2010; Asthmatic Kitty Records; Detroit, MI
Why don't I like Sufjan Stevens? Where do I start? His obnoxious cutesyness. His almost forced seeming sentimentality. His stupid fucking state project that only went two albums. His devotion to writing songs about Jesus. The tendency for the worst of the self-conscious and pandering to pick up ukuleles at parties and play Casimir Pulaski Day. As a man who loves indie-pop, to me Sufjan represents everything wrong with the genre.
Ok, calm down a minute. When I look back and examine, I suppose I never really listened to the guy, never thought it wise to give him a chance. Perhaps this distaste was just an extension of my doucheyness, perhaps it was just the idea of Sufjan Stevens that I hated. Besides, he is good friends with The National, and often makes subtle appearances on their albums (he played piano twice on Boxer). Nonetheless, to this day my perception hasn't changed. The thought of giving Michigan a spin seems so unappealing to me, I've never been able to bring myself past it.
And then he lost his mind. And the same girls at parties started telling me about his crap new album, his entry into techno pop and all sorts of other wild stories. And now I guess I'm a Sufjan Stevens fan.
Though perhaps he hadn't lost his mind. Perhaps it had just come to this. And certainly it fits in well as the fourth piece of the "party like the world is fucked because the world is fucked" mantra of 2010. And even though he retains his earnest-as-fuck delivery there is some real violence to these tracks. To the explosive choruses of "I want it all, I want it all to myself!" and the sensory overload of the title track. His gratuitous use of odd unfocused beats and auto-tune comes off as almost a Dylan-like fuck you to fans. This is self indulgence to the peak, this is the guy at the party falling over himself at a party after too much alcohol and too many failed romances and not giving a shit about anyone anymore.
But really, and I hate to admit it, the songwriting carries the album. Maybe it's that the party atmosphere let him get past the overwrought sentimentality that plagues the worst indie-pop, I don't know. Because when it comes down to it, these songs are sentimental. They are personal and trying and emotionally charged. Yet it doesn't get me down. It doesn't bug me the same way Casimir Pulaski Day does. It feels almost calmly honest, stated in a "this is just the way it is" affect, even over the apocalyptic instrumental whirlwinds. There's nothing precious about it anymore. Even the love song over finger picking and piano is just light and undramatic, nervously subtle.
But I'm still never listening to Michigan.
no i don't want to feel pain