06 July 2006

Earworm: Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day

A friend sent me "Casimir Pulaski Day" maybe a year ago, raving about Sufjan. I listened, and didn't get it. Like a good little girl, thinking maybe I needed a bigger sample, I went and got Seven Swans and Illinois--and still didn't get it. It was nice, but nothing ever grabbed my attention.

Which now makes me think I wasn't paying any. It was playing in The Museum of Useful Things last night, and it got utterly stuck in my head and still isn't ousted; which is odd, since the only really lovely part are the trumpet and the lyrics (which are too subtle to be striking upon hearing once)--the change in the overall song induced by the trumpet part reminds me of Salieri's reaction to the oboe and clarinet notes in Mozart's Serenade for Winds and how much a single line can change a piece of music.

Sufjan's vocals still remind me of Iron & Wine; they're too precious and gentle to be really powerful (Iron & Wine needed the extra sparkle and twang of Calexico to be really superlative). But the lyrics of Casimir Pulaski Day complement this vocal style, and turn it from a weakness into a technique: since the lyrics are so oblique and melancholy, and the subject so grieving, the twee quality of the vocals deepens into a different impression. They remind me of a perceptual phenomenon called object completion: it's the mechanism that allows people to see a square when there are really only four unconnected corners, or the third dimension of a cube when the only cues are dotted lines; although the listener only gets told peripheral bits and pieces, the complete picture that's constructed is the more powerful for it.

Get it from YSI

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