"Quite why Stevens isn't writing for the stage is a mystery, for this has the feel akin to a score for a Broadway musical, something like My Fair Lady."
Sufjan Stevens – Avalanche (Rough Trade/Konkurrent)
Billed as a collection of outtakes remixes and extras from the brilliant Illinois LP, "shamelessly compiled by Sufjan Stevens", Avalanche somehow escapes sounding patchy and lazy. Maybe it's just a reminder of how goddam good this guy really is and how expressive and inventive his muse can be. And that's despite the fact that one track, Chicago (billed alternatively as Chicago Acoustic, Chicago A.C. and Chicago O.C.D.) is repeated, (possibly as a guiding theme) throughout the LP's progress. Still who cares? It's Sufjan Stevens. And there are 21 tracks, which should be enough to sate everyone.
What makes Stevens special is his musical arranging. Every note and instrument lends some value too the end result. The changes in tempo and mood are absolutely breathtaking. Quite why Stevens isn't writing for the stage is a mystery, for this has the feel akin to a score for a Broadway musical, something like My Fair Lady.
Take Super Computer as a case in point. Arriving on a thrilling rush of trumpets, the track dips and sways round Steven's soft vocal delivery, the very diverse instrumentation (wobbly synths, brass, guitars, etc) seemingly being held together by an endlessly repeating circular scale. Elsewhere, Your Land is beautifully soft; the flutes, pattering drums and strings combining to create an incredibly beguiling, uplifting feel to the introduction.
In addition, the combination of sleazy trumpets with the line "there was a car in the bay/by the boat that swept and swayed" during the song's refrain is a brilliant demonstration of how Stevens allows the instruments to change the music's mood and pace almost within the blink of an eye. Pick Up's beginning is a lush swirl of instruments, settling down to a familiar Stevens dreamscape. The brilliant use of long meaningful silences between the vocal forays and only adds to the track's tension which is brilliantly given its head in the end with a noise resembling a car exhaust.
Oh, there's no point trying to describe each track as I'll run out of superlatives. It's brilliant, despite being, to all intents and purposes a throwaway release.
Words: Richard Foster.