As the final leaves of autumn fall, many Deacs may be dismayed at finding themselves without the appropriate soundtrack to accompany this transition to frigid winter.
Never fear friends, for everyone’s favorite soft-spoken banjo-toting indie poster boy has our back. Last Friday, Sufjan Stevens, indie darling and folk music sensation, put out his latest release: The Greatest Gift Mixtape — Outtakes, Remixes, & Demos from Carrie & Lowell. As the subtitle describes, this “album” is actually a mixtape, a companion piece to his acclaimed 2011 release, Carrie and Lowell. But don’t be fooled by its appearance of being cobbled together; for this compilation sounds nearly as cohesive as any of Stevens’ work. For those unaware, Sufjan Stevens is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, Midwesterner and generally a staple of the indie scene since the early 2000s. He is perhaps best-known for his 2005 concept album Illinois, a masterwork devoted to celebrating the history and people of the titular state.
He has performed for late-night talk shows like Fallon and Colbert, as well as in numerous high-profile music festivals, including Coachella and Pitchfork. His music covers multiple styles and genres, from the electronic to the symphonic; however, it is always recognizable, in part due to his distinguishably intimate and delicate voice.
The music itself on The Greatest Gift consists primarily of a familiar stripped down indie folk sound, which is best embodied by the outtake tracks. The song “Wallowa Lake Monster” stands out as a potent amalgam of biblical references and references to Sufjan’s own childhood and upbringing in Oregon; an outtake that would sound quite at home on Carrie and Lowell. The remixes combine this folk sound with a minimalistic electronic twist, creating an exceptionally ethereal auditory experience; this is best exemplified by the song “Exploding Whale-Doveman Remix.”
The demos are the simplest tracks of all, consisting primarily of recordings from Stevens’ iPhone; the track “Carrie & Lowell-iPhone Demo” in particular highlights the singer’s bare-bones musicianship.
Sufjan Stevens’ mixtape would probably best be enjoyed by fans of folk artists like Bon Iver or Father John Misty. Despite the slight variation in production quality between its tracks, it manages to retain a general homogeneity in its tone. While this quality can often times evoke feelings of deepest melancholy, the gorgeous melodies and otherworldly harmonies also manage to conjure feelings of optimism in the listener, which is a common quality in Stevens’ works.
The Greatest Gift is perfect for studying, road trips or perhaps just quiet reflection and contemplation. Regardless of how they enjoy it, indie music fans will probably find the timing of its release fitting, as Sufjan’s ghostly tones perfectly evoke the image of impending frost.