Sufjan Stevens
Michigan


3.5
great

Review

by nowhereman1991 USER (16 Reviews)
January 10th, 2012 | 17 replies | 2,013 views


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Americana with a twist.

3 of 3 thought this review was well written

Quirkiness comes in many forms. Inserting silly instruments into songs to make them sound more interesting, going for long, complex and sometimes very specific song titles, and promising to release an album dedicated to every US state, are all examples. Stevens has many times been guilty of all these quirks, and never more so than on Michigan, which he claimed is the first of a series of albums dedicated to each US state. 10 years on, and the album series currently stands at 2 - and at this rate of 1 album per 5 years it's going to take good old Sufjan another 240 years to fulfil that promise. So, unless computer apocalypse happens and we all upload our minds in order to live indefinitely, we can safely rule out this rather rash claim, from which Stevens has since distanced himself.

However, though they might set your teeth on edge a bit, these quirks are all things that set Stevens apart from the bunch. He's not your run-of-the-mill Americana-merchant - instead of going for the popular 'weary hobo' look of many of the genre with a big beard and a green shirt, he's remarkably well groomed and more resembles a car salesman than a rootsy singer-songwriter. His penchant for unexpected melodic shifts and whispered, sometimes even child-like vocals makes for strange combinations of sometimes genius, sometimes trivial musical excellence.

'Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State' is a loving homage to Stevens' home state, and through the celebration, mourning, and lavish descriptions of the livelihoods of its people and its great mountains and lakes one can really sense that the singer-songwriter's heart is in the music. Sometimes the music is elegantly straightforward, as on 'For The Widows In Paradise…'. This is a devastatingly simple banjo-led ballad which only uses four chords to get its message across. It's a straight-up love song, which is surprising given its long title, and is a perfect example of how simplicity and well-formed lyrics can combine to beat complexity hands down. With its horn backing and wistful male-female harmonies, it shows so well how meaningful 'humming and strumming' can be.

The rest of album consists of titles mostly referencing place-names, pretty acoustic picking patterns, and considered, breathy vocal lines. However, this is not all, and there are odd and absorbing moments, a freak-out guitar solo in 'The Upper Peninsula' being one. Stevens has a remarkably wide musical vision, and he's not afraid to chuck in some xylophone-minimalism for good measure ('Tahquamenon Falls' and 'Alanson, Crooked River'). Michigan doesn't slap you in the face with the quality of it's lyrical content, as some of Conor Oberst's work does, but the words do convey simple, timeless concepts and places very well. The production is earthy and pretty dry in places, which makes the record feel authentic and true to it's vision.

You might argue that Stevens has opened the door too wide, and let in all manner of weird elements that his songs could do without. Maybe he has, but in comparison to Iron & Wine, whose first few albums are so consistently similar that you can hardly tell when one song ends and another begins, Stevens often comes out the victor. Here is a songwriter who is skilled with melody, and is unafraid to reach into the musical abyss to find what he needs to make it stand out - and who can criticise that? Americana needs oddballs like Sufjan Stevens to make it fresh and interesting, and 'Michigan', whilst sometimes straying into self-indulgence, does just that.



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user ratings (542)
Chart.
4
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other reviews of this album
robin EMERITUS (5)
Makes me wish I could afford a banjo....

Chris Jackson (4)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Emeritus
January 10th 2012



14506 Comments


nice review

the 'album for every state' thing he promised back in the day was hilarious

Tyrael
January 10th 2012



20394 Comments


Is this better than The Age of Adz

Digging: Lantlos - Melting Sun

nowhereman1991
January 10th 2012



26 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

It's a bit more acoustic and straightforward. The Age of Adz is more electronic and experimental. Depends what you prefer, but I'd go with Michigan.

Tyrael
January 10th 2012



20394 Comments


Good, I'll check it out

good review by the way, pos'd

nowhereman1991
January 10th 2012



26 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thanks guys

letsgofishing
January 10th 2012



874 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I was going to insult you for rating this too low, but after reading this review, I can't. Very well done. POS.


But I would argue that out of all of sufjans (non-instrumental) albums, this is the least quirky.

NeutralThunder12
January 10th 2012



8742 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Sufjan is such an inconsistent artist and it sucks, cause Illinoise is one of my personal favorite albums of all time. This is a hit and miss kinda record

RawkOClock
January 10th 2012



84 Comments


terrible music

WatchItExplode
January 10th 2012



3068 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

When I listen to this album, I wish Sufjan would have picked a more interesting state. That is, if we only get albums about two.

nowhereman1991
January 10th 2012



26 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@letsgofishing, I meant the specific quirks I listed were most apparent on Michigan, but I get your point and whoa - I'd never listened to 'Enjoy your rabbit' before! What the fuck is going on there.

someguest
January 10th 2012



18859 Comments


I should probably listen to this sometime since I live here.

Digging: BABYMETAL - Babymetal

NeutralThunder12
January 10th 2012



8742 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@someguest just listen to Illinoise

someguest
January 10th 2012



18859 Comments


No.

NeutralThunder12
January 10th 2012



8742 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

your loss

Yuma310
January 11th 2012



1656 Comments


nice, a good lower rating review for this.

Gyromania
January 11th 2012



14647 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Is this better than The Age of Adz

Without a shred of doubt.

fuckthatnoise
January 11th 2012



1479 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

basically, if Illinois didn't exist, this would be at least a 4.



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