4.14.2015

An Amazing List of Unreleased Sufjan Stevens Songs

There are literally entire worlds of unreleased Sufjan music. Time to do some exploring!
I have to admit when I first found out about Sufjan Stevens' new album Carrie & Lowell I was taken a bit by surprise.

Whether it was through Pitchfork, Stereogum, or Asthmatic Kitty's Facebook page I cannot remember, but the album cover's image just struck me—a simple faded and perhaps crumpled photo of a middle-aged man and woman.

Carrie and Lowell? oh.... Oh? What is this? This could be good?

I wasn't disappointed, but I was surprised.
The whole concept and even existence of the album seemed to come from out of nowhere, but Sufjan can do whatever he wants and I love him for that. 

The concept was not the surprise—no, the shock came in the fact that I expected Sufjan's next release to be one of an assortment of possibilities. Over the past few years he has had a number of projects quietly hovering in and out of the public eye (and no, I'm not talking about another much pined after but increasingly unlikely 50 States album!), projects I have expected him to release is some official form.

And yet, I was incredibly happy to hear about Carrie & Lowell. It's the most conventional work he has released in years. In fact, it might be the most conventional album he has ever released. As a fan it is immensely satisfying to hear him singing gorgeous songs again, even if they are all maudlin contemplations on death and loss and a past we can never change.

And yet yet yet I am still very much hoping for these other works to find an official release. Here's my list of them with some brief descriptions. Who knows, maybe I can stoke the fires enough and help them someday see the light of day? Maybe Subaru himself will read this and realize all the ways he has yet to bless the world.

Ballet: Everywhere We Go
Source: NYC Ballet 

Stevens has composed two works for ballet, both of them choreographed by Justin Peck. The first was Year of the Rabbit which contained newly orchestrated arrangements of selected works from the electronic instrumental album Enjoy Your Rabbit. Essentially you can listen to recorded versions of those arrangements, which are excellent, on Run Rabbit Run, performed by the Osso String Quartet. However, Sufjan and Peck debuted an entirely new balletic work last year called Everywhere We Go. You can view excerpts from the work at the New York City Ballet's website, but as far as I know, no official version, either of audio or video, of the 9 part work has been or is planned to be released.

Here is an hourlong interview with Stevens, Peck, and Michael Atkinson (who arranged Year of the Rabbit for orchestra), along with some extended excerpts from the first ballet Year of the Rabbit.


Outtakes from the 50 States Project: "50 States Song", "National Anthem"

Sufjan's career and mythology really took off once he did two things: 1.) record two brilliant albums based off of states in the U.S.A. and 2.) started telling everyone he was going to release albums based off of all of the 50 states. What a brilliant, overly-ambitious, semi-insane project. Apparently, he was never all that serious about completing what has come to be know as the 50 States Project, and that's alright, as an artist Stevens has proven his relentless restlessness, having given us many beautiful and challenging works of music over the years. At this point he owes us nothing.

And yet Stevens decided to release two songs from the 50 States Project onto his Sound Cloud page: "The 50 States" and his arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner" both of which he played live from time to time around the release of the Illinois album. Both of these songs have a classic Illinoise era sound to them and contain hints of what could have been had there been another States album. It is too bad they have not been released onto something more physical, like even a 50 States EP containing these songs and whatever else he had worked on regarding the states and American history and civic life. If you're savvy enough you can (of course) figure out a way to download the tracks.



Documentary Soundtrack: Round-Up
In early 2015 it was announced that Stevens had been working on Round-Up, a documentary film and its soundtrack with filmmakers Aaron and Alex Craig. Essentially, from what I gather, it is a slow motion montage of images filmed in high resolution at an Oregon rodeo. The film would be viewed, accompanied by a live performance of the soundtrack (performed by Stevens and the ensemble Yarn/Wire) for 5 nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music at the end of January.  

Again, there is no word if the soundtrack or the film will find a digital or physical release.




Majesty Snowbird and an album on birds
The wing outfit from the 2006 tour
I think I am going to raise a stink about this one until it becomes a reality. During his 2006 post-Illinoise tour Sufjan tantalized his audiences with "Majesty Snowbird" a 10 minute epic containing a melody he claimed had been stuck in his head for ten years. The song was so brilliant I thought for sure it would find its way onto an album, and there were even rumors he was going to put out a bird themed album (he has a number of bird related songs including "The Lord God Bird" and "The Owl and the Tanager" the latter of which made it onto the All Delighted People EP). Sufjan has seemed particularly bird obsessed over the years, what with an entire bird-themed tour (the same 2006 one mentioned above), being an avid bird watcher, and using numerous metaphorical references to birds on his new album, my guess is he has an abandoned "bird" album just floating around out there.

