There Ain’t No Sanity Clause

It must come as no surprise to anyone to know that Sufjan Stevens loves Christmas. I mean, really, really loves Christmas. If he loved the Great States project anything like as much, he’d be on Rhode Island by now.

But no, he loves, loves, loves Christmas and he wants you and your cat to know all about it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, when he makes videos like these to promote his new Xmas album:

What a whopper it is too – five CD’s worth, with booklets and stickers and bootlaces and an inflatable Santa Claus1. It’s available here or from the usual usual Amazon place.

As for my Xmas present, well, I’d rather like a release of that Solar System concept album he was working on with Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner. Wonder whatever happened to that?

MP3: The Midnight Clear by Sufjan Stevens

Kid Sufjan

Hot on the heels of last month’s “All Delighted People” EP comes Sufjan Steven’s new CD, “The Age of ADZ”. Attention Deficit Zebras? Autistic Disordered Zoologists? I don’t know1. What I do know is that this will soon be called Sufjan’s “Kid A”, largely because it’s got keyboards and bleepy things and drum machine whatnots on it.

And that it’s not very good *cough*.

Ok, that’s possibly a bit harsh. Right now I can safely say it’s not what you’d call an immediately catchy record, and that it’s also safe to say it’s going to take a few listens. Then again, 2010 is now officially The Year Of Disappointing Records By Bands That Should Know Better (Or Maybe Have Run Out Of Ideas And Are Desparately Flailing Around). TYODRBBTSKB (OMHROOIAADFA), as we call it round here.

Because let’s face it, with Band Of Horses, The Hold Steady and Broken Social Scene making Disappointing Records (with Arcade Fire and possibly Joanna Newsom not far behind, though I’ve not quite made my mind up yet), the auguries are not good for our old chum Sufjan.

Still, buy it, stream it, listen to it all you like, and try “Vesuvius” on me2, and make your own minds up.

1 According to the spiel, “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.” Bet you wish you hadn’t asked now. As for this bit: “Sufjan has stripped away the fabric of narrative artifice for a more primitive approach, emphasizing instinct over craft”; doesn’t that translate as “Sufjan couldn’t be arsed doing those 12 minute long compositions with a full orchestra in 13/7 time, so he just switched on his Logic Pro 9 and fucked about for a bit”?

2 Ok, not on me as such, more the record label.

Note: I’ve just found that the MP3 below isn’t one of the ones hosted on the record label’s site. So, to be safe, I’m removing it. Sorry if you’ve come here expecting “Vesuvius”. I’ll post a replacement track tonight.

MP3: Vesuvius by Sufjan Stevens

Amazon’s Sufjan Store Has Lots and Lots of Great Records

Sufjan USA

The world was shocked and amazed on Saturday following an unexpected announcement by foremost chamber-pop tyke, Sufjan Stevens, stating that he was releasing a new EP, like, NOW. Ok, when I mean “shocked and amazed” I mean “mildly and pleasantly surprised” and by “The world” I mean “some bloggers and Hype Machine”. But still, Sufjan, new EP, how’s about that then? It’s only been about 26 years since his last proper release.

What’s more, it’s free. You can download the tracks at a low bitrate for free, or get better quality ones for the low, low price of $5. Given Sufjan’s penchant for orchestral leanings and throwing every single instrument he can lay his hands on into the mix, I’d say that this would be $5 well spent.

You Can Add Me To That, Mate

I’ve only had a cursory listen so far (on the way into work, natch) but it’s safe to say that he’s still going for the chuck-it-all-in sound, with some electronic jabbers and glitches added to make things a little different. Return to his best? Tough to say right now; he’s never exactly the most approachable of songwriters (Seven Swans aside), but definitely worth a good listen. Go on, buy it here.

And just to mix things up, here’s a re-working of his fantastic track “Chicago” (from Come On Feel The Illinoise), as featured on The Avalanche, a selection of his finest outtakes. Enjoy!

MP3: Enchanting Ghost by Sufjan Stevens

MP3: Chicago (Adult Contemporary Easy Rock Version) by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “The Avalanche” here (CD/MP3)

Sunday Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens, he of the hugely complicated musical extravaganzas, put a secret track onto his last album, The BQE. Personally I find all this secret track thing a bit annoying; if you like the track and want it on your album, just put it on your new album. Or post it on your website for free. Or just save it up for the inevitable rare-and-unreleased compilation.

