The first Sufjan Stevens album in four years is on the way. Titled Carrie & Lowell after Stevens's parents, the March release is a return to Stevens's folk roots, but it has nothing to do with what was once considered the most ambitious album cycle in indie rock: the 50 States Project.
Following Michigan and Illinois-based albums, Stevens admitted the project was "such a joke" and scrapped the whole endeavor. But this hasn't kept the Gopher State from holding out hope that the visionary singer-songwriter would once again turn his pen to the Midwest.
While Stevens distances himself from that reality with each record, Gimme Noise has assembled a hail mary of a tracklist in hopes of resurrecting the project at least one more time. Here is how Sufjan Stevens Invites You, Lumberjacks!, to Minnesota* *Land of 10,000 Lakes! could play out.
- White Earth and Rocksalt Contaminating (Tundra All the Road to Manitoba) A classic "Sufjan takes the road, finds himself" tale in the style of "Chicago." Opens up the album with a sense of romantic purpose as Stevens embarks for the Great White North while simultaneously exploring his relationship with his stepfather, Asthmatic Kitty co-founder Lowell Brams.
- Moonlit, a Caribou, or, L'Étoile du Nord A bare, pastoral incantation. Colin Meloy provides spools of sublimated background vocals.
- Diablo Cody Stevens stretches to relate a story of his childhood babysitter falling down the stairs to former Minneapolis stripper/screenwriter Diablo Cody.
- Bemidji Hard to believe this isn't the name of a Sufjan Stevens song already.
- Exalt! Paradise Opines a Venturian Body Sufjan slips in a Christmas song, though, oddly enough, this one centers on former governor and bodyslammer Jesse Ventura.
- Sufjan Stevens' Paranoid Debasement on the Shores of Minnetonka with Sunlight Descending A third-person dark night of the soul in one of the North Star State's most scenic locales.
- The Ferris Wheel Stills for Polio (For the Afflicted) In 1946, the Minnesota State Fair was canceled because of a polio outbreak. Stevens uses this as a metaphor for his own emotional stiffness.
- A Black Bear Appears in Buffalo Plaid but Is Soothed by Neighbors Frequent collaborator Serengeti layers the whimsy in this psychotropic caricature of life in northern Minnesota. Possibly the same bear from Sault Saint Marie, though no longer sleeping.
- Bridge No. 5757 Instead of naming a song after a holiday named after a bridge named after a person (see "Casimir Pulaski Day"), Stevens simplifies by naming a song after a bridge with no name.
- A Peaceful Aside for Garrison Keillor Ten minutes of trumpet and overdubs of a child reading transcripts from A Prairie Home Companion.
- A Voice in the Tabernacle at the Cathedral of St. Paul Cue the youth choir. Stevens does his ministry with the sweetest Bible-thumping you've ever heard.
- For Windswept Sauk Rapids, an Overture for Shelter A sweeping instrumental intercut with the sound of a loon weeping. Violins. Violas. Vibraphone. This song only features instruments beginning with the letter V.
- Winona Unclear whether this one is about the Wisconsin-adjacent town or the Olmsted County-born actress of the same name because Stevens's gothic imagery could be applied to either.
- A Meteor Lands in Fond du Lac and Is Met with Great Skepticism After five months of blank, snow-covered desolation yield no inspiration, Stevens resorts to short fiction.
- These Are Vulture Mosquitos!! They Burn with Dengue!! They Roost for Blood in the Planks of the Dock!! While staying at a lake house in White Bear in August, Stevens's PTSD about predatory insects is triggered, undoing years of therapy.
- To the Riverfront Millers, I Implore You, Clear the Air A visit to Mill City Museum stirs Stevens's passion for blue-collar tragedy in this clanky, gamelan-centric ballad.
- Variations on Snake Oil and Social Nicety at Gooseberry Falls: A Contemplative Irony Before the Lord Minnesota Nice through the lens of indie folk's softest soul.
Everything that makes a classic Sufjan Stevens album is there -- the soft-spoken trepidation, the extensive natural imagery, the anecdotal psyche-dredging -- all Stevens needs to do is fill in the outline. Here's hoping the spritely prophet sees this and rekindles his ambitions of soundtracking the country, because Minnesota is certainly a worthy muse.
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