When any music lover thinks about indie-rock music, the name Sufjan Stevens instantly sticks out. Quite possibly one of the most interesting and groundbreaking musicians of the past decade in indie-rock, Stevens has been relatively quiet after he released his influential “Illinois” album over four years ago. The Detroit-born musician debuted with his album “A Sun Came” in 2000. This album proved to listeners that his writing, lyrically and instrumentally, was superior and complex. He followed with the release of “Enjoy Your Rabbit” in 2001, which was a highly electronic album concerning the animals of the Chinese zodiac. At this point in his career, Stevens made an ambitious move stating that he planned to write a full-length album honoring each of the 50 states. In 2003, he released “Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State.” In this revolutionary album, the multi-instrumentalist played over 20 instruments and by the end of the year it was considered one of the highest acclaimed albums of the year. In 2004, the intimate stand-alone songs of “Seven Swans” hit racks. The groundbreaking release of his second of the 50 states project, “Illinois” quickly gained worldwide acclaim. Stevens’ sold out “Illinois” tour in which his numerically large band dressed in cheerleading outfits, earned him a spot in the indie-rock hall of fame. Each intimate show following the release was sold out and has been sold out since. Following the “Illinois” album, Stevens released “The Avalanche,” which was an entire album of unreleased tracks and outtakes from “Illinois”.
After the release of “Illinois” and several tours, Stevens sort of disappeared from the music scene. Fans anxiously awaiting his next 50 states release were disappointed to hear what Stevens had to say in a recent interview with Paste magazine in which he called the project a joke.
“The whole premise was such a joke, and I think maybe I took it too seriously,” Stevens said. “I started to feel like I was becoming a cliché of myself.”
The eager fans were given a taste of what the mastermind had been creating over the past couple years when he released “The BQE.” Stevens’ multimedia work celebrating the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway premiered in 2007 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This project included a 40-minute film and symphony piece by Stevens. Based on the response of the performance, he decided to release a box set including the music, the DVD, an essay on the liner of the album, a comic book, and a View-Master reel. While this project would seem a bit bizarre and random to some, fans that have seen any of his live shows have seen that his band is basically an informal, handpicked symphony playing obscure instruments that are strategically placed throughout each song. In the same interview with Paste, Stevens blames the BQE project for slowing down his record making.
“In all honesty, [“The BQE”] is what really sabotaged my creative momentum. It wasn’t ‘Illinois’ so much,” Stevens said. “I suffered sort of an existential creative crisis after that piece. I no longer knew what a song was and how to write an album. It overextended me in a way that I couldn’t find my way back to the song,” Stevens said.
What does this mean for the musical genius’ future? The interview has some fans in freak-out mode, but not to worry. At a September performance in Ithaca, N.Y.’s Castaway, earlier this year, fans were shocked to hear several brand new songs from the composer. The new songs have given fans a beacon of hope that there is still more to come from Sufjan Stevens.
Asthmatic Kitty, Stevens’ record label, continues to grow as it adds new talented artists like My Brightest Diamond, Shapes and Sizes, and Castanets. With the resurgence of Stevens’ unmistakable name to the music scene, we know he’s staying busy and can hope that there is more exciting new music to come.