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At first I was confused as to why this was released as an EP when it weighs in at a hefty 59 minutes. Upon listening to it, it made more sense. "All Delighted People" is not a cohesive effort, but I'm interested in how it will foreshadow Stevens' next full-length work, "The Age of Adz" (CD coming October 12th). The aforementioned ep includes 8 tracks.
1. All Delighted People (Original Version) [11:38] - This is a big brassy, stringy, choir-y song that seems to crescendo and decrescendo over and over again in anthematic fashion. Sometimes it seems focused and the next minute a misguided guitar will cut through like a jigsaw. Stevens' voice seems a bit more confident here and it needs to be to contend with what seems like about 30 different ideas for a song that he smushed together in just under 12 minutes.
2. Enchanting Ghost [3:39] This is familiar territory, and it's damn good. He ditched the grandiose production he's been so fond of lately for this song that features a few strumming guitars, a banjo, an occasional piano and a harp playing chords in the background. It's a tight, well-written folk song and fittingly chilling at points.
3. Heirloom [2:55] A simple folk song that the Bob Dylan fan in me really loved. Guitars intertwine like on the last song (the harp is back too), but Sufjan's voice is doubled and echoed which really helps to buttress his naturally weak and trembling timbre. Another great song that is appropriately confident in itself.
4. From the Mouth of Gabriel [4:03] Occasionally, Stevens swaps out his traditional instruments for avant-garde synthesizing. In this song, they run into each other and seem to get along. His habit of exploring religious imagery with a personal dimension present as well. The juxtaposition of encountering an ancient messenger of God to the tune of a weak upright piano and heavily distorted, warbling synthesized brass is interesting, but fails to present a really great song like the last two tracks.
5. The Owl and the Tanager [6:38] This song opens up with a lonely piano (so lonely in fact, that you can hear the felt padding as Stevens' fingers strike each key). When his voice comes in, it echoes, further isolating the songwriter. Isolated he stays, and tells a story that is just vague enough to keep the listener wondering, but just explicit enough to convey a tragic and shameful feeling that is palpable beneath the ever lonely and building piano.
6. All Delighted People (Classic Rock Version) [8:07] This is exactly what it claims to be, though don't expect anything along the lines of The Who or Zeppelin. He starts off with the same banjo and leads into the same brass, but as soon as this version begins to crescendo, there's a lot more rock-based percussion and he leaves behind the strings for electric guitar. He also indulges his inexplicable affinity for rambling, aimless guitar solos (Captain Beefheart he is not). I personally don't enjoy this at all, but it comes with the territory and I expect it enough to put up with it. Overall, this version is worthy and seems a bit more victorious.
7. Arnika [5:13] "I'm tired of life, I'm tired of waiting for someone; I'm tired of prices, I'm tired of waiting for something" This cautious poem features limited, lumbering instrumentation, and each crescendo is quickly exhausted as the song continues. The music and words work together well here and the sample of what seems to be a rocking chair works well with the vocals in the background repeating "I'm goin', I'm goin', I'm goin'". Working together, these sounds paint a picture of an elderly individual waiting for death. Oh, and the cheap-sounding harps are back for the second half of this song.
8. Djohariah [17:02] The song that rounds out the hour is the most tedious, though I'm not sure it's meant to be popped in and listened to individually. The confused guitar pops it's head in throughout this groovy jam and really... just tires me out. This song builds and builds for about 5 and a half minutes before it changes pace and the chanting begins. "Djohari, Djohariah" for a minute and then back to the confused guitar solos, then back to the chanting, then at 11:43 the song starts. It's an ode to his sister (Djohariah Stevens), and it chronicles her struggles and importance as a mother. Good stuff once you get to it.
Overall, this is an encouraging ep for Sufjan Stevens because it hints at a whole new full-length album that will hopefully have some kind of conceptual and sonic cohesiveness like his past works have had. For five bucks, you'd be hard pressed to find a better hour of music. Pick it up- this rough work features some gems.