Seven Swans is a folk rock music album by Sufjan Stevens. It includes songs about Abraham and Christ's Transfiguration, among many others. The album is softer and sparser than other albums by Stevens, relying more heavily on his trademark banjo and melodious voice. Seven Swans was received well by critics. The Guardian called it "a record of remarkable delicacy" and Spin magazine said it sounded "like Elliott Smith after ten years of Sunday school". The album was released on compact disc and vinyl LP; the vinyl was released by Burnt Toast Vinyl. Biblical allusions Many of the songs on Seven Swans tell stories directly from the Bible. All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands is a reference to Isaiah 55:12, where Isaiah says, "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands." In the Devil's Territory is probably a reference to Matthew 4:1, where Jesus spends forty days and forty nights fasting in the desert in order to face the temptation of the devil. The first line of the song references Psalm 46 and possibly the Brian Wilson song Be Still. To Be Alone with You discusses Christ's atonement and how it has made him intimately connected with humanity ("You gave your body to the lonely, they took your clothes. You gave up a wife and a family, you gave your goals; to be alone with me...to be alone with me you went up on a tree.") The beginning could also be a lament of Judas Iscariot; "I'd give my body to be back again, in the rest of the room [upper chamber where the Last Supper was held]," or Sufjan himself lamenting past sins, comparing himself to Judas. Abraham references Genesis 22:1-19, wherein Abraham is tested by God and told to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Abraham is, at the last moment and with knife in hand, stopped by an angel and instead sacrifices a ram to God. We Won't Need Legs To Stand is most likely speaking of the new, perfect bodies to be received upon entering Heaven. ("When we are dead, and we all have wings, we won't need legs to stand.") He Woke Me Up Again is possibly referencing 1 Samuel 3, in which God keeps calling Samuel from his sleep, although in terms of the track itself, literally seems to refer to a father waking up his sleeping son. Seven Swans references the Book of Revelation, though cloaked as a strange personal account. Though there are not seven swans in the Book of Revelation, there are seven angels (Revelations 8:2), and there is certainly a mention of seven horns, either the seven trumpets of the angels (Revelation 8:2) or the seven horns of the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:6). There is also Revelation 19:17: "...to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God". The fire in the yard may refer to the "hail and fire mixed with blood" cast upon the earth (Revelation 8:7). Also mentioned is a dragon (Satan) who tries to attack a woman who flees (Revelation 12:3-6) The Transfiguration references the transfiguration of Jesus witnessed by the disciples Peter, James, and John found in Matthew 17:1-12. The song tells this story in a straightforward manner. Other allusions In the Devil's Territory alludes to the George Harrison song Long, Long, Long - a song about finding God. A Good Man Is Hard to Find is based on Flannery O'Connor's short story of the same title. It is told from the viewpoint of the Misfit even though he is not the focus of the story. "The Transfiguration" incorporates elements and motifs from Chicago, another song by Sufjan Stevens, leading up to the climax and through to the end of the song. The Dress Looks Nice on You (single) A 7" limited edition single of the second track of Seven Swans, The Dress Looks Nice On You, was released by Rough Trade in support of the album on March 8, 2004. The single features the song Borderline as a B-side. There was also a CD promo release of the single which features the same tracks. Professional Reviews ★★★★☆ - AllMusic ★★★★☆ - The Guardian ★★★☆☆ - Rolling Stone 8.1/10 - Pitchfork ★★ - Robert Christgau Read more on Last.fm.
