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A thousand lights abounded on our hall
on 25 August 2011
Sufjan Stevens is one of those few artists who can truly stun you with just how passionate and talented he is. Need an example? Take the shimmering, enchantingly lovely "All Delighted People EP," which is actually longer than many full-length albums -- colorful folk pop, warbly vocals, and a strong religious slant.
"Tomorrow you'll see it through/The clouded out disguises put you in the room," Stevens sings mournfully in "All Delighted People (original)," which drifts between soft, bittersweet folk-rock and an epic song of soaring angelic choirs and sweeping strings.
As if the music wasn't good enough, Stevens sings of overcoming inner fear, doubt and hypocrisy ("I tried my best I tried in vain/Oh! But the world is a mess! Oh! But the world is a mess!"). There's also a brass-soaked "classic-rock" version of the title track, which sounds far more cheerful despite having the same lyrics.
I think my brain would explode if the entire album was like that, so fortunately the next songs are less intense. Instead, Stevens relies on soft piano-led melodies, earthy guitar folk, twinkly soaring little ballads (from the POV of God?), and murky experimental ballads. And it ends with "Djohariah," a seventeen-minute rock epic of squiggling synth, trumpets and melancholy guitar.
"All Delighted People" is an almost perfect example of what Sufjan Stevens can do. Without losing sight of his classic sound (the classic rock "All Delighted People" made me flash back to his first album), Stevens manages to expand his sound to include some new, spellbinding musical journeys. The first song is a trip all on its own!
In fact, there's only one song that didn't blow me away: "The Owl and the Tanager," which isn't bad so much as kind of... musically slow.
His music centers mostly on folk-rock rhythms, with lots of acoustic guitar and piano. But many of the melodies are dressed up with colorful sonic garlands -- plucked harp, violins, flittering/squiggling synth, and blasts of brass. And there are those crystalline vocals that soar up in "All Delighted People (original)" and "From The Mouth of Gabriel," as if he's getting some angelic backing.
Speaking of which, Stevens inserts gentle Christian undercurrents into a few of the songs -- not the "rah rah Jesus is awesome!" type, but haunting explorations of sorrow, fear and humanity. The rest of the EP is about love -- rejected love, shattered love , lost love ("And if it grieves you to stay here, just go... For I have no spell on you, it's all a ghost"), and love for someone who has been betrayed.
The "All Delighted People EP" is not only longer than most full-length albums, but it's a layered, exquisite little collection of songs that deserves repeated listens. All delighted people, raise your hands.