Tuesday, July 11, 2006

You mean... there are people who DON'T like Sufjan Stevens?!?

Wow. Now here's an audacious move. Stephen Thomas Erlewine-- editor of All Music Guide, and one of my favorite music critics-- makes A Case Against Sufjan Stevens:

His charm started to show some cracks on Seven Swans, a quiet respite between states albums whose bare-bone nature had little of the flair of Michigan. Without this flair, Sufjan seemed like a pedestrian Elliott Smith, only without Smith's haunted grace or natural melodicism. It was a bit of a one-dimensional album, so Stevens' return to baroque on Illinois should have been a consolidation of strengths, which for many listeners it is. Many fans and critics find it a sophisticated display of wit and delicate composition, since there is often a tendency to label any album with woodwinds and brass as being sophisticated. But even if Sufjan can play oboe, even if the time signatures in his songs shift, his music doesn't play as sophisticated, because of the school-report nature of his subjects -- each song is thoroughly researched, spit-shined, and presented for the class, as if he's reciting all that he learned during his time in the library -- and there's not much variety within the music itself. Most songs on Illinois and The Avalanche, this week's outtakes and demos collection assembled from the same sessions, all bear strikingly similar arrangements, all assembled from Stevens' by now familiar trick bag: wispy choruses, tempo changes, whistling woodwinds, cutesy harmonies. It's music that gives the impression of being sophisticated and complex, that never comes close to the sophistication of Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks, Jimmy Webb, or what Illinois most closely resembles, Brian Wilson in his SMiLE guise.


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