Heirloom: A cocktail inspired by Sufjan Stevens

Anyone who jumped into The Age of Adz when it came out in 2010 and hadn't listened to anything not-Illinois beforehand was probably a little confused. Its electro-apocalypti-prophetic nature is massive and unashamed, and on first listen its biggest peaks couldn't feel more removed from the rest of Sufjan Stevens' work. 

But while there are big differences between Illinois and The Age of Adz, they're still more like neighboring towns than cross-country destinations. There's an invisible overlap in there somewhere, isn't there? You might sense a line that exists between them, connecting the stylistic differences to the same artist, even if they are altogether unique experiences. 

 

The All Delighted People EP is that line. 

Epic, classic rock inspired soundscapes? Check. Mellow, introspective acoustics? Gotcha. Tear-inducing, piano-singed murder ballads? Praise be, yes! Hallelujah.  

I can't count the number of times I've informed other Sufjan fans of All Delighted People's existence. Released only months before The Age of Adz, this little guy got buried for lots of people, which is a shame because I think Stevens was working toward his musical future on this EP. I can hear the foundation All Delighted People laid under The Age of Adz and the upcoming Carrie and Lowell, which is impressive given how very different those two albums are. 

There are many places on this EP when you can hear Sufjan deconstructing and reorganizing his own sound. It is simultaneously backward- and forward-looking, combining elements from his former albums and from the new sound he brought to his last tour... Something is different. It’s almost as if he is allowing himself to keep more of the literal meaning of the songs to himself than he used to. He’s trusting in the songs themselves to work without trying to force an interpretation on the listener with complex images or plot arcs. There are more gaps. The songs are more open. {The Problem of Joy: A Review of Sufjan Stevens' All Delighted People EP, The Other Journal}

This change in approach does nothing to weaken the emotional impact of these songs. If anything, some of them are bolstered by the gaps. That openness leaves more room to sit with the profound. Looking back on All Delighted People with a new album on the way leaves me feeling like this collection is less a compilation of disjointed experiments than some have asserted. I would argue that this is the laboratory.


All Delighted People

Digital track & lyrics

The album's description from Asthmatic Kitty: 'All Delighted People is built around two different versions of Sufjan’s long-form epic ballad "All Delighted People," a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon’s "Sounds of Silence." Sounds delightful, yes!' Uh, duh. 

And I remember every sound it made 
The clouded out disguises and the grave 
So yeah I know I’m still afraid 
Of letting go of choices I have made

The sweeping 11+ minute original version of "All Delighted People" is big, and yet it never feels too long to me. The "classic rock version" is good too, but I like the bravado of this one a bit more: 

Raise your hands!

Prior to the release of All Delighted People EP, Sufjan was interviewed a number of times about the existential crisis he was grappling with. Some took his words to mean that he was ready to retire from music altogether, but he clarified:

What’s the point of making music anymore?’ I feel that the album no longer has a stronghold or has any real bearing anymore. The physical format itself is obsolete; the CD is obsolete and the LP is kinda nostalgic. So, I think the album is suffering and that’s how I’ve always created—I work with these conceptual albums in the long-form. And I’m wondering, what’s the value of my work once these forms are obsolete and everyone’s just downloading music? And I’m starting to get sick of my conceptual ideas. I’m tired of these grand, epic endeavors, and wanting to just make music for the joy of making music and having it be immediate and nothing to do with the industry itself, which, y’know is suffering right now of course. And I think it has to do with a creative crisis too. I’m wondering what am I doing? What is a song even? I’m questioning, what’s the point of a song? Is a song antiquated? Does it have any power any more? The format itself—a narrative song with accompaniment—is really beyond me now. {"Sufjan Stevens: An Interview (An excerpt)," Vishkanna}

Have you felt doubt of that magnitude before? Doubt in yourself, your work, the purpose and value of what you do? Do you remember how lonely that feels? That doubt-- of the relevance and meaning of his work in a changing world-- is what I hear most clearly in "All Delighted People." The struggle to fight through the uncertainty can be life-altering and dark, yet there's a certain hope in seeking solace and comfort in other people.