Illinoise (styled Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise on the cover) is a 2005 concept album by American indie folk songwriter Sufjan Stevens. His fifth studio album, Illinoise features songs referencing places, events, and persons related to the U.S. state of Illinoise. The album is Stevens’ second based on a U.S. state—part of a planned series of fifty that began with the 2003 album Michigan and that Stevens has since acknowledged was a gag. The artwork and lyrics explore the history, culture, art, and geography of the state—Stevens developed them after analyzing criminal, literary, and historical documents. Following a July 4, 2005, release date, Stevens promoted Illinoise with a world tour. Critics praised the album for its well-written lyrics and complex orchestrations; in particular, reviewers noted Stevens’ progress as a songwriter since the release of Michigan. Illinois was named the best-reviewed album of 2005 by review aggregator Metacritic, and was included on several reviewers’ “best of the decade” lists—including those of Paste, National Public Radio, and Rolling Stone. The album amounted to Stevens’ greatest public success to date: it was his first to place on the Billboard 200, and it topped the Billboard list of “Heatseekers Albums”. The varied instrumentation and experimental songwriting on the album invoked comparisons to work by Steve Reich, Neil Young, and The Cure. Besides numerous references to Illinoise history, geography, and attractions, Stevens continued a theme of his songwriting career by including multiple references to his Christian faith.
"Songs for Christmas" is a box set of five separate EPs of Christmas-related songs and carols recorded by independent musician Sufjan Stevens between 2001 and 2006. The EPs had been given as gifts to friends and family of Stevens over the past six years, except for 2004 where he was too busy recording the Illinois album. Though the first three EPs have been available on Sufjan Stevens-related fansites for several years, Songs for Christmas is the first official release of these EPs. Most of the tracks are versions of traditional Christmas songs, with a number of original compositions such as "Sister Winter" and "Star of Wonder" included. Sufjan Stevens has developed a reputation for being a devoted Christian and many of the songs he chose for inclusion on Songs for Christmas are religious in nature, including his original compositions. Track Listing Noel: Songs for Christmas, Vol. I Recorded December 2001 1. "Silent Night" – 0:47 (instrumental) 2. "O come, O come, Emmanuel" – 3:59 3. "We're Goin' to the Country!" – 2:19 * 4. "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" – 3:25 5. "It's Christmas! Let's Be Glad!" – 1:58 * 6. "Holy Holy, etc." – 0:39 (instrumental) 7. "Amazing Grace" – 4:00 Hark!: Songs for Christmas, Vol. II Recorded December 2002 1. "Angels We Have Heard on High" – 0:47 (instrumental) 2. "Put the Lights on the Tree" – 1:50 * 3. "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" – 4:45 4. "I Saw Three Ships" – 2:36 5. "Only at Christmas Time" – 2:18 * 6. "Once in David's Royal City" – 3:45 7. "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" – 0:49 (instrumental) 8. "What Child Is This Anyway?" – 6:51 9. "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" – 1:32 Ding! Dong!: Songs for Christmas, Vol. III Recorded December 2003 1. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" – 1:03 (instrumental) 2. "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" – 3:50 * 3. "We Three Kings" – 3:05 4. "O Holy Night" – 3:34 5. "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" – 2:52 * 6. "All the King's Horns" – 2:59 * 7. "Ding! Dong!" – 0:56 (instrumental) * 8. "The Friendly Beasts" – 3:41 Joy: Songs for Christmas - Vol. IV Recorded December 2005 1. "The Little Drummer Boy" – 3:44 2. "Away in a Manger" – 2:54 3. "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!" – 4:41 * 4. "The First Noel" – 0:53 (instrumental) 5. "Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)" – 3:22 * 6. "The Incarnation" – 2:23 * 7. "Joy to the World" – 4:21 Peace: Songs for Christmas, Vol. V Recorded June 2006 1. "Once in Royal David's City" – 2:01 2. "Get Behind Me, Santa!" – 3:49 * 3. "Jingle Bells – 0:36" (instrumental) 4. "Christmas in July" – 3:17 * 5. "Lo! How a Rose E'er Blooming" – 1:46 (instrumental) 6. "Jupiter Winter" – 3:51 * 7. "Sister Winter" – 5:05 * 8. "O come, O come, Emmanuel" – 1:06 (instrumental) 9. "Star of Wonder" – 7:08 * 10. "Holy, Holy, Holy" – 3:50 11. "The Winter Solstice" – 3:23 * * denotes original songs by Sufjan Stevens © 2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP Read more on Last.fm.
