The Avalanche of Sufjan Stevens

After having a few variations of the same conversation, I decided it was time to put my feelings out there. It is with great trepidation, but firmness of voice that I have to say that some how, in some way, Sufjan Stevens has made me bored with amazing music.

MP3: Sufjan Stevens – Dear Mr. Supercomputer
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – The Henney Buggy Band

I’d like to say that this was brought about entirely because of Sufjan’s new “outtakes” album, The Avalanche, but it’s not the case. Truth be told, this whole situation goes back to Illinois. After that amazing work of composition was released on the world, I–along with every other music fan, it seemed–could not get enough of Sufjan Stevens. I collected every video, live recording and bside that I was able to get ahold of; I even geeked out that my prerelease copy was one with Superman on the cover. If it was Sufjan-related, I was all over it.

If anything, “The Avalanche” is the perfect term for what came next. Suddenly, Sufjan was everywhere. I’m fairly sure that he appeared on every compilation from August ’05 up until yesterday. And at first, I ate it up. Once again, I found myself combing over blogs and forums to be the first to hear his contributions to Beatles and John Fahey tribute albums or NPR originals. The man seemed to work at an inhuman speed and was still able to produce songs that were miles ahead of any of his contemporaries. But even as I grew more impressed with his proficiency, I couldn’t help but grow bored with him at the same time.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I’m not suggesting that Sufjan Stevens’ work has dropped off in quality since Illinois. The Avalanche is a fantastic album, and it further establishes Sufjan as one of the greatest American songwriters of the new millenium. My problem is that this time, I just didn’t care.

I can’t quite put my finger on what has changed in the past year since Illinois first graced my desk. As I said before, it doesn’t feel like a drop in quality. No, if that were the case, the internet would have taken up arms against the “pretentious” Mr. Stevens even more than they already do. Rather, I think my drop in attention stems from something a little more simple.

Sufjan Stevens has flooded the market with his music. Setting the business part of music aside, it’s still an Economics 101 lesson. I mean, let’s refer to it as the ‘Ben Stiller effect.’ I’ve got nothing against Ben Stiller; I actually happen to find him funny in most of his movies. But even if you enjoy him, you’ll stop caring when he’s in a dozen summer movies (Dodgeball, Meet the Fockers, Anchorman, et al). Similarly, Sufjan Stevens is the Ben Stiller of music. He was everywhere, and eventually it was bound to wear out some of his fans. When it was announced that The Avalanche would be coming out, I was less than thrilled because I’d already had my fill of Sufjan. But why did this happen now?

What I’m about to say is going to sound mean, and I appologise in advance: Sufjan’s songs, especially post-Seven Swans start to blend together after a while. Couple this with his avalanche of music, and it’s easy to see how I could have jumped off the Sufjan Wagon for a proverbial smoke break. Even great music can lose its impact if it doesn’t get expounded upon. Sgt. Pepper’s is one of my favorite albums, but I’m glad the Beatles didn’t try to remake its feel on every following album.

If you’d like an example of a comparable band who hasn’t fallen victim to this trap, look no further than fellow folk-pop artists Page France. Michael Nau and company set out on their new EPs, Pear and Sister Pinecone, to incorporate new instruments and tackle new genres–look to “Million Man Money Hand” as an example of a success on both parts.

So while I’m standing by my statement that Sufjan Stevens is one of the greatest American songwriters of the 21st Century, I can’t help but question my relationship with his music. After musing over it, I think that it really does boil down to the matter of omnipresence. Sufjan has been inseperable from independent music for the past year, and it’s taken its toll on me, as a fan. But as much as I’m saddened to not care about another remarkable album, I can’t blame the man behind it.

In my interview, and in talking to him, I’ve decided that Sufjan Stevens is not the kind of person that you or I expect to be at the head of the musical community. If he’s featured on compilations and has an inhuman speed at which he releases albums, it’s not because he’s looking for an extra dime or more exposure. Rather, it’s because he’s a music fan who probably enjoys making music even more than we enjoy listening to it.

“What’s the worth of all the work of my hands?”
-Sufjan Stevens, “Saul Bellow”

Buy The Avalanche (which is actually a really great album)