Okay, Sufjan Stevens, I can criticize you now. My policy is to never criticize specific musicians or specific music, because there’s just too much good, exciting, invigorating, creative, beautiful music to write about. So why waste energy criticizing music that is not up to snuff, or railing against the vast wasteland of pop music. And since taste is highly subjective, negative critique can be soul-destroying. Something that doesn’t work for me, might well nourish some other soul, so why should I criticize.
I have been following Sufjan Stevens’ music for a number of years. His melodic vocal lines are exquisite, and the instrumentation takes cues from minimalists such as Steven Reich and Philip Glass in layering simple strings of notes into complex musical structures. All so good. Stevens’ lyrics burn deeply into the psyche, so introspective and touching. Nothing has been so raw and soul baring since John Lennon’s first solo album (and his only good one, but I digress).
That’s the good part. The bad is that his youtube videos indicated that Stevens was weak in live performance. He would miss notes, and without the studio effects his voice was just too thin. Part of this is due to the large number of garbage phone videos of his music, but even Stevens’ appearance on ACL was a major disappointment.
Anyway, I can say this now, because finally there is a performance video that does Stevens’ music justice. I discovered it just tonight, and man, it’s good. It’s great. Carrie and Lowell was a superb studio record, received well deserved accolades from the music press, and confirmed Stevens’ position as one of the most significant recording artists, no scratch that, one of the significant voices of our time. But Stevens hasn’t been able to translate that studio wizardry into live performance. But now he has, and so, finally, I can put my frustration with Sufjan Stevens, the performing artist, behind me. A very good moment.