Saturday, July 30, 2005

sufjan stevens - illinois [album review]

[Asthmatic Kitty, 2005]

The second album in Sufjan Stevens’ mission to make an album for each state in America is every bit as beautiful as the first (Michigan). Here, the largely folk-orientated musician sets foot in louder terrain in an attempt to recreate Illinois in sound.

But this is not blind patriotism. It’s a sprawling twenty-two track foray into all the things associated with the state. From heartfelt tales of relatives with cancer or stripped down banjo ode’s to past heroes to the sheer bravado of other instrumental choir and string quartet-heavy tracks, beauty is always overarching. It all sets the scene for some metaphorical Illinois – a place simply joyful to navigate with this album as a map. The instrumentation is wide-ranging (and always meticulous) in order to mirror the business and diversity of such a place.

Although there is a lot of Christian imagery at work on Illinois (as with all Stevens’ work), it appeals so universally that even the strongest of atheists would not be discouraged. One might be put off by the bombast of many tracks, which can sound a little over the top. But it appeals so widely to the human condition and expresses an optimism that is simply unparalleled in music today, especially when the effect is so successfully. It’s really quite amazing, and certainly does not disappoint after 2003’s stunning Michigan.

-Richard MacFarlane

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