Sunday, February 6, 2011

Age of (R)Adz

Last week I was lucky enough to see Sufjan Stevens play! I so was excited for the gig, but feeling guilty because I hadn't listened to any of his new stuff... worst Sufjan fan ever. As it turns out I'm so glad I didn't... so I was able to be surprised, confused and... totally blown away! Gone was the ethereal Sufjan of the boy scout uniform days, replaced by... well...


Along with the costume change (as Marcus Teague wittily put it: "the feted songwriter and his wildly eclectic 10-piece band initially scan as Tron fans come for a birthday party") came a distinct change from the "strummy, strummy" to the electronic... at it's most chaotic, cacophonous and theatrical. Sufjan's new material is great. Like, mind-meltingly, euphorically awesome. In anyone else this abrupt new direction would probably have me rolling my eyes skywards; in Sufjan's hands, it's genius.

As for the live performance, it was spell-binding. I was moved to both tears *and* dancing. Also...



Dancing girls!

A giant diamond!

Casio SK-1 solo!

Even craziest costumes!

It was the wildest thing I never expected.

Here's Sufjans' words on the new musical approach:

"I think I wanted to avoid the pretensions of scholarship that my previous records were built on. I tired of the whole pretension of that. I wanted to purposely be more emotive, be more self-centred. Maybe I'm going through a second childhood, or a second adolescence. I feel like there's a kind of weird teenage hormonal aesthetic to a lot of this material, that's almost like I'm having a mid-life crisis.. I invested so much time in becoming such a student of craft —researching, writing, workshopping, refining, developing; experimenting with the very craft of being a writer— that I think I had lost my myself, my instinct. A lot of this record is about re-embracing that, regaining that."

"Yeah. I think the music is based on rhythm more than anything before... so, at essence, that is more about instinct. The songs themselves are about sensation, feeling, touch, the body; there's a kind of obsession with romance, that kind of thing. I feel like it's a regression into more kind of primal experience. There's a lot to learn in that. I've always divided those kind of things: there's the mental self, the scholarly self; and then there's instinct, the inner beast waiting to pray on the passions of the world. Now, I see those two sides as being really equally important, and dependent; symbiotic, working together. I feel like I had overdeveloped one side of me."

To use a crude (and unsubtle) analogy, the difference in his new work vs. his old is like sex compared to romantic love. One is poetic, detached, thoughtful, clean, beautiful and cerebral. The other: messy, chaotic, emotional, passionate, visceral and raw.

I hope I'm not giving too much away about myself, but I think the new album is the best he's ever done ;)

Interesting podcast of Melena Ryzik discussing her October, 2010 NYTimes profile of Sufjan Steven here.

Review of the January 31 Melbourne Sufjan Stevens gig from The Vine.

Incredible footage of Sufjan's gig at the Sydney Opera House here.

Acoustic part of Impossible Soul on youtube.


All Melbourne concert photos courtesy Sarah McEvoy @ The Vine

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