"SUFJAN STEVENS plays the following instruments: acoustic guitar, piano, wurlitzer, electric bass, drum kit, electric guitar, oboe, Miriam's alto saxophone, Summin's flute, Daniel's banjo and/or Matt's banjo (depending on which one was in tune), Shara's glockenspiel, Laura's rickety accordion, a rented vibraphone, various recorders (Sufjan owns the tenor, soprano, and sopranino, but he borrowed Monique's alto), a Casiotone MT-70, sleigh bells, shakers, tambourine, triangle, and a Baldwin electric church organ. Oh Lord, help us!"
—From the Illinois liner notes
Sufjan Stevens is a multi-instrumentalist and independent musician (born and raised in Michigan, now based in New York) beholden to no genre. He’s most famous for his albums about the states of Michigan and Illinois—featuring a mix of Folk Music
, Baroque Pop
, and Post-Rock
—and for claiming that he planned to release similar albums for the other 48 states. However, he’s also released albums of straight folk music (Seven Swans
), electronica (Enjoy Your Rabbit
), and orchestral music (The B.Q.E.
); and the genre of The Age of Adz
and Silver & Gold
could perhaps be described as “all of the above”.See here for a more in-depth survey of Sufjan’s career.
His musical collaborators include Daniel Smith
, Aaron and Bryce Dessner
, Annie Clark
, Shara Worden
, and the string quartet Osso. He's also one-third of the alternative hip-hop group Sisyphus, alongside Serengeti and Son Lux.Official Releases:
- A Sun Came (1999)
- Enjoy Your Rabbit (2001)
- Michigan, aka Welcome to Michigan, the Great Lake State (2003)
- Seven Swans (2004)
- A Sun Came! (2004) Reissued version, with two bonus tracks and new cover art.
- Illinois, aka Come On, Feel the Illinoise! (2005)
- The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album (2006)
- Songs for Christmas: Volumes I - V (2006)
- Run Rabbit Run (2009) The songs from Enjoy Your Rabbit, rearranged for a string quartet.
- The B.Q.E. (2009)
- All Delighted People EP (2010)
- The Age of Adz (2010)
- Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols. 6 -10 (2012)
- Carrie & Lowell (scheduled for March 31, 2015)
Most of these can be streamed in their entirety on Sufjan's Bandcamp page
By the way, Snow Patrol got his first name wrong. It's pronounced Soof-yahn.
Provides examples of:
- Awesome McCoolname: His entire family. See below.
- Baroque Pop
- Bolero Effect:
- "The BQE, Mvt. III: Linear Tableau with Intersecting Surprise" is all buildup, and the crescendo only comes in "Mvt. IV: Traffic Shock".
- "Djohariah" builds up to a crescendo twice, before ending as a quiet acoustic song.
- Book Ends: Illinois opens with the squeaking of a piano stool and two short introductory tracks, and then goes into the first full Epic Rocking, two-part song on the album, "Come On, Feel the Illinoise," which opens with a piano riff and is in Uncommon Time. The last Epic Rocking, two-part song on the album, "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders," also opens with a piano riff and is in Uncommon Time. It is followed by two short closing tracks and the squeaking of a piano stool.
- The Age of Adz begins ("Futile Devices") and ends (the last movement of "Impossible Soul") with quiet acoustic songs, contrasting with the rest of the album's electronic bombast.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer
- Call Back: During the second movement of "Impossible Soul", there are a few times when the female voice sings the word "do" the same way that Sufjan sings it at the end of the first chorus of "Futile Devices".
- Earlier, "Chicago" (from Illinois) reuses a section of melody from "The Transfiguration" (from Seven Swans).
- His version of "Joy to the World" from Silver and Gold takes a chorus from "Impossible Soul" and a sample from another track in the same album, "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
- Cluster F-Bomb / Precision F-Strike: Oddly enough, "I Want to Be Well" manages to be both at once. To explain: it ends with the refrain "I'm not fucking around" repeated over a dozen times, yet it's (so far) the only song with cussing in Sufjan's entire discography.
- Concept Album: Very prevalent in Sufjan's work. So much that the marketing for The Age Of Adz stressed the fact that Sufjan was finally releasing an album that has no concept.
- Cover Album: Run Rabbit Run.
