Monday, October 10, 2005

Sufjan Debuts New Song in NYC

Jon Pareles:

The band included strings, brass, piano, glockenspiel and backup singers. Yet it was just a stripped-down version of the forces on Mr. Stevens's latest album, "Illinois" (Asthmatic Kitty), the second in a series of albums he says he plans to write about the 50 states (following his home state, Michigan). Most of Friday's set came from his 2004 album, "Seven Swans" (Sounds Familyre).

With sparse picking and Mr. Stevens's voice alone, the songs at first suggested old-time mountain music. But they rarely stayed so solitary. "Sister," in a long introduction, placed a piano melody atop elegiac harmonies and built a stately crescendo. A new instrumental, "The Maple River," was a pastorale that surrounded serene guitar arpeggios with undulating ensemble chords. Other songs moved toward counterpoint in which women's voices (singing nonsense syllables) meshed with circular instrumental phrases, suggesting the Minimalism of Steve Reich and Tortoise. Reaching past the sorrows and wonders of the lyrics, the music seeks its own humble grace.

Maple River, Michigan


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