Sufjan Stevens - Run Rabbit Run
So Sufjan Stevens has been taking detours from his chronicle of American weirdness with some instrumental outings that might make you scratch your head. Stevens is one of those artists whose level of irony is hard to put a finger on. In 2001, "Enjoy Your Rabbit" was a collection of fourteen ambient instrumentals based on the Chinese zodiac. That was a strange move given that it was only his second release. Already, though, Stevens was gaining a reputation for following his muse into odd spaces. So here, and even more strange,"Run Rabbit Run" is a revision of that record, with the songs arranged for orchestra and for Osso, a string quartet that has worked with Stevens in the past.
Stevens enlisted several composers, such as Michael Atkinson and Maxim Moston (also Osso violinists Rob Moose and Olivier Manchon) to arrange the songs. The results are mixed, as you'd expect from a remake that involved many a hand.
Minimalist in scope, "Run Rabbit Run" nevertheless extracts much emotion from the string quartet. Atkinson's arrangement of "Year of the Ox" has an urgent but pastoral lilt, and is seasoned here and there by cello, a quirky time shift, and some screeching strings. Atkinson's take on "Year of the Monkey," a plucked, tentative Asian-esque arrangement, has a disjointed tone that Eugene Chabourne might covet. Other notable tonal outings include "Year of the Snake" (arranged by Olivier Manchon), an ambient, slightly droning and abrasive tune; three by Moose that feature odd time signatures, bass interplay with silence and squawking strings, ala Zappa's "200 Motels." The best of his efforts is on "Year of the Tiger," a rich mix of romantic depth and classical crispness. The whole endeavor closes with the Atkinson arranged "Year of the Lord," which closes this rich and eclectic set on a pastoral note, ending on a rising, poignant statement that ultimately rings hopeful and grateful.Sufjan Stevens has never been shy about both his spiritual feelings or willingness to experiment. By revisiting an instrumental electronic release from his past, Stevens, with "Run Rabbit Run," reinvents some of his more obscure music in another, similarly obscure, context. Clearly this is music close to him, and music that he still feels has nuances from which to wring out. While best listened to individually, the thirteen songs here, with the input from friends, show themselves durable and able to respond to new melodies, new environments. Stevens challenges himself, and his audience, once more.
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