I was initially disappointed with this CD but after a few listens decided I quite liked it.
Let me make my position clear on Sufjan - I think he is a genius who has written some of the most achingly beautiful songs ever written and some of the most innovative songs ever known. I own all his other vocal CD's and have always found that each CD has contained some, or many, drop dead fantastic tracks that I could not get out of my head. This CD does not contain, IMO, any blockbuster tracks but it does contain some good tracks and, if it came from a lesser mortal, we could be raving about them unconditionally.
I think that there are almost 2 CD's in one, with a section of lovely acoustic tracks and an equal number of avante guard tracks plus some which contain both elements within the same track. One or two of the avante guard tracks - like "Satans saxaphones" are pure noise and would have made Stockhousan proud. Others work a lot better. Many of the tracks are complex with shifts of rhythm, shifts of sound and shifts of tempo. But counter balancing this there are these lovely acoustic numbers. Don't get me wrong Sufjan fans should buy this. Just make sure that it is not your first purchase.
There are acoustic songs with a medieval feel " We are what you say", lovely pastoral songs like "Wordsworth Ridge", songs with an eastern feel and so on. Many songs show Sufjans ability as a multi instrumentalist but there are also sons like "Kill" stripped down to the bone. Many songs are quite long i.e. 5 minutes when perhaps they could be shorter. Heavy rifts feature regularly, as do insistent drum beats. Sufjan distorts his voice on a number of tracks almost as if he was uneasy with it at times. Finally there is the track about Super Sexy Woman Supergirl which I should not like but I do and is rather clever. The CD is punctuated by silly voices every 4 or 5 tracks which make no obvious melodic sense.
The sleeve notes of the CD do not contain the lyrics. This strikes me as a problem. Part of the power of Sufjan's work are the themes and expression that he uses. As many of the vocals are indistinct I am still not sure what many of the tracks are about.
Because of the variety of styles and ordering of the tracks this is not always an easy listen but I have played through the whole CD on car journeys and been intrigued. In comparison, my thoughts on the next CD that I bought was that all the tracks sound basically the same. This is something that you could never accuse this CD of. You get good value for money with 20 tracks on the album. Even after listening to the album for some time I still feel I am getting to know it. I might need to come back and re review this in a couple of months with an unequivocal recommendation.