Album review: Sufjan Stevens, “The Greatest Gift”

by Jon E. Lynch

Sufjan Stevens, “The Greatest Gift”

Available: Friday, Nov. 24, via Sufjan’s very own Asthmatic Kitty Records on a yellow Cassette and translucent yellow vinyl. Both versions come with a digital download coupon redeemable in various high-quality formats. As always, I say if you absolutely must join the throngs of Black Friday shoppers, do so at locally owned, independent retail stores. The Mom & Pops. Wherever you might be, support your local independent record store. Always and forever.

Sufjan (that’s pronounced Soof Yawn, not Suff Jan) Stevens’ latest release, “The Greatest Gift,” – consisting of outtakes, remixes, and demos from “Carrie & Lowell” – might be more for the completionist. Not to say it couldn’t be an introductory album, but I’d personally recommend going back to 2004’s “Seven Swans” or, arguably his most well-received record, 2005’s “Illinois,” for your first foray into Stevens’ brand of lush yet sparse, orchestral folk.

2015’s “Carrie & Lowell” was a deeply personal album (the name alone a nod to his mother and her second husband) that more or less returned to the form of indie folk I personally appreciate from him. It was a critical darling that same year and was widely praised and lauded, landing on many a critics best-of 2015 lists. What I heard of it, I thoroughly enjoyed, and I do dig hearing rough cut outtakes, demo recordings, and remixes. On this record, those remixes are the most intriguing as they’re undertaken by Stevens’ contemporaries and collaborators Roberto C. Lange (aka Helado Negro), Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman), and James McAlister (aka 900X). The album also includes a handful of tracks that didn’t make the final version of “Carrie & Lowell,” but are strong nonetheless.

Recommended for fans of Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, Bright Eyes, Father John Misty, Rufus Wainwright, Devendra Banhart or Dirty Projectors.

Jon E. Lynch[email protected]

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