Correction: The name of Sufjan Stevens’s Illinois-based album was originally identified as Come on Feel the Illinoise when it is actually just Illinois.
All Delighted People EP
Sufjan Stevens once announced he would pen an album about each of the fifty states. His latest EP, All Delighted People, may have finally put to rest his fans’ long-delayed expectations for that project’s completion. Though Stevens has probably been giving us false hope all these years, All Delighted People won’t put a damper on his fans’ days.
Although the 60-minute, eight-song EP doesn’t stay in Stevens’s “usual” confines of upbeat, jovial sound, it brings the listener to another dimension of his abilities as an artist. While the EP holds lengthy songs, even one that spans more than 17 minutes, listeners’ attention never scurries. Each song displays Stevens’s aptitude as a musical artist as he tries out new sounds.
On the final track, “Djohariah,” a tribute to his sister, Stevens experiments with sounds ranging from blues-y trumpets and electric guitar chords to choral hums and electronic beats. All of these out-of-comfort-zone experimental sounds build to Stevens’s soft voice chiming in toward the end. “Djohariah” could very well stand alone as its own EP. With echoes of a chorus blending in with a lengthy guitar jam that climaxes into a colliding sound, there is enough diversity here to make up several different songs.
All Delighted People poses the question: Where does Stevens’s range end? He creates such an unexpected sound with this EP, it throws the listener off as to what will come next from the artist. The EP unfolds with two versions of the title track — a soothing, melodic 12-minute serenade and an eight-minute jovial, upbeat, trumpet-infused Beatles sound-a-like classic rock version. The latter sounds more like retro Sufjan Stevens than the rest of the EP does. The two separate editions stir questions of what sound his next full-length album, The Age of Adz, will take.
Compared to Stevens’s most famous album, Illinois, All Delighted People has a more melancholy sound. The pretty and poignant EP replaces Stevens’s attention-grabbing tone with swells of soft, windblown choral harmonies. Stevens takes cues from folk princess Joanna Newsom as his voice and sound extends to a hauntingly beautiful ambiance reminiscent of old-time movies’ windy chorus girls.
Most of the tracks on the EP have a similar graceful sound with melodious strings and lengthy, poetic lyrics. On “Arnika,” he croons, “Don’t consider it done / wait until Leviathan lovingly creeps in your sill / For he waits in the dark, brooding magically / mustering paperback feelings.” Unfortunately, the brilliantly penned lyrics tend to spill into each other, losing their individual beauty — they get lost in the crowd when the songs all have a similar sound. Each track has such range and variety within itself (instrumentally), yet collectively the EP leaves listeners sleepy.
Stevens also incorporates inspiration from Simon and Garfunkel. The EP’s title track pays homage to one of the duo’s most famous tracks, “Sounds of Silence,” through sound and lyric. Simon and Garfunkel’s own lyrics (“And the people bowed and prayed / To the neon god they made”) intermingle with his own words, “And what difference does it make? / I love you so much anyway.”
All Delighted People is a rolling wave of out-of-the blue sounds and choral beauty intertwined with experimental self-achievements and elegant vocals. The EP may confuse fans, as it is possibly a preview of what Stevens’s ever-changing sound will become. But if this is just a taste, bring on the whole platter.