What has Oscar-nominated artist Sufjan Stevens been up to since he released his Greatest Gift mixtape and performed at the Oscars? He has been posting music to his Tumblr (of course the only social media he would be active on is Tumblr), but this is all other artists’ music that he collaborated on. Now, however, following the vinyl release of his five-volume Christmas collection Songs for Christmas, he just released the elusive track “Lonely Man of Winter.”
Back in 2007 when Sufjan Stevens released Songs for Christmas, his record label, Asthmatic Kitty, held the Great Sufjan Song Xmas Xchange in which participants were required to write and record an original Christmas song and send it to Asthmatic Kitty. The winner would then get to exchange songs with Sufjan Stevens. They would receive the legal rights to his song, and Sufjan Stevens would receive the winner’s song. The winner was Alec Duffy, artistic director for the collaborative theater company Hoi Polloi and the performance venue JACK. Duffy wrote and recorded the simple, but heartwarming song, “Every Day is Christmas,” which he exchanged for Sufjan Stevens’s “Lonely Man of Winter.” However, this all happened in 2007.
Between then and now, the musical director at Hoi Polloi, Dave Malloy, teamed up with Duffy to share this song while retaining its rarity, something that they both valued. “We’d like to make the hearing of this song something truly special. We’d like to invite you to email us ([email protected]) and arrange a special hearing. We’re in Brooklyn. We’ve been doing Wednesdays and Sundays, with about four people per listening. Bring your best headphones. We’ll have cookies and tea,” reads Malloy’s 2007 blog post. So somewhere out there, there are people who listened to this song in Brooklyn as they had tea and cookies. Now we can all do the same.
The original “Lonely Man of Winter” echoes the sadder and more piano-heavy tracks found on Illinois such as “Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, Illinois,” “Casimir Pulaski Day” and “The Seer’s Tower.” However, it captures the often overlooked but very common feelings of melancholy during the holidays. The song is simple, sad and just like anything Sufjan Stevens would write between 2005 and 2007 for Illinois or The Avalanche.
The piano and guitar paint a cold, melancholic winter scene, while Sufjan Stevens’s gentle, sad vocals add flurries of snow to the picture. “Is it the lonely man of Christmas? He’s riding in the devil’s abyss” he sings during the chorus. The addition of sleigh bells further into the song solidify the winter theme in a cozy, familiar way, even if the song is sad.
In addition to this original version of “Lonely Man of Winter,” Sufjan Stevens released a new version, in which he collaborated with Doveman (The same Doveman that remixed “Futile Devices” for the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack) and Melissa Mary Ahern. This version of the song is less acoustic and more spacious. It creates a different space from the original with the electronic aspects that Doveman adds. There is a magical, whimsical element that comes into play and the way that Ahern’s vocals echo and contrast with Sufjan Stevens’s over the soft beat transport the listener to an ethereal, sad winter forest.
Lastly, Alec Duffy’s “Every Day is Christmas” is anything but sad. It’s cheesy, it feels old, it feels like everything you want Christmas to be. Duffy wrote a simple melody he accompanied with just piano, toying with the nostalgia of having a family member play the piano and sing Christmas songs during the holidays. The chorus “I’ve got the perfect present, one not wrapped up in a bow / She lifts my spirits high when I’m feeling low / Others long for the holidays, yes indeed they do / But every day is Christmas when I’m with you” is disgustingly sweet but melts your heart.
While the wait continues for a new Sufjan Stevens album, he seems to be working on smaller things with other artists that nonetheless yield pleasant, meaningful results (i.e. Gallant’s “TOOGOODTOBETRUE” and Mosey Sumner’s “Make Out in My Car”). I think that he deserved that Oscar and I will cry when he releases a new album because the quality and emotion that Sufjan Stevens consistently delivers is unmatched by any other artist.
Viri Garcia is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].