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Alternative & Indie - Released March 31, 2015 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released July 5, 2005 | Asthmatic Kitty

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Music
With two states down and only 48 to go, Sufjan Stevens' ambitious musical map of the Unites States of America should be completed -- if he puts out one a year -- sometime around 2053. It's a daunting task (and not an entirely original one at that), but if each subsequent record is as good as Illinois, fans who live long enough to witness the project's completion will no doubt find themselves to be scholars of both state history and its narrator's shape-shifting soul. Stevens' folk epics, as played by his signature mini-orchestra, have changed little since his 2003 foray into Michigan -- a charge that may cause some grumbling among that album's detractors -- but there's a newfound optimism that runs through much of Illinois that echoes the state's "Gateway to the West" pioneering spirit. Glorious road trip-ready cuts like "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts," "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!," and "Chicago" have an expansiveness that radiates with the ballast of history and the promise of new beginnings. Stevens has done his research, with references to everyone from Abe Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the ghost of Carl Sandburg to John Wayne Gacy -- the latter provides one the song cycle's most affecting moments. The lush (yet still distinctly lo-fi) indie pop melodies draw as much from classic rock as they do progressive folk. "Jacksonville," with its four-chord banjo lurch, mines "Old Man"-era Neil Young, disco strings dance around "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!," while the rousing pre-finale "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" is pure Peanuts-infused Vince Guaraldi as filtered through the ambiguous kaleidoscope of Danielson Famile spiritualism. There's a distinct community theater vibe to the whole affair that may or may not be the result of numerous photo shoots in which the players are dressed in adult-style Boy Scout uniforms -- it brings to mind the Blaine Players from Christopher Guest's small-town theater parody Waiting for Guffman -- but the majority of Illinois is alarmingly earnest. Stevens may be a snake-oil salesman, but he's got pretty good stuff, and like many of history's most untrustworthy wordsmiths, he somehow manages to switch the opportunist off and turn on the human being each time the listener gets suspicious of his intentions. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 16, 2004 | ADA US - Soundsfamilyre

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
After completing the first installment of his planned series of 50 records -- one album dedicated to each state in the U.S. -- indie folk overachiever Sufjan Stevens returned with Seven Swans, a collection of stripped-down, introspective musings on life, love, and faith that chart the geographic location of the heart and soul. Many of these themes were dealt with eloquently on Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State, presenting the singer/multi-instrumentalist as a first-rate interpreter of the human condition, as well as a gifted musician. The 12 tracks on Swans yield the same bounty, but with a leaner arsenal, due to Stevens' sparse arrangements and production from Danielson Famile mastermind Daniel Smith. Fellow Famile members Elin, Megan, David, and Andrew -- who also appeared on The Great Lakes State -- lend their vocal and percussion talents to the mix, resulting in a surreal campfire environment that's part confessional and part processional. Beginning with the gorgeously titled "All the Trees in the Field Will Clap Their Hands," Stevens saunters out of the gate with nary an overdub to be heard, letting the banjo lead the parade, slowly picking up piano, percussion, and the angelic voices of Megan and Elin before disappearing over the hilltop. He channels Bert Jansch on the love song "The Dress Looks Nice on You" and Eric Matthews on "To Be Alone With You," striking a winning balance of '60s British folk and indie Americana. Like the Violent Femmes' seminal pseudo-Christian masterpiece, Hallowed Ground, Seven Swans treats religion with simplicity and sincerity, approaching the subject with an almost feverish peacefulness. "Abraham," "We Won't Need Legs to Stand," and "He Woke Me Up Again," with its fiery, overdriven organ, are all effective tomes of the singer's faith, but that faith can be tested. Stevens is quite aware of the dark, and no more so than on the Flannery O'Connor-inspired "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," a first-person murder narrative that reveals a subtle current of menace only hinted at in the earlier portion of the record. Like faith, these songs require patience, as their almost mantra-like arcs take their time to fully form. By the time he reaches the spirited closer, "Transfiguration," an affirming take on the Gospels that reaches an almost Polyphonic Spree crescendo, the listener has no choice but to conform -- if only for the length of the record -- to the writer's unabashed spirituality, and at just under 45 minutes, it's an easy choice to make. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 12, 2010 | Asthmatic Kitty

