Personnel: Sufjan Stevens (various instruments); Daniel Smith (vocals, bass); Elin Smith, Megan Smith (vocals); Andrew Smith, David Smith (drums).
Recorded at the New Jerusalem Rec Room, Clarksboro, New Jersey.
Multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens made a couple of records that slipped under the radar before his third, the astoundingly lush post-rock concept album GREETINGS FROM MICHIGAN, gained him critical attention and cult status. Seemingly bent on not repeating himself, Stevens scales down MICHIGAN's grandeur to a minimalist palette for SEVEN SWANS. Where the previous album was instrumentally comparable to Tortoise or Stereolab, SEVEN SWANS is practically lo-fi, based around simply strummed acoustic guitars, banjo, organ, and hushed vocals. It's more akin to laconic Americana troubadours like Will Oldham and Iron & Wine, though no amount of sonic slimming-down can disguise Stevens's knack for crafty arrangements and accessibly quirky songs. Like-minded spirit Daniel Smith of the Danielson Family produced, and other Family members provide accompaniment that's considerably more structured than their own free-wheeling recordings.
Spin (p.89) - "[T]hese florid meditations on surety and doubt are earth-shaking if you're a believer..."
Spin (p.108) - "ME FIRST slides gently rolling beats and Grandaddy-esque swoosh under irresistible choruses and slide guitar." - Grade: B+
Entertainment Weekly (3/19/04, p.66) - "His melodies are deceptively simple but utterly beguiling..." - Grade: A-
Uncut (4/04, p.92) - 4 stars out of 5 - "All the requisite signifiers are in place: spare, brittle melodies; a hushed intimacy, where every squeak of fingertip on strings resonates."
Uncut (p.74) - Ranked #24 in Uncut's "Best New Albums of 2004" - "[A] delirious baptism of mystical chamber-pop..."
Magnet (p.109) - "The scrape of a guitar pick on wire is pristinely captured as poems of love, family and spirituality unfold....It's actually quite remarkable."
CMJ (3/15/04, p.5) - "The title track and closer 'The Transfiguration' sprawl beautifully, rounding out the record with chants so emotionally gripping it's unholy....Stevens has crafted a heavenly record."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.105) - 3 stars out of 5 - "These are blissfully executed missives of faith and love - both spiritual and corporeal - anchored by Stevens' spartan banjo-led arrangements and a voice that's tremulous yet brave."