Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I've been hearing lots of good things about Sufjan Stevens for a few months now, but initially, I just didn't get into his music. I think I even rated him as "Never Play Again" on my Launchcast station. Thank goodness for second chances for foolish me!
Even though I had previously listened to a few of his songs, nothing really grabbed me. A few weeks ago, I overheard one of his albums playing in the background at a pub (a personal favorite, The Brick Store in Decatur, GA). During another visit to the same pub, I noticed a stack of music/arts newspapers, one which featured Mr. Stevens on the cover. This, combined with more favorable comments from music-lovers, drove me to give Sufjan another try. I downloaded several free tracks, and I moderately enjoyed them at the time. But, the songs really stick with you. I found myself unable to rid my brain of "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" and "Casimir Pulaski Day." At this point, resistance was futile, so I made a trip to Borders.
I decided to start with Illinois, which features the two songs mentioned above. This album is the second in Sufjan Stevens' ambitious plan to write an ALBUM dedicated to each of the 50 States (he started with Michigan). I'm not exactly sure how to describe Steven's sound. He is certainly competent enough to carry a song with just a guitar and his haunting tenor, and maybe a banjo here and there. However, much of his music is considerably more ambitious, featuring piano, horns (of the high-school band variety), strings and a chorus of vocals. Illinois is definitely an album for the active listener, as Sufjan offers a variegated collection of songs inspired by the Prairie State, stringing together a UFO sighting, a serial killer, Carl Sandburg, the Windy City and the Columbian Exposition of 1893, just to name a few. But Illinois is more than just a collection of songs; rather, it is a true album, meant to be appreciated as such, with Sufjan weaving the tracks together with repeated musical and lyrical motifs, as well as instrumental interludes featuring some of the most audacious titles imaginable (e.g, "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"). Although it takes a few complete listenings to really "get it", the album certainly sticks with you in a good way.