Review ·

Sufjan Stevens has kept his fans happy since 2003�s Greetings from Michigan earned him some much-deserved recognition. Inarguably one of the year�s most ear-meltingly gorgeous albums, Stevens followed up its success with the stripped-down spiritual push of Seven Swans, and now a reissue of his small-scale debut, A Sun Came, originally released by Orchard in 2000. The album serves as a logical predecessor to Michigan in its often unconventional arrangements and its gently introspective lyrics, it is noticeably less mature than his later work: a portrait of a college-aged Stevens with a dozen or so instruments at his disposal.

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A Sun Came is a bizarre collection, a mammoth disc of just less than eighty minutes of four-track musings by Stevens, onetime member of Marzuki and sometimes member of the Danielson Famile. The sound quality is surprisingly palatable for the lo-fi setup, but the record reflects a much different stage of his production skills than his later work. Michigan proved that Stevens was as skilled an arranger and producer as he was a songwriter, whereas this album takes on a much looser approach. Though Michigan indulged in incredibly lush soundscapes, it had enough restraint to keep the more minimalist songs tastefully simple. And whereas Michigan was accented by warm brass, A Sun Came highlights woodwinds through the incessant use of recorders and flutes. It lends a more exotic air to �We Are What You Say,� the vaguely Native American-sounding opener, or the miscellaneous Middle Eastern coda of �Demetrius.�

The use of more electric guitars leaves A Sun Came largely devoid of its follow-up�s consistently organic feel. Though only a few tracks really smack of distortion like �Demetrius� and �Super Sexy Woman,� there�s enough electronics and noise dropped subtly that the experimental feel rubs off. The most obvious example is �Joy! Joy! Joy!,� one of two bonus tracks added for the second edition, which cycles through a whirring loop that almost recalls early Beck. Nothing is so electronically infused as Stevens�s second album, Enjoy Your Rabbit, but the bizarre noise rock has enough of a presence to bring the album down a few notches.

A Sun Came is simply an all-around looser record than Stevens has released since. The immensely precise orchestration of Michigan is sorely missed, though the album does have its high points. The minimalist numbers here are the album�s sharpest; songs like �Happy Birthday� and �Rake� embrace the simplistic beauty of Stevens�s songwriting skill rather than his taste for distortion and wood flutes. Most of the album is too quirky to stand on its own, but it does make for an engaging prologue.

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- 2004

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