Sufjan Stevens opens the vault

Of the seven major releases of Sufjan Stevens‘s career, only the first one (2000′s A Sun Came) lacks an overarching thematic focus; his other albums have been devoted to the Chinese zodiac, Michigan, God, Illinois (twice), and Christmas. But as a new post on Asthmatic Kitty‘s website reveals, these official releases are only the tip of a very weird iceberg. Prior to the (apparently aborted) 50 states concept, a college-age Sufjan Stevens sat in his dorm room, churning out songs about first names, planets, days of the week, the Apostles, and who knows what else. Many of these songs were recorded on a four track tape recorder, with “pillows and cushions stuffed in the air vents so no one would hear.”

At the bottom of the post, Sufjan is offering one of the songs as a free sample (thus proving that these crazy song series actually do exist). It’s called “Sofia’s Song,” and comes from the series about names. Apparently it’s about Sofia Copolla, although this is not clear from the lyrics alone. The style recalls Devendra Banhart‘s home demos (as documented on 2002s Oh Me Oh My…), with layered vocals and haphazard fingerpicking. It’s a simple folk song that falls well short of the two-minute mark, but it’s touching nonetheless, especially when accompanied by Sufjan’s intimate account of the recordings: “The world of youth was where I tried on new ideas, new outfits, new names, and new rhyme schemes—-a world where the banjo was my journal, where Sofia Coppola was my imaginary confidant, and where singing out of tune was perfectly OK!”

Perhaps, buried in this nostalgia, there is a subliminal explanation for why Sufjan still has not released an official follow-up to his 2005 masterpiece, Illinois. By glorifying the freedom of obscurity, when no one was listening and he was able to experiment without consequence, he hints at the pressure he now feels as one of the most prominent names in indie music.

The song is well worth a listen, and the accompanying post is equally interesting. Click here to check them out.
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