The BQE, Yesterday

Moaning aside, it’s a lovely sweet song, with all the usual baroque instrumentation, choir, slightly tricksy time signature, and that delicate tunefulness that he manages with apparent effortlessness. He’s a bit good, isn’t he? Right, Mr Stevens, can you please get on with the Great States project, as I’m waiting for Rhode Island1?

Hat tip to Knox Road. Thanks folks!

1 Yes, I know he’s admitted the whole thing was a bit of a joke that went wrong. Still, I’m holding out hope for a 3 hour long song cycle dedicated to Nebraska, all in the key of B# minor. In 15/4 time. On bassoons. Played by goats.

MP3: The Sleeping Red Wolves by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “The BQE” (CD + DVD)

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And A Merry Xmas To Everyone

A very quick post today, as I have to go and eat lots more food, following up on last night’s Wigilia Extravaganza. No more vodka for me, thanks. *boilk*

Hope you all have a fantastic Christmas, and that you can’t move by four o’clock this afternoon. Ah, gluttony is such fun!

In the meantime I shall leave you in the capable hands of Mr Sufjan Stevens, with a couple of his seasonal tunes:

MP3: Do You See What I See by Sufjan Stevens

MP3: That Was The Worst Christmas Ever by Sufjan Stevens

Loads more here, including the chance to buy all of Sufjan’s Xmas music. Bargain!

Albums Of The Decade (Part Three)

Here’s part three of my list of albums of the decade. These are albums I love and have listened to, ooh, hundreds of times over the years. Pretty much all of them are still on my very full iPhone, instead of more current stuff like Animal Collective or whoever, because they are great. Oh yes.

Part one is here
and part two is here. Enjoy.

One Swan

Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans (2004)

For all the wondrous musicality of his “States” albums, this stripped-down, acoustic album shows the beauty and tenderness of his songwriting at its absolute height.

MP3: The Dress Looks Nice On You by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “Seven Swans” (CD/MP3)

Swim Until You Can't See A Band

American Music Club – Love Songs For Patriots (2004)

Making an album with the word “Patriots” in the title at the height of post-9/11 anguish and rage, then filling it with songs of anguish, rage, and the wonders of male strippers, was never going to make them too many new friends. But it’s their best album, and Mark Eitzel at his finest.

MP3: Home by American Music Club

Buy “Love Songs for Patriots” (CD/MP3)


Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)

If you find the first minute of “Bridges and Balloons” utterly wonderful, then you’ll love this. If you think she is a wailing harpy, then you may probably just want to move onto the next record. You’re missing out though, mind.

MP3: This Side of the Blue by Joanna Newsom

Buy “The Milk-Eyed Mender” (CD/MP3)

It's Supposed To Be A Funeral

Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Or how the Internet will get you noticed. Sure, there’s more that a touch of the U2’s about their later material, but go and listen to this again and be utterly transfixed by their tales of lost childhood all over again. So filled with drama that you need the quieter songs to catch your breath.

MP3: Neighborhood #2 (Laika) by The Arcade Fire

Buy “Funeral” (CD/MP3)

Loneliness Hangs In The Air, Indeed

Richard Hawley – Coles Corner (2005)

Lovelorn tales from Sheffield’s finest guitarist. His most complete album; this could just as easily have been made in 1957 or 1963, but it’s far too lovely to be snooty about.

MP3: Coles Corner by Richard Hawley

Buy “Coles Corner” (CD/MP3)

Lonesome Fire

M Ward – Transistor Radio (2005)

This could also say “The Transfiguration Of Vincent” or “Post War”, but look, I had to make a choice and as this was the first record of M Ward’s I ever heard, this is my choice. Go for all three, frankly. Ageless, timeless beauty.

MP3: Hi-Fi by M. Ward

Buy “Transistor Radio” (CD)

(2005 will continue in Part Four)

And out of chronological order, because I forgot it earlier:

Stripes And Stars And Stripes

Tortoise – Standards (2001)

Electro-free-jazz-noise-post-rock-funk, as played by aliens. Wonderful, exasperating, confusing and brilliant, usually at the same time.

MP3: Seneca by Tortoise

Buy “Standards” (CD)

Albums Of The Decade (Part One)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Two)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Four)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Five)

Albums Of The Decade (Part Six)

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Happy New Year!

