I’ve been listening to an advance copy of The National’s upcoming album High Violet and let me first say, before digressing into a boring diatribe, that it is a masterpiece. Quite simply it is brilliant and will feature prominently in almost all best of 2010 lists. That being said let the wild rant commence.
Sufjan Stevens could be dead for all we know. He hasn’t served up a proper album since his Illinois themed masterpiece went on sale in July of 2005. That’s almost five full years without even so much as a hint that a new album is coming. Now sure, you can argue that he gave us The Avalanche in 2006 (but that’s just extra material and b sides for Come on Feel the Illinoise) or his Songs for Christmas box set (but that’s mostly old recordings and group material that was officially put in a set) or his latest incarnation The BQE (but that’s hardly a Sufjan album by any stretch of the imagination). In the general scheme of things our dear Sufjan has largely disappeared.
Occasionally he surfaces to play a small string of live shows, but those are few and very far between and serve mostly to push a new band his label, Asthmatic Kitty, has signed. And let’s be honest, no band on Asthmatic Kitty comes close to living up to the guy who signs their checks. Granted he’s randomly dropped a few new songs (or rather song ideas) during some of these shows, but not a single one has been properly recorded to date.
A year ago I posted an open letter to Sufjan Stevens here on TWF. I never received a reply, a hint, or even a rumour that things were moving forward. I did, however, receive a small gift. Later that year Sufjan went on a mini tour in US and I was able to attend a show. He played for us a few new songs scattered amongst a solid set and then promptly disappeared into the night. Today, again, we get rare proof that Sufjan Stevens is not dead. On the upcoming album from The National, High Violet (amazon), Sufjan lends his haunting vocals and harmonies to
The track is gorgeous, dark, and layered in a way that fits perfectly with The National. And yet in the background there is the cathartic and haunting vocal track provided by our elusive hero. Is this enough to sate Sufjan fans? Probably not. But at least we can rest assured that he’s still alive and still interested enough in quality music to lend a helping hand to his friends.