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Sufjan Stevens?!? (update: interesting review)


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Do you ever have those "peak listens" with particular albums... the one in which the thing just opens up and reveals more rewards than you ever knew it had?

I listened to his on Christmas Eve as Anne and I drove down to Portland from Seattle. We were enthralled, this time far more than ever. When CPD came on, the tears just started flowing.

This is my favorite album of the year. I know that now without a doubt.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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My wife and I had a very similar reaction while listening to Illinois on our honeymoon, as we drove around the Washington countryside.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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It's interesting. I like Sufjan. I love his music. And I live in the midst of a full Sufjan backlash, a church full of people who know his music well, find it highly overrated, and who loudly and persistenly lament the lemming-like chorus of admirers who froth at the mouth at his every grunt and fart.

Hey, I'm quoting, okay? I don't feel that way. I've never even experienced a Sufjan fart in any sensory way.

It's kinda lonely. I just find it interesting. While my guess is that many of you are in churches where you're playing Sufjan evangelist, and trying to get people to listen, I'm playing Sufjan evangelist of a different sort, and defending him against various aesthetic and olfactory charges.

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Yeah, we got "Illinois" and "Michigan" on vinyl for Christmas, and have passed several quiet evenings just listening to the records pop and spit on the turntable. It's a totally different experience listening to them on vinyl.

Andy, sorry you have to deal with all those snobs. :) There's a backlash at Calvin, too--it's now cooler NOT to be into Sufjan, to think he's overrated and geeky and not really that talented after all, than to be into Sufjan. That's ok, though, I've never minded being unpopular. :)

Anyway, if it's any comfort to your churchgoing friends, Sufjan hates the cult of personality surrounding him as much as they do.

Edited by kebbie
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kebbie wrote:

: There's a backlash at Calvin, too--it's now cooler NOT to be into Sufjan . . .

: Anyway, if it's any comfort to your churchgoing friends, Sufjan hates the cult of personality surrounding him

: as much as they do.

So Sufjan HIMSELF is NOT into Sufjan -- and that makes him REALLY REALLY cool! And presumably it won't be long before this added coolness of his makes it cool to be INTO him again! Oh, it's a vicious, vicious circle!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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It's such hard work being a hipster... why do people even bother?

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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It's interesting. I like Sufjan. I love his music. And I live in the midst of a full Sufjan backlash, a church full of people who know his music well, find it highly overrated, and who loudly and persistenly lament the lemming-like chorus of admirers who froth at the mouth at his every grunt and fart.

I understand the backlash. I think "Illinois" is one of the nicest albums of the year and certainly Sufjan's most fully-realized project to date. But I would not call it "brilliant" by any stretch and I do think the Pithfork minions and music bloggers have over-inflated it. In fact, just before I posted this I was listening to it in my office. Oh, it's pleasant and vulnerable and melancholy and all, but it just doesnt resonate with anything in me on any real emotional level like it does with others.

In fact a few songs actually irk me a little, most annoyingly the John W. Gacey track which I think sounds a lot like a youth group sermon in its rather juvenille conclusion about sin (Equating ones personal secrets/sin/shame with the unimaginable atrocities of a subhuman like Gacy... Sorry if this has already been covered )

I find most of Sufjan's music to be a little mopey and self-absorbed...with the exception of Rabbit, which may actually be my favorite only because it has an element of fun about it that his other albums dont. I think 2005 was a pretty lackluster year for new music. There was some good stuff for sure, but a lot of *meh* and i think that's one small reason why Illinois has figured so prominently on critics' year-end lists.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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In fact a few songs actually irk me a little, most annoyingly the John W. Gacey track which I think sounds a lot like a youth group sermon in its rather juvenille conclusion about sin (Equating ones personal secrets/sin/shame with the unimaginable atrocities of a subhuman like Gacy... Sorry if this has already been covered )

I think the whole point is that Gacy is NOT subhuman-- yes, his crimes are certainly more abhorrent than most other sins, but they are no more or less worthy of condemnation. Our sins may be, in a sense, on a different level than Gacy's, but we are no better-- no less deserving of Hell-- than he is.

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I think the whole point is the way Sufjan sings "Oh my God!" right after recounting the number of boys Gacy killed. His voice is full of horror -- the horror of encountering both Gacy and a God who would oversee, passively, a world full of such atrocities. There are so many mysteries in grace, one being that God has allowed it to be necessary in the first place. That's a theological problem I've never come close to resolving, and certainly not after hearing a youth group sermon. Sufjan's singing resonates emotionally for me in that song because I have experienced some true horrors in my life, have been furious with God because of it, and have been drawn to Him for grace, regardless.

