Sufjan Stevens releases two tracks about Tonya Harding

Without a hint of irony, malice, or contempt Sufjan has taken it upon himself to pen a biographical snapshot of Tonya Harding.  In the most direct way possible; this is the type of song writing that Sufjan is known for.  He does his research, he’s meticulous, and above all else he’s earnest in his endeavor.  Both versions of the track are great (although my personal favorite is Tonya (In Eb Major) which is listed first below.

Before you skip down and listen I encourage you to read the post Sufjan wrote about the song.  It can be found here http://music.sufjan.com/album/tonya-harding.

Sufjan Stevens – My Personal Winter Soundtrack

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It should come as no surprise to you that Sufjan Stevens is my personal soundtrack to the colder months.  I can’t imagine a better backdrop to set the tree, sit by the fire, or read a good book under a blanket.  That being said – the 10 disc collection of Winter and Christmas themed music put together by Sufjan and his pals does have a few tracks that are harder to bear upon repeat listening.

And, if your audience isn’t really versed in Sufjan’s compositional tendencies, simply blasting through the entire discography might garner more than a few requests to push the skip track button.

To this end I’ve put together what I consider the best and most accessible distillation of both Songs for Christmas and Silver & Gold.

Enjoy it to your heart’s content.  Be that with friends, foe, or in some cases a healthy does of heartache.  My Sufjan Winter Spotify Playlist

Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and James McAlister album The Planetarium

I can’t quite figure out if I like the collaborative album that Sufjan, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly and James McAlister put out.  It wanders and soars and contains a few standout tracks, but in large it seems to be an exercise in musical exploration that doesn’t truly hold my attention.

A quick breakdown on the group.

Bryce Dessner is the lead guitarist for The National – and has collaborated with Sufjan before (Suf has done background vocals for The National and Dessner has done studio guitar work and compositions with Suf)

As near as I can suss out; essentially in 2011 a concert hall in the Netherlands commissioned Nico Muhly (composer) to write a piece about the Solar System.  He reached out to Sufjan and Dessner who helped assist with that composition which debuted in 2012 (Sufjan has also composed music for his own short film The BQE and Dessner writes/composes music for film frequently).

So this album is essentially an evolution of that group of buddies now writing pop/synth/folk together about the planets and associated mythologies.

And in true Beatles format – “And James McAlister is the drummer”

One thing is clear – It’s amazing to me that Sufjan Stevens can still sing so effortlessly. The new group album isn’t for everyone, but there are amazing moments throughout if you’re willing to give it a listen.  Here’s my favorite track (probably because it sounds the most like a natural Sufjan song).

The Best Albums of 2012

This past year (well past by this point might I add) provided us with a slew of good to great music. There were new albums from Ben Gibbard, Muse, The Killers, and B.o.B. to name a few. They all made solid efforts in 2012, but they didn’t quite crack the top ten albums. Below is my list, long overdue.


01: Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an Animal

From the opening of the first track you can almost sense that this is a special effort. There is a quiet intensity, a captivating beauty, that threads through every melody and harmony on this wonderful debut album from Iceland. By the time you get to the final track you’re only thought will be to press play again.

mp3 : Of Monsters and Men – Yellow Light


02: The Lumineers – The Lumineers

Another brilliant debut album on the list. Bursting with raw emotion and well written lyrical vignettes this album is filled with driving drumbeats and folk fueled romance. Although a few of their tracks are more aligned with radio friendly airtime it’s when they slow down that their true talent shines through.

mp3 : The Lumineers – Submarines


03: John Samson – Provincial

Many of the songs that appear on his debut solo effort closely mirror his top shelf work with The Weakerthans. While some reviewers this past year found this off-putting I find John Samson’s lyrical storytelling to be just as captivating with or without his regular band.

mp3 : John Samson – Heart of the Continent


04: Mumford and Sons – Babel

Not much needs to be written about this band or this album. They’ve grown up from an indie darling quartet to a full on success recognized the world over. This album is a worthy continuation of their career.