The end of this song, however, is dissonant and abrupt. Perhaps the doubt wasn't overcome? Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe you keep going anyway.

 

The Owl and The Tanager

Digital track & lyrics. 

If forced to choose my top 5 favorite Sufjan songs, "The Owl and the Tanager" would be one of the first off my tongue. I've rediscovered it this winter, and have been teetering on the line between sharing and badgering people with it. I've been sending people the link to the digital track (above) with an urgent, "Have you heard this song? Listen."

How could you run from me now? 
The loneliest chime in the house 
The loneliest chime in the house 
You let it out you let it out 
Come to me Calvary still 
I’m weeding and raking until 
I’m bleeding in spite of my love for you 
It bruised and bruised my will 

There's a melancholy side to the transcendental nature of music, and this song has built a log cabin in that shadow. It is piercing, deliberate and bloody. It's direct, and it takes it's time. It is predator and prey. It is so open I can almost feel the vulnerability in my own chest. 

Have you heard this song? Listen:

There's no shame in grabbing a tissue (or a drink) right about now.

 

Heirloom

Digital track & lyrics.

The shortest song on All Delighted People, "Heirloom," manages to feel comfortable and sad all at the same time. I don't agree with Pitchfork's entire assessment of this song, but I can understand the sentiment that "Heirloom" is like 'Sufjan showing up to your apartment unannounced, saying "hi," playing a few songs, saying "thanks," and then leaving without explanation. There's a lingering effect.'

Maybe this song is a little bit of an outlier on the EP as a whole, but it is definitely a companion piece to the previous track, "Enchanting Ghost." That song begins, "Tell me what you saw in me/ And I’ll try to replicate it with a scene," an opening line from a narrator struggling with trying to hold onto a love that has faded, even though they know better. There's an element of trying to recreate what once was on "Enchanting Ghost," a simultaneous pleading for the past and acceptance of the end. "Heirloom" almost feels like it picks up in the next scene. The narrator is at once sweet:

And when you walk inside I feel the door 
I’ll never let it push your arms no more 
And when your legs give out just lie right down 
And I will kiss you till your breath is found

... And adversarial:

So do you think I came to fight? 
And do I always think I’m right? 
Oh no I never meant to be a pest to anyone this time 
Oh no I only meant to be a friend to everyone this time

Which I can relate to. The stream-of-consciousness nature of these lyrics that reminds me of playing out potential arguments in my head that never happen-- a way of processing, to get to the heart of how I feel. When faced with the person who is unaware of that mental argument (that they didn't know we've been having), I usually end up feeling like I just want to be a friend. What began as me picking an imaginary fight ends in me giving into compassion:

The Recipe

Heirloom: A cocktail inspired by Sufjan Stevens. Lillet Blanc, vodka, honey, lemon, Angostura, apple. Photo by Andrea Holodnick. | saragalactica.com

 

Heirloom: A cocktail inspired by the music of Sufjan Stevens

Cocktail by Sara Galactica

Photo by Andrea Holodnick

 

What you'll need:

2 oz Lillet Blanc

1 oz vodka

1 tsp honey

1 oz lemon juice

4 dashes Angostura bitters

Thin slice of apple, cut crosswise to reveal the star (brush with lemon juice to prevent browning).


What to do:

In an empty cocktail shaker, combine lemon juice and honey. Stir well until honey is completely dissolved. 

Add Lillet Blanc, vodka, bitters, and fill shaker about halfway with ice. Shake vigorously for 45 seconds. 

Strain cocktail into coupe or martini glass. Float apple slice atop. 

Sip & enjoy. Don't forget to eat that boozy apple slice when you're done with your drink. 


Next Week

The Age of Adz. I'm so excited.