Happy 47th birthday to Sufjan Stevens! If you’re still trying to wrap your mind around the dense explosion of noise and history that is Illinois or still weeping your eyes out to the fragile tones of Carrie and Lowell, snap out of it for a few minutes because there’s some new Sufjan Stevens music to pour over.
OK, maybe not new in the traditional sense. Stevens has released two new versions of the song ‘Fourth of July’, the sixth track from Carrie and Lowell. This is just a warning: if you’ve been having a good day, or wish to have a good day in the immediate future, do not listen to these other versions of ‘Fourth of July’.
The original recording is devastating enough – a five-minute ambient/electronic-folk mediation on family and impending death. As an imaginary conversation between Stevens and his dying mother, ‘Fourth of July’ is the heartbreaking centre of Carrie and Lowell‘s obsession with grief, loss, and survival. These new versions don’t sugarcoat that message, they just find new ways to tell it.
The ‘April Base Version’ adds some new backing vocals to the track, originally recorded at the same Wisconsin studio that Justin Vernon recorded the first Bon Iver album. The ‘Dumbo Version’ comes from Stevens’ own home studio in Brooklyn and rearranges the song as an acoustic guitar lament with occasional piano stabs.
“The song has recently had a resurgence with listeners — which may speak to a deep national grief and sense of loss,” Stevens’ label Asthmatic Kitty says in a statement. “As we head into this Fourth of July weekend — a U.S. holiday marked by war (and death) — let us reflect on what it means to live in fullness in the face of death.”
While most Americans will be sucking on chilli dogs and watching fireworks while their household pets freak out, Stevens wants us all to get a little sad this Independence Day. If you’ve never really been into the flag-waving patriotism and blind optimism of the Fourth of July, then maybe ‘Fourth of July’ the song and its new alternate versions can be a savvy bit of counterprogramming at this year’s family cookout.
Check out both new versions of ‘Fourth of July’ down below.