Message for a world full of hate

Two original tracks by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, known for his nerdy and wildly imaginative songs, point to a newfound clarity.
Two original tracks by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, known for his nerdy and wildly imaginative songs, point to a newfound clarity. PHOTO: ASTHMATIC KITTY

Sufjan Stevens has released an EP dedicated to love in the face of strife

In an Internet age riven by bots, fakery and toxicity, love remains the scariest thing. Love is true, corny, unabashed, naked and particularly unfashionable when the survival instinct is to put it down these days.

That is why this surprise release by Sufjan Stevens, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter known for his nerdy and wildly imaginative songs, is so special.

Two original songs - released in support of Pride Month, with proceeds benefiting two American organisations which help homeless and LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others) youth - point to a newfound clarity, a radiant light which has been shining through since his 2015 acclaimed record Carrie & Lowell and his Oscar-and Grammy-nominated work for the 2017 art-house film, Call Me By Your Name.

The first song, Love Yourself, isn't actually new. Predating his solo album, A Sun Came (1999), the track has existed since 1996 as a demo, which is also included here.

The one-minute-plus recording is reminiscent of his early folksy output, softly strummed on guitar and whispered, a rustic missive from a bygone era. It has the wistful innocence of a then-unknown artist who is ultimately singing to himself to bolster his own self-worth: "Love myself/I am the one thing I needed."

At nearly four minutes, this year's version is more expansive and outward-looking.

The music is a yin-yang amalgam of his electronic and acoustic sides. It now glides along on a sea of softly gyrating beats, a lovely sheen of dream-like disco.

  • ELECTRONICA/ INDIE POP

  • LOVE YOURSELF/ WITH MY WHOLE HEART 

    Sufjan Stevens 

    Asthmatic Kitty

    4 stars

His voice isn't louder by any means, but it draws one in in its minor-key assuredness, buoyed along by call-and-response.

"Love, can you love yourself?/Show me everything/Every reason to believe in yourself," he calls out, by now a messiah of love across denominations.

As for the newer track, With All My Whole Heart, Stevens says in an accompanying press release that it was written as a personal challenge to "write an upbeat and sincere love song without conflict, anxiety or self-deprecation".

To that effect, it is given the maximalist treatment characteristic of his 2010 album, The Age Of Adz, with Stevens proffering absolute commitment to a loved one, against pop-tastic drums, nifty keys and star-lit synths.

It shimmers wakefully before a jaunty drumbeat ups the game.

"I will not rest until I know the best is always with you," he sings, lighter and brighter than he has ever sounded before.

"I confess the world's a mess but I will always love you," he declares, as the revelry reaches a crescendo, all banging drums and squiggly synths which shoot stars across the night sky.

Indeed, the world has gone batty, but we have Sufjan to save us.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2019, with the headline 'Message for a world full of hate'. Print Edition | Subscribe