Sufjan Stevens: Seven Swans (Sounds Familyre, 2004)
There are few albums that have impacted me over the years on the spiritual, mental, and artistic levels like Seven Swans has impacted me. Frankly, this album overwhelms me. It is simple and deep at the same time. Sufjan Stevens has proven himself to be a consummate singer songwriter. This is an album of sparse guitars, banjos, stripped down drums, sprinkles of keys along with open spiritual songs. With Sufjan‘s Michigan gaining such notoriety, I find it brave that he released a set of songs that were so openly religious and so strikingly honest. At the same time, he is able to do what few artists have done in the past. He is able to express his religious ideals without making his music cliché or over-the-top. He blends his own whimsical, breathtaking style but with a more personal approach on Swans.
“All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” begins the album with slow-tempo banjo and Sufjan‘s endearing voice. There are beautiful, female BVG’s laced throughout the song and hints of piano. Sufjan uses the BVG’s to build the song and then adds stripped down drums towards the end. Although the layers of the song are subtle, they are progressively beautiful in their simplicity. Lyrically, this song really sets the listener up for the rest of the LP’s content. He expresses his need for a relationship with God and all that entails. Sufjan softly sings, “And I am throwing all my thoughts away / And I’m destroying every bit I’ve made / And I am joining all my thought to You / And I’m preparing every part for You.” “The Dress Looks Nice on You” is a mid-tempo acoustic song with some eastern flavor thrown in. “In the Devil’s Territory” is an acoustic layered piece with a classical/eastern feel. Sufjan throws in keys in the bridge giving it an “out of this world” flavor, connecting the spiritual content with that of the music. Lyrically, “Devil’s” mixes images of the second coming and those of the beast with the church’s longing to see the Christ. Although these images could be used in a cliché sort of way, Sufjan somehow paints the images with beautiful, poetic brushes and really conveys a feeling of anticipation for His coming.
“To Be Alone with You” is probably my favorite track on the entire LP. Here, Michigan makes another appearance in his lyrics. For me, this song embodies the power of this disc and is a pivotal track on the record. There is no crescendo in the music and very little build in that respect. Rather, Sufjan builds the song solely through lyrics, and does so masterfully.
I’d swim across Lake Michigan
I’d sell my shoes
I’d give my body to back again
In the rest of the room
To be alone with you (x4)
You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and family
You gave your ghost
To be alone with me (x3)
You went up on the tree.
I never known a man who loved me.
Sufjan is simple, yet poignant. He lets the music really express what he is saying in words. Sufjan not only uses simple relational concepts between him and God as content, but he also takes Bible stories and retells them through song, such as “Abraham” and “The Transfiguration”. “Abraham” is only 2:33 minutes in length, yet Sufjan says just enough about Abraham and his willingness to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son to be powerful. “The Transfiguration” basically tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration found in the Gospels. This is done over banjo, beautiful female BVG’s, xylophone, and horns.
I honestly have nothing bad to say about this album. It is perfect, and I don’t say this about just any album.
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