So now I'm just pleading: Please Sufjan, release "Majesty Snowbird" (and whatever else you've got hiding in a poop-stained cage in your apartment) into the wild! The fact that you've held it in captivity so long is cruel, just cruel! Away little bird. Away and be free! 



Song Cycle: Planetarium
In the spring of 2013 Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner (from The National and a composer in his own right), and Nico Muhly (a well-established composer) inconspicuously went on a world tour with an original work, entitled simply Planetarium. And that was it. Other than the Youtube clips that surfaced and the bootlegs that went up, the 11 part work has never been officially released.

All I can say is WHY!? WHYIEEEE!?



The original Christmas songs "The Child With the Star on His Head" and "Christmas in the Room"
OK, this one is really just me complaining. In 2012 Sufjan released his second set of Christmas songs Silver & Gold, and one of the EP's in that collection featured two of my favorite all time Sufjan songs, "The Child With the Star on His Head" and "Christmas in the Room", except the official release contained (IMHO) inferior versions of those songs. You see, around 2008 that particular EP (Christmas Infinity Voyage) got leaked to the public (as it turned out, by his labelmate and friend Rafter), and Sufjan couldn't help but noodle around with the arrangements in the time before the official release (actually, many of the songs off that EP are vastly different than on the leaked version, including songs that were not even on the original). Sufjan can do whatever he wants—as I've said, he owes us nothing—but whatever he did to those two songs in particular is an injustice to his art and to us as listeners. It is too bad he gave in on one hand to make "Christmas in the Room" much more sparse, taking out the beautiful piano part, and on the other hand to make "The Child With the Star on His Head" much more ugly and noisey (at least the second half of the song) taking out the analog guitar solo and haunting choir and replacing it with a 2 hour electronically manipulated guitar solo (that lasted 2 hours, right?).

So, please just let be be a whiny baby about this, OK? I simply wish I had "official" (or should I say "superior"?) versions of those songs other than what I downloaded from someone's Mediafire page back in 2008. Maybe every year we can lay upon Sufjan some good old-fashioned Christmas guilt, kicking and screaming in our footy pajamas underneath the tree until he gives the presents we deserve!

You can enjoy the original versions of the songs here: (thanks for ruining Christmas for everyone Rafter!)




Other possible possibilities, though incredibly unlikely:
A 3rd 50 States album: 
Wouldn't it be wonderful if Sufjan up and dropped another States album on us? Who knows what he has recorded on the annals of his hard drives, but as the years go on I am increasingly thinking he has dropped this foolishly ambitious project. In some ways you could consider Carrie & Lowell his "Oregon" album, with all the references to places and events within the state, and The BQE could certainly be his "New York" album, but I think those suggestions would be stretching a bit too much.

Another Christmas collection:
Does anyone else wonder like I do what Sufjan gets up to every late November and early December? Does something within you perk up just a little bit in hopes that he's recording some more Christmas music and quietly distributing it to his friends? It's probably not going to happen as it seems he's fully exorcised the demon Christmas elves that have haunted him for decades, but we can still hope more is to come, right?

Of course there are many other oddly assorted songs that Sufjan has not officially released over the years (as this site details: http://churchofsufjan.org/wiki/Unreleased_music), but here I have chronicled some of his more major (known) unreleased material. So, who knows what next will come down the Sufjan pipeline, but I can almost guarantee you whatever it is I will be surprised—and incredibly grateful.

_______________
Related Articles:
Carrie & Lowell is a Minor Sufjan Stevens Album (and that's a good thing)
Unanswerable Questions 3b: Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell
What the New Sufjan Album is Teaching Me
Remainder: I Still Hate Sufjan Stevens

3 comments:

Unknown said...

How awesome would a Sufjan Stevens birds album be?! That's exactly the idea I googled and which led me here. We can always hope. :)

Chris Marchand said...

Yes! I hope that somehow, someway my article can help to guilt Sufjan into releasing all these works.

Zelia Edgar said...

Thank you for sharing the original version of Christmas in the Room. I love it!