Music Review: All Delighted People EP

Story by Thom Fountain

No one could ever deny that Sufjan (SOOF-yahn) Stevens has a grasp of music theory and composition that rivals any other modern musician. After last year’s release of The BQE, an intense orchestral piece in seven movements, Stevens cemented himself as a rounded songwriter and composer. His EP “All Delighted People,” which was released last week on his own label Asthmatic Kitty Records, places Stevens to as close to a musical genius our generation can look to.

Simply listening to the 12-minute namesake and opener, “All Delighted People (Original),” is a journey through floating choral compositions, noisy string arrangements, softly punctuated melodies and epic rock climaxes. The track is, according to Stevens, “a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon’s ‘Sounds of Silence,'” and pairs the heavy subject matter with weighted, grounded arrangements that are full, but never too crowded.

While “All Delighted People (Original)” is a take on Simon & Garfunkel’s classic “Sound of Silence,” it brings a heavily modern feel, which carries through the entire EP (if you can even call it that).

When not quoting Simon lyrically or melodically, Stevens has fleeting brushes with The Dirty Projectors’ complex rhythmic guitar style (especially in the second track “Enchanting Ghost”), Xiu Xiu’s stark depressive lyrics and the Fleet Foxes’ classic folk harmonies. All of these influences, however, meld nicely into the basic, melodic song structures Stevens employs.

Although musically the release is relatively spacious and light, lyrically, “All Delighted People” EP is one of the heaviest of his career. Songs such as “The Owl And The Tanager” and “Arnica” display a fundamental self-loathing and couple it with a violent tinge. In “The Owl And The Tanager,” Stevens uses his strongly visual lyrics to describe a habit of unstable behavior, repeating, “For I am the ugliest prey, for I am the ugliest prey.”

The EP ends with one of the strongest melodies in Stevens’ illustrious career, “Djohariah,” a 17-minute collaboration of soaring choral parts and scathing, yet understated guitar licks. The 13-minute build up tends to drag at portions, but the song is well worth the wait as the subsequent verses that end the song, and the EP, are perfectly orchestrated. Stevens sings of the struggles of a single-mother over a subtle electronic drum loop and gentle arpeggio.

If there is one downfall to the EP, it would be the reason this lengthy release is not an album. The tracks, while all strong individually, are scattered and not well suited together on one disc, which is a departure from Stevens’ past albums. With the release of a new album only a month away, it seems that this is more a collection of studio tracks that never fit an official release.

That being said, if these are the scraps that Sufjan Stevens has put together for us, we are in for a treat with this next release and Stevens’ future accomplishments as a musician, songwriter and composer.