Sufjan Stevens – Enjoy Your Rabbit

Sufjan Stevens
Enjoy Your Rabbit

Just to let you know, I’m nowhere near cool enough to have discovered Sufjan Stevens on my own. As he is a member of the ever-expanding coterie of friends to don the hospital scrubs and perform with Christian avant-popsters the Danielson Famile, I figured Stevens must have something going for him in the wacky creativity department, and I was right. In fact, there may be a little too much wacky creativity going on here. As Enjoy Your Rabbit is a conceptual work based on the animals of the Chinese zodiac, with each animal represented with one track and a heck of a lot of strange electronic twitches and squeaks, Stevens offers an uncompromisingly challenging and compelling listen.
I also have to admit that a nearly 80-minute long set of impressionistic electronic pieces wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Somewhere along the way, possibly from reading about Stevens’ first release, A Sun Came, I had been led to believe the he was something of an eclectic lo-fi folkie. Apparently, Stevens is that as well, although you’d certainly never know it from listening to the electronic noodling of Enjoy Your Rabbit. Still, Stevens displays a fine ear for both melody and obscurity, never force-feeding the listener but presenting vaguely Eastern-leaning sounds that will grow on ears that are exposed to them multiple times.
With an album this complex and meticulously crafted, it seems reasonable that many tracks are intended to be sound sculptures of the animals they are paired with, although it takes a certain amount of poetic license to uncover what may be Stevens’ intentions. For instance, “Year of the Monkey” has a dark, ominous jungle quality, with electronic squeals that in a way mimic the noises of everyone’s favorite primate. “Year of the Dragon” sports a decidedly heroic feel by way of soaring and bouncing synth lines, such as might be associated with the sounds that spring to mind for anyone who has ever seen the stereotypical knight riding a shining horse to slay a mythical fire-breathing beast. “Year of the Snake” is mysterious and foreboding, as it hesitantly calms the listener with low-key rustles before breaking out in brief strikes of symphonic floods. Further, the three and a half minutes of quieting atmospheric drones would seem perfectly suited for the personality of the subject of “Year of the Sheep.”
Thinking about the title of this album, I can’t help but get a little sad, as I once actually had a pet rabbit to enjoy, a big ball of fluff named Bun. Unfortunately, Bun thought it was fun to chew the electric chords of household appliances and had to be pushed off on an uncle who had room for him in an old barn where, even more tragically, he was strangled to death by a raccoon in a neighboring pen. Oh well, enough of my traumatic childhood memories. The track “Enjoy Your Rabbit” is something of a centerpiece of the album, coming as something of a climax, breaking up the electronic domination of the album with a few moments of amp fuzz. Whereas many of the tracks seem to be at least somewhat metaphorically linked in sound to the animal they represent, it would be hard to match the crashing drums and chunky guitars to what may be the least threatening member of the animal kingdom. All in all, it’s a violent and almost frightening collage, again reminding me of my poor rabbit’s untimely demise.
Even though I’m really a cat person, Stevens has convinced me of the virtues of enjoying my rabbit. As he incorporates more sounds in the first five minutes of the epic 13-minute “Year of the Horse” than most albums find in their full running length, he manages to keep an 80-minute album from becoming over daunting. Nearly every track bends and mutates into a variety of forms, rising and falling in intensity as layers are added and deleted en route to seamlessly bleeding into the one following it. In the end, the album is an open-ended conceptual romp through a catalogue of familiar animals and a philosophical system most of us have little familiarity with, save for the occasional Chinese placemat.