Concert Review

Show Review: A Very Sufjan Christmas!

Sufjan Stevens

Throughout the past decade Sufjan Stevens has cemented himself as one of the most talented and unique artists of our generation, with a diverse array of talents ranging from classically inspired folk pop to the aural adventures of the past few years with Age of Adz and BQE, it’s a toss up as to what direction any new music from Stevens is going to take.  When he announced his most recent release, Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols. 6-10, I wasn’t too sure of what to expect…especially with the lead-off single of “Christmas Unicorn”.  The track was as bizarre as it was insightful and infectious (especially the seamless transition into Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”), which can pretty accurately describe the three plus hours of Christmas inspired material on Silver & Gold.  Shortly after the album announcement came news of the “Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Season Affective Disorder Yuletide Pageant On Ice” tour, a string of shows which would feature good ol’ “Sufjy Pants” spreading Christmas cheer by way of his modern takes on Christmas classics as well as his incredible new holiday inspired originals.

While some of the Christmas inspired material is brief and zany, like “Happy Family Christmas” a jaunting yet melodic track wishing that “Just this once for Christmas I want us all to be like one great big happy family”, and while the holiday is exactly a month away, Sunday at Haw River Ballroom felt like a gigantic family Christmas gathering.  With hundreds of concertgoers decked out in festive sweaters and unicorn horns, Sunday provided one of the most unique and magical show experiences one could ever wish for.  While opener Sheila Sapputo (better known as singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas) donned a Santa suit for a quirky Portlandia-esque bit of dry comedy, the highlight of the show could be nothing other than the marvelous display put on by Sufjan and company.

The show was broken up into bits of Sufjan originals and highly enjoyable breaks for Christmas classics from the Wheel!Of!Christmas!, a Price Is Right style spin-wheel designed to randomize the carols we’ve all grown to know and love.  Upon entrance we were all given a songbook, endearingly referred to by Sufjan as our “book of hymnals”, and these carols provided for some of the most memorable concert moments in recent memory.  While Sufjan originals like “Sister Winter” and the aforementioned “Christmas Unicorn” stood out amongst the set, the true highlights came from the innovative takes on old classics.  An electronically driven version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was a show-stopping performance, featuring vocoded Sufjan vocals and spastic electronic melodies that excellently juxtapose the calm and soothing stylings of the original.  After the Wheel of Christmas selected “Joy to the World” early on in the set, Sufjan brilliantly transitioned into a refrain from “Impossible Soul”, a track from Age of Adz, inducing shouts of approval from the crowd.

Sufjan himself described the show as, “running the gamut of Christmas from the profane to the insane”, and with inflatable unicorns being thrown out at the same show as inflatable Santa’s I’d say it’s a pretty accurate description.  The end of Sufjan’s set was haltered by the second fire alarm of the evening, but the band took it all in stride and led the crowd in an a cappella rendition of “Silent Night” divided between males and females in the first two verses followed by a harmonious ending as monitors blasted back to life and the set came to a beautiful end.  A roaring ovation from one of the most dense crowds I’ve seen at Haw River resulted in a three song encore of Sufjan originals from Illinois and Michigan.  Starting off his encore with a beautiful take on “Concerning The UFO Sightings Near Highland, Illinois”, the crowds anticipation was rapidly rising and greeted with “For The Widows of Paradise” which started as a solo banjo track and blossomed into a full band performance.  Closing with fan-favorite, “Chicago”, Sufjan thanked the crowd for being so wonderful and patient, but all thanks is graciously pointed towards Sufjan, the band, and the fine folks of Haw River Ballroom for housing such a beautiful show.  It’s very rare to build a sense of community within a single show, but the “Surfjohn Stephenopolous Sing-A-Long” certainly achieved just that.

New Album Review

“The Age of Adz” deviates from norm

88.1 WKNC’s Pick of the Week 10/28
By WKNC DJ Margot

Sufjan Stevens has been silent for the last five years. His last album, Illinoise, was released early in the summer of 2005 and consisted of his usual, brilliantly haunting pop that is anything but normal.

The Age of Adz, released in early October of this year, follows a different path for Stevens. Instead of the orchestral arrangements we have come to know and love from his older albums, Age of Adz is brimming with electronic sounds and synthesizers.

For many Stevens followers, such as myself, this album instilled shock and anger. Stevens already took the originality that we loved and threw it to the ground. Everything has changed.

Stevens is no longer following his quest to create an album for each of the 50 states. Shocked fans discovered that the states mission was only an advertising scheme.

Listening to the new album, there is hardly a hint of Stevens’s famous banjo. This news hurts.

But, by giving The Age of Adz a chance and a good listen, fans are able to see Stevens as the artist he represents. He is no longer a one-sound musician, but a genuine talent who has more to offer the world.

For those who have not experienced any music by Stevens, this is the time. Stevens covers a full spectrum of sound. The Age of Adz gives listeners a taste of the future for music.

