Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sufjan Stevens

  • Seven Swans [Sounds Familyre, 2004] **
  • Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty, 2005] A-
  • The Avalanche [Asthmatic Kitty, 2006] **
  • Songs for Christmas [Asthmatic Kitty, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Carrie & Lowell [Asthmatic Kitty, 2015] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Seven Swans [Sounds Familyre, 2004]
Pretty battles evil in the service of kind ("The Dress Looks Nice on You," "In the Devil's Territory"). **

Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty, 2005]
Scornful though one may be of Stevens's beliefs that "classical music" is "high art" and Christ Jesus died for our sins, it would be rigid in the extreme to deny his melodicism. There's not an unattractive tune on a record rife with counterpoint and interlude; musically, it's so inspired--and because it does its appointed work simply and unhurriedly, so unpretentious--that nonbelievers had better accept that he's getting over on talent, not talk. Religion arises mainly in the immensely touching, and unorchestrated, "Casimir Pulaski Day," where the cancer death of a teen love occasions something resembling doubt. The historically inclined may object that Steven's portrait of the great state of Abraham Lincoln and Ozzie Guillen is impressionistic to the point of whimsy, and I myself would die a smidgen happier if I never heard another song about a mass murderer. But this album radiates positive energy, and in today's alt, that's a precious thing. A-

The Avalanche [Asthmatic Kitty, 2006]
Outtake songs that fail to top the alternate versions of "Chicago" subsumed by outtake art-rock Glass-style, which beats Moussorgsky-style, Copland-style, Messiaen-style ("Dear Mr. Supercomputer," "Adlai Stevenson"). **

Songs for Christmas [Asthmatic Kitty, 2006]
Mixing humorously observed originals with carols roasted on an open fire and obscurities dug out of the piano bench, these five EPs, four originally intended as gifts for fans and friends, achieve a shade of pretty just right for a secular holiday with special meaning for adults who grew up associating "The First Noel" with presents. From an early "Amazing Grace" to a new "Holy, Holy, Holy," Stevens's fragile banjo-and-tenor caroling is lovely, and several of his own songs belong in the Xmas canon, notably one called "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance": "Your sister's bangs, she cut them herself" is a December surprise many will recognize. It's just too bad alt-rock's favorite Christian couldn't resist the sin of completism. Piled atop one another, the less inspired tracks remind us how very much nicer it is to get the one perfect gift you never dreamed of than a lot of crap you don't need. [Rolling Stone: 3]
"Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!," "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" Choice Cuts

Carrie & Lowell [Asthmatic Kitty, 2015]
How best expiate a conflicted grief--sardonic musing? Depressive rage? Ironic japes? Cautionary tales? Misery so brutal you burrow through to the other side? Surely something with more tensile strength than musical flower arrangements, doncha think? ("Death With Dignity," "Carrie and Lowell") *

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