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Sufjan Stevens?!? (update: interesting review)

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I haven't shared much by way of reviews in these parts, because I haven't written many and because I'm often a trifle intimidated by those of you who have.

I don't think you have any reason to be intimidated. That line about Kankakee made me chortle...

Edited by opus

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Excellent review, Zalm. With writing like that, there's no reason to be shy around these parts. In fact, you've inspired a new signature line.

And now for something completely different: I need HELP!! Specifically, help me understand Seven Swans! As far Michigan goes, the album contains a few absolute masterpieces, a number of good tracks, and some silliness that is easily forgiven. Not so, apparently, with Seven Swans. I've had the album since Christmas and listened to is something like 10-12 times. Now, this is usually more than enough time and effort to break into a new disc, yet I still can't figure out why folks like it. One possibility is that you're all raving lunatics, a choice I'll disregard for now. Second possibility: we just have different tastes. But Michigan IS worth raving about; it would still be astounding even if it contained nothing more than Romulus. So our tastes can't be that different. And numerous well-respected folks have praised it, even comparing it to some of my beloved Iron and Wine's work. So I have to conclude that there's something I'm just not getting.

So help me out here. I want to like it; what am I missing?

Edited by Jeff Kolb

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Thanks for the kind words. I'll try to lurk less around here. Well, except for the part where I leave for the airport in (ack!) ten minutes.

I imagine that you've already got people typing feverishly with your question, Jeff, but if you don't get a response by the time I get back in a week, I'll share more about what I love in Seven Swans.

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So I have to conclude that there's something I'm just not getting.

So help me out here. I want to like it; what am I missing?

Seven Swans is my least favorite of Sufjan's(I feel like I can call him Sufjan) three latest albums, so I can sort of understand your confusion. It's a lot less musically dense and diverse than Michigan or Illinois, less orchestral and more folksy, so it's entirely possible to dig the States albums and not enjoy Seven Swans.

The album does have some great high points, try listening to "All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands" through a pair of good headphones, or "He Woke Me Up Again" through some really awful car speakers. "Sister" is also good if you think of it as a Gordon Lightfoot homage, but the final three tracks as a single piece are what tickles me most.

You don't have to feel crazy about not loving Seven Swans though, I think it's a little more of an acquired taste than the States.

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I love elaborate arrangements and Steve Reich-isms as much as the next guy, but I love Seven Swans for its simplicity and intimacy. Sure, it doesn't dazzle you with Sufjan wielding 20+ instruments, but there's a striking intimacy about many of the songs on there ("Abraham" can still give me the chills). And even in its more stripped down form, there's still quite a bit detail in those songs, like the little banjo flourishes on "In The Devil's Territory" or the graceful guitar melodies on "That Dress Looks Nice On You".

Perhaps what I like most about Seven Swans is that it shows Stevens is quite capable of doing something completely different than what he's become famous for with Michigan and Illinois. It shows he's quite capable of not falling into a rut. Personally, I don't want all of the "50 States" albums to be the same sort of elaborately arranged pop, because as much as I love it, it can quickly grow old and stale. I hope he branches out in other genres - maybe another electronic album a la Enjoy Your Rabbit, a quiet acoustic album, full-on surf rock, reggae, polka, whatever - and based on the strength of Seven Swans (and his earlier albums), I have no doubt he can.

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It's a lot less musically dense and diverse than Michigan or Illinois, less orchestral and more folksy...
...but I love Seven Swans for its simplicity and intimacy.

Interestingly, my least favourite tracks on Michigan are the most musically complex (bloated?). The Detroit/Lift Up Your Head/etc. track is interesting but not terribly strong. I much prefer Holland, the Ordination song, and Romulus. Thus, I'd expect to appreciate the way Sufjan sticks (more or less) to the basics on Seven Swans. But clearly, I don't.

Anyway, not to whine. I'm still rather excited about Illinois.

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Tour dates have been announced on the Asthmatic Kitty website. Where were these when I was booking my flights to the US, huh? I notice that when he decides to take a 3 and a half week break on the tour is just the three and a half weeks that I'm in the US. Note no mention of European tour.

I'm going to go sulk in the corner now.

Go! people: buy tickets on ebay, drive across state borders, haggle with ticket touts if you must - but Go! Because you can and it will be great, you know it will.

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Live stream performance on KCRW online with Nic Harcourt July 15th.

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens explores his musical ideas on the state of Illinois for Morning Becomes Eclectic listeners at 11:15am.

Will air Friday, July 15, 2005. [MORE]

http://www.kcrw.com/show/mb

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Sufjan heads to Arkansas!

Well, for one song, anyway...

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Well, hot damn. Sufjan is playing in Toronto the week of TIFF. That, my friends, is good news.

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Well, hot damn.  Sufjan is playing in Toronto the week of TIFF.  That, my friends, is good news.

I'm listening to him right now. I can't hear him now without gritting my teeth that I don't get to see him live. I'm glad you get to see him smile.gif

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They usually archive the shows.  This particular show is not yet up, just pictures for now.

