Sufjan Stevens is a banjo virtuoso. He plays that instrument with the precision and crispness of an electronic sequencer. Stevens' hypnotically rhythmic banjo playing is the first thing that stands out on "Seven Swans." Though the use of such instrumentation may initially seem like novelty, a close listen reveals that the banjo arrangements are essential to the songs' success. It is impossible to imagine songs like "Dress Looks Nice on You" and "In the Devil's Territory" without Stevens' intricately fluid passages. It is the banjo--together with electric and acoustic guitars, female backing vocals, and minimal drum and electric bass work--that infuses these songs with a rare level of textural depth. Stevens' melodies and vocals are solid but undistinguished. Combine them with the harmonic acrobatics that underpin them, however, and the result is something glorious--akin to an acoustic Four Tet with the added benefit of earnest vocals and completed song ideas. Stevens' lyrics range from cryptic to explicitly religious. Whatever one thinks of them, their sincerity cannot be questioned. The sum total is the best album of 2004 so far.