Sufjan Stevens’ new EP All Delighted People is not like most EPs.
Firstly, it features eight songs, and runs for about an hour. Secondly, it has two vastly different versions of the same song, the title track (the Original Version and the Classic Rock Version). According to the official release, the epic ballad is “a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon’s Sounds of Silence”.
The EP opens with the original version of All Delighted People. Joined by the sweet, almost heavenly backing vocals of a choir, Stevens takes us on a twelve-minute-long journey through a multitude of emotions: hope, as the song begins with only the choir accompanying Stevens’ gentle crooning, and builds as strings are introduced; a quiet, repressed desperation as a brass section provides a slow, gloomy timbre; discordant sounds signifying dissatisfaction and loneliness; tenderness and a yearning for human connection (“And what difference does it make? / I love you so much anyway. / And on your breast I gently laid. / Your arms surround me in the lake, / I am joined with you forever”) through the soft fall and climb of the melody, Stevens’ breathy falsetto and the echoes of the choir; disillusionment through the repetition of “All delighted people raise their hands”; until finally, we feel a paradoxical mixture of apathy and anguish as Stevens wails, “I tried to save the things I made / Oh, but the world is a mess. / And what difference does it make if the world is a mess? / I tried my best, I tried in vain” and the song concludes with a somewhat unsettling screeching of violin cutting through the choir’s exclamation of “Suffer not the child among you or shall you die young”. Existential ennui indeed. The classic rock version of the song is commendable, but is largely overshadowed by the original version.
Stevens explores electronic effects and sounds more on this EP than on his previous releases. However, he has still managed to retain the whimsical, acoustic-folk charm that his fans adore about him. From the Mouth of Gabriel subtly exemplifies how Stevens is branching out from his classic style to incorporate eccentric electro noises into his arrangements. Among the nostalgic, tinkling toy piano, bird-like flute, and percussion reminiscent of children’s instruments, there are a few surprising synth sounds that are used sparingly but effectively. The lullaby-esque tone of the song contrasts with the lyrics, which suggest a kind of lost innocence or regret over the past: “Your face has changed, / I hardly know who you are this time. / And what a mess I’ve made of you. / You probably would but I won’t let you run away.”
The All Delighted People EP ends with the epic 17-minute-long jam Djohariah. During the first third of the song, an erratic guitar line is used as a character instead of a lead vocal line, which seems to get more and more frantic until the rhythm and feel of the song changes somewhat abruptly, before a reprise of the initial third, with added instruments. The verses begin at around the 12-minute mark, and Stevens’ incredible tone and control as he coos “Go on, little sister! Go on! / For the world is yours, the world is yours / All the wilderness of the world is yours to enjoy” is worth waiting for. Djohariah is another good example of how Stevens is mixing his well-loved signature indie-pop arrangements with a fresh, electronic edge.
Only three of the eight tracks on the EP are at or under four minutes long. However, Stevens’ song-writing renders length an irrelevant detail (for example, with Djohariah); the magic of his compositions is vastly due to the way he cleverly crafts and fits together the pieces and details to create a story. His lyrics read like poetry and the melodies in his songs work with each other; at times the instrumentation is bare or subtle, to emphasise the purity of Stevens’ vocals, and at times builds up to an almost overwhelming hurricane of sound. The thing with many of Stevens’ songs is that they sound simple on the surface, because of recurring main melody lines, but when you deconstruct the elements, the complexity of the song-writing is apparent. That’s what makes this EP, and indeed Stevens’ work in general, such a joy to listen to; each time you listen to a song, you are surprised by something you hadn’t noticed previously.
You can download All Delighted People EP off Sufjan Steven’s bandcamp page here, for US$5.
You can also click here to download a couple of free tracks (Too Much and I Walked) that are featured on Sufjan Steven’s highly anticipated upcoming album, The Age of Adz.