Music

We Missed You, Sufjan: a Review of “Lonely Man of Winter”

Not going to lie, I’m kind of sick of playing Sufjan Steven’s greatest hits over and over again on my record player.

The Oscar-nominated musician doesn’t work on a schedule. He’s not somebody who comes off as over-worked or swept up in the hustle of Tinseltown. Just look at him talk in an interview—  Sufjan Stevens is just someone who enjoys slow breathing and taking in all that life has to offer. But, sometimes, that means music doesn’t come out for months, and we all need a new dose of Sufjan from time to time.

In between his two original songs for last year’s golden boy of an indie flick Call Me By Your Name, there hasn’t been anything from the singer. It’s been a quiet year for Sufjan Stevens, but he’s finally come back with “Lonely Man of Winter,” a song that’s actually more than a decade old. Originally recorded in 2007, it was written for artistic director Alex Duffy for Stevens’ Christmas song writing exchange. Stevens gave Duffy the rights for that song and Duffy gave Stevens the rights to a song he wrote, called “Every Day is Christmas.” The newly released compilation album features the 2007 recording of “Lonely Man of Winter,” a 2018 Doveman mix of “Lonely Man of Winter” featuring Melissa Mary Ahern and “Every Day is Christmas.”

The 2007 “Lonely Man of Winter” is a great throwback to Stevens’ style during the era, bringing a melancholy to the lyrics as seen in older albums like Illinois. Stevens’ lyrics have always been complex and deeply personal, and “Lonely Man of Winter,” which is, at the end of the day, a holiday song, is no exception. The song reads like poetry, with rich verses such as, “In the world that you would make up/ With unicorns and buffalo packs/ I know that you would wake up/ With the sunny side touching your back.” It’s not a song you want to dance around the tree to, or even listen to while sharing a nice holiday dinner with family. It’s crestfallen and full of remorse, not unlike Stevens’ music during that time period.

The new recording of the same song is a lot airier, which takes a bit away from the original lyrics, but not enough that you forget the initial meaning and mood of the song. It’s cheerier and holds a fresh beat. The small chimes that have been added at the beginning of the song certainly brings a new holiday brightness more commonly associated with winter. It’s like Stevens’ has created the two recordings, one for you to listen to alone, and one for you to share with those you care about.

The album also includes Alex Duffy’s “Every Day is Christmas,” which is the song in the album closest to traditional holiday music, but references to plasma screen TVs and a mega superstore gives Duffy’s grand, classic voice a modern twist. There is a great simplicity in the lyrics that perfectly contrasts Stevens’ “Lonely Man of Winter.” When combined, the two songs are fun to play back to back and compare the basic piano background of “Every Day is Christmas” and the multi-layered remix of “Lonely Man of Winter.”

In the end, it’s the quality of the music that matters, not the quantity, a moral often lost in today’s music industry. It’s from the bottom of my heart that I say thank you Sufjan Stevens, and have a merry holiday season. Now, it’s time for me to check if this album has a vinyl.

(Featured image source: Asthmatic Kitty Records)

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