Making gross generalizations and sweeping statements is never the best or safest idea, but let’s run that risk anyway. Sufjan Stevens is one of the most talented, versatile and diverse musicians of our time (but also, possibly ever).
The paradox with Stevens is that his music hasn’t reached the popularity of other transformative artists, (but he maintains an ever-growing but cultish following in the alternative and indie spheres) despite his known greatness and philia for change and exploration. He doesn’t just experiment with sounds, he learns and incorporates them consistently and without barriers.
From the very beginning of his 18-year career, he has been a classical musician, a folk storyteller, an electronic inventor and a hip hop dabbler. He doesn’t merely commission new instruments for albums or toy around with different computer generated horn sounds - he plays many instruments on his own albums, adds in live bands and players in concerts and has full-blown classical and orchestral movements.
And these aren’t just raw elements you’ll find in one song or album (although each album does have it’s own distinct sound with themes and instrumentation to match). He blends these elements whenever he can on each record. Expecting the unexpected doesn’t even begin to cover his diversity most of the time, especially on a record-to-record basis. Stevens has nine albums to his name, plus two extensive Christmas albums, numerous covers, singles, collaborations and a side project to date. And now we’re at over 250 songs and 13 hours of devotedly listening, which, depending on your dedication and willingness to listen to Christmas music outside of December, is quite the feat.
His songs’ streams range from over 42 million to under 1,000, and we get it. Enjoy Your Rabbit is a unique record from the offset. But his music is a necessary listen. He combines sounds and attacks expectations and norms with ease, and missing one of his many songs is doing a disservice to whatever image you have of him and of music’s boundaries and genres.
From A Sun Came to Carrie & Lowell, here is a rundown of some of Sufjan’s most ambitious and glorious tracks that may have fallen by the wayside during your previous listening experiences.