Think the cover art is a little messy? About 40 minutes of Sufjan Stevens’ spotty new EP is devoted to jumbled pop symphonies.

“I’m wondering, why do people make albums anymore when we just download? Why are songs like three or four minutes, and why are records 40 minutes long? They’re based on the record, vinyl, the CD and these forms are antiquated now … I no longer really have faith in the album anymore. I no longer have faith in the song.”

So said Sufjan Stevens to Paste Magazine last year, rationalizing why he shied away from releasing new music since his sprawling 2005 opus “Illinois” and also making it sound like his self-imposed hiatus might as well be indefinite. Instead, it turned out that Stevens was biding his time in figuring out how to put his money where his mouth was.

The eagerly anticipated answer finally arrived last month with “All Delighted People,” an eight-song EP that can be downloaded from his website for $5 and, uh, also runs an hour long.

An hour-long EP! Holy shit! That’s like when The Beatles released a single-disc LP in gatefold packaging. A terminology experiment like this isn’t exactly anything new — just check out The Fiery Furnaces’ frustratingly-named LP “EP.” Still, Stevens has certainly ushered in his point: The devastating digital overhaul of the music world shouldn’t just open the door for, say, “pay what you want” album experiments. It should also bring new challenges to any and all conventions of albums or, indeed, songs themselves.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, Sufjan — the traditional restrictions placed on songs can still be helpful, as they really should have been on “All Delighted People.”

Two-thirds of the EP’s run time is devoted to three songs as completely unrestricted as the format in which they were released. The opener “All Delighted People” meanders through raucous crescendos, choir mishmash, baroque breakdowns and banjo interludes for twelve minutes, but it’s hardly the pop symphony it keeps pushing for — if it was, the song would have actually gelled in the long run.

There’s a second version of the song included, which adds a “Classic Rock Version” subtitle and subtracts three minutes and a handful of instruments, only to undercut the spotty enjoyment there is to be had in the original jumble.

The closing track “Djohariah,” is a little better at balancing expansiveness with indulgence. The song’s broken family narrative is preceded with an Eastern-influenced mantra which fluctuates with chanting and orchestral sweeps for 12 minutes. Perhaps it’s not as long as it needed to be, and that extended guitar solo is misguided psychedelia at best, but it’s an absorbing experience nonetheless.

The five songs that constitute the EP’s remaining 22 minutes are less demanding pleasures. “Enchanting Ghost” and “Heirloom” delightfully bring Stevens back to his simpler, folkie beginnings, and “From the Mouth of Gabriel” resurrects the anything-goes ornate style of “Illinois.”

The real centerpiece of this EP, though, is the chilling “The Owl and Tanager,” which has little more than Stevens’ reverberated falsetto crawling along a storm cloud of echoing piano notes. It’s the simplest arrangement of all the songs, and also the most stunning.

Song form challenges be damned, the simplest moments on “All Delighted People” are the ones actually worth returning to. Of course, there’s no reason to hammer Stevens’ ambition too much — determined indulgence has always been his specialty (can you imagine “Illinois” as anything less than a mammoth collection of 22 songs with paragraph-long titles?). Nonetheless, “All Delighted People” feels like his first bite of something too big for him to chew.

Put it this way: Stevens’ next move is a full-length LP, “The Age of Adz,” due out in October. And for all the faith he claims to no longer have in the album, it will apparently be “only” 75 minutes long — enough to fit on one disc. I’m calling that a relief in advance.

Silverstein is a member of the class of 2013.



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