Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Random Review #88 Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans

C5S11CD4 Not sure where to start with Sufjan Stevens other than the word GENIUS, maybe slightly weird genius, but genius all the same.

He is more known for his acoustic sensitive ballads, but he has released albums of hardcore dance music, and his last album was a psychedelic mix of both of these styles. It was heavily influenced by the bio-polar artist Royal Robertson whom Stevens had taken a huge liken to. He set out to write an album about all 50 States in the US a couple of years ago, but got sidetracked after 2, Come On Feel The Illinoise and Greeting from Michigan. He released a film and soundtrack based around The BQE - The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (yes a road!) which came with 3D View-finder disc! (Does anybody remember view finders?) A couple of years ago re released a box set of the musical Christmas Cards he records for his family each year, which include a mix of original songs and Christmas Carols along with hand written cards all illustrated by Stevens and a photograph of Stevens resplendent in a Santa Hat holding an inflatable Santa. I think you are getting the picture now aren’t you. One final point if you have wondered what Snow Patrol were singing about on the track Hands Open when they said “put Sufjan Stevens on, and we’ll play your favourite song, Chicago bursts to life” wonder no more!

This album was released in 2004 between the Michigan and Illinois state albums and is what I would call a traditional Stevens album, simple acoustic tunes, with Stevens playing the banjo on a number of tunes. The music often seems to build as if on loops, the opening track All The Trees... being a prime example of this, a banjo riff being played over and over again, the Stevens starts singing eventually the backing vocals kick in but only to sing ‘dah da dah da da’ over and over again, the song builds as more instruments are added as the hypnotic rhythm drives on. Even though this is one of Stevens lesser know albums it is my favourite and includes my favourite Stevens song, Size Too Small, I am not going to try and interrupt Stevens lyrics but this opens with the line “I was The Best Man in a size too small” it doesn’t say suit, but implies that. It’s a beautiful song that makes me think of people at weddings in suits a little bit too tight as they only bring them out for weddings and job interviews. I’m not sure if that what it’s about, I’m sure it’s not but I love the song.

I was lucky enough to see Sufjan live this year at The Sage Gateshead and I have to say it was one of the greatest gigs I have even been to. We were taken on a psychedelic journey which included most of the band wearing angel wings and costumes daubed in luminous colours, Stevens dressing as a space ship and an encore that included hundreds of balloons some the size of space hoppers being released over the audience. I have posted some photographs from the gig on Flickr if you want to have a look.
Sufjan Stevens is a really special artist who doesn’t appear to believe in boundaries when it comes to expressing himself and this is a great album that is worth tracking down.

Mark 9/10  

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