Edited by Darren H
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So Sufjan HIMSELF is NOT into Sufjan -- and that makes him REALLY REALLY cool! And presumably it won't be long before this added coolness of his makes it cool to be INTO him again! Oh, it's a vicious, vicious circle!

Star-belly Sneetches, anyone?

Let's Carl the whole thing Orff!

Do you know the deep dark secret of the avatars?

It's big. It's fat. It's Greek.

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I think the whole point is that Gacy is NOT subhuman-- yes, his crimes are certainly more abhorrent than most other sins, but they are no more or less worthy of condemnation.

Clearly, this is Sufjan's point and one that I wholeheartedly disagree with. Gacy's crimes are most certainly worthy of more condemnation than stealing a stick of gum from the drugstore or ogling over a Playboy centerfold at age 12 or any other personal moment of failure... Gacy raped and sadistically fileted and disemboweled young men in ways so gruesome and inhuman that i would dare not mention in detail on this board. To equate that with the universal propensity toward sin/the sin nature of all humans is an unfair oversimplification. The lyrics overdramatize the writers personal sins (i'm reminded of the obsessive self-flagellating of David Brainerds journals) while at the same time minimizing the horrific inhumanity of Gacy's actions. It also strikes me as somewhat dishonoring to Gacy's victims and their families. All sin is not the same. Sufjan is stretching the metaphor in a "youth-camp-sermon" kinda way methinks.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Sufjan's singing resonates emotionally for me in that song because I have experienced some true horrors in my life, have been furious with God because of it, and have been drawn to Him for grace, regardless.

"True horror" is what i would describe Gacy's tamest crimes as. Not that i would encourage ANYONE to read the accounts, but are you familiar with any details of his murderous, hellish orgies? I, like anyone else, have my own personal stories of struggle and sin, but would not overstretch to compare my failures with the killing spree of a remorseless, serial murderer like Gacy.

Maybe the Religion board would be a good place for the "all sin is equal" debate. It's certainly worthy of further discussion.

Edited by coltrane

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I, like anyone else, have my own personal stories of struggle and sin, but would not overstretch to compare my failures with the killing spree of a remorseless, serial murderer like Gacy.

I was trying, actually, to sidestep the whole "all sin is equal" debate. As Josh pointed out, it's certainly a topic of Sufjan's lyrics, but it's not at all what interests me about the song.

"The horror" that most strongly resonates with me is the horror that comes from acknowledging that I worship a God who allows Gacy to exist. "God's perfect plan" seems awfully damn sadistic to me at times, and I hear something of my confusion and anger when Sufjan sings "Oh my God." It's that moment when a sentiment that borders on the banal on the page becomes much more -- a David-like cry of, "This doesn't make any f---ing sense but I need to believe that God will offer me a glimpse of grace. Please offer me a glimpse of grace."

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"The horror" that most strongly resonates with me is the horror that comes from acknowledging that I worship a God who allows Gacy to exist. "God's perfect plan" seems awfully damn sadistic to me at times, and I hear something of my confusion and anger when Sufjan sings "Oh my God." It's that moment when a sentiment that borders on the banal on the page becomes much more -- a David-like cry of, "This doesn't make any f---ing sense but I need to believe that God will offer me a glimpse of grace. Please offer me a glimpse of grace."

Darren-- I dig your interpretation far more than the song itself. I just dont hear the revulsion in Sufjan's delivery the way you do. Perhaps my strong disagreement with his philosophical conclusion in the final verse blinded me to some these nuances.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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  • 2 weeks later...

Rolling Stone places Illinois as #9 of their Top 50.

Yeah, BELOW Kanye and the Stripes. Yeesh!

And below The Rolling Stones. Yeesh, indeed.

I'm glad that old warhorses like The Stones and Paul McCartney occasionally find the inspiration to make decent albums. And both did so in 2005. But comparing their 2005 work with their classic albums from the 1960s is just painful, and the idea that A Bigger Bang, which isn't even one of the Stones 20 best albums, is somehow the #2 album of the year, is simply ludicrous.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 weeks later...

You know you wanted it! Sufjan and Christina Aguilera... together at last.

It's actually surprisingly well done. Go figure... :huh:

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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  • 1 month later...

The accolades keep coming in, this time from Elton John and Elijah Woods (among others). Stevens has won the first New Pantheon Award, which brings with it $5,000 and a trophy.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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