Category Archives: Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens – They are Neighbors! They are Night Zombies! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! AHHHH!

Boils and ghouls, maladies and violent men, just in time for Halloween we have a really scarifying, bone-chilling, skin-tingling cover for you today. But all holiday puns aside, this cover of Sufjan StevensThey are Neighbors! They are Night Zombies… is actually pretty impressive. So, rather than me rambling on with bad jokes about the holidays, let’s get down to business so you can go get your candy.

This song is rather Halloween themed, being superficially about zombies and having an overall creepy, chilly feel to it. I love the bass line, and, like much of Sufjan’s other music, the non-synthesized strings mixed in with other instruments of modern rock. The drum has a good beat that gets stuck in my head every time I hear it. It’s one of my favorites from the album Illinois.

Unfortunately I’ve never been lucky enough to see Sufjan perform live, but I’ve heard it’s great, with all the actual instruments performing together as one… I imagine it to be a sort of magical orchestra. The video we have today, uploaded by youtuber ericsteffens55 comes close to what I imagine the concert to be like. Students from Eastman School of Music transcribed and then performed the album Illinois, which is, in my book, incredibly impressive. In one of the only covers of this song I could find on youtube (I absolutely refuse to recognize a capella), the students recreate with loyalty the song–everything, including violins, bass guitar, cellos, a choir… it’s all there. The ladies did especially well chanting… I always imagined this part done by zombie cheerleaders, but this is good too. All in all, it looks like it would have been awesome to be there. Check out the people dancing and rockin’ out! Watch and learn how it’s done:

Be sure to check out the other videos of these students performing Illinois on ericsteffens55‘s channel!

Here’s the original song set to a pretty interesting music video: Sufjan Stevens’ Neighbors/Night Zombies!


Lovers of the Month — Pianki, KierstenMH

I’m going to preface this post by saying that one of my favorite artists is Sufjan Stevens (but you already knew that). He uses a lot of instruments and rhythms that you will never find in your everyday pop music. Clarinets, trumpets, banjos–they’re not in every song but you’ll hear them every once in a while. On the other hand, he’s got the oboe, which, in popular music, is very, very rare. He’s also got songs written in 3/4 time (uncommon but not rare) 6/8 (a bit rare) and, apparently, really crazy things like 18+17+17+13/16. His music is an utter balderdash that somehow comes together in a unique and unifying theme, and for that, I (am in) love (with) him.

This is also the reason that I like Jeff Pianki, on youtube as pianki. I think he’s got the same creative flow coming from him in that he uses whatever instruments to create the perfect composition, even if those instruments are non-traditional. You’ve seen the rest of the covers we’ve posted here; they mainly feature acoustic guitar. Every now and then you’ll see a banjo, ukelele, piano/keyboard, or, in a recent post, a gameboy, but I’ve never seen a saw played in a cover on youtube. That’s right. A freakin’ saw. I know this is a common instrument in folk bands, but on youtube it’s difficult to come by a cover that features a saw. Pianki also uses a keyboard-type instrument, I think the ones called bells (but correct me if I’m wrong). Again–very few and far between on youtube.

This first cover is probably one of my favorites. It’s Train Song, originally by Vashti Bunyan, but Pianki and KierstenMH are re-covering the more recent cover by Ben Gibbard and Feist. This is the cover that features the saw. Additionally, this is a collaboration between two youtubers, which, as I have said before, is great because it’s two people making music because they love to make music. I love the whole spirit of this endeavor, and the video’s great. Check it out here:

This next cover’s a repeat. We’ve already posted a cover of Fleet FoxesWhite Winter Hymnal. However, this one is also a well-done collaboration between Pianki and KierstenMH. Pianki uses the bells again, and his friend Jaytee (who was also in the cover of Decatur by Sufjan Stevens a while back) adds to the harmonies. A nice cover worth re-posting:

Although Jeff Pianki can orchestrate a great song using many different parts, he also is quite skilled at recasting a song by himself, with just the two layers of vocals and guitar. This next cover of Mona Lisa by Von Bear demonstrates that he can still create a simple yet full song on his own:

If you’re not convinced about pianki’s musical genius, then check out one of his original songs. He has many on his youtube channel, and this one if one of my favorites. It’s called Seeds in the Ground, and you can view it here:

He’s got some other originals, which you should also check out:
Buried in Winter (Jeff Pianki original)
Hello Bones (Jess Pianki original)
More on his youtube channel.

Also check out these covers featuring Jeff Pianki by himself:
The Transifiguration by Sufjan Stevens covered by pianki
I am Trying to Break Your Heart by Wilco covered by pianki

And lastly, I really like this song done by KierstenMH, who collaborated with pianki on Train Song and White Winter Hymnal. I’m hoping to feature more by this talented musician later, but for now, I hope you enjoy this cover of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. Anyway, the scenery is beautiful (according to the URL it was filmed by her brother) and it is complemented by her voice and guitar so very nicely. Check it out here:

These are two great musicians who are making their start on youtube. I really recommend checking them out, so be sure to hop on over to their youtube/myspace pages.

And as always, I have the originals for you.
Train Song by Vashti Bunyan
Train Song covered by Ben Gibbard and Feist
White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
Mona Lisa by Von Bear
The Transfiguration by Sufjan Stevens
I am Trying to Break Your Heart by Wilco
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

Sufjan Stevens — Decatur

If I’m ever having a bad day, Sufjan Stevens will always cheer me up. I don’t listen to Sufjan nearly as much as I used to, but something about his music always lifts me up when I’m, say, in a foreign country and unhappy with the exchange rate and also angry that the 24-hour grocery store isn’t open 24 hours.

BUT enough about me, let’s get to two really great covers. I know, I know, I bet you’re thinking, “Why Decatur, why not Chicago??” The answer is that there are so many Chicago covers out there, and quite a few good ones, it’s too hard to choose. One day I’ll make a post dedicated to Chicago covers, but for now, I’m going to post a cover of my favorite (or maybe second-favorite) Sufjan song: Decatur, or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother. What I like about the original is that it has a really simple melody, but that it progresses and grows and ends up being a complex composition by the end of the song.

These two covers do a really good job in keeping with the original harmony. This first, by youtuber pianki, was what drew me to this song. Most people do home covers with their guitar, but these two guys actually use a banjo! They do a lot of other Sufjan covers, so check them out, but first watch this vid:

*edit* and oh my god, check out the related vid of pianki singing the same song with his little sister. It’s SO ADORABLE.

I actually had a hard time deciding which of the these videos I like better, because I like the banjo in the first, but the next video, by youtuber dkurth20002 features another two guys singing in the original harmony of the song. I think the two guitars go together really well, blending in a way that the banjo and guitar don’t–but then, maybe that takes away some of the folk-ish charm of Sufjan’s original. It’s also a little slower in tempo, but, in any case, I like it. Enjoy:

Here’s the original song: Decatur by Sufjan Stevens on YouTube