Sufjan Stevens
Illinois


4.5
superb

Review

by musicisgood USER (2 Reviews)
July 12th, 2005 | 149 replies | 13,648 views


Release Date: 2005 | Tracklist


7 of 7 thought this review was well written

This is my first review. Please comment, critique and rate because I’d like to improve and write more.

History
Illinoise (as this album is referred to, to save time and space) is Sufjan Stevens’ second album in his ridiculously ambitious project of writing one cd for each of the 50 states in the United States. The first, 2003’s Greetings from Michigan, was well received by indie critics and fans all over. For this project, Sufjan conducts huge amounts of research on the state (Michigan was his home state, so he started easy.) He then finds topics about which he can write songs, either directly or loosely tied to the state. Religious elements are often included, but in a subtle, non-offending way. Besides these two state cds, he has released two other indie pop albums, Seven Swans and A Sun Came!, as well as an electronic experiment called Enjoy Your Rabbit.

This album is released on Asthmatic Kitty. Due to copyright laws, Marvel Comics ordered that the album art be changed due to the small superman flying over Chicago on the cover. The first order of printed cds, as well as the pre-release versions have the Superman, any later printings will have different cover art, and will be released in August 2005.

Musicians
Sufjan Stevens – Wrote, recorded, engineered, and produced the entire album. He also plays acoustic/electric guitar, electric bass, piano, Wurlitzer, drum kit, oboe, alto saxophone, flute, oboe, banjo, accordion, recorders, keyboard, organ, and various percussive instruments

Drums - Craig Montoro
Backing Vocals - Katrina Kerns, Shara Worden, Matt Morgan, Daniel Smith, Elin Smith, and Illinoisemaker Choir
String Quartet – Rob Moose, Julianne Carney, Marla Hansen, and Maria Bella Jeffers

The Review
Sufjan Stevens has got to be crazy. He has proclaimed that he is going to write one album for each of the 50 states in America. At one album per year, he’ll be going until 2053! Plus, instead of writing another state album, he threw in the beautiful Seven Swans last year. Some (including the artist himself) say it’s just a big marketing ploy. But while it is great for marketing, he claims to be serious about it as well, and is very excited about each and every upcoming album. I, for one, hope that he can do it.

Illinoise is very similar in musical content to Greetings from Michigan. Huge arrangements with choir, woodwinds, brass and strings are found across the entire album. But, in the last two years, his arranging skills have improved, without a doubt. On Michigan, the listener is sometimes overwhelmed with layer upon layer of melodic content, and sometimes left wanting maybe a little more. This feeling is rarely found on Illinoise. Sufjan seems to have found a great feel for his writing, and is has made a near perfect album. I wonder how his albums would sound if he had a producer to help him perfect the arrangements, but at this point, it is not necessary.

He has some very fun, upbeat songs on this album. The first thing my mom said when she heard the title track was, “This sounds like Charlie Brown." And it is a sort of Charlie Brown Theme type piano line that starts this fun pop song. Other fun uptempo songs include “Chicago", “The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts", and “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders." He even busts out the electric for “The Tallest Man."

But in my opinion, Sufjan’s writing is at its absolute best on the more stripped down acoustic, ballad type songs, like “John Wayne Gacy, Jr." Written from a more empathetic view, it details some of the childhood of this serial killer, as well as touches on the way he killed 27 people, mostly young boys. It is haunting, but absolutely beautiful. “Casimir Pulaski Day" touches on the death of a friend from bone cancer, and having recently lost a friend to cancer, it makes me cry nearly every time. These songs include mostly acoustic guitar and banjo, and it fits perfectly with the subject matter. If you like these types of songs, I highly recommend Seven Swans, which is predominately songs of this type.

“Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out To Get Us!" is the best arranged song on the album. He employs full use of the chorus, strings, brass, and uses them to make a gorgeous song about a childhood friendship (I think.) To me, it is the highlight of the album, because of the way that he is able to coordinate so much to make such a beautiful sound.

If one looks at the tracklist, Sufjan obviously not take this too seriously. He pokes fun at himself and the obscene ambitiousness of everything with the long, comical song titles and short, goofy reprises. The album is a chore to listen to at 74 minutes, and he knows it. But, there is no where to cut down time from this album. There is no filler. Every track has a purpose, and fulfills it. This is the best album of 2005, without a doubt. I left the rating at 4.5 because I can imagine Sufjan improving more, and there needs to be room for higher ratings later in his career.


user ratings (1381)
Chart.
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
Tom Gellatly (5)
Sufjan Stevens takes on one of the most ambitious projects of not only his career, but also indie mu...

