There is only one way to describe Sufjan Stevens’ latest release: it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter day with a cup of hot chocolate sitting on the table waiting to be sipped. Yes, it is just that relaxing and comforting. Enjoy Your Rabbit, Stevens’ last release, was a huge departure from his singer/songwriter days and with his latest release he continues that departure by using many different instruments to paint his masterpiece. His new album is the first installment of The 50 States, an ambitious recording project by Stevens. He plans on recording an album for each state and he begins here in Michigan, his birthplace.
The album opens with “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid),” a soft beautiful song that starts out with only a piano and a voice. It barely leaves that format throughout the entire song with the exception of a well placed trumpet and a vocal harmony. The lyrics are beautiful and complex and are a perfect match to the music. Towards the end of the song Stevens sings “Even if I died alone…” over and over until he slowly stops and lets his voice fade into the music and then continues to let the music gracefully bow out to the next track. One song that stands out to me is the track “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti.” Stevens’ voice is a soft inviting presence; leading the listener into this world he creates through his lyrics. “If there’s anything to say, if there’s anything to do, if there’s any other way, I’ll do anything for you,” Stevens seems to be telling those who have been abandoned there is someone out there for them. With a simple banjo and, once again, a trumpet he musically conveys what most artists try to do unsuccessfully with a wide variety of instruments.
Stevens’ music may not be for everyone. He does have a few purely instrumental tracks. “Tahquamenon Falls” is basically two minutes of a xylophone. Though odd, it does seem to fit perfectly with the rest of the material. The haunting yet eerily upbeat sounds of the xylophone seem to be perfect for a song about a waterfall. Stevens has indeed ventured into the many different areas of Michigan. He explores each space with delicacy and insight, and his pensive lyrics and wondrous music make this album praise worthy.