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
Sufjan Stevens' official follow-up to 2005's critically acclaimed Illinoise puts to rest the conceptual trappings that have dominated his work thus far. Taking a cue from 2009's Koyaanisqatsi-inspired BQE, The Age of Adz is a schizophrenic album: a subject-spanning, electro-orchestral collection of original pop songs which feels like more like an exorcism than it does a simple evolution of Stevens' songwriting. The literate, collegiate folk-pop that dominated his earlier work has been transformed by the self-admitted "existential crisis" that followed the success of Illinoise, and while there are elements of the past third-person intimacy on The Age of Adz, it's Stevens himself who bears the weight of the world this time around, though it's never revealed as to whether he's heartbroken, world-weary, or just raw from the unattainable expectations placed on him by many of his overly earnest fans. Loosely based on the work of troubled American Creole artist Royal Robertson, who specialized in apocalyptic visions of the future replete with aliens, utopian temples, and end-time prophesying, Age of Adz (pronounced "oddz"), with its glitch-filled, heavily processed barrage of late-'90s electronica, feels cut from the same desolate cloth as Radiohead's Kid A, or Björk's chilly Vespertine, but where Kid A utilized restraint, The Age of Adz trumpets a near-constant cacophony. Opener "Futile Devices" eases the listener into this new world with the familiar sound of a gently fingerpicked electric guitar, and as Stevens' pitch-perfect, heavily delayed vocals reassure his subject that "I do love you," it almost seems like old times. That dreamy setup is revealed as a red herring just seconds into the epic "Too Much," as tree trunk-sized synth bursts and staccato drum machine blips flip the switch on and unleash the The Age of Adz' most accomplished cog. "Too Much," along with the gorgeous "All for Myself" and the propulsive "I Want to Be Well," are stand-outs not just because of their formidable intricacies (the title cut owns that honor), but because they operate on an emotional level that some of the other tracks fail to convey -- as lovely and naked as closer "Impossible Soul" is, it could have been 20 minutes shorter. Stevens' talents as a musician are indisputable, but it's refreshing to hear him so candid, even if that forthrightness is festooned by enough bells and whistles to wake the dead. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released July 1, 2003 | Asthmatic Kitty

Distinctions Pitchfork: Best New Music
Sufjan Stevens's third album is a charming homage to his home state of Michigan. Filled with heartbreak, the album cryptically addresses Stevens' frustration with the notorious job market in the city of Flint in a lovely ballad that opens the record, and documents the depressing struggle the city of Detroit has fought to once again attain the elegance it had prior to the riots in the late '60s; however, it also touches on a brighter side, as in the cascading "Say Yes! to M!ch!gan!" Its title is a reference to the campaign adopted by the state in the 1980s and serves as the centerpiece as well as Stevens' attachment and amour for the state he is from. Musically, Stevens often plays his Jim O'Rourke and Stereolab cards, riffing along with complex polyphony in building loops and dynamics, but he also frequently imports lightly strummed guitars and stark banjo picking to break up the album and give it a rustic northern folk aesthetic. Stevens comfortably handles nearly every instrument on the album -- an impressive task that includes various keyboards, woodwinds, guitars, and percussions -- but also enlisted the help of Megan, Elin, and Daniel Smith from the Danielson Famile to help out with vocal duties, and the outcome is a haunting and hypnotic studio opus certainly worth getting lost in. ~ Gregory McIntosh
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 13, 2012 | Asthmatic Kitty

