This is not really a Sufjan Stevens album. And it’s not really new, either. Run Rabbit Run is a sometimes-epic classical reworking of Stevens’ 2001 release Year of the Rabbit, composed and performed by Osso: a New York-based string quartet. Like the original, Osso’s interpretation offers an entirely instrumental take on each year of the Chinese zodiac calendar.

It’s not the atmospheric indie rock fans might expect, but all the nuanced characteristics of a Sufjan record remain present. Cinematic swells are punctuated by arty irreverent hooks, and followed up by long bouts of rotund chaos. Instead of ethereal digital sounds, ears are met with sweeping chromatic scales and other flares of virtuosity. Soaring violin squeals replace shrill electro-glitches, and cello-taps stand in for sequenced back-beats.

One might recognize Osso’s modernist symphonic tendencies from Stevens’ critically acclaimed 2006 album Illinois. The foursome have also collaborated and performed with the likes of Antony & the Johnsons, the New Pornographers and the National. While both interesting and skillful,Run Rabbit Run feels more like a translation of an old text, rather than a fresh work of staggering genius.

Published September 2009.

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