- Cover Version: His version of "Ring Them Bells," done for the I'm Not There soundtrack. His version of "What Goes On" for the Cover Album This Bird Has Flown. For the Dark Was the Night charity compilation, he covered labelmate Castanets' "You are the Blood". He also contributed an amazing reinterpretation of "Free Man In Paris" for a tribute album that reuses the lyrics of the original but strikes out with a drastic rearrangement of the melody and overall structure of the song. Check it out!
- Darker and Edgier: The Age Of Adz
- Eastern Zodiac: Enjoy Your Rabbit
- Epic Instrumental Opener: "They Are Night Zombies..." among others.
- "Djohariah" goes on for almost 12 minutes before the actual lyrics start.
- Epic Rocking: Many songs over six minutes long; so far the longest is
"Year of the Horse" at 14 minutes "Djohariah" at 17 minutes "Impossible Soul" at 25 minutes. Seven Swans and The B.Q.E. are the only albums to run for less than an hour. All Delighted People, supposedly an EP, clocks in at 59 minutes.
- Excited Show Title!: A Sun Came!, Come On, Feel the Illinoise!, and many individual songs.
- The most excessive one is They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!
- "Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!" deserves a mention as well.
- Fading into the Next Song: Used all over the place.
- Ghost Town: "They Are Night Zombies..." references numerous Illinois ghost towns.
- In Name Only: All Delighted People EP.
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: The reissue of A Sun Came; Songs for Christmas.
- Listing Cities: "The 50 States", a live-show-exclusive song.
- Long Song, Short Scene: Two hidden songs show up as The Stinger in The BQE film: "The Sleeping Red Wolves" and an untitled noise-music piece. Neither are included on the soundtrack album.
- Long Title: Some are longer than the songs they're attached to.
- Such as "The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'". It's a two minute long instrumental.
- Several (such as the one above) double as Either/Or Titles.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: People often refer to Sufjan as folk or "indie folk", presumably either because (a) they think his straightforward folk songs are his best material, or (b) they'd rather not deal with the headache of figuring out what genre he really fits into.
- New Sound Album: First, Michigan, which synthesized Sufjan's earlier influences into Baroque-folky goodness. Now, The Age Of Adz, which transmutes the Illinois and B.Q.E. sound into—in the words of the official site—"an explicit pop-song extravaganza" with "a few danceable moments."
- Noodle Implements: The Illinoisnote track "To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region: I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves an Inner Tube, Bath Mats, and 21 Able-bodied Men."
- Not Christian Rock: Several of his songs deal with his faith, but it's debatable whether he actually qualifies as a Christian rock artist. Stevens himself doesn't seem to consider himself one, although he acknowledges some of his earlier music could be considered Christian rock, saying, "I don't think music media is the real forum for theological discussions. I think I've said things and sung about things that probably weren't appropriate for this kind of forum. And I just feel like it's not my work or my place to be making claims and statements, because I often think it's misunderstood."
- Overly Narrow Superlative: The press release for Songs for Christmas called it, "The stocking stuffer of the century! Which isn't saying much, considering the century is still so young!"
- Perspective Flip: The most common interpretation of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" is that it's from the perspective of the villain of Flannery O Connor's short story of the same name.
- Raised by Grandparents: The narrator of "Romulus".
- Reconstruction: After dismissing Christmas as a social construct, and Christmas music as emotionally manipulative garbage, Sufjan attempted with Songs for Christmas to record something that captured "that creepy Christmas feeling".
- Repurposed Pop Song: "Chicago" gets a lot of play: it used in the Little Miss Sunshine trailers and several TV shows in quick succession.
- Saving Christmas: Parodied in the comic included in the Songs for Christmas box set.
- Sesquipedalian Smith: Sufjan himself. And he has a brother named Marzuki Stevens and a sister named Djohariah Stevens.
- Self-Backing Vocalist: On The Age of Adz, particularly "I Walked".
- Shown Their Work: Illinois and The Avalanche are dense with allusions to geography and local history.
- Shout-Out: Many.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Shara Worden, previously featured on backing vocals, sings the lead vocals for the second movement of "Impossible Soul".
- Studio Chatter: Several folkier songs begin with Sufjan counting off the time. And his cover of "I Saw Three Ships" ends with someone saying "I played terrible." "Ding-a-ling-a-ring-a-ling" also ends with someone saying "Alright, let's do a real song."
- Uncommon Time: Quite common in Sufjan's world. Too many examples to name, but "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" deserves a special mention.
...and I shake the dirt out of my sandals as I run.