Sufjan Stevens : In Retrospect | Feature

Sujan stevens playing Banjo
CREDIT: Joe Lencioni under CC BY-SA 2.5

Taking a look at the work of Sufjan Stevens


The word visionary gets thrown around a lot these days. And this is understandable as more and more new music gets discovered almost on a daily basis. This is mostly thanks to massive streaming platforms like Apple Music. Despite this label being wildly overused, believe us when we say that Sufjan Stevens is truly a visionary in every sense of the word.

To isolate just one record from his body of work would be a massive disservice, as it ignores the creative leaps that he’s taken in each of his musical undertakings. This is why we’ve chosen to give you our picks of albums that we think best represent Stevens as an artist. If you want to know more about this, read on as we take a closer look at Sufjan Stevens’ long and storied career!

Enjoy Your Rabbit

While electronic music isn’t really the first thing that comes to mind when talking about Stevens, people often forget that he dabbled with the genre way back in 2001 with his album, Enjoy Your Rabbit. The album is probably the one that stands out the most when it comes to overall sound, as Stevens made heavy use of Moog-like analogue synthesisers along with other electronic music elements. The album is also quite sample-heavy, as Stevens plays around with seemingly random sounds throughout the entire collection.

If anything, Enjoy Your Rabbit highlights Stevens’ strengths as a musician, as he’s able to leave his comfort zone to tap into new influences in order to produce novel musical experiences. This side of Stevens’ music has crossed over into different mediums, even serving as the score for Justin Peck’s ballet, Year of the Rabbit.

Michigan

This next album shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Michigan, is the first entry into what was supposed to be the 50 States Project. And while Stevens never finished the rest of the 50 states (he’s only made two as of this writing), Michigan is still one of the most iconic albums of his career.

One of the main appeals of this album is its DIY-vibe. This makes sense, as Stevens pretty much recorded and produced this album by himself. The gear used for Michigan was also quite sparse, as Stevens stuck with the bare essentials to get the album done. The tracks on the album were recorded with a Shure SM57 that’s known for its dynamic range, which allows it to capture all sorts of instruments – this makes it a staple for independent recording artists. He ran everything through a Roland VS880EX and recorded most of the album in his and his friends’ houses.

Carrie & Lowell

Now, if there’s one word that would best encapsulate Stevens’ strength as a musician it would be “personal”. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Stevens is one of the most talented songwriters in music today. This is why we’ve chosen to cap off this list with what may just be the most personal album in his collection: Carrie & Lowell.

On this album, which Stevens named after his mother and father, he shows the extent of his songwriting abilities — abilities that at times border on the poetic. This may be due to the fact that Stevens has a background in creative writing, as he is a product of the prestigious The New School in New York. Indeed, Stevens’ penchant for narratives is exemplified in tracks such as “Eugene” and “All of Me Wants All of You”. These two tracks are a masterclass on musical storytelling that taps into the psyche of one of today’s most impressive creative forces.

Words by JBoke

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