweet and personal record of gospel stories, or the way in which both songs fit that description of “freak outs for single-mothers,” or perhaps just the simple in joke of a family tree. This is a good thing. It’s a beautiful continuation of a beautiful sequence, and in a way only this guy would know how- he strings together a guitar-solo with an acoustic lullaby and some finishing touches of bleepy electronica, and the whole thing could fall apart like a five-year-old’s arts and crafts project, sealed with nothing but excitement and flimsy gluing skills. Even with Sufjan trying to cram more in, he still sounds like that delicate trooper sporting a beginner’s banjo.
In a way, though, it’s more weird than beautiful. You crowned Sufjan baroque pop king for Illinoise
and I did for Michigan
, and these records were a darn sight different from what usually comes out of the genre. They had fluidity to them, not sounding overstuffed by the grand instrumental compositions but rather continuing to move calmly and at their own will; even if tracks were horrible to read out by name, they sounded soft and saccharine, not huge and rallying. That was what Funeral
did- it had us bask in its arrangements– but not what Illinoise
I notice these forceful features on All Delighted People
, because it does
sound overstuffed, and that’s probably the first time I can say that about Sufjan since A Sun Came
. That was 21 tracks long, and this is, um, an EP. And it has everything; the full scale string arrangements, the trumpet guys in the corner, the wacky guitar solos from the genius himself, the quirky keyboard stuff, and reworked versions of songs that you were introduced to ten minutes ago. This isn’t such a shocking turn to take for Sufjan, and most of us could care less as we let the first listen glaze over us, but I feel overwhelmed as I never wanted to be by him. This is the guy who had me gliding through “Detroit,” a song with oh so many components but such seamless ease. Now I can hear the build-ups in “All Delighted People” and feel them knocking me over. Now I find myself waiting more than anything in “Djohariah,” noticing even the things I shouldn’t, such as the dissonant riffing that pulls away from its place in the background. And even a track as light and glorious as the synthy “From the Mouth of Gabriel” thumps up a little more than I want it to.
This thump is the thump of the album. All these songs still work out of the focus of the EP and even become more appreciated for it- “From the Mouth Of Gabriel” is slowly becoming a favourite Sufjan track in how it sounds like a Seven Swans
session gone retro. By itself it’s simply gorgeous, lamenting and longing like no other track in his canon dared to do. “Heirloom” and “Arnika” reach similar ends if by more traditional means. When these songs come together at the album’s focus, the artsy twinning of “All Delighted People,” I can’t help but feel they’re being done a great injustice. They are no less important than the sprawls they are wrapped around.
Looking at these songs from the outside rather than one after another, I realise why I waited five years for this. It was because I knew Sufjan Stevens didn’t really hate music. We got it wrong when he said all that stuff about ‘the album’. I think what he really grew tired of was his
album. I feel he’s done detailing these works and mapping these worlds for us, and that’s too bad for anyone still hoping for Sufjan to come to his or her state- personally, I’m done holding out for his ode to Kent, but if he’s up for it, they call it “the garden of England.” This is a fantastic collection of songs, if better for what they are rather than as a controlled unit; All Delighted People
has eight of Sufjan’s rebounds, and while it’s taken him a while to get over music, he’s got there. Hurry along, October.