4 July 2013

4th July - Sufjan Stevens' Illinois

Artist – Album: Sufjan Stevens – Illinois
Released: 4th July 2005
Sounds Like: Summer camp and Superman 

Sufjan Stevens is clearly a man after my own heart. Following his 2003 release of the gentle indie-folk brilliance of Michigan (titled Sufjan Stevens Presents... Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lake State on the cover), he announced his intention to release an album for each of the 50 U.S. states. It’s a stupid boy project, like Analbumaday…! Wahaaayyyy! Album no. 2 of the assignment – and yes, the only other one he’s done, as he’s since confessed that it was just a gimmick to promote sales – is Illinois, or, as the cover would have it, Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise. 

The album is littered with allusions to very American matters (UFOs, Christianity, highways, summer camp and Superman), state-specific incidents (‘The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders’ is a reference to Robert Wadlow, or the Giant of Illinois, who measured just shy of 9ft and is the tallest man in history, whilst ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr’ is the frankly chilling bio of one of America’s most notorious serial killers and paedophiles) and deeply personal episodes (such as the delicate retelling of a close friend’s battle with bone cancer on ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’). Aided by lush strings, flutes, banjos, glockenspiels and heavenly backing vocals, he often interweaves this trio of different standpoints into one glorious all-encompassing indie-folk epic, never more so than on the escapist ‘Chicago’.

What a shame that he won’t be bringing us more of these lovingly crafted postcards to his most beloved places. His irreverent humour, lucid prose and ability to mesh touching personal situations with the history and culture of a region bring to mind great modern travel writers such as Bill Bryson. I’ve never been to Illinois, but this exceptional album attaches such warmth and affection to the place that I feel like I grew up there and still think of it with a wry, nostalgic smile every now and again.

Albumaday... rating: 10/10

1.       Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois - 2:08
2.       The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!' - 2:14
3.       Come On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition – Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream) - 6:45
4.       John Wayne Gacy Jr. - 3:19
5.       Jacksonville - 5:24
6.       A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, but for Very Good Reasons - 0:47
7.       Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother! - 3:03
8.       One Last 'Whoo-Hoo!' for the Pullman - 0:06
9.       Chicago - 6:04
10.   Casimir Pulaski Day - 5:53
11.   To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament - 1:40
12.   The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts - 6:17
13.   Prairie Fire That Wanders About - 2:11
14.   A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze - 0:19
15.   The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us! - 5:23
16.   They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh! - 5:09
17.   Let's Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don't Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell - 0:40
18.   In This Temple as in the Hearts of Man for Whom He Saved the Earth - 0:35
19.   The Seer's Tower - 3:53
20.   The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders (Part I: The Great Frontier – Part II: Come to Me Only with Playthings Now) - 7:02
21.   Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few - 0:46
22.   Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run - 4:21

Listen to ‘Come on! Feel the Illinoise!’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HaQDYaK34Q4

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