Top 10 Sufjan Stevens Songs That Will Give You Chills



Top 10 Sufjan Stevens Songs That Will Give You Chills

VOICE OVER: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Ezuma
Script written by Tiffany Ezuma

His fifty states album project might have been a crazy dream, but one thing remains true: we want whatever music this artist will grace us with. Welcome to and today we'll be counting down the Top 10 Sufjan Stevens Songs.

For this list, we're looking at any song this gifted musician has put out.

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Top 10 Sufjan Stevens Songs

His fifty states album project might have been a crazy dream, but one thing remains true: we want whatever music this artist will grace us with. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Sufjan Stevens Songs.
For this list, we’re looking at any song this gifted musician has put out.

#10: “Futile Devices”
The Age of Adz (2010)

An incredible love song, “Futile Devices” is an exploration of figuring out how to determine what kind of love you have for a person. Whether it’s romantic or familial, it can be hard to externalize and verbalize what you feel inside. His lyrics, ironically, capture that dilemma, calling words “futile devices,” the perfect descriptor. The limitations of words may be the subject of the song but his words resonate. A remix of the song was later used on the “Call Me By Your Name” soundtrack in addition to his other songs.

#9: “Flint (For The Unemployed and Underpaid)”
Michigan (2003)

Not many of Stevens’ songs are overtly political but this song feels like the closest he’s come. The town of Flint, Michigan is the song’s subject as he laments the hopelessness many of the town’s residents feel. Written long before the lead in the water there became a national crisis, he describes a dying town long removed from its glory days during the boom of the automobile industry. The repetition of the line “even if I died alone” makes him sound resigned to his fate, just as many in the town may feel. It’s deeply empathetic and moving.

#8: “Should Have Known Better”
Carrie & Lowell (2015)

Written after the death of his mother, Carrie, this song explores his grief, and his inability to process it initially. Rather than creating a mournful lament, it is more upbeat than you’d expect. The strummed and picked acoustic guitar accentuates his vocals and makes the song feel more buoyant than it might have otherwise. Some of the details in the lyrics like “she left us at the video store” create more depth and backstory in one line than most artists would be able to do with an entire album.

#7: “To Be Alone With You”
Seven Swans (2004)

In interviews, Stevens has been careful not to say too much about his Christianity, or any song’s meaning, leaving it up to the audience to interpret. Whether you interpret this song about being in love with someone or about his relationship with Jesus, it’s one of Stevens’s most powerful songs. What’s readily apparent is that he’s singing about the sacrifices a person will make for love, a universally relatable message. Repeating the hook, “ . .. to be alone with you” drives home that message of sacrifice and devotion.

#6: “Chicago”
Illinois (2005)

The centerpiece of his “Illinois” album, “Chicago” isn’t really about the city but rather the narrator’s journey of finding himself. One of Stevens’ more up-tempo songs, in it he explores the freedom of getting up and leaving a place that is no longer good for you. He’s jubilant as he sings about letting go of possessions and letting go of past mistakes. The youth choir that accompanies him tangibly adds that feeling of freedom that his lyrics evoke. Stevens has said that it’s semi-autobiographical; and that lived experience comes through.

#5: “Mystery of Love”
Call Me By Your Name: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2017)

Stevens crafted two gorgeous songs for the “Call Me Your Name” soundtrack; and while “Visions of Gideon” played an important role in the film’s finale scene, it’s “Mystery of Love” that captured the essence of it. The song isn’t directly about the film characters, with references to Oregon making it fit in with the narratives on his “Carrie & Lowell” album, but by making it personal to him, the song became a universal exclamation of the beauty and wonder  of falling in love. Exquisite details, like birthmarks on shoulders, make the song intimate and convey his amazement of being with his lover.

#4: “Casimir Pulaski Day”
Illinois (2005)

The song takes its name from a holiday in Illinois that was created in honor of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born military officer who helped the U.S. army during the Revolutionary War. But this song isn’t about him, but rather Stevens’ friend who died of cancer on that day of the year. As always, his lyrics are powerfully storytelling; he recalls praying over her that the cancer would go away, only for the whole process to be futile. It’s an honest crisis of faith and offers a safe space for listeners to investigate their own relationship to God. With lines like “I’m crying in the bathroom,” it’s hard not to relate.

#3: “Impossible Soul”
The Age of Adz (2010)

It’s understandable to perhaps be put off by a song that clocks in at around 25 minutes, but from the start of this one, it’s clear that time is worth it. As the closing song on the album, Stevens wanted to make sure he left an impression on the listener. Divided into five different parts, the song morphs and twists from despair to hopeful about looking to the brighter side of life. Shara Worden accompanies him at various points, and her voice adds an otherworldly counterpoint. The whole experience is an audio journey that feels like falling down the rabbit hole only to come out in Wonderland.


#2: “For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless in Ypsilanti”
Michigan (2003)

Inspired by a trip to Paradise, Michigan where Stevens noticed the town was seemingly devoid of men, he created a narrative that the town was like something of a paradise for the women who were all made widows when their husbands died in war. While there’s not a literal translation of that idea in the song, there is a sense of both mourning and joy in the lyrics. That repetition of the line, “I’ll do anything for . . ” brings to mind the sacrifices people make in everyday life to protect loved ones. The lush female harmonies give the song more depth, and make that refrain even more poignant.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
The Age of Adz (2010)

“All Delighted People”
All Delighted People (2010)

“Age of Adz”
The Age of Adz (2010)


#1: “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”
Illinois (2005)  

Quite the unusual subject for a song, “John Wayne Gacy Jr” tells the story of the infamous serial killer of Illinois, who dressed up like a clown to get access to young boys, thirty-three of whom he sexually assaulted and murdered in the 1970s. In this soft and gentle song, Sufjan explores Gacy’s backstory, from childhood to his status as a popular performer in town. The lyrics are deeply haunting, particularly the last hook where he compares his own hidden secrets to what Gacy was capable of; but it’s the anguish in his voice as he sings “oh my God” that’s so overwhelmingly arresting. It will stay with you long after a listen.