When I think of Sufjan Stevens, I don’t think of the 50 States Project that wasn’t, but the amazing albums we got out of it. Michigan and Illinois are two of the most complexly beautiful albums I have in my collection. We keep them in a high, protected corner of our CD library at home. While Age of Adz is equally as complex, it doesn’t have the same acoustic bliss as the formers. Sandwiched between those two albums, however, is Seven Swans, which came out eleven years ago on March 16th.
While it might be deemed unfair or uncool to bring up such a melodramatic, angsty, teenage cesspool, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention The O.C. Despite any ludicrous plot lines or annoying characters, the soundtrack in that show was developed impeccably for the indie scene. Before the success of Illinois propelled Stevens into relative fame, it was The O.C. that helped introduce him into that demographic. Not only was a Michigan track featured in an episode, but “To Be Alone With You,” had a spot as well – both on an episode and on that season’s CD.
In no way is Seven Swans comparable to the perfection that I see in Illinois, but songs like “In the Devil’s Territory” lay the groundwork for his later music comprised equally of intricate, orchestral instrumentals and soothingly contrasting vocals. And even if it isn’t one of his best albums, it still packs an amazing punch in its mere 12 songs (compared to Illinois’ 22 tracks). Songs like “The Dress Looks Nice On You” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Simon and Garfunkel album. Despite the youngness of his career, much of the album sounds matured and timeless.
Listening back to old Sufjan and comparing it to the new tracks that have been released from his upcoming album, Carrie and Lowell, makes me oddly nostalgic. I forget that these songs are new and we can be expecting more of them to come. They are a return to his old style, but in no way is he regressing. You can hear aspects of Seven Swans, Michigan and Illinois in all of these new tracks. It’s eleven years later, but the style and his ability to meld quirky instrumentation, mellow vocals and prolific acoustics has traveled throughout his career and will always shine no matter what album of his you pick up.