The opening moments of new music from Sufjan Stevens is an angelic choir of singers, backdropping the singer-songwriter’s instantly intimate voice. It’s a beautiful way to begin any kind of album, but for something that’s about the apocalypse and “letting go of decisions that I made,” there is no better way to start. After five long years that found everyone and their mom’s blog conspicuously wondering where Stevens had gone (he never fully disappeared in any sense), the All Delighted People EP was presented in a shockingly surprising moment. It’s the first music we’ve heard from him in awhile and by the time the entire band has joined in for a bombastic lifting of hands, everything sounds magnificent.
And make no mistake about it, there isn’t anything even remotely casual to be found on this new extended play. Stevens continues to amaze with his skill at crafting the most personal sounds in music and pairing them with superb compositions that are always dense with layers of voices and instruments. Leaving his journey of writing music for every state in the United States to the side, Stevens channels inner feelings and passions for the subject matter on this and his ensuing LP, The Age of Adz. Even live favorite, “The Owl and the Tanager,” is greeted here with a uniquely hushed arrangement that beguiles Stevens’ fragile and evocative voice. As he sings on the title track – the aforementioned original and flourishing rock version – “Oh, I love you a lot. I love you from the top of my heart,” these are happy moments for him and the music resonates that sentiment with radiant ease.
It’s even more astonishing that after forty minutes of entirely mesmerizing music, we get something as epic and glorious as “Djohariah.” It features Stevens’ first foray into guitar shredding; his solo melts the inside of the music as it opens up the top for the choir of voices to come bursting through. A so-called “17-minute guitar jam-for-single-mothers,” it’s easily the album’s most convincing glimpse towards the kind of music we might expect from The Age of Adz.
There’s plenty of reason to rejoice and although it seems as though the age of adz has already begun, a near-60 minute EP from one of music’s most gifted minds is always welcome. It’s not a tag-along and it’s not just something thrown together; no, this is a thoughtful, significant release that stands on its own merits. Fortunately, the music inside of All Delighted People is the brilliant work of horn flurries, towering chords and majestic orchestration.
It’s a beloved aspect to be able to entirely re-invent yourself with new music. While it’s become somewhat of a rarity, Stevens takes everything we used to know about him and presents it in a spectacularly different package. Who knows if the states’ theme will return, or if there’s nothing more than a long and tedious break ahead of him, but for the moment, All Delighted People is very succinctly, a superb masterwork from a musical genius – with plenty more greatness to come.