Matt Brundage

Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Sufjan Stevens

Stephen Thomas Erlewine has a fresh article on Sufjan Stevens which basically condemns him for being the teacher’s pet, his music for being too perfect and pretentious, and his subject research as being too “school-report”. Dare I say I sense a bit of jealously in Erlewine’s heart?

The orchestrations and compositions on SMiLE are purposeful — on Illinois, they’re clever-clever and showy, as the ornamentation of the production is there for its own sake, never there to illuminate or enhance Sufjan’s musical or lyrical motifs. Because, apart from the conceit of writing songs about a particular state, there isn’t much connection to the sound or feel of the state in question. Stevens never taps into the musical history of a state — never touching Chicago blues or jazz, or Michigan soul or rock. He simply uses the concept of songs about a state as a vehicle to deliver his baroque folk-pop …

So, Stevens – instead of creating his own sound – must now ape the style of his forebears? Does Erlewine honestly think Stevens would stand out in the indie world by basically being a cover artist? I can see it now: Stevens in the studio, about to record California. “Now, track one will be my Beach Boys song, my tribute to Weezer and The Offspring will be track two, and now I’ll go write my Glen Campbell knockoff.”

Oh, and contrary to the article, Stevens did touch Chicago blues/jazz: see track 21, “Riffs And Variations On A Single Note For Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, And The King Of Swing, To Name A Few.”

3 Responses to “Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Sufjan Stevens”

  1. Chris says:

    I agree totally. I have read several of his essays on AllMusic. Including his latest on the wonders of Christina Aguilera’s new album. I think his uncle started AllMusic and thats how he got his job. But I now have to make sure he didn’t write the reviews I look at now so that I am not misled by bad taste.

  2. Richard says:

    I disagree, the article rang true. At least on Michigan, you felt there was an emotional connection between the songwriter and his home state; on Illinois, there is no such connection, nor are there many hooks, just lots of bells and whistles. I think Erlewine is right. Like any artist, Stevens needs to vary his style, and integrating some of the musical history from each state would have been the logical way to do this (a short interlude with trumpets surely does not touch Chicago’s musical background so much as pay it lip service). At the moment we get Stevens’ homework presented to us in song titles and lyrics – an idea that’s going to wear thin pretty quickly.

    I feel I need to defend Erlewine further – you can deride him for praising Christina Aguilera, but it’s his job to rate albums in the context of their genre, even if that genre is loathed by you or me. If you dig deeper, you’ll find he has a knowledge of music that extends right back to the foundations of rock. He isn’t your average Pitchfork hack.

  3. Mr Skin says:

    Sounds like Christina is turning into a bit of a snob with her latest demands on her dressing room setups. She used to be so sweet! I miss the Britney days!!