An Unexpected Twist
All Delighted People may be the most enigmatic Sufjan Stevens release to date. Shortly after being announced in August, the 60-minute EP appeared on the Bandcamp website for download. According to Stevens’ label Asthmatic Kitty, the EP is “a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon’s ‘Sounds of Silence.'” Such a combination of thematic material isn’t really surprising considering the Michigan-born artist’s eclectic repertoire, but All Delighted People is simply puzzling.
The EP is focused around two versions of its title track, the original and a “classic rock version,” but otherwise lacks the kind of underpinning conceptual structure that marks Stevens’ other albums. All Delighted People is a conglomeration of ideas and styles sprawling through an hour of recordings, stretching the definition of the EP.
The original version of “All Delighted People” winds its way through orchestral crescendos and a gripping string section punctuated by low horns, constantly building up to a climax. While long, it captures the grandiose, baroque spirit of Stevens’ songwriting. It makes the “classic rock version” of the song superfluous: it feels like a rushed tour through a musical catalog (even quoting Simon & Garfunkel), stripped of the original’s anthemic power. “Djohariah” also sounds excessive, 12 minutes of abstract, fuzzy guitar solos and choral vocals eventually settling into a quasi-acoustic song.
The rest of the EP is easier on the ears. In the dreamy acoustic lullaby “Enchanting Ghost” a banjo, piano, and electric guitar softly echo the melody along with Stevens’ pensive tenor. “The Owl and the Tanager” creates a gloomy, haunting atmosphere, toying with ornithological imagery and soft piano notes. “From the Mouth of Gabriel” sounds more like what one would expect from Stevens: choral vocals, carefully crafted instrumentals, perceptive lyrics.
All Delighted People is a bit strange, at times almost frustrating. But it’s always surprising, taking unpredictable twists after every verse and chorus.