Freakscene – In Praise Of Sufjan Stevens

The mystery of what exactly Sufjan Stevens has been up to for the last four years is one that has had fans of heartwrenchingly fey indie-pop tied up in increasingly weird knots.

Having several years back declared his intent to write an album for each of the 50 states of the US, he released a strong contender for record of the decade with 2005’s dazzlingly overambitious ‘Illinoise’. There are still those holding out hope for him to stick to this promise; Freakscene is not holding its breath, as at current rate we’d need to do so for about 200 years before he was actually done.

Nope, I’m happy with what I’m given. Or I am if it involves anything sounding like ‘You Are The Blood’. Released earlier this year as part of the charity compilation ‘Dark Was The Night’ – it is a strong contender for best track of Sufjan’s career, a sprawling pseudo-Biblical monster spitting brass and breakbeats, suggesting whatever the hell he’s cooking up in his lab is going to be very electronic and liable to give one nightmares when finally it emerges.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. For reasons I’m a bit hazy on, two years ago Sufjan composed and conducted a symphonic tribute to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (yes, that would be a motorway). It was performed over three nights at the BAM in Brooklyn, and apparently a quite breathtaking amount of hoolahooping was involved.

Next month the soundtrack album ‘The BQE’ goes on sale and, y’know, it’s pretty good, a slow, slow build from grainy shoegaze noise through the type of pretty-but-driving baroque arrangements that’ll be familiar to all ‘Illinoise’ fans, up up up until the now customary electro wigouts.

Will it please those hungry for a new ‘proper’ album? No sir, not one bit, and that’s why Freakscene commends Sufjan, a man who values faintly perverse indulgence of artistic whim over doing anything even remotely expected of him.

Stateside fans/anyone with a computer will be further tantalised/frustrated by another Sufjan-related album out next month: the string quartet Osso’s ‘Run Rabbit Run’, a classical reimagining of 2001’s baffling ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ (an electronic album based on the Chinese zodiac).

Finally, there will presumably be a Sufjan Christmas album this year, because there’s always a Sufjan Christmas album, though the last three haven’t been made available to the public, so, er, yeah, good luck with that…

This bout of activity will be capped off at this weekend’s ATP New York with his first band show in years, playing through all of 2004’s folky Seven Swans.

Some will be holding out for this as a portent of his return to twisted baroque pop. Which would be lovely and all, but Freakscene’s fingers are crossed that he’s getting this out of his system before blindsiding us with a terrifying but brilliant breakbeat odyssey about an airport. In any case, all hail the man who could easily have become huge after ‘Illinoise’, but chose instead to stay interesting.