Sufjan Stevens
Michigan


5.0
classic

Review

by robin EMERITUS
March 25th, 2009 | 29 replies


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Makes me wish I could afford a banjo.

What struck me during a first listen of Michigan was that it simply seemed a collection of weather; Stevens had created a naturalistic advertisement for the state – as old slogan “Say YES! To Michigan” attested – basking in lakeside crafted by wintry arrangements. However, by dedicating his homeland fifteen tracks instead of one, each song became more than simply a windswept landscape, thereon combining with crisis: this was when “Flint (For The Unemployed and Underpaid)” stopped merely being an array of piano spells. This is when it crossed my mind I wasn’t simply hearing cold environments, and when the song transitioned into its unravelling city, its population and their sombre tales of job redundancy and gritty crime.

And for every song, the complexity became on a level that simply one song could not live up to – the concept, about the happiness and sadness of the state - the reasons why and how – flourished. So the most significant thing to say about Michigan - and should it continue beyond Illinois, the hyperbolic fifty states project - is that it’s sheer enlightenment. Whether or not Stevens is plucking a publicity stunt out of his fans’ eagerness is left uncertain, but there is something in his home-state hello that makes Michigan as genuine a greeting as possible.

Stevens’ hush is one of the most affirming aspects of each song, conceptually or by track. In the bare, acoustic apocalypses, a calmed voice is the biggest compliment he can pay; “For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fathers in Ypsilanti” is gently whispered, but driven with fear by piano and banjo, its bluegrass backdrop providing a darker, more telling story for Stevens to unravel. “The Upper Peninsula” again calls upon his vocal restrain, but delves into a more graphic sense of desperation. At each stage Michigan enters, Stevens’ is pensive, meditating his emotion for the grander scheme and letting his music do the speaking.

Even as the album takes eclectic turns, Stevens remains as much a spectator as the listener. His delicate voice is a murmur amidst madness in “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head”, a vast and amplified meeting of absolutely everything (and anything). At first, it’s an accidental anthem, with the blend of keyboards, chimes and noise so drowning it seems a miracle for Stevens and his vocal accompaniments to collaborate with. The horns – shining high above the already impressive effect they have made on the album - make it even bigger, separating the four-minute sing along with another four of contemplation and climax, Stevens simply building and building his Great idea.

And for the track’s entirety, Stevens’ voice is as subtle and solemn as it is for “Romulus”. Here is his personal peak on Michigan, the childhood nostalgia still hiding under soft guitar and startling banjo. The quiet strums of guitar and memory here present a state beyond social or physical disaster, drawing upon the less grand opposites: an all-too important world of family and nostalgia. “Oh God, Where Are You Now?” plummets into the same conscientious mode of soul-searching, and for nine minutes the pattern revolves. Suddenly, Michigan is not simply about where Stevens was brought up, or where there are problems, or where these problems diminish and evolve – instead, we are left to wonder how he – or whoever he may be, at this time - felt and feels, whether thriving or suffocating in his home.

By the end of “Vito’s Ordination Song”, Stevens instils hope for his fable state. It’s still a sober finale - a post-rock discipline rising and falling from and to depression – but, to say the least, it remains uncertain; wherever Michigan is heading – and it certainly is heading somewhere – it is still a state set to sleep. Michigan is the truest celebration of beautiful nature, complex problems and humane emotion I have ever heard, and it’s the classic Sufjan Stevens could go another forty-eight trying to recreate. But as “Vito’s Ordination Song” stoops into its final downward spiral, I can’t help but think there’s no ‘second home’ for him as worthy.



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user ratings (562)
Chart.
4
excellent
other reviews of this album
nowhereman1991 (3.5)
Americana with a twist....

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...


Comments:Add a Comment 
ECRbubs
March 25th 2009


687 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Fantastic album. His best in my opinion.
Nice review!

karina
March 25th 2009


165 Comments


makes me wish i could be played on muzak and fit in with the other songs played

robin
Emeritus
March 25th 2009


4249 Comments


oh

itchyandscratchy
March 25th 2009


314 Comments


Awesome review dude!

kingsoby1
Emeritus
March 25th 2009


4950 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

good stuff. solid album, but too much jesus stuff for me.

gaslightanthem
March 25th 2009


5209 Comments


i'll restate what i said before - awesome review

Minus The Flair
Emeritus
March 26th 2009


862 Comments


Wonderful review, only got about half the tracks off this but I'll go about getting the whole thing now.

DBlitz
March 26th 2009


1690 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

nice review

need to get this, i'm in love with illinois at the moment

badtaste
March 26th 2009


824 Comments


I blame these track titles for the state of the global economy.

Don't recall finishing this, the pretentiousness overwhelmed me.

robin
Emeritus
March 26th 2009


4249 Comments


it's not really pretentious, bar song titles. :p

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 26th 2009


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

great review dude. I don't enjoy this nearly as much as Illinoise or Seven Swans. I just can't sit through all of this album most of the time. Vitto's Ordination song is among Sufjans best however.

robin
Emeritus
March 26th 2009


4249 Comments


i've just been getting into illinois, but its probably my least favourite, or at least pales in comparison to this and seven swans.

spoon_of_grimbo
March 28th 2009


2241 Comments


sounds intruiging, and your review definitely sold it to me! i'll have to check this out!

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 28th 2009


4461 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

People seemed to be bugged by the filler in Illinoise, though I don't really see it as filler. Sure they're marked as individual tracks, but they're ususally just the ends of songs. This is incredibly depressing album though, I mean, in a good way, just hard to sit through.

robin
Emeritus
March 28th 2009


4249 Comments


i wouldn't say its filler, just makes the album harder to wade through. especially when they dont really match the brilliance of the actual pop songs or his longer tracks, like the tallest man or whatever it's called.

Gyromania
September 21st 2010


15941 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is superb, especially the third track

DBlitz
September 22nd 2010


1690 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yea i fucking adore 'for the fatherless...'

beepbloopbeep
September 22nd 2010


13 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

genuinely love this album, sufjan at his cutest

DBlitz
September 22nd 2010


1690 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yea its def cute :3

y was that other guy like "Don't recall finishing this, the pretentiousness overwhelmed me." smh

beepbloopbeep
September 22nd 2010


13 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

song titles too wordy, how pretentious!



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