As classes begin, syllabi are distributed and our planners are filled with events for the semester ahead. We know that we are back. Fortunately, to help us make it through the exams and essays this fall will bring, we are not the only ones back, after a long hiatus/identity crisis we have withstood since Illinoise, Sufjan Stevens is back. And it feels great. Suddenly, without even any notice that he was working on music, All Delighted People was released. A 60 minute, 8 song “EP” longer than most artist’s full lengths, with two songs topping 10 minutes.
We’ve heard much from Sufjan these past years complaining that music is merely market fodder, or it gave people the wrong perception about himself and questioned the point of even releasing music, and he considered keeping his music to himself. Sufjan could never be that cruel, even while doing his best John Wayne Gacy, Jr. impersonation. In the first song Sufjan tries to startle the perception of his perfection: Sufjan can leap buildings in a single bound, and has mastered instruments the common man has never even heard of. But All Delighted People begins with the titular, and best, song and Sufjan’s voice making some prepubescent cracks, displaying that he too is human, he pleads, “Do you love me from the top of your heart?” and regrets, “So yeah I know I’m still afraid, Of letting go of choices I have made.” Sufjan has problems, too, he makes mistakes, this is the real Sufjan and despite the epic violin composition, the fact that the song takes over 11 minutes to find its end, the angelic backing vocals, and Sufjan still questioning themes of grand proportions, in this case the place of love in the context of religion and evil in the world, this is the new Sufjan (So, basically just as genius as he always has been). I’m just glad he’s back, a changed man or not
The album focuses on dealing with and accepting regret, relying on those around us. Sufjan croons on Enchanting Ghosts, “Don’t carry on carrying regrets.” On Ghosts Sufjan begins alone with an acoustic guitar, but is slowly joined by a delightful piano melody, an electric guitar, and the occasional banjo. Next, Heirloom finds comfort in a lover, when times have turned for the worst, or “when your heirloom’s wilted brown,” Sufjan harmonizes with himself.
The Owl and the Tanager tells the story of, wouldn’t you know it, an Owl and a Tanager, which is, according to Wikipedia, a small, beautiful singing bird. However, their story is violent and only made more haunting by the classical composition of a piano whose notes you can not only hear, but also each the internal structure of the piano’s hammer striking of the string’s and every pedal press.
All Delighted People finishes with its most intriguing song in 18 minute Djohariah. Split into two parts the first is filled with a clanking and distorted electric guitar solo and vocal “ohhhhhs” for most of the first 10 minutes. The second part is a synth filled world, where Sufjan beckons strong women to be strong and don’t let terrible men bring them down. They have the stories we need, to improve ourselves, to give strength to others. And suddenly, with the strum of a guitar, it’s all over. The most simple ending, to a most complex song.
All delighted people, raise your hands! My hands are up in delight for Sufjan’s latest masterpiece.
****You can stream the whole EP here, where it is also available for purchase for only $5, http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/album/all-delighted-people-ep
Sufjan is doing a large North American tour this fall and is playing The Wiltern here in LA October 23rd and 24th.