Not this one again. Sufjan Stevens’ most recent album, Carrie & Lowell, was widely (and rightly) acclaimed to be one of his best albums—if not the best—but it’s also one of the most raw and despondent records in recent memory. So it’s kind of strange that last year, the album was revisited twice in two dramatically different contexts—as a live album (which ended with a cover of “Hotline Bling,” no less), and with this “mixtape” consisting of outtakes, remixes and demos. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the original, this album’s not a total-write off. The four new songs are good, but the remixes often sit at odds with the lyrical matter, to the songs’ detriment. (Helado Negro and Doveman’s remixes are the exceptions.) If you don’t want to ruin someone’s day by playing the source material, this should be a fine substitute. (Note: This disc is missing the album’s final track, “Carrie & Lowell (iPhone Demo).”)|
FCCs: Possibly 8
Favorites: 1, 3, 7, 8
1) “Wallowa Lake Monster” (6:52)* – Quickly fingerpicked acoustic guitar with subtle electronic elements that grow more prominent around the chorus, taking over the song in the final, wordless three minutes. Lyrically weaves the story of his upbringing, and his mother’s struggles with mental illness, with a bit of Oregon mythology.
2) “Drawn to the Blood (Sufjan Stevens Remix)” (5:29) – This song, formerly an acoustic strummer, is totally transformed into a gentle electronic rave. Sounds like something that would have come off of the Planetarium project, or even—and I know this sounds weird—a more climactic version of Coldplay’s “Midnight.”
3) “Death With Dignity (Helado Negro Remix)” (4:08)* – This is how you remix an album like Carrie & Lowell. Helado Negro’s remix swaddles the instrumentation in a ghostly, ambient haze, but doesn’t smother it. Sounds like a sonic midpoint between the last two Bon Iver records.
4) “John My Beloved (iPhone Demo)” (4:17) – Yup, it’s the original demo of “John My Beloved” that Sufjan recorded on his iPhone in a hotel in Oregon. Where the album version was a gentle electronic throb, this is played on an acoustic guitar. At least he kept the hiss of the room’s air conditioner.
5) “Drawn to the Blood (Fingerpicking Remix)” (2:02) – Another version of “Drawn to the Blood” that trades its shaggy acoustic strumming for frantic fingerpicking and lops off the ambient outro.
6) “The Greatest Gift” (1:52) – A short and sweet little acoustic tune about loving your friends and lovers, and being grateful for what you’ve got.
7) “Exploding Whale (Doveman Remix)” (5:27)* – Curious, plinking electronic tones rattle around the track. The song sounds kind of like taking a walk underwater, if that makes any sense.
8) “All of Me Wants All of You (Helado Negro Remix)” (3:25)* – Potential FCC warning with the word “masturbated.” Unlike the other Helado Negro remix, the acoustic guitar from the original song is almost completely substituted for percussion, piano, and electronic chimes. If we can get away with saying “masturbated” on the air, play this one.
9) “Fourth of July (900x Remix)” (6:48) – Glitchy electronic elements and skittering hi-hats honestly make for unwelcome intrusions into this track. Given how much power the original drew from its starkness and intimacy, turning the final three minutes into a soft rave really doesn’t serve the song well. (The song literally drops a beat to the lyric “we’re all gonna die.”)
10) “The Hidden River of My Life” (4:05) – A jaunty, folky number with a brisk banjo riff. The chorus feels kind of cluttered between the multiple vocals and the subdued thwacks of percussion. (The last minute is a haunting, ambient outro.)
11) “City of Roses” (2:14) – A love letter to my city, Portland. (Is it bad that I can’t tell if Stevens is playing a banjo or an acoustic guitar?) It’s a country / folk song that sounds almost like a campfire singalong.