In case you didn't know, Sufjan (pronounced: Soof-Yawn) Stevens is the darling of the indie folk world. His 2005 album, Come On, Feel the Illinoise
, made it all the way to number one on the Billboard US Heatseekers Chart and received much praise and critical acclaim. So popular was Illinoise
, in fact, that the accompanying album, Avalanche
, containing outtakes and songs cut from the original album, both met and, in some ways, exceeded its predecessor in popularity.
Yet in the five years that followed, very little was made of Sufjan. He released a cinematic and orchestral ode to the British-Queens Expressway in 2007, but outside of that, despite hints and the occasional new song at a concert, there seemed to be no hope of a new album.
On August 20, Sufjan surprised everyone, releasing an eight-track digital EP entitled All Delighted People
. All Delighted People
is an orchestrated roller coaster of emotion and personal struggle. While very similar in terms of sound and musical structure to Illinoise
-- a choir of voices, wailing electric guitars, a haunting piano and epic string sections all make their appearances in this EP -- missing are the civic anthems and patriotic melodies found on Illinoise
. There are no references to forgotten heroes and local tall tales; replacing them are the thoughts and reflections of a man who seems to have seen a lot of hurt and pain.
The EP focuses on one song performed two ways: the title track, "All Delighted People."
While the name might suggest it is an anthem for happy people -- and the recurring phrase, "All delighted people, raise their hands," might also suggest uniting all happy people for a celebration -- it is a dark and sinister song, focusing on war, hate and the apocalypse. When Sufjan asks for delighted people to raise their hands, it is not out of excitement and unity; it is out of the hope that someone, anyone, will raise a hand in these dark days.
These dark and brooding themes transcend the entire EP. In the second track, "Enchanting Ghost," Sufjan seems to be drawing inspiration from personal heartbreak. He beckons an unseen antagonist not to leave him, but then retracts that statement, saying, "If it pleases you to leave me, just go." Elements of heartbreak also exude from the seventh track, "Arnika," in which Sufjan grieves of this life:I’m tired of life; I’m tired of waiting for someone I’m tired of prices; I’m tired of waiting for something
There are a few pleasant surprises to be found on All Delighted People
, not the least of which being an electronic-infused bridge at just past the one-minute mark of the fourth track, "From the Mouth of Gabriel." Considering the more cynical nature of the rest of the EP, this bridge is perhaps the most delightful moment of the entire album, and, even further, might be seen as a harbinger of new things. Sufjan's upcoming album, The Age of Adz
, is an epic electronic opus slated for release on October 12.
Overall, All Delighted People
is a well-constructed, diverse collection of thoughtful and sometimes painfully honest reflections on the state of life, love and the world around us. It is, musically speaking, the exclamation point on the end of the Illinoise
sentence and the preamble to The Age of Adz
still yet to be released.
And while I have no scale to rate this on, nor do I have a score I can give this EP, I wish to leave you with one final plea: give this album a chance. It costs a mere $5 and can be streamed from the Sufjan Stevens Bandcamp site
.Do you have an album you'd like us to review? Send us a message and we'll discuss it!