NPR has made Sufjan Steven’s new album available for streaming on their site. Called “The Greatest Gift,” the record is a collection of unreleased songs, demos, and remixes from his 2015 album “Carrie and Lowell.” “The Greatest Gift” gives listeners a deeper insight into the themes from “Carrie and Lowell” while also expanding upon its original sound.
All of the previously unheard tracks on the album are powerful in their own right, inhabiting the same kind of emotional space as the best songs from “Carrie and Lowell.” The artist explores themes of love, childhood, and myth through a beautiful sonic palette, especially vibrant on tracks like “Wallowa Lake Monster” and “The Hidden River of My Life,” where he sings:
“Suppose the world was not informed by real estate or power lines?
The hidden river of my life, pursued by love
The whispering stone, the valley fjord, the candy corn, the spirit finds
Abuse has left me on my side, a single stone”
Folk-tinged “City of Roses” is an energetic ode to Portland, and works well as a meditation on growing old and leaving places and possibilities behind. It’s like grown-up Sufjan is processing the Oregon childhood fantasy that we heard so much about on “Carrie and Lowell,” finding that there is so much underneath the surface of a human life.
The remixes on “The Greatest Gift” are equally impressive, and will leave listeners intrigued by the new sounds the tracks employ. I especially like the poignant space of the “Exploding Whale” remix by Doverman. It’s a refreshing and rich remix of an already impressive single.
For those who enjoyed “Carrie and Lowell,” “The Greatest Gift” is an opportunity to jump back in. As it often goes with Sufjan, it’s an exciting and emotional journey to take.