Under Review: Sufjan Stevens – All Delighted People EP

If you’re an elusive and revered musician, one of the best things you can do is to release music with little notice.  It works just about every time, no matter how many other artists have done the exact same.  The latest figure to unleash an unexpected batch of tunes is indie wunderkind Sufjan Stevens.  Towards the end of an otherwise uneventful Friday two weeks ago, Stevens posted an 8-song, nearly hour-long EP for download from his own site.  All Delighted People is the first collection of new, non-instrumental material to come from the reclusive musician since his smash Illinois album in 2005.  The songs on the EP are complicated, intricately constructed and instantly likeable, making it well worth the wait.  All Delighted People opens with the first of two variations on the title track.  The “Original Version,” as it’s called, is an alternately sweeping and delicate meditation.  An enchanting choir and string section augment Sufjan’s ever-prominent vocal, and the lyrics are based around those from “The Sound Of Silence.”  Though electric guitar stabs and noisy synths punctuate lines here and there, much of the EP recalls the more organic feel of Seven Swans.  In particular, “From The Mouth Of Gabriel,” with its allusions to religious imagery, would’ve been quite at home on Sufjan’s 2004 album were it not for the chiming synths that recall the Moog line in “Because.”  Yeah, I went there.

Brother Sufjan gets ever stranger as the album goes on, cooing like a bird on “The Owl And The Tanager,” and conjuring a searing guitar solo toward the end of the more straightforward “Classic Rock Version” of “All Delighted People.”  The set concludes with its longest song, “Djohariah,” which spends the first 12 minutes of its duration on a mantra-like repetition of its title.  All the while, more impressive instrumental work weaves through before finally revealing a tender, more conventional song for the last few minutes.  On All Delighted People, Sufjan has given his fans just what they could’ve hoped for: a smattering of personal strengths mixed in with some new fascinations.  There’s enough newness that I’m even more excited to hear his forthcoming new full-length, yet there’s so many familiar elements keeping this EP from getting too into itself.  Based on this EP (and the live previews of some of the songs I saw Sufjan perform at Johnny Brenda’s last year), it looks like this is going to be another magical year for this strange and brilliant artist.

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~ by E. on September 3, 2010.

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