mp3 : Mumford and Sons – Where are You Now


05: Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold

I know; this is a Christmas album that’s actually a collection of five separate EP’s that were written over half a decade and they just happened to be released as a box set in 2012. I know all the reasons that this technically shouldn’t be on a list, but the entire collection is simply so good that it can’t be relegated to one month of listening every year. On top of that you can listen to each EP in chronological order and follow along with the evolution of his musical style.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas in the Room


06: The Walkmen – Heaven

On this album The Walkmen continue their waffling between being effortlessly cool and trying really hard to channel Bob Dylan. The magic is when both of those efforts combine into a single glorious song. This is their best album since Bows + Arrows.

mp3 : The Walkmen – Line by Line


07: Beach House – Bloom

Although not quite as captivating as their previous effort (Teen Dream) their latest effort provides the same breathy vocals and building crescendos that have become their trademark.  This music would fit in almost any scenario.

mp3 : Beach House – Myth


08: Matt & Kim – Lightning

If you didn’t feel like dancing you will after a single listen to this album.  Or you might have a seizure.  It’s honestly a tossup.  Matt & Kim put out a solid album this time around and their one weakness (vocals on slower tracks) is kept to a minimum this time around.

mp3 : Matt & Kim – Now


09: fun. – Some Nights

It began for most people when their song We Are Young was featured prominently in a primetime commercial (possibly debuted during the Big Game?)  If you were daring enough to jump into the full album from that snippet you would find yourself treated to a modern day pop musical; complete with letters to moms, hanging out with friends, and pleas to find true love.

mp3 : fun. – All Alright


10: Jack White – Blunderbuss

I feel like I’m breaking an unwritten rule putting Jack’s first solo album this far down my list.  The problem is that for every brilliant track on the album, there is another track that reminds you how great Jack White is when he’s surrounded by other creative people.  This is a solid album, but it’s not his best effort.  I’ll go ahead and label it the Josh Ritter effect whereby an album starts off brilliantly and then veers into head scratching territory.

mp3 : Jack White – Freedom at 21

 

Sufjan Stevens – Silver and Gold – Gloria

Sufjan Stevens has quite simply done it again.  In 2007 he released a box set of Christmas (and winter, and seasonal, and etc.) songs that spanned multiple eras, references, and were all presented in the many various compositional styles preferred by Sufjan.  This time around he has dropped another 58 tracks filled with more of the same.  And more of the same is more of subtle genius we have come to expect from him.

The full box set is broken into five separate parts that collectively form Silver and Gold (bandcamp) (amazon) (itunes).  First on the list is the album Gloria which serves as a very effective jumping off point for those unfortunate few that are thus far uninitiated.  This first album has a healthy cross section of Sufjan Christmas.  There are original songs that would easily fit on his Michigan or Illinois albums interspersed with his take on classic tracks.  Below are my two favorite songs from the first album although I would encourage you all to listen to the entire album.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past
mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – The Midnight Clear

Other standout tracks on Gloria include the sprawling 7+ minute Baracola and Sufjan’s interpretation of Silent Night.  I’ll be back later this week with highlights from the remaining four albums in the box set.  For those of you in the USA have a great Thanksgiving week / weekend.  For those elsewhere, enjoy the music.

+ more Sufjan Stevens @ twf hype elbows site asthmatic kitty amazonmp3 itunes

Sufjan Stevens upcoming album Silver & Gold has a free single entitled Christmas Unicorn

Sufjan Stevens has a new Christmas/Holiday album coming out this November. It is called Silver & Gold and will have a total of fifty eight songs.  If you head over to his streaming page you can download the last track from the compilation for free in high quality digital format.  Appropriately it’s entitled Christmas Unicorn and it sprawls for a full 12+ minutes.  I would expect nothing less from Sufjan at this point.  Take a listen below and then head over to his page to preorder the digital version or the vinyl limited edition if you have money to spare.

mp3 : Sufjan Stevens – Christmas Unicorn

+ more Sufjan Stevens @ twf hype elbows site asthmatic kitty amazonmp3 itunes