Most people have developed the Pavlovian reaction of running away when they hear the words “Christian Rock”, lest they should be ensnared in a sticky net of soft stadium rock and band names like “pi-a-T”. Even as a Christian myself, I am near thrown into a crisis of faith that God could let something so bad exist. However, Sufjan Steven’s new record, Seven Swans, is the way musical worship should be; so beautiful, delicate and heartfelt that it would draw a tear from John Lydon’s eye. Michigan native Stevens is part of a new alt-Christian rock movement in the US, falling under the shaft of light that Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile opened up in the mid nineties, a scene that combines both quirky, original tunesmithery with Jesus; something like the Pixies appearing on Songs Of Praise. Smith in fact lends his production expertise and backing vocals to the record to great effect.
The first track, All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands (different to that school hymn) is a beautiful banjo-based song over which the Rachel and Elin Smith’s backing vocals cascade. Stevens’ voice throughout is soft and ethereal and his banjo and guitar playing subtle, leaving softy chancer chanteuses like Damian Rice in his echoes and evoking the spirit of the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel. The denouement of the album is the fantastically produced The Transfiguration, a landmark in prog-folk in which clarinets play with banjo and glockenspiel in the Garden of Eden as Stevens and the Famile sing the words, “lost in the clouds, the voice, have no fear, we draw near”.
This record, his fourth album as a solo artist, places Stevens on the same branch as lo-fi vets like Will Oldham and Jim O’Rourke and it cannot be long before cult status envelopes his fallen eyelashes and cigarette butts.