This is my first review on here. I hope you enjoy it.
Michigan born Sufjan Stevens is surely the most ambitious man in alternative music around, with plans to write an album for each North American state. Illinoise being only the second in this line, he better hope he lives a long life. A graphic designer, writer, and amateur seamster, Stevens sure doesn’t look set to run out of creativity any time soon.
Illinoise, though separated in to twenty-two tracks, is actually more of a unified experience; one song in many suites. Track one, ‘Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois’, is an ephemeral pleasure; delicate piano introducing Stevens’ voice with quiet confidence. It melts effortlessly in to track two, an interlude with such a long name that not only am I not going to type it, it ought to have been the centerpiece of the whole album. This, in turn, introduces the lively and unusual, ‘Come On! Feel the Illinoise!’ It’s the first offering that makes use of a full band, displaying curious but effective use of trumpet, saxophone, xylophone, and choir.
Track four, ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jn.’, is something altogether different. Simple yet exquisite guitar and piano support Stevens’ ethereal vocals as they soar elegantly above, voicing intense but understated lyrics. The entire song has such a pleasing feel to it that it melts in the ears like chocolate on the tongue.
From here the album moves wonderingly on, through ditties such as, ‘Decatur, or, Round of Applause For Your Stepmother!’ into the extravagant instrumentation of ‘Chicago’. ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ is another milestone on the way to track twenty-two, a serene and unpretentious song about a woman with bone cancer. The lack of lyrical metaphor is refreshing, and makes for a much for touching ballad, aided by some inspired trumpet work. The enchanted musing of a complicated piano part in track eleven lead in to the memorable ‘The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts’, and almost catchy affair that makes use of some heavier guitar work, and constant changes in texture.
The almost sacred-sounding ‘Prairie Fire That Wanders About’, is follwed by the seemingly unremarkable ‘The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!’ However, on repeated listen, the melody proves to be one of the most addictive and modest Illinoise has to offer. The next song is a perfectly rounded work of art, with a bass line to kill for and hypnotizing backing singing; the perfect companion to ‘The Seer’s Tower’, a haunting offering by piano and voice, that quietly sticks in the mind, despite almost being an interlude.
Here the album gently melts away with handclaps and obscure brass work abound, running through it’s closing motions without ceremony, the last notes never quite resolving enough to call Illinoise finished. Rather, it is just read to start again.