Little "Six Degrees Of Sufjan" here... that Katrina Kerns gal is, IIRC, my pastor's niece.

Actually, I do have a closer link. I interviewed Stevens several years ago at Cornerstone, shortly after Enjoy Your Rabbit. Sadly, the interview never got posted to Opus, and I think it might be lost. One of these day I'll have to try and find it and get it posted.

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Pitchfork gives Illinois a 9.2

Also... Asthmatic Kitty is delaying the album's release due to some possible trademark/copyright infringement with the artwork. Apparently, there's some (potential) issue with DC Comics over the little Superman flying on the cover, and so the label is holding off until new artwork can be had. No word yet on the new release date. Here's the Pitchfork article.

Edited by opus

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They usually archive the shows.

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Huh.

That's interesting, Opus, because if you walk into Sonic Boom Records in Seattle, there's Illinois, with the Superman cover, right there on the shelf with the other new releases. I wonder what's up with that.

By the way, Opus... found out that one of my fellow GreenLake Presbyterian churchgoers is YOUR ROOMMATE NATHANIEL. Had a good chat with him on Sunday. He kept talking about his roommate, and calling you by your first name, but it wasn't until he mentioned you had a site called Opuszine that I realized I was having a SMALL WORLD moment.

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Fourth observation: I think the line "Tuesday night at the Bible study / We lift our hands and pray over your body / But nothing ever happens" might be incredibly profound, but I'm not sure yet.

No, you're right. It is. And it's even more profound when you include the final words of the song: "And He takes, and He takes, and He takes." If more "Christian" songwriters would write lyrics like that, I would be a huge fan of "Christian" music.

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That's interesting, Opus, because if you walk into Sonic Boom Records in Seattle, there's Illinois, with the Superman cover, right there on the shelf with the other new releases. I wonder what's up with that.

The cease-and-desist doesn't effect preorders, which shipped about a month ago, so it could be that Sonic Boom just did a big preorder. Nothing Asthmatic Kitty can do about that. I think this is just an attempt to keep it from spreading any more once the record really start hitting the shelves.

By the way, Opus... found out that one of my fellow GreenLake Presbyterian churchgoers is YOUR ROOMMATE NATHANIEL. Had a good chat with him on Sunday. He kept talking about his roommate, and calling you by your first name, but it wasn't until he mentioned you had a site called Opuszine that I realized I was having a SMALL WORLD moment.

Heh... I kept meaning to ask you if you knew him. We were talking one night about movies, and he mentioned that there was this guy at his church who got up and gave a speech one night about The Incredibles and various other films. I knew he was from Seattle, you were from Seattle, put 2 and 2 together, and bingo!

Nathaniel's a super-cool guy. He works with the RUF ministries here in Lincoln during the school year. He was going to be an usher in my wedding, but then found out he wasn't getting back to Nebraska until a week or so after the wedding. Poopie...

Ah well... it is a small world, and this Internet thing makes it that much smaller sometimes.

And here's something else... turns out my fiance's best friend, whom we'll be visiting on the way back from our Olympic Peninsula honeymoon, lives just a block or two from Greenlake, and I think might have even attended it from time to time.

Edited by opus

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Man Jeff, if I were you I would buy every single copy Sonic Boom has. That could be a serious collectors item pretty soon.

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I haven't downloaded them yet, but iTunes has 2 Illinois bonus tracks:

Chicago (To String Remix by Jongalloway) 5:31

The Avalanche 3:17

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Man Jeff, if I were you I would buy every single copy Sonic Boom has.  That could be a serious collectors item pretty soon.

No kidding... copies with the "banned" cover are already going for up to $60 on EBay.

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No kidding... copies with the "banned" cover are already going for up to $60 on EBay.

Check at Borders. I got one there earlier today.

Edited by hcmyers

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Pants! That means I've got an even longer wait for the LP then.

I wonder how much my poster is gonna be worth now. No matter, it's too cool to ever sell.

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Borders must not have gotten the memo: I just picked up a second copy at the Richmond one for $13. (My first copy was a preorder, of course.) Neither B&N nor the huge local music store had any copies, however, despite having earlier Sufjan CDs for sale.

Dale

Edited by M. Dale Prins

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Interesting...

I was just tooling around on the iTunes Music Store, and I noticed that the title to track 11 has changed since the initial tracklist posted on Pitchfork.

The album artwork (with Superman, thank you very much) just calls it "To The Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region, I have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament"

Pitchfork had it as "To the Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region, I have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and it involves shoe string, a lavender garland, and twelve strong women"

But iTunes lists it as "To the Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region, I have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves an Inner Tube, Bath Mats, and 21 Able-bodied Men"

Which one is it, I wonder... Did the first idea not work out? Was a lavender garland not to be found? Are the fine folks of the Rockford River Valley Region still in a Predicament? And why does it seem like MacGyver is running the show here?

The mind boggles.

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