A Sun Came finalI encountered Sufjan Stevens a little later that I wish were true. Sometime between the release of Seven Swans and Illinois a friend handed me a copy of a live Sufjan show and I was blown away. Most of the songs performed were from Michigan with a few from the recently released Seven Swans and the forthcoming Illinois. What I loved the most, though, were his awkward discussions between songs. The interludes were obviously rehearsed but they were halted and uncomfortable nonetheless.  He had such command during the songs and displayed such vulnerability in the moments before the guitars kicked in. I was already a committed fan.

The next day I spent all my eMusic credits for the month on his existing discography. (side note: Did you know that eMusic still exists?)

All that is to say that the next day was my first experience with A Sun Came. My initial reaction was that, compared to Michigan and Seven Swans, A Sun Came was an impressive first album that showed a promise that was realized in his later albums. The several listens I’ve had of this album over the last few days convinced me that this album is a gem in its own right. This record is quite good, even if it weren’t a precursor for better sounds to come.

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard the full Sufjan Stevens catalog, but this may be his most influenced recording. Nearly every song has touches of Celtic, Indian, Middle Eastern, and American folk tunes. Occasionally–like in “A Loverless Bed (Without Remission)”–the cacophonous musical origins work together to make a uniquely interesting and good track. More often than not, though, the songs seem to reach a bit too far. Still, the old Robert Browning chestnut holds true because this album’s overreaching turned into incredible tunes in his subsequent recordings.

Lastly, let’s talk about the recording method and the strange interludes dropped throughout the album. The production value is relatively low on A Sun Came and it was reportedly recorded on a four track machine a few years before its official release while Sufjan was a member of a band called Marzuki. It’s certainly not garage band lo-fi sounding, but the lower quality recording technique forces the listener to forgive a few songs for their imperfection. And those interludes! “Belly Button,” “Siamese Twins,” and “Godzuki” have me imagining that Sufjan was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan while mastering this album and making the track order. Could you imagine Sufjan Stevens providing an example in the torture introduction of “M.E.T.H.O.D Man” from 36 Chambers? (note: I doubt that there is any more NSFW audio available than the previous link so protect your little ears.)

If anything could be more awkward than live-Sufjan speaking between songs, a guest Wu-Tang verse would be it.

Favorite Tracks:

“Happy Birthday”

This has always been my favorite song from this album and its place remains. It’s the simplest song on this record and is the most Seven Swans like of the all. Sufjan’s simple vocal mannerisms shine here and the subtle vocal harmonies are to die for.

“Loverless Bed (Without Remission)”

The trem/reverb guitar intro is enough to send me over the moon. As mentioned above, it’s a heavily influenced song that works better than most on this record.

“Ya Leil”

Just listen to it. It’s unique and incredible. More chanting!

Check back next week for my take on Enjoy Your Rabbit. I’ve spent the least time with this recording so I’m mostly hesitant about it. Wish me luck.