Sufjan Stevens’ newest release may be an accompaniment to the stunning Carrie & Lowell however, the album has its own power to stand alone. In the same year that he’s contributed to the soundtrack for Call Me by Your Name, he gives us The Greatest Gift. Stevens does not just offer his listeners a series of demos and outtakes in The Greatest Gift; instead, it feels like we are given a wholly separate work of art that nods to his great release from 2015.
It opens with the beautiful ‘Wallowa Lake Monster’, a previously unreleased track which lifts you into the album. The gentle melodies of the intro seem reminiscent of the track ‘Should’ve Known Better’ from Carrie & Lowell. Other unreleased tracks on the album are ‘The Hidden River of My Life’, ‘The City of Roses’ and the mesmerising ‘Greatest Gift’.
The mixtape also features remixes by some longstanding collaborators, such as Doveman’s ‘Exploding Whale’, which was originally released as a 7-inch single. This soft, almost hypnotic take on the track breathes new life into Stevens’s classic. Meanwhile, Stevens mixes his own song ‘Drawn to the Blood’, which he has rearranged and put a palpable beat under. With the vocals drifting in and out, the result is a soft ethereal dance-along track.
Then there’s the 900X remix of ‘Fourth of July’ which has a similar effect. When listened to closely, it sends a shiver down your spine, as Stevens whispers ‘You’re all gonna die’ repeatedly. It perfectly blends a sense of melancholy with a gentle electronic beat, the result is a beautifully wistful melody.
The album has a sense of rawness to it, perhaps because there are so many outtakes and demos in it. Most notably, there’s ‘John My Beloved’, a track recorded on Stevens’ iPhone. Here, the guitar demo is Stevens’ stripped bare; you can hear his voice in its most stunning and vulnerable state.
The album itself serves as a collection of snippets that perfectly accompany 2015’s Carrie & Lowell, while still having enough of a new feel to it to work on its own.