October 2005

Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
Asthmatic Kitty B0009R1T7M
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Michael Galvin

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

It sounds too ridiculous to be believed -- a musician plans to make 50 albums titled after and concerning each and every one of the 50 US states. It turns out that not only is this true, but Sufjan Stevens, that remarkably ambitious musician, is already on number two. The first, Michigan, was released two years ago. As the eccentric concept might presage, Illinois defies categorization. It resembles both folk and what I like to call "pure pop" -- upbeat arrangements without irony. While these categories are somewhat helpful, I’m left with the numerous orchestral flourishes Stevens places within the album. I suppose "experimental" might cover this particular kind of juxtaposition.

No doubt, creating theme albums such as this takes an enormous amount of research and dedication. Stevens’ voice conveys this dedication as well as an unusual amount of sincerity. That alone makes this album very different.

The most interesting song is "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." That’s a very creepy title for a song, and yet it is a heartbreaking portrait of a disturbed individual. There is a certain beauty in that, even though Stevens does not ask for sympathy. What makes Illinois so listenable is that it is a full album; there are 22 tracks in all, and they represent some of the best, the worst, the most memorable, and the most obscure from the state of Illinois. The concept is structurally and thematically powerful, and the artist’s unique approach deserves any music lover’s attention.