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Silver & Gold, the 2012 follow-up to 2006's Songs for Christmas, offers up another five-EP set of schizophrenic seasonal cheer from one of indie pop's most prolific and maddeningly detail-oriented overachievers. Housed in an incredibly colorful box that yields volumes 6-10 of the series, they are presented in meticulously decorated, single cardboard sleeves that feel like part of a graphic design thesis, and are accompanied by an 80-page booklet filled with lyrics, chord charts, childhood photos, and personal and production liner notes peppered with rainbow headers, temporary tattoos that include a skeleton Santa, a Manga unicorn and an emo-Jesus, and a construct-it-yourself holiday ornament (comic book-style instructions are provided). Stylistically, it's a lot to take in which, not surprisingly, applies to the music as well. For the most part, Silver & Gold stays true to Stevens' predilection for kitchen sink, lo-fi chamber pop, but he plays fast and loose with the formula, offering up nervy, post-rock oddities like "Mr. Frosty Man" and "X-Spirit Catcher," progressive folk epics in "The Boy with the Star on his Head" and "Christmas Unicorn," and an Age of Adz-inspired rendition of yuletide favorite "Alphabet Street," by Prince in lieu of just standards. That's not to say that the Christmas spirit has been subverted, as Stevens provides plenty of traditional holiday cheer ("Joy to the World," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Silent Night," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" (which clocks in at 40 seconds and is performed only on recorders), and his band of disparate merry makers, who include Aaron and Bryce Dessner (the National), Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), and assorted members of the Castanets and the Danielson Famile, among others, who help to keep things lively and spontaneous, resulting in an audio experience that's akin to pressing your ear against the door of a rehearsal room in a church basement, or watching a Wes Anderson movie while listening to A Charlie Brown Christmas. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released December 7, 2017 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 24, 2017 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Two and half years after the release of his masterpiece Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens offers a follow-up consisting of alternative takes, remixes and demos. Centred around the death of his mother in a resolutely folk mood, the American songwriter returns to a sort of source on this record which he tries here to rub out in order to take things forward into slightly more experimental and electronic territory. The exercise is sometimes a little redundant (like on Death With Dignity whose Helado Negro Remix does away with the original’s virginal beauty) and at other times really quite stunning (with a new lease of life for Exploding Whale thanks to the Doveman Remix). Those left cold or frustrated by the remixes will still stumble across the unreleased song Wallowa Lake Monster. Ultimately, Greatest Gift is fundamentally for Sufjan Stevens fans or completists. © MD/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 21, 2006 | Asthmatic Kitty

Like Avalanche, Songs for Christmas is nothing if not eclectic. A whole sleigh-load of carols and original tunes collected from 2001 to 2006, these songs were written and recorded off the cuff, and naturally many of them feel a little ragged and underdone. But they're far more mature than any of the songs on A Sun Came, and there are moments of quirky holiday splendor -- moments akin to some of the best material on Greetings from Michigan and Illinoise -- that make plowing through the entire five-EP set a pleasure. If you're worried that Sufjan Stevens will sound a trifle predictable or indulgent covering traditionals like "Silent Night," your worries are justified. Recorders, oboes, glockenspiels, and banjos abound, and Stevens approaches these songs with the same vulnerability, preciousness, and weird religious overtones (à la Seven Swans) as he has on his previous work. That aside, "O Holy Night" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel" are deeply affecting, especially because they rely on Stevens' idiosyncratic arrangements and frail voice. The real sugarplums, though, are the original tunes. "That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!" is all meandering banjos and luminous harmonies reminiscent of "Romulus" and "Casimir Pulaski Day," and the jumpy "Get Behind Me, Santa!" reaches "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" heights with some of the best Santa-related lyrics the world has yet known ("You're a bad brother breakin' into people's garages!"). Stevens fans will love Songs for Christmas. Unabashedly, almost frighteningly, with the kind of glee normally attributed to a certain jolly old elf, fans will revel in this little blue box with its silver lettering and scribbly Christmas art. In addition to 42 shiny new tracks, the lucky recipients of Songs for Christmas will also receive: An animated short by Tom Eaton! One (mildly creepy) poster of Stevens in full holiday regalia! Two short stories by Stevens! A weird essay by Rick Moody! And a complete singalong book for the entire EP set! Not to mention stickers! And comics! Songs for Christmas is a veritable stocking's worth of doodads and oddities lovingly embroidered with Stevens' kitschy crayon drawings, scribbly pencil sketches, and extra-long song titles. Which adds up to one merry Christmas indeed for Sufjan Stevens fans. ~ Margaret Reges
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 28, 2017 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released July 11, 2006 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released July 20, 2004 | Asthmatic Kitty

