In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: our favorite songs that come in at over 10 minutes long.
Sufjan Stevens, “Impossible Soul” (2010)
A year before releasing The Age Of Adz, Sufjan Stevens wondered why artists still made songs and albums to fit the lengths once dictated by physical constraints of vinyl and CDs when the internet made those restrictions null. “Can’t an album be eternity, or can’t it be five minutes?” he asked. While he as yet to make an album that’s an eternity long (though that’d be super), his experimenting beyond the traditionally accepted lengths of a song is evident in The Age Of Adz, his outlier of an album that mostly traded banjos and flutes for trombones and digital effects. At just over 25 minutes, “Impossible Soul” closes out an album full of contradictions and questions left unanswered. It’s more symphony than song, really, with several segments—one might even call them movements. They’re distinct, but it’s tough to imagine any existing on their own; they need the cushioning of what comes before or after to make sense, embedded in context that sounds like a song about a relationship, albeit a song that takes a good amount of time to explore it.
Addressing the lover of his impossible soul, Stevens starts by singing about what he might not be able to sing: “And all I couldn’t sing / I would say it all my life to you / If I could get you at all.” Before long, a second voice joins in, asking “Do you want to be afraid?” She keeps the inquiries rolling, sometimes with chides, like, “Don’t be distracted / Do you want to be alone?” It’s a call back and forth between his ego and id, growing in intensity; the female voice leaves for a while, then returns to remind him “It’s not so impossible” when he despairs. Nearly the entire song is filled with bombastic and electric noise, so when Stevens returns to his signature dreamy acoustic sound at the end, it’s like he’s retreating back into his comfort zone and away from his lover, singing, “Girl, I want nothing less than pleasure.” It’s heartbreaking after so much back-and-forth and turmoil to hear the final, defeated, “Boy, we made such a mess together” repeated until the track fades to nothingness.