Yesterday was Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. Sitting in the Synagogue for the family service, and reading the story of Abraham, I was struck by the brutality of the tale. God tells some bloke to kill his son, and then lets him off at the last minute, just as Abraham is about to plunge the knife in? That’s harsh. Innumerable scholars, writers, artists and atheists wandering into Synagogues on High Holy days have thought long and hard about what the tale has to tell.

Me, I thought about Sufjan Stevens. And Dan Simmons too, who, in the fantastic SF book “Hyperion” wrote about a character obsessed with the tale. But with Sufjan, it’s all about his track “Abraham”, from his album “Seven Swans”.

Might as well jump

Might as well jump

Now, most of you may know Sufjan from songs like “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!” and “All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!”; huge, baroque masterpieces with guitar, drums, piano, bongos, string sections, trombones, clarinets, bassinets, ocelots, trombones, cowbells, cows, banjos, mandolins, and possibly a harpsichord too, all in a jaunty 13/5 time signature. But “Seven Swans” is entirely different; many songs just feature his plaintive, emotional singing and simple acoustic guitar1. It shows yet another face of one of the most talented musicians to come along in the last decade.

“Abraham” is one of the simplest tracks; two verses, telling simply the tale of Abraham’s terrible predicament and its resolution (Spoiler: The ram gets it). It’s sparse, and spare, and utterly beautiful; it also got stuck in my head so much that I had to play it as soon as I got in the car. And again on the Tube on the way to the match. And again on the way back. You get the idea.

Like The Cap

Like The Cap

A few tracks on comes another overtly religious number, “He Woke Me Up Again”. More lively than the earlier songs, featuring an organ and drums, it tells of his religious re-awakening. Now, I’m not a religious man by any means (thirteen years of Catholic schools will do that to a man), and many religious songs can be tedious in the extreme, but this is wonderful. It makes me want to run off to the nearest Church and repent all my sins. Ok, maybe not.

He shows that you can be an openly religious musician, and not suck. See, Bono? Creed? Stryper?2 Two marvellous songs from an album you really should check out. Shana Tova!

1 Simple, that is, until you try to play it. He really is a rather talented chap. If you ever get a chance to see him doing a solo acoustic show, beg, borrow or steal a ticket, it’s a great night out. And his in-between song banter is utterly charming.

2 Ok, I know there are plenty of soul and country musicians who are openly religious; for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to get in the way of being damned fine musicians. But it seems to be much harder in the pop and rock world.

MP3: Abraham by Sufjan Stevens

MP3: He Woke Me Up Again by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “Seven Swans” (CD/MP3)

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New Mew News, and no new Sufjan news

Mew have released another song from their long-awaited CD, “This title goes on and on and doesn’t make much sense/no matter how many times you read it/and you just can’t shorten it/and isn’t the cover horrid?”. And another stormer it is too. “Repeaterbeater” again shows off their prog-rock chops mixed with their ruthless way with a tune. Sure am looking forward to hearing the album in its entirety. “No More Stories” (the album) is out on 26th August. Bit of a wait then.

But, though “Repeaterbeater” is on the new album, it’s also on their new “No More Stories” EP, released on Tuesday 30th June on iTunes, the track list is as follows:

1. Introducing Palace Players
2. Repeaterbeater
3. Owl
4. Start
5. Swimmer’s Chant

I’ve provided the Amazon link below, but frankly I’m not sure it’s going to work.

Thanks to Cause = Time for the tip.

Jonas And Tele

Jonas And Tele

Mew are playing live at London’s ICA on Thursday 16th July but thanks to choosing a far too small venue, it sold out faster than you can say their new album title (about 3 days, as it turns out). Please move to a bigger venue, chaps. I’ve been telling Mrs Loftandlost for years that the show she missed due to being heavily pregnant was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I think she’s going to take a brick to my head if I say it again.

And as the title says, I don’t have any Sufjan Stevens news. I’m just posting “Come On! Feel The Illinoise!” because it’s such a damned fine song. The second half, with its refrain of “Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level\Are you writing from the heart?\Are you writing from the heart?”, is heartmeltingly fine. At his best, no-one can touch Sufjan for the sheer audacity of the music and the stunning gorgeousness of his lyrics. Let’s hope that when he does finally get round to releasing something that’s not Christmas songs, that it touches the heights of this song. I must say, I listened to this last night and the tears welled up in my eyes. I’m such a softy.

MP3: Repeaterbeater by Mew

MP3: Come On! Feel The Illinoise! by Sufjan Stevens

Buy “No More Stories Ep” (MP3)

Buy Sufjan Stevens “Illinoise” (CD)

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