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Sufjan Stevens: Illinois

sufjan_illinois3.jpgAfter recommendations from several good friends, then hearing an NPR interview with Sufjan Stevens, I picked up a copy of album Illinois from the iTunes Music Store.

I had an idea from what I'd heard that Sufjan's work was a bit eclectic and unusual, but I wasn't prepared to experience such a wonderfully addictive album with catchy melodies and complex, thoughtful lyrics.

Sufjan's work is very unusual and difficult to describe or even categorize. My best description would be the vocals of Paul Simon over a blend of They Might be Giants, Paul Simon, Steve Reich, Vince Guaraldi, Bluegrass and Folk bands, with Schoolhouse Rock tossed in for good measure. Instruments include piano, strings, brass, oboe, banjos and glockenspiels. Quite the mix!

As I replay the album, it becomes more and more attractive... it's one of those works which grows on me, revealing new aspects with each listen. Illinois is the kind of album I find myself coming back to, never tiring of another listen.

The 22 song album features song topics which range from UFO sightings in Highland Park, and a sad ballad about John Wayne Gacy Jr., to the Black Hawk War, Superman, Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln. Illinois also features songs about Jacksonville, Decatur, and Chicago. The iTunes Music Store version includes 2 additional tracks: a remix of Chicago by jongalloway and Avalanche, an out-take.

This is actually the 2nd installment of Sufjan's "States" album series. some have had the idea he plans to do an album for each of the 50 US states, though this is not confirmed. The Michigan album, was the first in the "States" series. That album is next on my list. Here's a complete MP3 of Holland from that album.

If you're an adventurous music lover, willing to experience a quirky, haunting, stirring, and very unique album, check out Illinois from Sufjan Stevens.

You won't regret it.

Reader Comments (12)

It's always great to see someone else become a Sufjan fan. I was so inspired by the JWG song that I used it as a sermon illustration. There's also a new album that he just released called The Avalanche, which is basically B-sides from Illinois.
August 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterScott
Scott, thanks for the comment. Good point about the JWG song, and those last few lyrics:

"And in my best behavior, I am really just like him;look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid"

To me it seemed Sufjan is suggesting that in all of us resides the potential for great evil (and I think alternately, great good). I thought that was quite a challenging way to end a song about John Wayne Gacy, for sure.

What was your sermon on the song about?
August 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Yes, that closing line turns the entire song on its head. Its a little freaky anyway, but without it then it would be completely weird.

Here is a link to the sermon, which relative to the JWG song I draw a parallel to Paul and focus on the "chief of sinners" statement in 1 Timothy.

This is a slightly unrelated question that you may know the answer to...when I went and grabbed that link I noticed that all of the quotes had turned into "?" (question marks) in IE and in Firefox they were ?'s inside of black diamonds. I migrated web hosts recently. Could that have caused this (when I backed up and imported the SQL db's)?
August 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterScott
Sufjan Stevens has made some of the best music of our time. Illinoise is an incredible album.

I did, however, notice a couple of fudged facts. First, it isn't exactly clear that Sufjan will be doing an entire album per state... From his wikipedia article:

"Sufjan Stevens is not going to write a record for each of the 50 states after all." was the original text included on the online liner notes for their Mews Too: An Asthmatic Kitty Compilation disc released on February 7, 2006. [10]. This statement was possibly included as a joke, as the text has since been removed and the current liner notes related to Sufjan Stevens reads, "18. Sufjan Stevens can fold a fitted-sheet (he once worked as a professional folder in a commercial Laundromat)."

There have been other times Stevens has said he does not really plan to make an album for every state, specifically listing Texas as a state he will "probably never do."

Secondly, Michigan was not his first album. In fact, it was his third album. It followed A Sun Came and Enjoy Your Rabbit.

Finally, a neat bit of trivia: the album art for the Illinoise album originally included an image of superman flying out of the city. They had to remove it due to legal reasons.
August 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Lencioni
Scott, thanks for providing the link to your message � nice work! Let me know if you ever get the MP3 up as I would like to hear it as well as read it.

Regarding the odd characters, did you have something like Smarty installed originally? Maybe by having something change with the server your original OK post would not be processed properly. But, I'm not an expert there, so I can only speculate.

Joe, thanks for the corrections. Seems in my going off of info in the NPR interview I have got a few details wrong. In my research into Sufjan's "States" series I've now heard the same � that he may not be planning albums for every state after all. I can imagine that would be a tall order even for Sufjan! :-)

As for Michaigan being a first album, I should have been clearer in meaning that Michigan was the first in the "States" series.

Both of these have been corrected in the original text.

I have also read about the Superman issue with the album artwork, I think on that Wikipedia entry. Pretty interesting.

Do either of you guys have thoughts or opinions on Seven Swans? I've heard it's very good and I'm considering that one as well as Michigan (and others).
August 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Yah, I'd say get Seven Swans. It's great musically and lyrically. In fact, we listen to "To Be Alone With You" sometimes on Sunday mornings before church. But it is different from Illinois...much less of a production and more personal, more intimate.

Didn't have Smarty installed, but I looked more carefully and it affected both quotes and hyphens. Before I saw that I thought it'd just take a few command strokes in PHPMyAdmin. I'll continue to investigate.
August 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterScott
Scott, thanks! I will definitely check Seven Swans out. :-)
August 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
There is an interview of Sufjan in September's issue of Guitar World Acoustic magazine.

If you can't get it, I can scan it for you.
September 2, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjlmfrance
Mike: I would definitely give Seven Swans a shot if I were you.

I agree with Scott. It differs in feeling quite a bit from Michigan and Illinoise but is still a fantastic album. Most of the album is a lot more low-key and is closer in style to music by Iron and Wine than the other two. I very much like the end of the sixth track.

I'm going to the Sufjan show this month in Milwaukee. It's going to be awesome.
September 2, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Lencioni
JLM, I would be very interested in that interview. I'll have to check the local Barnes & Noble which ought to have that magazine on the shelf.

Joe, thanks for the vote on Seven Swans. I happened to locate "Sister" from that album online and it sounds good... so that may be my next purchase very soon. That or Michigan.

Hey, have fun at the Milwaukee show. I was considering it myself, but with all that's going on now I just can't swing it. Hope that's not a mistake. :-)
September 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
probably, the october issue is now on the shelf.

so here's where I've stored the scan of the interview (no guitar tab):

September 6, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjlmfrance
Thanks JLM!
September 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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