Sorry for skipping last Friday’s “Five Favorites.” We were out of town but my real excuse is that I couldn’t decide on a fifth favorite for the next list I had planned: Five Favorite Sufjan Stevens Songs.
I could listen to Sufjan Stevens over and over again. And we do. At home, in the car, and even all throughout Christmas season thanks to his FIVE Christmas albums: Songs for Christmas, which include covers of all the favorites and plenty of originals.
Christmas aside (Why am I thinking about Christmas? It’s May!), he’s released plenty of music that’s fitting all throughout the year. So much (nine albums!), that I’m not really sure why I’m attempting to narrow down my favorite songs into a list of five. But I am.
So here goes (in no particular order):
1. Heirloom (All Delighted People EP)
First of all, this EP might be my favorite album of his. Beautiful. An excellent way to return from his music-making hiatus. This song is so tenderly poignant. Sufjan has a way of communicating the rawness and often ravaging of relationships like no one else can, “And when your legs give out, just lie right down and I will kiss you till your breath is found.”
2. Pittsfield (The Avalanche)
This is probably my longest-time favorite. Even the brokenness of families can be relayed in a stunning way by Sufjan. He captures and recapitulates a glimmer of hope in this song, both in the subtle sleigh bell ringing and in the line: “You can work all of your life as I’m not afraid of you anymore.” I also love the line, “Things unspoken break us if we choose.”
3. The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us! (Come On Feel The Illinoise!)
This is an illustration of how even his song titles can be works of art. This song is another that reminesces on childhood. It has very hopeful -even exuberant- sound that captures the livelihood and adventure of youth but it also has an solemn undertone that relays confusion, regret, and mourning. Again Sufjan touches on some of the darker aspects of life, intertwining the heights and depths of our experiences in a true-to-life form. This song portrays how even a child is affected by death and tragedy. “I cant explain the state that I’m in, the state of my heart, he was my best friend.”
4. Damascus (Outtakes & Rarities)
Out of curiosity, I just looked this song on SongMeanings.net and came across this fitting quote by “monkishtroy”: “Testament to how good Sufjan is– almost any other artist would consider this song one of their best works and feature it on their album, but Sufjan deemed this just a B-side. So cool.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. While this song has a blatant reference to the Biblical account of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, Sufjan seems to use that as more of an analogy and derives from it deep personal meaning. The desperate refrain, “It takes me back against the everglades, back against the out-of-state, this is the last place I go” rings in my head for hours after the song ends.
5. Impossible Soul (The Age of Adz)
This song is off of Sufjan’s most recent album, in which he has developed his style. I didn’t find myself drawn to as many songs on this album but this one probably has the most allure to me. It retains more of his classic sound than many of the other songs. But at 25 minutes in length, it has a very orchestrated composition, while still maintaining his deeply emotive lyrics. Although most of Sufjan’s songs come across as strikingly personal, this one seems to touch on an especially sensitive area: “And all I couldn’t sing, I would say it all, my love, to you, if I could get you at all.” The song continues in a fashion that relays the conflicting emotions and conflicts that arise in a relationship under pursuit. Although it’s not always as “pretty” sounding as most of my other favorites, it is brutally honest in its attempt to relay the nature of relationships. My favorite line: “My beloved, you are the lover of my impossible soul.” And, of course, the hopeful refrain, “Boy, we can do much more together; it’s not so impossible.”
Bonus: Variation on ‘Commemorative Transiguration & Communion at Margruder Park’ (John Fahey cover)
I didn’t count this as one of my five, as it’s a cover. But it’s beautiful. Just listen to it. Musically it captures a lot of my favorite things about Sufjan’s sound. And it’s a lovely tribute to a classic hymn.