Enjoy Your Rabbit
Sufjan Stevens, god of the indie concept album, is the sort of fellow my evangelical Christian minister grandparents can enjoy. This is not an insult. My maternal grandfather, born in Michigan eighty-some years ago, has never admitted that he enjoys the Stevens album Michigan. I nevertheless suspect that my sometimes secular, former music minister grandpa samples some Sufjan when he thinks no one is around.
Stevens’ second LP, recently reissued by Asthmatic Kitty, essentially marks the beginning of his conceptual career. Recorded in 2001 and based around the Chinese zodiac, all the songs correlate with the year of particular animals. To be fair, the East Asian cycle is often awkwardly translated into English and does not leave space for varying breeds of animals across continents.
When I was a child in Indiana, my single mother and I—and later in my teens, my friends and I—used to frequent a Chinese restaurant named Yip’s Chopstick House. Their red and white paper placemats gave us an introduction to the Chinese zodiac before our egg drop soup and MSG-laden chicken and mushrooms arrived. My mother is the year of the rabbit, which is appropriate since she used to collect bunny-themed tchotchkes and put them in curio cabinets around the house. I am the year of the dog, but I try not to be a bitch.
If you came later to the Stevens game—say, anytime after 2002—Enjoy Your Rabbit may not be for you. Most of the tracks sound more like they’d be found on a Black Dice or Negativland CD. Myself a second wave Stevens fan, I enjoy his efforts from later this decade. When I cue up Sufjan, I expect folk loveliness, not glitchy noise. And yet for fans that enjoy the early catalogs of their favorites, this strangely electronic album can be great fun. I just don’t happen to be one of those hardcore fans. Sometimes, your earliest work is best left alone, best forgotten once you’ve worked out the kinks. I enjoy understanding artistic trajectory as much as the next person, but this album is quite like a video game soundtrack when all I wanted were a few lo-fi lullabies.
Thank god—either the one my grandparents worship or one of your own imagination—that Stevens put down the sound machine and started singing. The world is a much better place for it.