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Illinois
     

Illinois

4.6 14
by Sufjan Stevens
 

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With two states down and only 48 to go, Sufjan Stevens' ambitious musical map of the Unites States of America should be completed -- if he puts out one a year -- sometime around 2053. It's a daunting task (and not an entirely original one at that), but if each subsequent record is as good as Illinois, fans who live long enough to witness the project's

Overview

With two states down and only 48 to go, Sufjan Stevens' ambitious musical map of the Unites States of America should be completed -- if he puts out one a year -- sometime around 2053. It's a daunting task (and not an entirely original one at that), but if each subsequent record is as good as Illinois, fans who live long enough to witness the project's completion will no doubt find themselves to be scholars of both state history and its narrator's shape-shifting soul. Stevens' folk epics, as played by his signature mini-orchestra, have changed little since his 2003 foray into Michigan -- a charge that may cause some grumbling among that album's detractors -- but there's a newfound optimism that runs through much of Illinois that echoes the state's "Gateway to the West" pioneering spirit. Glorious road trip-ready cuts like "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts," "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!," and "Chicago" have an expansiveness that radiates with the ballast of history and the promise of new beginnings. Stevens has done his research, with references to everyone from Abe Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the ghost of Carl Sandburg to John Wayne Gacy -- the latter provides one the song cycle's most affecting moments. The lush (yet still distinctly lo-fi) indie pop melodies draw as much from classic rock as they do progressive folk. "Jacksonville," with its four-chord banjo lurch, mines "Old Man"-era Neil Young, disco strings dance around "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!," while the rousing pre-finale "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" is pure Peanuts-infused Vince Guaraldi as filtered through the ambiguous kaleidoscope of Danielson Famile spiritualism. There's a distinct community theater vibe to the whole affair that may or may not be the result of numerous photo shoots in which the players are dressed in adult-style Boy Scout uniforms -- it brings to mind the Blaine Players from Christopher Guest's small-town theater parody Waiting for Guffman -- but the majority of Illinois is alarmingly earnest. Stevens may be a snake-oil salesman, but he's got pretty good stuff, and like many of history's most untrustworthy wordsmiths, he somehow manages to switch the opportunist off and turn on the human being each time the listener gets suspicious of his intentions.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times - Jon Pareles
Even the most elaborate constructions come across as homemade, touched with an optimism that is by no means naïve.
Rolling Stone - Rob Sheffield
A sprawling twenty-two track tour of the Prarie state.... he holds it all together with his breathy, gentle voice, reminiscent of Neil Young circa After the Gold Rush.
Pitchfork - Amanda Petrusich
In both theory and execution, Illinois is huge, a staggering collection of impeccably arranged American tribute songs.

Product Details

Release Date:
07/05/2005
Label:
Asthmatic Kitty
UPC:
0656605892627
catalogNumber:
14
Rank:
9331

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Sufjan Stevens   Primary Artist,Organ,Acoustic Guitar,Banjo,Flute,Piano,Accordion,Electric Bass,Drums,Glockenspiel,Electric Guitar,Oboe,Recorder,Alto Saxophone,Tambourine,Triangle,Vocals,Various,Sopranino,Vibes,Shaker,sleigh bells,Wurlitzer
Rev. Dan Smith   Background Vocals,Hand Clapping
Matt Morgan   Background Vocals
James McAlister   Drums
Craig Montoro   Trumpet,Vocals,Muted Trumpet
Shara Worden   Background Vocals
Elin K. Smith   Background Vocals,Hand Clapping
Katrina Kerns   Background Vocals,Choir, Chorus
Julianne Carney   Violin,String Quartet
Jennifer Hoover   Choir, Chorus
Illinoisemaker Choir   Vocals,Hand Clapping,hooter,Hollers
Maria Bella Jeffers   Cello,String Quartet
Beccy Lock   Choir, Chorus
Tara McDonnell   Choir, Chorus
Rob Moose   Violin,String Quartet
Tom Eaton   Choir, Chorus
Daniel Smith   Background Vocals,Hand Clapping

Technical Credits

Sufjan Stevens   Arranger,Composer,Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Divya Srinivasan   Artwork

Customer Reviews

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Illinois 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Let me begin by saying that this is the first disc and artist that has ever compelled me to write a review on this site and I have been lurking about searching for great music for well over five years now. I was first exposed to Sufjan's music about two years ago when the shockingly good Michigan disc was released. Who else out there was self-mixing and composing banjo, acoustic guitar, Trumpet, xylophone, vibraphone, drums and god knows what other instruments into lush, vibrant tone poems? Michigan was a breath of fresh air and unlike anything else I had ever heard at the time. It told a story as big as the Great Lakes but with all the personal detail that tied everything together and drew the listener into the state and into a state of mind. Could anyone possibly listen to Romulus and not empathize with Stevens as a child or feel the intimacy of "For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti?" These stripped down compositions contrasted fantastically with the orchestral "All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!" and "Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)" which gave the listener a sense of the mighty industrial power of the great mid-west. Next came last year's deeply spiritual Seven Swans release. I haven't been to church in at least 10 years (not counting weddings and funerals) but this collection of musings on the Bible (in particular Revelations) led me to contemplate my place in this world and the possiblity of an almighty creator (anyone want to discuss the Big Bang Theory or the theory of Evolution with Sufjan?). Oh yeah, and the music was out of this world as well. See "The Transfiguration" and "Seven Swans" for examples of that. So it was with great expections (No, I haven't been reading Dickens for the past seven months) I awaited the release of Illinois. Would it match the splendor and personal emotion of Michigan? Would it capture the religious themes of Seven Swans and translate it into palpable everyman's music? Where to begin? I'll begin simply and state that this is hands down the release of the year so far. No it doesn't have the catchiness of Spoon's "I Turn My Camera On" off the very good "Gimme Fiction" disc or the splendid imagery of the Decemberists on "Picaresque," but is both more intimate and more grand than either of these fine records. Illinois keeps me rapt throughout its 77-minute-plus running time, each time I pick up some new instrument or sound that only adds to the disc's grandeur. You may be a skeptic like I was when I first heard about Steven's plan to do an albumn on all 50 states. How could you possibly capture the essence of a whole state ( and more than 200 years of history) in one release? Without question Steven's only skirts the surface of the entirety of the state of Illinois but through songs such as unweildy titled, ""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!,' "Jacksonville" and "John Wayne Gacey" he manages to cover quite a bit of ground. Highlights of the disc include what may prove to be Sufjan's breakout hit on Indie radio, the eminately singable, "Chicago," a song that is more about our need to travel to try and escape our problems and lethargy than about the broad shouldered city it is named after. Don't fret, The City of Chicago more than gets its due in the third track on the disc, "Come on, feel the Illinoise, Part II"" and "The Man of Metropol
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm amazed at how Sufjan crafts different layers into his songs, and how fantastic the end result is. This album is so incredibly different from anything else I've ever heard. But in that difference, he still sounds like Sufjan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I actually learned a lot while listening to this album! But aside from all educational value, this is a really inspiring cd. I love all his metaphors comparing different things to life. This is very original.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There really can't be any words to describe this album better than to say that it's a journey. Every song seems to fit perfectly with the mood of the album at the time, nothing seems out of place or forced. No other album in recent memory has really felt as good to listen to other than Kid A by Radiohead. Each song sounds like it's Sufjan 's but never gets tired or repetitive and is a real treat to listen to every time. True the album at 1st may not seem as amazing as some people have made it out to be (myself included). But after hearing it for three+ times you will agree that Illinois is really a marvelous record.
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