Augustana Observer

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Augustana Observer

    Eccentrically brilliant: Sufjan Steven’s new mix-tape

    This past week on November 24, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens released a companion mix-tape to his 2015 album, Carrie & Lowell, called The Greatest Gift – Outtakes, Remixes, & Demos from Carrie and Lowell, and it is quite possibly one of my favorite albums of 2017.
    I feel like I should start by saying that, until now, I had never listened to Sufjan Stevens, though a friend had urged me to check out his music, sending me songs in the middle of the night that I never quite took the time to listen to.  However, while thinking about what I wanted to review, I came across The Greatest Gift, and I thought “Why not?”.
    Carrie and Lowell, being a deeply intimate album that Stevens wrote about his mother and step-father, took a great toll on the singer-songwriter.  Consisting of remixes from other artists, such as Helado Negro, as well as bonus songs that were not on the Carrie and Lowell album, and ending with an iPhone recording of the song “Carrie and Lowell”, The Greatest Gift seems to represent closure that was needed to tie up the loose ends of a truly personal and emotional album.
    The Greatest Gift itself was a mix of different sounds that seemed to come together in a strange yet enjoyable mash-up of folk, electronic music, and alternative rock. Each song had quite a light quality but varied in tone from somber to hopeful.
    On the more hopeful end of that spectrum is the “The Greatest Gift”.  This song, though being the namesake of the album is the shortest song on the mix-tape and is the only song that is accompanied with visuals.  Close to being directly in the middle of the album, it has perhaps the most positive message – a message of peace and love.  Stevens, who tends to reflect greatly on his personal life and religious values really shows these aspects of his life in this song.  
    Perhaps the most distinct line in the song is when Sufjan explains what the greatest gift is: “the greatest gift of all…is to love your friends and lovers, to lay down your life for your brothers”.
    The music video to accompany the song is a montage of photographs of influential people, such as Martin Luther King Jr., as well as what seems to be personal pictures.  Each photo, which moves around a colorful background, looks to be cut out of a magazine or book adding to the warm and comforting feeling of the song.
    My favorite song on the album was “Wallowa Lake Monster” which is partially a reference the game “Dungeons and Dragons”.  This song is the longest song of the album being nearly seven minutes, but each second is filled with a very imaginative story line that can be followed through the lyrics.  A very colorful song, Stevens uses a lot of layering of different voices, synthesizers, and percussion to add to the world he creates.  Singing about what could be described as a myth, “Wallowa Lake Monster” does indeed have a mystical and enchanting quality to it.
    Overall, The Greatest Gift – Outtakes, Remixes, & Demos from Carrie and Lowell, was my favorite album that I’ve listened to all year.  I am not usually a fan of albums that feature various aspects of a variety of genres because the songs do not usually function as one album, but rather a set of different songs. However, everything on this album transitioned so well that the entire mix-tape seems like one long song. If you are looking for something eccentrically brilliant that you might not find on the radio, listen to The Greatest Gift – Outtakes, Remixes, & Demos from Carrie and Lowell, you will not be disappointed.

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    Eccentrically brilliant: Sufjan Steven’s new mix-tape