Tracing Sufjan Stevens's Intricate Ties to the Music of New York City

Sufjan Stevens
In some ways, Sufjan Stevens typifies the public caricature of a musician from Brooklyn: weird, borderline-unpronounceable name; pretty-boy good looks; a level of fame and success in the indie world that borders on Beatlemania while remaining relatively unknown to mainstream audiences. On the other hand, he thwarts the stereotype at every opportunity. He made his name on two decisively uncool, epically twee masterpieces about the history of Michigan and Illinois. His music is unapologetically spiritual, anchored in a Christian ethos highly unfashionable to indie rock's anti-establishment leanings. He's more likely to show up to a show wearing a Tron outfit or giant angel wings than a leather jacket and Ray-Bans.

Whatever the case, Stevens is one of New York's most prominent musical ambassadors (apologies to Taylor Swift) in the indie world and beyond, and his music's relationship with the city is at once elusive and evocative. Unlike our rock icons, from Lou Reed to the Strokes down to recent fixtures like the National, Stevens doesn't typically address New York in his music, with some notable exceptions. To understand the role the city plays in his compositions, we have to dig a little deeper.

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Sufjan Stevens Reimagines the Rodeo With 'Round-Up' at BAM

Fringe, dust, rust, rope, leather, and ample helpings of red, white, and blue: All of these Americana adjectives and artifacts conjure a specific, classic image when the conversation loops around a rodeo. Men tipping cowboy hats, bucking, beautiful beasts, and a chorus of "YEE-HAW!"s are guaranteed to present themselves when a spectator moseys up to an arena or a fairground to watch one of these rough-stock extravaganzas in person. When rodeos are portrayed in movies or cartoons, the scenes are familiar — from the setting to the characters involved, right down to the spur in their step and the twang in their accent.

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Live: Sufjan Stevens Throws A Two-Hour Electro-Prog Dance Party At Beacon Theatre

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Lets work on ditching some of these people real soon. Pics by Rob, more below.
Sufjan Stevens
Beacon Theatre
Monday, November 15

He wouldn't be nearly as irritating if he wasn't so good, this guy. As such, he is a whole lot of both. Look at him up there, crooning his hideously overstuffed and oft impossibly gorgeous orchestral-pop epics while looking like he got kicked out of MGMT for being too flamboyant, clad in some sort of Tron/Hypercolor/paintball-assailant getup ("I love your pants!" someone yells, as Sufjan is explaining how his grandfather was a Lithuanian onion farmer who shot lightning bolts out of his hands and feet) that, when accented by a headband and long ribbons trailing from his arms, makes him look like a . . . like a . . . neon Indian! Two full-kit drummers, horns, myriad noodling keyboards and guitars, the omnipresent meandering flute (ditching the flute would wipe out, like, 70 percent of the problem here), and the ever-present trio of twirling backup-singer Sufjettes. A complicated network of video screens that steal a lot of geometric-pattern squiggliness from MNDR and, during "Vesuvius," seem to immerse the whole band in digital flames. It's all too much, too much, too much, except the occasional moments when it's just enough, just perfect, just sublime.

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Sufjan Stevens's The Age of Adz Is the #7 Record In the Country Right Now

Hail your new leader, America.
"We try not to think too much about the Billboard charts," Asthmatic Kitty's Michael Kaufmann told us last week, when we asked him about the label's sales expectations for Sufjan Stevens's newly released Age of Adz. Maybe not, but the label was also straightforward about the dilemma it faced: allow Amazon to sell the record for $3.99, and thus have a shot at the Billboard Top Ten, or defend the integral value of the LP, which Asthmatic Kitty pegged as quite a bit higher. Ultimately, the label compromised, allowing Amazon to sell their record at a discount, but not before reminding fans there were other, perhaps more responsible ways of purchasing Age of Adz. Yesterday, AK's conflicted strategy paid off: Sufjan now has the seventh most popular record in all of America.

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Asthmatic Kitty Walks Us Through the Release of Sufjan Stevens's Age of Adz

About three weeks ago, Asthmatic Kitty, the small independent label that is home to Sufjan Stevens and an assortment of smaller acts, sent out a kind of tortured email. It was directed, in theory, at prospective buyers of Sufjan's then-upcoming, now just-released Age of Adz, and laid out all the different options consumers would eventually have in terms of buying the record: everything from illegally downloading it to buying it more or less directly from Asthmatic Kitty to taking advantage of Amazon's steep, $3.99 discount. It was an uncommonly blunt (if not entirely clear) portrait by a small label of the difficult economics of releasing a new record in 2010, and seemed worth following up on--so we did, writing Michael Kaufmann, A&R for Asthmatic Kitty Records. We asked Kaufmann to help guide us through all the tough decisions a label like Asthmatic Kitty must make in between receiving a new record from a guy like Sufjan Stevens and finally putting it on the market. He was kind of enough to oblige:

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Compiling the Most Breathless, Absurd, and Aroused Twitter Reactions to Sufjan Stevens's New All Delighted People EP

Though indie-folk troubadour and fey highwayman Sufjan Stevens isn't for everyone, he is definitely for the Internet: the artist's surprise release of a full EP's worth of music today has left Twitter on its back, sighing in platonic, overwhelming, cuddly satisfaction. As always, we come not to mock, but to understand, and so we took to the social media platform to observe Stevens fans in their natural habitat. They turn out to be quite a passionate bunch:

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BAM Announces 2010 Next Wave Festival, Plus Fun Fact: Sufjan Stevens Got Paid $147,338 For His 2007 BQE Commission

Another year, another Next Wave Festival: the 2010 edition, BAM announced today, will feature--among many other works--the American premiere of Delusion, "a far-reaching work exploring memory and identity" from new music doyenne Laurie Anderson, Red Hot + New Orleans, a Big Easy tribute from Treme's Trombone Shorty, and Brooklyn Omnibus, a song-cycle about life in Kings County from Passing Strange's Stew and his band, the Negro Problem. The latter was commissioned specifically by BAM for the occasion, which got us wondering: what will a splashy Next Wave premiere run you these days?

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News Roundup: Aerosmith Cancels Tour, Sujfan Nearly On Sale, Sonic Youth on Gossip Girl

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--The rapidly decaying corpse of Aerosmith called the whole thing off today, canceling the rest of the band's AeroForceOne summer tour. Frontman Steven Tyler danced his way right off the stage at a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD last week, shattering his shoulder and amusing the entire internet in the process. "Words can't express the sadness I feel for having to cancel this tour," said the band's guitarist, Joe Perry, on the Aerosmith website. "Us road dawgs will meet again."

--Fanboys, clear your schedules. Tickets for Sufjan Stevens's super-intimate fall tour with Cryptacize, which will consist entirely of long, heartfelt conversations with the music legend as well as healthy doses of sharing the same sweater, go on sale tomorrow at 10am. He arrives October 4, at Bowery Ballroom, and leaves four short days later, from the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Stake out Ticketmaster's site now.

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Sufjan Stevens' BQE Set Available in a Third, Even More Limited-Edition Package That Features Lite-Brite, Colorforms, Legos, Play Dough, Construx (Represent!), Lincoln Logs (Illinoise Cross-Promotion), and a Mad Libs Lyric Sheet

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Elena Dahl
Wings not included.
Plus two actual-size Hula-Hoops. It retails for $375; one randomly chosen set out of every 1,000 will be personally delivered to your door by St. Vincent. Slightly less elaborate sets for losers will still be available.

In other news, I just found out the character limit for our headlines.