Just in case you have never heard of Sufjan Stevens he is that one crazy guy who claims he will write a concept album for all 50 states. Personally I really like what he is trying to do but I only think that he will make it to six states than he will realize how hard it is to write a detailed concept album for every single state in America. The odd thing is that I would be delighted if he writes four more concept albums for a separate state because his work is excellent. Maybe Sufjan isn't being serious and he's using this to get attention, either this is true or Sufjan Stevens is out of his mind. Michigan and Illinois are the only Sufjan albums that I own and they are both excellent, I'd give the edge to Illinois just because it seems more focused and Sufjan experiments a little bit more. Michigan is the first album of the 50 states quest, and hopefully this quest doesn't turn out to only be six states long.
Now before I say anything else I'll address the fact that you will have to give this album some time before you dismiss it as indie-pop trash. Michigan demands patience and it may not sound that great at first so please be a patient listener. Michigan is a combination of indie pop and folk, Sufjan is probably the best at mixing these two genres. This is an extremely laid-back and mellow album, while there are a few upbeat tunes this is mostly a soft and gentle album. Michigan can be a chilling listen both lyrically and musically. The folk influences aren't huge, but it does have a big impact on the album. On the other hand the indie pop melodies are soft and gentle, blending perfectly with the folk influenced guitar strums. The biggest and possibly the only problem with Michigan is that Sufjan doesn't mix things up enough. While every single track is beautiful they tend to run together and there isn't enough substance to make these tracks excellent on their own. While Michigan is delicate and soothing things tend to run together a little bit more than I would have liked.
Sufjan uses quite a load of instruments, including pianos, flutes, banjo's, acoustic guitars, keyboards, and string arrangements. Most of these instruments are used in separate parts, Sufjan refrains from using to many instruments at once and keeps things soft and simple. Every single instrument does it's job, no amazing solos are featured but everything blends together very nicely and they also do a good job on their own. Throughout various piano scales, acoustic strums, violin arrangements and banjo licks Michigan does a great job at keeping things somewhat interesting and mellow at the same time.
Vocally Sufjan is magnificent. He has a soft, gentle, and sophisticated voice. Along with the dreamy instrument arrangements Sufjan keeps everything mellow and soothing. I think he has one of the smoothest and most dreamiest voices of any vocalist I have ever listened to. His voice is filled with emotion and passion, it just fits everything so perfectly. I think that it is safe to say that Sufjan has a beautiful voice, it just makes you want to sit back and relax. Sufjan has an amazing voice that really fits Michigan musically and emotionally.
Michigan has plenty of variety to offer. If you want to hear this variety you will have to pay close attention to the instruments, melodies, and lyrics. Michigan makes good to relax to, but you will be rewarded if you pay attention to the music. The music ranges from subtle, atmospheric acoustics, to upbeat twee-pop songs over to piano driven ballads. Everything remains cool and relaxing, including the instruments yet the music seems full and the sound just surrounds you. A lot of these tracks start off soft and then they slowly build up to make beautiful atmospheric pop songs. The songs all have something special to offer, weather it's a nice piano line, a soft guitar strum, or a beautiful combination of brass instruments Sufjan gets the job done. Now the only problem with this is that if you aren't paying close attention than these tracks can get repetitive and boring. While these songs have some depth you will really need to listen closely because nothing is going to jump out at you. While Michigan has some variety to offer you will need to pay attention or else these songs will get repetitive quickly.
Michigan has its upbeat poppy moments and it's depressing and more dreary moments. The poppy moments are atmospheric, upbeat, and are usually filled with instruments and have a real happy and uplifting feel to them. I enjoy the upbeat moments just because they make you feel all warm inside(pardon the pun) The more depressing moments are possibly more well done and sophisticated. On these tracks Sufjan usually uses the viola and creates a nice orchestra in the process making things very smooth and dreary. Either way depressing or uplifting these songs remain soft, gentle, and somewhat eerie. Sufjan has a lot of emotion in his voice and the music is comprised of soft guitar strums or upbeat piano lines accompanied by brass instruments. Throughout the dreary depressing and the uplifting moments Sufjan always keeps things soft, calm, and peaceful.
Overall I think that Michigan is an excellent album and it's almost as good as Sufjans most popular work, Illinois. Michigan goes through upbeat and depressing moments, this is a great album if you enjoy gentle indie-pop with hints of folk and atmospheric parts, this album also strives if you want something relaxing. Sufjan has a beautiful voice, the music is also very sophisticated, mellow, and soothing. This is supposedly the first state completed out of the 50 state project. I really hope Sufjan can continue to produce albums about every state in the US, simply because I find them interesting and entertaining and most importantly the music is simply beautiful. If you are a fan of Illinois or if you don't have a Sufjan Stevens album that this is a great place to start. Michigan is an excellent indie-pop album with slight hints of folk. I really hope that Sufjan can make an album for all 50 states, hopefully he can prove me wrong and Michigan won't be one out of six.