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Sufjan At Piano
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Charissa Zeigler

The first time I listened to a Sufjan Stevens song I didn’t take note of it. It took the release of Luco Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name to make me realize I’d heard Steven’s voice before. 

Fast forward to embarking on a listening tour of albums that emotionally butchered me during my adolescent metamorphosis to get to the true Steven’s fan writing this today. 

Stevens’ pass-me-by-ness is a quality of his iconic Carrie and Lowell album. Unless, you’re in the right spot, listening with your whole heart it’s easier for the uninitiated to hear some plucked strings and a small voice. But what a still small voice it is. 

Stevens initiates a feint with Javelin. You think you’re getting a repeat of the lyrical Carrie and Lowell, maybe a dash of the 2021 release A Beginner’s Mind, or the Biblical tip-toeing Flint-Water-Crisis-historicizing of Michigan but suddenly you realize you’re getting everything. And I mean everything. The percussion of Chicago with the lullabies of Michigan and the electronic hailstones of the Age of Adz

But is it too much you ask? Is this just the ramblings of an avid fan. In denial that the musical soup is oversaturated? No. Stevens’ songs are watery haloes. They reverberate slowly and majestically outward as the song that is named after the Southern gothic writer Flannery ‘O’Connor “Everything that Rises Must Converge” reiterates. 

And yet as a true fan I couldn’t not mention my growing dislike with Steven’s falsetto. Steven’s vocals strain windpipe-like. The lyrics are in the vein of prophecy or liturgy, which some people may find didactic rather than revelatory. Take me to church? Or maybe don’t. 

Yet this album is characterized by the intimacy reflected in its rollercoaster of hope and despair. Especially so when paired with Steven’s announcement on Tumblr of the passing of his late partner Evans Richardson. 

Steven’s openness about the death of his partner is so unique to him that some articles have labeled it a “coming out” despite the queer text of his previous songs. As such, I worry about the intensity of the relationship between fans and musicians and the type of privacy the public normatizes for musicians. At the same time, his openness reminds me of what I take from his songs—that you can be sincere, kitschy and kinda campy with an open heart to the world.