Album Review: Sufjan Stevens ‘All Delighted People EP’

The reason I haven’t posted in the last few days is that I have been so busy listening to this EP. It is seriously incredible, and has to go down as the most wonderful music surprise of the year.

Firstly, it’s much more an album than an EP. It clocks in only marginally under an hour, thanks in no small part to three 8 minute plus songs, including the epic closer Djohariah, which goes for a lazy seventeen minutes. Judging by this you might be forgiven for thinking this would be a pretty inaccessible record, however you’d be completely wrong. But more on that later.

Secondly, the release of this EP/album really was a surprise. It had been an age since Sufjan had released a proper CD. He recorded a couple of songs for the compilation ‘Dark Was The Night’, put together an instrumental concept album, and teased a few new songs live, but it was unclear if he was ever going to record another traditional album again.

But then, ‘All Delighted People EP’ is far from traditional. Quite aside from its length, the EP is structured around two versions of All Delighted People, which together account for a third of the record. It has also only been released digitally via Sufjan’s Bandcamp page (for $5) so far, although a retail edition is planned. It literally popped up out of nowhere, which only adds to its brilliance.

This EP by its very nature defies a track-by-track review, because it is so much more than the sum of its parts. The most remarkable thing about it is how Sufjan balances the two sides of his music. He has always been the master of indie pop, a formula that he perfected with Chicago, which for me is one of the best songs ever written. But his recent efforts, including the epic You Are The Blood, have lent towards a less accessible electronic sound, leaving many people worried that he had abandoned his old style of music, just as he had abandoned his States project.

‘All Delighted People EP’ completely alleviates these fears. This is the same gorgeous Sufjan music that we have come to know and love, but there’s that little bit extra depth to it, often in the form of electronica elements that appear out of nowhere and completely change the dimensions of a song.

Case in point is the aforementioned Djohariah. In its early stages it risks getting lost in distorted guitar that overrides Sufjan’s incredible voice, but those who can get to near the end of the track are rewarded with four minutes that are right up there with the most satisfying Sufjan has ever produced, which is really, really saying something. When the distortion fades away and an electric staccato drumbeat is introduced over the top of Sufjan’s singing and a finger plucked acoustic guitar, you remember just how fucking awesome he is.

The title track, or at least the Original Version of it, is likewise a rollercoaster of a track, that could easily have been split into three separate songs. However once again it perfectly mixes Sufjan’s traditional sound and newer elements of his music, and it seems as if he voice has gotten even stronger, which seemed impossible.

“I am still afraid of letting go of choices I have made. All delighted people, raise their hands.”

It’s not the only thing that’s gotten stronger, either. Sufjan’s guitar skills have improved out of sight, and this EP features some really neat moments, especially in Enchanting Ghost and Arnika. Meanwhile the delicate From The Mouth Of Gabriel is probably the EP’s most straight forward track, but also one of its most enjoyable ones.

There isn’t a wrong step here. Apart from maybe the Classic Rock version of All Delighted People, which feels a bit redundant and features one of the most out-of-place guitar solos of all time. Sufjan’s remixing of his own songs has always had an edge of humour and experimentation to it however (recalling in particular Chicago (Adult Contemporary Easy Listening Version)), so this is easily forgiven.

Sufjan’s lyrics are as always extremely cryptic, and just like old times, religion plays a large role here. He resists sounding too preachy however, and thematically this is probably one of his most intriguing releases to date, even if it isn’t named after an American state.

There’s a ridiculous amount of depth here for an EP. At times it can be a dense and difficult record to listen to, but Sufjan’s perfect vocals always shine through, and his indie pop moments are still just as sublime as ever. Most importantly however, ‘All Delighted People EP’ reveals more with every single listen. I’m well into my 20th time of listening to it  the whole way through, and I’m still picking up on new subtleties I hadn’t noticed before.

The mystery of this EP only adds to its allure. We still have no idea what Sufjan is planning for the future, but the mere fact that he’s still making studio music like this can only be a good thing. ‘All Delighted People EP’ is so much more than an EP. It is a truly remarkable surprise that has come from nowhere, and I will be listening to it repeatedly for months to come.

Sufjan Stevens, you’ve done it again.

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