The debut disc from this former member of the folk group Marzuki and sometimes Danielson Famile contributor stakes out some wide musical and thematic territory. Although it was recorded on four-track, it transcends the confines of lo-fi and can even seem sonically overambitious at times. Exploring a terrain that can only be called pan-ethnic folk, A Sun Came begins with Celtic overtones before traveling east in a global musical study. Indian, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, American folk, and instruments ranging from banjo and sitar to oboe and xylophone (most of which are played by Stevens) -- it's all found here in some form or another, which would be a bit disorienting if not for Stevens' often personal lyrical turns and the wide-eyed indie rock vibe that permeates the songs no matter where they may roam. Also, short spoken word pieces are sprinkled across the album, snippets which on one hand sound like field recordings but are in actuality personal anecdotes and reflections from friends, blending further the multicultural music-lesson feel and the introspective, singer/songwriterly tunes -- a nice effect. Highlights include "Demetrius," which takes a Sonic Youth-inspired guitar riff, rides it to the British Isles for some pan pipes, then onward to a Moroccan opium den, and "A Loverless Bed," which is a beautiful, reverb-laden ballad turned noise freak-out. ~ Jason Nickey
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 8, 2004 | Asthmatic Kitty

Sufjan Stevens' second release, Enjoy Your Rabbit, is a vast departure from the pan-ethnic folk of his debut. Using almost no exterior samples, Stevens crafts an electronic, all-"instrumental" song cycle based on the symbols of the Chinese zodiac. While working within these considerably narrower confines, he still maps out a wide musical territory by using each symbol as a mode, each one exploring different textures and tempos and, in the process, evoking a surprising array of moods. At times eerie and ominous like a backwoods Autechre, other times sounding like more club-oriented fare, Stevens sometimes trades in bloops and bleeps for oblique glitches and crackles, but the underlying guiding principle is wide-eyed exploration that fills nearly every track with a sense of playfulness. Enjoy Your Rabbit never gets too serious, although at times it's very intense. Many tracks even have some sort of musical pun working just under the surface; for instance, "Year of the Horse" is by far the longest, clocking in at over 13 minutes, and "Year of the Ox" has a regular, heavy thudding beat. ~ Jason Nickey
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 6, 2009 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 20, 2009 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released December 7, 2010 | Asthmatic Kitty

At sixty minutes, Sufjan Stevens' All Delighted People hardly qualifies as an EP, but the enigmatic, indie pop superstar has never been one to stick with the format. Book-ended by two distinct versions of the considerable title cut (eleven and eight minutes long, respectively), which is a self-described “dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon's ‘The Sounds of Silence,” the eight-track set proves successful in melding Stevens’ precious indie folk with the circular, avant/electro-classical persona he adopted for 2009’s ambitious BQE. As per usual, the record is immaculately crafted, but a bit “proggy,” which could serve to disappoint listeners who have been waiting patiently for the artist to return to the engaging, patchwork pop/rock of 2005’s Illinoise. Fans of the quirky, less immediate moments from that album will find a great deal to love on this precursor to October's full length Age of Adz, but the emotionally charged, collegiate/spiritual nostalgia that informed his earlier works has all but dissipated. ~ James Christopher Monger
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Alternative & Indie - Released October 12, 2017 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released February 26, 2016 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 23, 2015 | Asthmatic Kitty

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 27, 2017 | Asthmatic Kitty

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