Friday, March 30, 2007

Currently Listening: Sufjan Stevens

I became a Sufjan Stevens fan while living in his homestate of Michigan for four years. His music is pretty prolific on the college radio up there, and I wasn't there long before I heard his siren song. This folk/alt-pop indie singer/songwriting amazed me with his ability to blend cheery pop-like vocals with eclectic arrangements of instruments and harmonies. His music makes you feel good, almost in a Polyphonic-Spree way, but without the sugary-sweet aftertaste and repetitive lyrics. I heard the Michigan album first, but it was Illinois that engulfed me. Arguably one of my favorite albums of all time, "Come On, Feel the Illinoise!", its full title, is a great blend of American Folk, Pop, Rock, and experimentation. The song titles are compleely absurd (i.e. "To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves an Inner Tube, Bath Mats, and 21 Able-bodied Men"), but the orchestrations and arrangements are brilliant. When Illinois came out, I was hooked as a fan. Since then, I've slowly acquired other albums he has done, including the recent Christmas box set, Songs for Christmas, thanks to a Borders gift card for my birthday. While each album is unique with its own quirks, brilliances, and flops, they are all unmistakably Sufjan. You know his style when you hear it, and all of his albums have it.

Then yesterday I got Enjoy Your Rabbit, Sufjan's second LP released in 2002, as a free download from eMusic. I was not prepared for what I got. I assumed that it would be different, as every album has some assumed uniquness, but I didn't think it would be THIS different. First of all, it's an instrumental album; no lyrics and no singing (although the human voice does seem to make an appearance on a few3 songs as an instrument, with little more than "ah" and "bum" (the one exception is "Year of the Rooster" which has a woman speaking what I believe to be a form of Chinese over the music). But that really isn't the surprising part. Secondly, it's ... are you ready for this?... an electronic album. That's right. The king of indie folk and pop acoustics actually made an electronic album. That's like saying the Pope listens to Metallica on his iPod. It just twists your image of the person in a way you weren't expecting.

But that is not to say that it is a bad album. As someone who enjoys a good electrobeat from time to time, I actually like it. Now, it's not his best album, but he certainly stretches himself with Enjoy Your Rabbit. The only problem is that it doesn't really sound like a Sufjan album. I wouldn't have known that this was his unless someone told me. Now that I know, I can hear themes and musical ideas that are present elsewhere in his discography, but it is largely a huge departure. To give you some idea, it sounds like Thom Yorke's The Eraser on happy pills. Or, it sounds like what The Eraser would have been if Sufjan's attitude had been infused into Thom Yorke's creativity and penchant for electronica. Frankly, that's a combination I like, not love, but certainly like. I only have two questions: 1) Why hasn't this electronic streak appeared in other Sufjan albums, and 2) Is it just me, or does "Year of the Boar" sound suspiciously like the game music when you fight a boss in Super Mario Brothers 2?

Favorite Tracks: Undecided. Lots of 4-star songs, but probably no 5-star songs

Side note:
I still can't get enough of Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna are You the Destroyer? It is probably in my top 3 albums of all time, right up there with Tiny Music and Kid A. The video from "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" is pretty bizarre. Check it out:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Child's Mind is Like a Salvador Dali Painting

Although they certain have their special attributes, I don't think my children are unique in one particular regard. I'm sure that many other parents think their children do the oddest, cutest, most random things. But good grief, if other kids do this much of it, how would parents get anything done. All they would want to do is watch and pay with their kids. Again, I don't think my kids are terribly unique in this regard, but living with them gives me an inside look at kids that I never would have gotten anywhere else.

For example, I am constantly amazed at Aidan's drive and determined attitude when he is creating one of legendary "projects". We were at my grandparent's house today. Aidan took the garden hose and tied it to a tree. He then took the other end and tied it to another tree. My grandmother helped him bring out a couple of bar stools, which he claims provided the "glue" of the project. Throw in a patio table and a blanket, and he had some contraption that he claimed allowed trees to be shared between people. I have no idea what he was talking about, but I was struck by the determination with which he created his project. It was hard work wrapping that garden hose around the trees, and he put everything into it. I love watching his indoor creations even more. He will use couch cushions, dining room chairs, and any other structure he can. One significant feature of the indoor "projects", however, is that they are almost always symmetrical. I don't know why, but Aidan insists on them being perfectly symmetrical, meaning that if there is a chair on one side, there MUST be a chair on the other side. I don't think he knows why. He just knows that's the way it should be.

I am quickly learning that Regan is not all that different in her quirkiness, although she doesn't have the same engineering flare. I hate to say it, but Regan carries a more stereotypically feminine aspect into her oddities. For instance, she has these mock high heal shoes that her Auntie Ro gave her for Christmas. Although they are way too big for her (perhaps made for a 5 or 6 year-old), she has learned how to walk in them very well and insists on doing so as often as possible. She loves to dance. She's got moves that most 2-year-olds simply dream of. She even matches her dance to the style of music. More than that, she loves dressing up, talking on her "cell phone", wearing sunglasses, pushing her dolls around in strollers, and shopping. I mean, come on-- SHOPPING! How did that happen? Where did that come from? And what confuses me even more is that I find it cute. It is freaking adorable. But that's not all that fascinates me about Regan. She is fascinated with books. She will sit in her room and "read" for a long time. She loves all kinds of books. She will read to us, but of course she loves it much more when we read to her. But her love of books actually borders on an obsession. They are sacred. They contain special meaning for her. Again I ask, where did this come from? Sure, we've read to her most of her life, but that's not nearly enough to explain her obsession. Shoes and books: Regan's two loves. Neither Kari nor I actively encouraged this, but here we are.

I need to post a better picture of one of Aidan's projects; they truly are artworks in their own right. I also need to post some video of Regan's dancing; it is very entertaining and impressive. So I continue to be fascinated with the growing minds of my children. They are really challenging my presumptions about child development, the nature/nurture debate, and my own ideas about identity and the emergent mind. Although I began my life as a parent expecting to teach my children, but of course I have found that they teach me more than I ever dreamed. Their minds and lives are free and unencumbered by the necessities of life, so they are free to simply be. What a bizarre notion.

Note: Click here for a new photo album of the kids that I uploaded today.