Sufjan Stevens Unveils Remixes, Demos and Outtakes on ‘The Greatest Gift’
Sufjan Stevens’ 2015 album “Carrie & Lowell” was wrought with deeply held emotions of love and loss after the passing of his mother. In a move only this 42-year-old Michigander could pull off, Stevens is revisiting the sentiment found on his last full-length with his latest mixtape “The Greatest Gift.” Replete with outtakes, iPhone demos, remixes and even some previously unreleased tracks, this early Christmas present looks at an even more eccentric side of the already unconventional singer.
Of course, Stevens is known for his eclectic taste. Look no further than his live album from earlier this year which closes with a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and features the falsetto R&B singer Gallant. The first taste of his creative song transformations comes from “Drawn to the Blood.” Here, Stevens takes a somber tune from his last album and adds to it a bustling, drum-less electro sound, only later to ascend higher and higher as a beat comes into play. The song even makes its way to another remix further down the album where a mandolin and piano lean towards a faster pace. These remixes are something curious that only Stevens can pull off. This utterly unique mixture of acoustic veneers and dramatic electronics certainly make each remix worthy of a mixtape. While “Drawn to the Blood” was revised by Stevens’ himself, both “Death with Dignity” and “All of Me Wants All of You” were taken up by his label-mate Helado Negro. For the former, he ups the ante with lush tones atop the simple, acoustic original. In fact, most of “Carrie & Lowell” was sonically simple, but of course, featured some very complex songwriting. Helado again adds layers to the previous simplicity of “All of Me Wants All of You,” while Stevens sings angelically through the highly ambiguous lyrics.
Much of the new, previously unheard cuts resemble its sister-album. The opening track “Wallowa Lake Monster” melds personal remembrances with allegorical tales from Oregon ending in a swell of synths and background chorus singing, while the title track finds Stevens taking to a nylon-stringed guitar to delicately pluck away as Biblical comparisons fly. Another new one, “City of Roses” follows suit with references to Portland’s nickname, the city which took center stage in his 2015 album.
“The Greatest Gift” is indeed the perfect name here. Fans of Stevens will find the mixtape thoroughly fulfilling and stacked with curiosities. Even the iPhone demos (“Carrie & Lowell” and “John My Beloved”) offer a raw glimpse into the room where they were recorded. At this point, Stevens is a totally open book. With a mixtape, a collaborative record about the cosmos (“Planetarium”), a live album and a score for the film “Call Me by Your Name” all completed this year, Stevens just may be the most ambitious artist of 2017.
“The Greatest Gift” is available Nov. 24 on Apple Music.