Brass instruments mixed with electronic, constant beeps followed by trills and Stevens’s known harmonies alongside auto-tuned tracks – this combination of sounds, both old and new, shows the expanse and brilliance of the artist that is Sufjan Stevens.

For fans who are like me, take a deep breath, plug-in and listen to The Age of Adz with an open mind. Stevens is still there, under all of that new sound. We first fell in love with him for his originality. Now we can fall in love with him all over again.

Instead of following Stevens through the past and present of Michigan and Illinoise, let him guide you into the future with The Age of Adz.

We expected great things and he followed through with something greater than we could have imagined.

If you are still looking for the old Stevens, listen to the first track, “Futile Devices,” which falls closely in line with Stevens’s 2004 album, Seven Swans. The best example of his combination of sounds is, “I Want to Be Well,” which is featured toward the end of the album.

With Stevens, nothing can go wrong.

88.1 WKNC Pick of the Week is published every Friday in the print edition of Technician, as well as online at and

Music News and Interviews

DJ Ones Five Music Facts from the past week

1. Bloc Party’s front man Kele Okereke has admitted that he is unsure about the band’s future as he gets ready to release his debut album The Boxer. The band is currently on a year long break and plans for the band to reunite are currently uncertain. (via NME)

2. Bryce Dessner of The National has revealed that the band will be appearing on the next album by Sufjan Stevens. Stevens is currently recording his upcoming album in Brooklyn. Dessner added, “It’s going to be incredible. It’s going to probably blow people’s minds.” (via Exclaim!)

3. Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney has revealed plans for her first solo album. The album, which has yet to be named, will be released sometime this fall, and she is planning to complete a brief tour following the release. (via Pitchfork)

4. The Strokes played their first show in four years when they took the stage in London last week. Playing 18 songs, the band did not release any new material. The Strokes plan to hit the festival circuit in the summer. (via NME)

5. Jack White recently took the stage with Conan O’Brien, playing an intimate show to 300 people at White’s Third Man Record Studios in Nashville. The two played everything including White Stripes’ classic Seven “Nation Army,” Radiohead’s “Creep,” and many more. (via Spin)

Music News and Interviews

DJ Ones’ Five Music Facts from the past week

Image Courtesy of Friendly Fires

1. Sufjan Stevens has come out saying that his plan to write an album for each state was a result of him becoming a “cliche” and in looking back on the project idea he has claimed that it is now a “joke”. This is after he released “Illinoise” in 2005 and “Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State” in 2003. He would go on to say the project seemed a bit silly. via (Paste Magazine)

2. According to the Matador Records‘ Web site they have acquired True Panther Sounds. This comes after Matador helped promote True Panther Sounds’ band Girls’ new album. via (Matador Records)

3. In what seems to be a growing trend among band front men, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke has announce plans to release a solo album while the band is still on hiatus. Complete detalis on the record are yet to be released.via (NME)

4. Friendly Fires has announced the follow up to its self-titled debut album. The album, which has yet to be named, is planning on being released next May. Accoring to member Ed MacFarlane the band already has four tracks they have already completed for the album. Ed MacFarlane also said, “We’re going to hopefully have all the songs finished by the end of the year, record in January and have the album ready for May time, and do some festivals around then." via (NME)

5. The side project of Art Brut’s Eddie Argos and The Bloody Arm’s Dyan Valdes called Everybody Was in the French Resistance…Now are set to release its debut album, "Fixin’ the Charts,” in January. The album was produced by David Newton, and the full track listing is available. via (NME)

DJ Highlights

Music for the changing seasons

As the annual and always abrupt North Carolina summer-to-winter jump occurs outdoors, I’m forced to make some adjustments to my closet, as well as to my playlists.

There are some artists I can’t help but associate with cold weather. With my scarf collection is Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago” and “Blood Bank EP,” with my winter coat comes Fleet Foxes’ “Sun Giant.”

And as December creeps closer, I wait as for Santa’s Christmas morning arrival to break out Sufjan Stevens’ holiday compilation “Songs for Christmas,” volumes one through five. These albums go hand in hand with cold weather.

I also look forward to adding to my winter music repertoire. From what I’ve heard so far, The Swell Season’s recent release, “Strict Joy,” may be a perfect addition.

What are some of your cold weather favorites in your music collection?

Music News and Interviews

Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoise Visualized

Jax de Leon, a student at Purchase College’s School of Art and Design, has created a series of visualizations of Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoise album.

In an interview with Perfect Laughter, de Leon states:

How did you end up choosing Illinoise? Did you consider any other albums?

Illinois was the inevitable choice for me. I listened to it in the car on the way to my freshman year of college shortly after it was released in 2005, and it’s been my favorite album ever since. It’s such a complete album, not just a series of singles, and I’ve always thought of it as a beautiful piece of art that deserves to be listened to very carefully. I considered various other albums and artists (The Decemberists, Andrew Bird, even The Beatles, my first love) but I always knew I would end up choosing Illinois.