Osso - Run Rabbit Run [Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2009]


Artistic indulgences don’t come much more narcissistic than getting an entire album of yours re-arranged by an orchestra then re-released as a ‘covers’ album. Paul McCartney did exactly that, to surprisingly winsome effect, in 1977, getting 1971 album Ram re-recorded as a instrumental brass album under the pseudonym Percy ‘Thrills’ Thrillington. Whether Sufjan Stevens is at such an advanced state in his musical career to get away with what could be considered an extended frippery such as this is open to question.

Thankfully, however, this re-recording of his 2001 album Enjoy Your Rabbit, an album inspired by the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, is a curiously endearing record that comes nowhere near the realm of novelty. The original’s jagged, electronic miasma of bleeps and loops is ambitiously re-worked by the string quartet Osso, who worked on Stevens’ 2005 chamber pop classic Illinois – the album which catapulted him into the mainstream.

The results are arresting, with Enjoy Your Rabbit’s oblique futurism stripped away and replaced with crescendos of classical avant-garde noise where bows scratch and mutate into each other before suddenly being upstaged by waves of harmony. Think of Music for airports by Brian Eno overlapped with the recent classical interpretations of Aphex Twin’s works and you’re somewhere near the odd, but beguiling, music on offer here. It’s unsettling and soporific, often within the same track, particularly with regard to highlight Year of the Snake.

Even by the standards of one of the most mercurial artists of the last 10 years this album is an unusual, but not unrewarding, statement of intent. Coming off the back of a multi-media project about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (The BQE), it seems that Stevens has realised that there’s far more to his restless musical journey than prospectively pumping out albums about Delaware and Kansas.

Rob Crossan

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Originally published on BBC Music.

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Osso - Run Rabbit Run