Did you know that samplers could giggle? That modems could coo like an infant? Well, neither did I, but the more I listened to Enjoy Your Rabbit, those were the visions I had. It took awhile, but after a few listens, I began to detect the order buried beneath the chaos, the countless layers of synthesizer and sampler-induced mayhem. Soon, it was apparent that these were actual songs, with real melodies and structure. Unlike some electronic artists, Sufjan Stevens displays a real knack for taking his arsenal of abstract sounds and letting them go wild without damaging his music’s integrity.
Don’t get me wrong; he definitely lets them run amok. But that’s where all of the wonder and mischief comes from. I’m convinced that “Year Of The Monkey” was composed by a circus band from The Nightmare Before Christmas — it’s silly, and swaggering, and just a bit traumatizing. You can almost see the claymation ghouls swinging from the trapeze somewhere in all of the analog gurgling.
“Year Of The Rat” takes that sound and transforms it into something darker still, a bizarre piece that could easily replace the theme to Edward Scissorhands. But surprise… about 4 minutes it, the mood brightens, with a soft xylophone chiming in and lifting the song up to where lofty, whispery vocals wait for it. But surprise again… the tranquil ending is suddenly devoured by glitch-like explosions of static and noise.
“Year Of The Tiger” is one of the more tranquil tracks, or at least it starts off that way. Delicate female vocals and soft keyboard melodies attempt to stave off more glitchiness and modem-like eruptions. Over several minutes, the track grows more layered, eventually becoming a chorus where the angelic voices and noises exist in perfect harmony. And then a distorted guitar breaks the surface at a jarring rhythm. Eventually, all of the earlier elements of the song settle back into place, and everything gets about 10 times more captivating.
The album’s emotional crux would have to be “Year Of The Dragon.” It starts out much the same as every other song, but immediately takes on a more solemn air. And while you can see the climax from the song’s beginning, what a strange journey it is to get there. And when it finally hits, you simply imagine machines all around the world singing in triumph. (If mountains and trees can, why not fax machines, telephones, and laptops?)
The sad/simple truth is that if you were to play this for people on the street, 9 out of 10 would just dismiss it as noise, pure and simple. And they wouldn’t be wrong. I’ve only scratched the surface of the bizarre audio oddities contained herein, and each listen brings up some I never heard before.
But it’s that sort of “surprise around every corner” approach that keeps Enjoy Your Rabbit whimsical, maddening, and very rewarding. Every subsequent minute is like another turn of the kaleidoscope. Each twist brings forth a new array of sounds to hear; the analog gurgling, cooing, and bleeping sound fresh and exciting each time. It brings to mind the disturbing beauty of Aphex Twin, Autechre if they had a sense of humor, and the bizarre soundscapes of Oval, all funnelled through the whimsy of the Elephant 6 and Warren Defever.
After listening to the album many times, I know why Stevens made it almost 80 minutes long. It’s not out of conceit. It’s just that he simply couldn’t fit everything in otherwise. Oh sure, it’s a lot of noise. It’s chaotic, distorted, strange, and frustrating to listen to. To be honest, the first few times I listened to it, I had to steel myself. It takes awhile to acclimate yourself to Stevens’ madness. But once you can get past that, the method becomes apparent. And when that happens… oh what a strange, unique joy it is.