The little secret behind the Illinois record is that it was originally conceived as a double album, culminating in a musical collage of nearly 50 songs. But as the project began to develop into an unwieldy epic, common sense weighed in—as did the opinions of others—and the project was cut in half. But as 2005 came to a close, Sufjan returned to the old, forsaken songs on his 8-track like a grandfather remembering his youth, indulging in old journals and newspaper clippings. What he uncovered went beyond the merits of nostalgia; it was more like an ensemble of capricious friends and old acquaintances wearing party outfits, waiting to be let in at the front door, for warm drinks and interesting conversation. Among them were Saul Bellow, Ann Landers, Adlai Stevenson, and a brief cameo from Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls. The gathering that followed would become the setting for the songs on The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album. Sufjan gleaned 21 useable tracks from the abandoned material, including three alternate versions of Chicago. Some songs were in finished form, others were merely outlines, gesture drawings, or musical scribbles mumbled on a hand-held tape recorder. Most of the material required substantial editing, new arrangements or vocals. Much of the work was done at the end of 2005 or in January the following year. Sufjan invited many of the original Illinoisemakers to fill in the edges: drums, trumpet, a choir of singers. The centerpiece, of course, was the title track—The Avalanche—a song intended for the leading role on the Illinois album but eventually cut and placed as a bonus track on the vinyl release. In his rummaging through old musical memorabilia, Sufjan began to use this song as a meditation on the editorial process, returning to old forms, knee-deep in debris, sifting rocks and river water for an occasional glint of gold. “I call ye cabin neighbors,” the song bemuses, “I call you once my friends.” And like an avid social organizer, Sufjan took in all the odd musical misfits and gathered them together for a party of their own, like good friends. A careful listener may uncover the obvious trend on this record: almost every song on the Illinois album has a counterpart on the outtakes. Carl Sandburg arm-wrestles Saul Bellow. The aliens landing near Highland salute Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. The loneliness of “Casimir Pulaski Day” deepens even further in the foreboding soundtrack to “Pittsfield.” At its best, The Avalanche is an exercise in form, revealing the working habits of one of the most productive songwriters today. As an illustration, the avalanche refers to the snow and rubble that falls off the side of a mountain, or, in this case, the musical debris generously chucked from an abundant epic. It’s unlikely you’ll find a mountain in the Prairie State so the metaphor will have to do. Read more on Last.fm.
The Age of Adz (pronounced odds) is Sufjan Stevens’ first full-length collection of original songs since 2005’s civic pop opus Illinois. This new album is probably his most unusual, first, for its lack of conceptual underpinnings, and second, for its preoccupation with Sufjan himself. The album relinquishes the songwriter’s former story-telling techniques for more primal proclamations unhindered by concepts: there are few narrative conceits or character sketches; there are no historical panoramas, no civic gestures, no literary maneuvers, no expository illustrations drenched in cultural theory, no scene, setting, conflict, resolution, or denouement. Sufjan has stripped away the fabric of narrative artifice for a more primitive approach, emphasizing instinct over craft. The result is an album that is perhaps more vibrant, more primary, and more explicit than anything else he’s done before. The themes developed here are neither historical nor polemical, but rather personal and primal (if even a little juvenile): love, sex, death, disease, illness, anxiety, and suicide make appearances in a tapestry of electronic pop songs that convey a sense of urgency, immediacy, and anxiety as never before seen in this songwriter. Sufjan sets his imagination on the splendor of high places rending his heart in the mire of loneliness, self-doubt, or panic, while his body urges for the ordinary touch of a lover, a brother, or a friend. Of