Album Review

Stevens, Sufjan – “Illinois ” – [Asthmatic Kitty Records]

Thurston Hunger   7/23/2005   A Library, CD

Sufjan gets past that Michigan itch again, and spins the big
wheel o’ states only to hark and herald the Illinoise. The
album is a deliberately orchestrated pop album that is built
upon the Encylcopedia Britainnica as much as the Bible. It
offers icons from the Illinois landscapes, both physical and
historical and it’s not afraid to look past the gleaming
“Seers” Tower under the floorbeds of John Wayne Gacy Jr. The
album comes with an assortment of friends in a barnbuilding
sort of cooperation. The roof raised highest by the trumpet
of Craig Montoro and the various background singers. Sufjan’s
own voice is very willowy, he can bring a nice choked-up
edge to it…but being bolstered by those choirs helps a lot.
The string quartet, the banjo, the flute all are essential.
This album has touches of a minimalist musical approach at
times, and is well-served by the handful of short (less than
a minute including a a six-second Whoo-hoo for a choo-choo)
interludes betwixt tricks. But plenty o’ memorable melodies
too, and detailed lyrics (although at times a bit cryptic).
He uses a lot of catalogued rhyming and certainly overt nods
to God, both of which can lead me astray, but I daresay
both are employed gracefully here. And again his effort at
honest innocence, rather than naivete are compelling. And
allowing faith to rise above the heart to the head is a big
plus. That Gacy number is plain powerful. I hope he goes on
to have existential crises in all manner of states.

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