Thursday, June 14, 2007

REVIEW: Sufjan Stevens: "Come on feel the Illinois"

A simple play on words can be either intriguing, or simply exasperating. As is the case with the mystery that is Sufjan Stevens, the boy with the odd name from Michigan. For those of you who haven’t heard, Sufjan has made it his audacious goal to write an entire album for each of the 50 states. Each state so far, has been painstakingly researched and captured in no less that 18 songs of wit produced by the prodigy that is Stevens. Is he mad? Or is he Genius? Only time will tell.

First a little background on the artist himself, which will greater explain the odd nature of the album itself. According to the profile found on his label ‘Asthmatic Kitty’ (more on that later), Sufjan is a self taught musician who is well versed in the mechanics of the “oboe, recorder, banjo, guitar, vibraphone, bass, drums, piano, and other instruments too numerous to mention.” Anyone who has the patience (or is downright crazy enough) to learn that many instruments, must have an incredibly odd taste in musical styles. He is also schooled in the art of literary verse from the New School for Social Research, and it is quite apparent from the lyrical style found in many of his songs.

On our next stop – we take an in depth look at the track titles found on the album. The shortest title by far is the track: “Chicago”, consisting of seven whole letters. Other titles include: “To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves an Inner Tube, Bath Mats, and 21 Able-bodied Men”, which is as thought provoking as it is disturbing. It certainly is a curious feat in itself to be able to title a song with an entire epic poem.

It is with these entirely odd facts at the helm of my mind that I decided to give Stevens a try. Certainly, a bloke who is as eclectic as they come can produce a wonderful artistry of musical delight! And so – I listened.

At first glance, the music contained within the shiny Compact Disc is exactly as I imagined it. There is no real genre to place the sounds within; it is rather a conglomeration of musical styles that “pop” in and out as the songs as they please. And not just the common styles like Pop, and Rock. There is to date Baroque Classical, Medieval Epic Bard, Opera, and Broadway Musical. Never is your mind simply at rest while listening to these songs, as you can never quite place what you are listening to. That being said – the mixture of the genre’s is just that – a mixture. The songs never quite evolve enough to become their own sub-genre. It can only be labeled as independent, and it seems that this is exactly what Sufjan wants.

All in all, there is a very unique mix of music and lyrics that will weave a million tall tales of life in Illinois on this album. But… to me it can never achieve more than great background music, because to listen is to subject your mind to a million unanswered questions.

Tracklist: (Come on feel the Illinois) - Just for kicks

1. "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois" – 2:09
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!" – 6:45
1. "The World's Columbian Exposition"
2. "Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream"
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 Step Mother!" – 3:03
8. "One Last 'Whoo-Hoo!' for the Pullman" – 0:06
9. "Chicago" – 6:04
10. "Casimir Pulaski Day" – 5:54
11. "To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves an Inner Tube, Bath Mats, and 21 Able-bodied Men" – 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" – 3:54
20. "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" – 7:03
1. "The Great Frontier"
2. "Come to Me Only with Playthings Now"
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

Released: July 5, 2005
Genre: Folk rock
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Producer: Sufjan Stevens


Sufjan Website
Asthmatic Kitty


Thomas said...

I'm a few months late to this, but just found it randomly through google, and I had to comment - because I felt the same way about the cd - at FIRST. For a day. And each day since, it's been constantly in my foobar player and in my car, and each time I listen I learn something new about the album, the songs, and the artist himself.
I like it for background music, but it's also REALLY great to sing along with (after looking up the intricate and beautiful lyrics). This guy is a genius. Playing most of the instruments on such a wildly creative album which not only meets the expectations of pleasurable to listen to and being catchy, but also throws in references to names and places throughout history centered around a single state, seamlessly. And he wants to do it for 50. I can't wait to get a hold of more of his stuff. He's my new favorite artist.

Thomas said...

Wow somewhere in there I started getting hard to understand... shoulda proofread that.