course, the theme of unmitigated love (and affection) runs deepest, often with shameless candor. Whether singing about a sleepover, old age, illness, or the Apocalypse, Sufjan can’t help but render everything through the lens of love and affection, the desire for contact, closeness, and connection. Perhaps this reveals what we’ve known all along in spite of the conceptual pageants and epic displays: that Sufjan is fundamentally a sensualist. And a morbid one, at that. Death looms large, either as an oracle at the apex of a volcano or as a shadowy omen in the window at night. What are we to make of these emotional and romantic climaxes back-dropped by fuming volcanoes, alien space craft, and demonic deities dressed like Boba Fett? The cosmic themes are only more augmented by the obvious sonic shift on this album, which is deliberately electronic, synthesized (and occasionally danceable!). Acoustic guitars and banjos have been replaced here by drum machines and analog synthesizers. Loops, samples, and digital effects gurgle and hum underneath every verse, chorus, and bridge. For those familiar with Sufjan’s earlier work (namely, the electronic album Enjoy Your Rabbit), this foray into the digital pop world shouldn’t be so startling. The difference here is that the electronic sound collage is transposed on a collection of songs, while the sounds themselves are given equal footing to the voice, washed as it is in a pedal board of effects. The album is also heavily arranged with brass, strings, woodwinds, and a lush choir of backing voices. These “live” elements create vivacious juxtapositions against the montage of synthesized sounds, evoking their own kind of literal “sonic theory”— that is, the conflict and resolution between Real and Unreal, or Ordinary vs. Extraordinary. These themes are best illustrated in the album’s namesake. The Age of Adz refers to the Apocalyptic art of Royal Robertson (1930 –1997), a black Louisiana-based sign-maker (and self-proclaimed prophet) who suffered from schizophrenia, and whose work depicts the artist’s vivid dreams and visions of space aliens, futuristic automobiles, eccentric monsters, and signs of the Last Judgment, all cloaked in a confusing psychobabble of biblical prophecy, numerology, Nordic mythology and comic book jargon. Portions of the album use Robertson’s work as a springboard into a cosmic consciousness in which basic instincts are transposed on a tableau of extraordinary scenes of divine wrath, environmental catastrophe, and personal loss. In Robertson’s imagination, guns, lasers, gargoyles, and warring battleships upend the sins of mankind with the pageantry of a Hollywood B-movie. (A selection of Robertson’s work adds extraordinary color to the album art as well). But Robertson was also a man of mundane circumstances (his primary media were poster board, magic marker, and glitter). Living alone in a trailer in near poverty, even his most fantastical work contains heart-wrenching references to hunger, fatigue, anxiety, food stamps, loneliness and the desire for intimacy, scripted with unabashedly affectionate grievances. In the same way, Sufjan sets his imagination on the splendor of high places (divine revelation, oracles, love, the cosmos, the Apocalypse) rending his heart in the mire of loneliness, self-doubt, or panic, while his body urges for the ordinary touch of a lover, a brother, or a friend. All songs written and composed by Sufjan Stevens. 1. "Futile Devices" – 2:11 2. "Too Much" – 6:44 3. "Age of Adz" – 8:00 4. "I Walked" – 5:01 5. "Now That I'm Older" – 4:56 6. "Get Real Get Right" – 5:10 7. "Bad Communication" – 2:24 8. "Vesuvius" – 5:26 9. "All for Myself" – 2:55 10. "I Want to Be Well" – 6:27 11. "Impossible Soul" – 25:35 Read more on Last.fm.
The All Delighted People EP includes two versions of “All Delighted People,” which debuted on Sufjan’s 2009 tour, and references lyrics from Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” Along with six other new songs, the collection is his first original song-oriented material since 2006, among them the first recording of live-show mainstay “The Owl and the Tanager,” and the elegiac “Djohariah,” featuring Sufjan’s first recorded epic guitar solo. Along with the guitars, piano, and banjo that characterize his previous recordings, choirs, strings and brass adorn the melodies. Raise Your Hands! Read more on Last.fm.