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Sufjan Stevens / Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre, 2004)

Sufjan Steven "Seven Swans" (Sounds Familyre, 2004)RATING: 7.9 Said to be named after the mythical Armenian Sufi warrior Abu Sufjan Muhammad, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens seems to have finally defined his personal preferable way of reaching perfection. Since splitting up with a Holland, MI-based folk-rock band Marzuki in late 90`s, Stevens went solo and moved to NYC, where he released his lo-fi pan-ethnic folk debut LP "A Sun Came" in 2000. The next LP followed a year later. "Enjoy Your Rabbit", a 12-song cycle based on the symbols of Chinese zodiac, was a totally different from what his debut sounded like. Glitchy and noisy electronic textures, creating a fully instrumental IDM playfulness, were a demonstration of Sufjan`s polyhedral genius. Although it was the preceding album, a conceptual masterpiece, "Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State", that influenced Stevens` idea of where his experiments and efforts should be aimed to. Speaking of music, there`s an obvious resemblance between "Seven Swans" and "Michigan`s" tracks like "Romulus" or "Holland". Being a bit more straightforward than its predecessor, "Seven Swans" contains 11 tracks, together forming a complete Gestalt of picky banjo and subtle guitar passages, Danielson Famile`s Smith sisters` haunting backup singing and Sufjan`s crystal chant, sounding both naive and penetrating. Thematically, all his devout lyrics here are mainly concentrated on Love and God. The first track, "All The Trees In The Field Will Clap Their Hands" starts with an ironic and bittersweet "If I am alive this time next year/Will I have arrived in time to share?" - Sufjan`s nearly whispering, until vigorous sisters` vocals join him, creating a fairy-tale atmosphere, reminding me the "Michigan`s" "All Good Naysayers...". Since I`ve become accustomed to the omnipresent backup singers from Danielson Famile, I was surprised to find out him singing alone in "Abraham". Not singing though, but simply narrating over guitar and banjo. This is a pleasing exception, for sometimes it seemed like too much of Megan and Elin, i.e. on "He Woke Me Up Again", which was totally piled up with their vocals. At the same time, on one of the most adorable and outstanding tracks on the album, "Sister", they suit perfectly, complementing and anticipating Sufjan`s relaxed singing, that starts just at the end of the track. In "The Good Man Is Hard To Find", a somber dedication to Flannery O`Connor`s short story of the same name, followed by rusty guital rattlings, Sufjan laments: "Once in the back yard/She was once like me.../Twice when I killed them/They were once at peace, they were once like me", reciting the story of a murderer with an increasing stress, until it bursts within rhythm and Smith sisters` sacramental choir, making the track one of the most enjoyable on the record. There`s only one clause about the album, which prevents me from giving it 8.0. Being praised for his virtuosity is using banjo, Sufjan gets more and more intensive, and, together with unbeatable backup singers, it results in an unattractive dismay. As I`ve heard another critic say: " When he`s not trying too hard, Stevens writes and performs with subtlety and reveals amazing depth, both as a songwriter and a pop arranger. If he overcomes some minor flaws, he`ll become one of the most talented young artists to emerge in years." I ain`t doubt that.


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