The 25 Best Sufjan Stevens Tracks

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Between his lo-fi folk, baroque pop, symphonic instrumentation, electronica and now hip hop; his beloved label Asthmatic Kitty; his songs for the Christmas season, and his love for American geography, Sufjan Stevens is a virtuoso of innovation.

We like Sufjan here at Paste. His Sufjan Stevens Presents: Come On Feel The Illinoise was our favorite album of the 2000s. We’re even okay with you fumbling his name the first few times you mention him (SOOF-yahn).

So today, just one day removed from Casimir Pulaski Day, we bring you our favorite Sufjan Stevens tracks.

25. Seven Swans “All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands”

Fourth album Seven Swans features many sparse and intimate stories with a decidedly religious angle. That could have been a recipe for disaster, yet the passionate tales strung from the Book of Revelation, Samuel, Genesis and Isaiah are merely the backbone that Stevens eloquently uses to give weight to his infectious music.

24. The BQE “Movement III: Linear Tableau With Intersecting Surprise”

This track emerged as a gem on 2009’s The BQE, an album and film that developed out of Steven’s artistic exploration of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The orchestrated piece is evocative and original, moving and powerful. It’s a classic favorite from the mixed-medium project.

23. A Sun Came Joy Joy Joy!”

From his 2000 debut studio album, “Joy Joy Joy!” marked the beginning of the iconic sound Stevens was first recognizable for—Celtic, Indian, Middle Eastern, Moroccan and American folk all appear on this eclectic record.

22. Songs For Christmas “Put The Lights On The Tree”

Songs For Christmas started as a gift box compilation for friends and family but shortly turned into a five-piece EP set filled with Christmas-related songs Stevens recorded between 2001 and 2006. The majority of the tracks are original holiday compositions and while we enjoy those, it was the animated short and lyrics of “Put The Lights On the Tree” that captured our imagination.

21. All Delighted People “Heirloom”

This EP is, “an homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui and Paul Simon’s Sound Of Silence,” Stevens explained back in 2010. “Heirloom” is a mere two minutes and 55 seconds, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in the unabashed lyrics of a lover’s tale.

20. Dark Was The Night “You Are The Blood”

Red Hot Organizations, a charity that raises awareness of HIV and AIDS, released its 20th compilation in 2009. Dark Was The Night features exclusive recordings of various indie artists and was produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. Sufjan Stevens, Feist, Ben Gibbard, David Byrne and Bon Iver were among the artist who contributed original tracks.

19. Greetings From Michigan “Romulus”

The concept album that references the cities and people of Michigan is the first of the “50 States project,” a series of albums for each of the 50 states (later acknowledged by Stevens as a gag). The vinyl release of the album includes a powerful, alternate arrangement of “Romulus.”

18. Seven Swans “The Dress Looks Nice On You”

In 2004 Rough Trade released a 7’’ limited edition single of “The Dress Looks Nice on You.” Daniel Smith produced the single. “Borderline” is the B-side to the promo.

17. The Age of ADZ “I Walked”

October of 2010 closed the five-year full length album gap when the heavily orchestrated The Age Of Adz was released. Inspired by the apocalyptic artwork of schizophrenic artist Royal Robertson, the album dives into the psychosis of Robertson’s visions and uses his reoccurring themes as a spring board.

16. Illinois “The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”

Illinois brought Stevens every comparison under the sun—Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Vince Guaraldi, Neil Young and Nick Drake are some of the iconic artists critics have linked Stevens to. His influences in “The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts” include marching bands, ambient electronics, show tunes and jazz-based time signatures.

15. The Age of ADZ “Impossible Soul”

This album departs from the exploration of cities, settings and characters and instead dives into the emotions and intimacy of human experience. “Impossible Soul” is the last track on Stevens latest album and features the soothing vocals of Shara Worden.

14. Illinois The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders”

The 2006 British indie film Driving Lessons featuring Rupert Grint, Laura Linney and Julie Walters uses the jittering tune as the backdrop to highlight the overzealous Christian family Grint’s charater lives within.

Between his lo-fi folk, baroque pop, symphonic instrumentation, electronica and now hip hop; his beloved label Asthmatic Kitty; his songs for the Christmas season, and his love for American geography, Sufjan Stevens is a virtuoso of innovation.

We like Sufjan here at Paste. His Sufjan Stevens Presents: Come On Feel The Illinoise was our favorite album of the 2000s. We’re even okay with you fumbling his name the first few times you mention him (SOOF-yahn).

So today, just one day removed from Casimir Pulaski Day, we bring you our favorite Sufjan Stevens tracks.

13. Illinois “Out Of Egypt, Into The Great Laugh Of Mankind, And I shake The Dirt From MY Sandals As I Run”

The particularly long track titles on Illinois are yet another lovely identifier of this fifth studio album. Even this instrumental track seems to tell a story.

12. The Avalanche “The Avalanche”

Sufjan recorded nearly 50 songs for Illinois, initially planning a double album. When the idea was scratched The Avalanche was born via outtakes and extra cuts. The pseudo-sequel to Illinois includes the iconic bonus song “The Avalanche” which is also available on Illinois vinyl set.

11. Illinois “Jacksonville”

Allusions to place rope their way through Stevens catalog, but none capture a town as effortlessly as “Jacksonville.”

10. Seven Swans “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”

This track shares the title of Flannery O’Connor’s collection of short stories, first published in 1955. Stevens retells the story from the viewpoint of the Misfit. It is a haunting take on an American classic.

9. Greetings From Michigan “For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti”

Michigan received critical acclaim because of tracks like “For The Widows In Paradise.” The album is composed of lush harmonies from one song to the next.

8. The Age of ADZ “Age of Adz”

This eight-minute track is explosive. The Age of ADZ made our 50 Best Albums of 2010 as well as The New York Times Top Pop 2012 Anthems.

7. Illinois “Decatur, Or, Round Of Applause For Your Stepmother”

Stevens is as gifted a storyteller as he is a composer and arranger. Just listen to how he intertwines the audience through Illinois, the narrator’s uninspired relationship with his stepmother and the lesson of patience learned in the end. “Decatur” is a coming-of-age tale in the most innovative of ways.

6. Illinois “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

This haunting documentation of 1970s notorious Chicago-based serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. is eerily seductive. The track shifts at the closing of the ballad when the narrator turns inward to question his own behavior. The movement takes it past the metaphorical into the realm of morality and redemption.

5. Illinois “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out”

This song relates experiences from his childhood summer camp. The beginning flute solo puts us right on the floor with the child narrator. As he writes a letter home, he ponders the nature of the living.

4. Illinois “Chicago”

Youthful idealism and unabashed wandering emerge through a road trip to Chicago. This semi-autobiographical track was originally recorded in four different versions. In 2005 Stevens settled on this version, which has notably become one of his signature songs.

3. Seven Swans “To Be Alone With You”

Stevens breaks the 4th wall in “To Be Alone With You”—the song begins calm and patient before settles like a blazing fire that consumes everything in its path.

2. Illinois “Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland Illinois”

In this quiet, two-minute track, we find both wit and wisdom. It’s an extraordinary piece that counts the power of humanities imagination.

1. Illinois “Casimir Pulaski Day”

Our favorite Sufjan Stevens song interweaves the state holiday for General Pulaski into a fictional account of relentless lovers. One faces a chronic illness, the other wrestles with God’s judgment. The lyrics bode, “All the glory when he took our place, but he took my shoulders and he shook my face. And he takes and he takes and he takes.”

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