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Friday, June 01, 2007

Top 5 Sufjan Stevens Songs

This is quite a difficult list to compile, considering the vast library of Sufjan Stevens, most of which is compiled of flawless songs. To narrow that wide field into just 5 songs is no easy undertaking. But, as always, your friendly neighborhood music snob is here to do exactly that. So sit back in that chair of yours, sip on your coffee or whatever the hell you're drinking and prepare to be amazed as I bring to you the top 5 Sufjan Stevens songs.#5: "Lord God Bird" from an NPR special - This is probably not a song you'd expect to be on my list, primarily because you've probably never even heard of it. A few years back, Sufjan wrote a song about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, a bird once thougth to be extinct, now rediscovered in rural Arkansas. The song is about how this small creature, nicknamed the "Lord God Bird," has changed the small town in which it was rediscovered for the better. It is a beautiful song that you absolutely must hear if you haven't yet! When Sufjan played this one live, everyone stood around thinking "What the hell is this?" I stood in awe as I listened to one of my favorite Sufjan songs. There's nothing like being an elitist.

#4: "Flint" from the album "Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State" - The album opener on "Michigan" is a heartbreakingly beautiful song and a brilliant example of how Sufjan is at his best when he's not self-indulging in multi-instrumentationalism (my word, don't steal it). With just a piano and his soft vocals, "Flint" is one of the best tracks on "Michigan." I covered it once, but there's absolutely no way I could do it justice...and I'm amazing! It's just that good.

#3: "The Transfiguration" from the album "Seven Swans" - The closing track on "Seven Swans" is one of my favorite Sufjan songs ever, mostly because it is one of the most complex tracks of his to date. At the same time, however, it feels very minimalistic. It begins with Sufjan simply strumming on his banjo like Doug ("One little voice is calling me, calling me."), but it continually builds upon this simple platform; adding vocal harmonies and denser instrumentation. It is beautiful...really.

#2: "For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti" from the album "Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State" - Beats me how to actually pronounce "Ypsilanti," all I know is that this song is one of Sufjan's most insightful and uplifting. By the time the song comes to a close, you'll undoubtedly be moved as Sufjan repeats "I did everything for you" over and over again; beating it into your heart until it breaks. Like that metaphor? I did too. Like every other song on this list, this song is not one of Sufjan's busiest compositions. It is simple, and it is lovely.

#1: "John Wayne Gacy" from the album "Come On, Feel the Illinoise!" - Sufjan's tribute album to the state of Illinois is by far his most accomplished and well-rounded album thus far in his career. It may seem strange then to only list one song from that album on the list, but like I said earlier, it's tough to narrow the list down to only 5 songs. In the end, "John Wayne Gacy" is not only the best song on "Illinoise" but also Sufjan's best song overall. His heartfelt and compassionate look into the life of a serial killer, to whom no compassion should be awarded, is absolutely heartbreaking. In the song, he humanizes a monster and literally compares himself to the killer, noting that the two really aren't that different at their most basic levels ("In my best behavior I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid"). It may not be the easiest song to listen to, but in the end it is one of the most rewarding songs to ever experience. Plain and simple, "John Wayne Gacy" single-handedly solidified Sufjan's standing at the top of my list of "Best Living Songwriters," but I suppose that list is for another Friday.


Nick said...

I agree, pretty tough to narrow it to 5. While "Lord God Bird" is a cool choice for it's obscurity, I would have substituted "Damascus"

Anonymous said...

What about chicago?

Titia Rixt said...

nice list :) it is indeed almost impossible to only choose 5 songs when Sufjan's whole oeuvre is amazing :3

I would have probably submitted Casimir Pulaski Day. Even though I can't relate to the lyrics at all this song makes me cry everytime I listen to it... and I'm not easily moved or something :p it's just that this song with a somewhat "optimistic" tone but with such sad lyrics that really manages to capture me.

Anonymous said...

I'm only 5 years too late to these comments, but I was trying to pick my favourite SS song tonight and whilst John Wayne Gacy nearly took the top spot, I remembered Seven Swans. It's a slow burner, but it builds up towards the end and makes me go weak at the knees. Lovely.

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