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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, February 10, 2004
    A whole album full of wonders
    Pere Ubu's Pennsylvania is a vast atmospheric journey through that state's places, its inner and outer spaces. It's big; it broods and it hangs like smoke around for days after a hearing. I've known it for a few years now and it moves me.

    I'm even more moved today by something new to me: Sufjan Stevens' Michigan. This is a different sort of music altogether. A gentle, internal music. Music of the heart, which gets to the heart of the people of Michigan, Stevens' home, their motivations, dreams, disappointments, aspirations. Gentle music of melancholy and grace.

    The brilliant Rough Trade Shops 7th Compilation - Counter Culture 03 put me onto Sufjan, featuring For the Widows in Paradise, for the Fatherless in Ipsilanti, a song which wins you over even before you've heard it, with a title like that. But thrills you even more deeply when you hear its perfect chorus, "I'll do anything for you, I did everything for you". This is a song of massive generosity. On Sufjan's beautiful interactive Michigan map (website, click Paradise) his notes to this song read,

    Who is your neighbor? He is your brother. Who is that stranger? She is your mother. The man downstairs hammering on the wall, the woman blow-drying her hair in the bathroom down the hall - these people are your family.

    The whole album is full of wonders like this. I don't know what motivates Sufjan's vision - his bio says that he was named after Abu Sufjan Muhammad, the great Armenian Sufi warrior who slew ten thousand dragons to save the Fairy Princess, and that as a child Mr. and Mrs. Stevens fed him carrots and read him parts of the Bhagavad Gita, but I somehow doubt he meant to make any of that entirely believable. Whatever, I've seldom heard such humanity in a collection of songs, beautiful songs, each one.

    Please don't take my word for it. Click on the jumping fish on Sufjan's Michigan map and hear Romulus, Sufjan's song about an errant mother (his, perhaps?); listen well, and be ready to be deeply, deeply moved.