Kiran EMERITUS (4.5)
...

musicandwords (4.5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
pixiesfanyo
July 12th 2005



1222 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It's good.

It's not the best album of 2005. He needs to learn about a little thing called filler.

4. But I'm leaning closer to a 3.5.

JonM
July 12th 2005



18 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Well said. You said that your review was long-winded, but such a lengthy and ambitious record deserves a lengthy and ambitious review. You went into appropriately thorough detail.

As for the record, it's not actually my favorite thing he's ever done, but I still LOVE it. Seven Swans moves me the most, and I think both of the state albums are tied for second.

Dimes Make Dollars
July 12th 2005



241 Comments


Excellent review. I don't think there's any filler either; it's a concept album and it all works together very well. Great album, and one of the best of the year by far.

Iai
Emeritus
July 12th 2005



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

It's #1 for 2005 on RYM, and has been for ages.

br3ad_man
Emeritus
July 12th 2005



2125 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I haven't gotten into this, it's really overwhelming. 22 tracks on one disc is crazy. I do think there is filler.

cap
July 12th 2005



2 Comments


There is not much filler, and even if there is, whats so great about that? Who wants filler? It is one of the best albums this year in my oppinion, next to Picaresque, In Case We Die, Funeral and the like. The variety in his music; from ambient accoustic to joyful atmospheric pop, and back again, is something to admire. I'm not religious so I find this the better of his albums due to it's lack of references in comparison, but also just the eclectic sounding nature of the album as a whole. I would not just base my oppinion on religion alone. Anyway, I have not done any reviews for sputnik, so I'm not going to comment on the quality of yours. This Message Edited On 07.12.05

musicisgood
July 12th 2005



12 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I don't think anyone is saying they want filler. That is one of the main objections that I've seen people have on the album, even though I thoroughly enjoy all of it.

br3ad_man
Emeritus
July 14th 2005



2125 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Correct.

I really love the first song on this album, the one with the pian. It's incredible.

Iai
Emeritus
July 15th 2005



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

It's overlong, sure, but in the best moments it's unreal.

By the way, the album name is actually Illinois. Not 'Come On Feel The Illinoise', despite what the cover says.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
July 17th 2005



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

All I know is them is some pretentious song titles.

musicisgood
July 18th 2005



12 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think they're supposed to be more humorous that pretentious.This Message Edited On 07.18.05

DFelon204409
Emeritus
July 18th 2005



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

No that's the thing. He thinks he's humorous but he isn't. Hence, "pretentious."

musicisgood
July 25th 2005



12 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks Iai. I was never sure of the actual name... but it turns out, you are correct. So it's fixed now.

biografiend
July 27th 2005



55 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I've been meaning to get a Sufjan Stevens album for quite awhile, after hearing This Dress Looks Nice on You and Come On! Feel the Illinoise! Would this album be a good start, or should I start with Seven Swans/Greetings from Michigan?

sum1soiledMyBongos
July 29th 2005



19 Comments


My favorite album of the year so far.

Yeah it's long, there are 22 tracks, but 6 of them are less than a minute and are nothing more than bridges between songs, which work out pretty well. I hardly consider it filler, perhaps the last track.

Bukowski
July 30th 2005



45 Comments


This gets old very quickly.This Message Edited On 01.30.06

atellwanger
July 30th 2005



1 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hands down, best album of 2005.

morrissey
Moderator
July 31st 2005



1688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This album is beautiful.

If only I lived in the States so I could get an ode that hits close to home.

Mississippi here I come.

musicisgood
August 5th 2005



12 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Biografiend: I'd recommend either this one or Seven Swans to start. They are both equally amazing, and I could never choose between them. Illionois is the more ambitious, and maybe better album of the two, but Seven Swans is so beautiful, and personal, while a little less busy. They are both phenomenal. Buy both =)

looozer
August 15th 2005



24 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I have to give this a three. There is too much sound in too little space. By adding a variety of instruments you can either construct a great texture or a chaotic sea of discordant melodies. I might be the only person with this opinion, but this sounds like an album with too much instrumental depth on it.


And I hate the horns. That is exclusively personal taste though, so I gave it a 3 because that's what it deserved, not the 2 that I would like to give it.



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