A Sun Came by Sufjan Stevens (Review)

A Sun Came, Sufjan Stevens

Put this one in the “better late than never” file. Released in 1999 with minimal (read: no) fanfare or publicity, A Sun Came is the solo debut from Sufjan Stevens, former multi-instrumentalist from the excellent arty-folk rock combo Marzuki. That this record has gone unnoticed for so long is absolutely criminal. A stunning blend of 60’s psychedelic pop influences with middle-eastern and east Indian musical touches and a trace of experimental noise, A Sun Came grips the listener from the very first notes and doesn’t let go until you’ve reached the end of Stevens’ 72 minute opus.

Immensely talented as a writer, player, and producer, Stevens wears all hats here with great success. He plays no less than eighteen different instruments ranging from acoustic and electric guitars to drums to recorders, flute, oboe, banjo and sitar with minimal support from a small cast of backing musicians and singers, which includes former band mate Shannon Stephens. Song arrangements are incredibly rich and inventive as Stevens draws layers of sound out of his 4-track recorder that most would be lucky to create in a full studio.

And as though his skills as a musician weren’t sufficient, Stevens’ is also an immensely gifted writer, equally comfortable with absurdist odes to “Supergirl” as he is crafting deeply spiritual, mystical poetry. One of the strongest examples of Steven’s writing comes in the disc’s opening track: “We are a servant, we have a song/The side of a beehive, a tabernacle choir/We are the sound working in wars/the bishop is gone to the acolyte shores/We save our Bibles, we pull our sleeves/The word is a guard and the guard is a cleave/We are the right, we are the stay/The accolade’s gone, we are what You say.” (“We Are What You Say”)

Truly original, accurate comparisons are difficult to come by. Stevens takes a similar mix of influences as Psalters, but ends in significantly different territory. Fans of experimental pop acts such as the Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control will find much here to like, though Stevens takes a significantly more mystical tack.

Written by Chris Brown.