Saturday, July 20, 2013

Illinois (2005)

This album (and Sufjan Stevens more generally) landed on my to-do list back when it was still kind of new, during George W. Bush's second term and the halcyon days of mp3 blogs and easy download availability, which posed intriguing new oceans of taste. The offerings of those blogs were indeed so overwhelmingly plentiful that time considerations started to creep in. I needed to attempt triangulating affinities based on various factors, noting albums promoted/given away that I already knew and appreciated, and then examining what I didn't know and seeing how frequently they appeared across multiple blogs. Many overlapping considerations, of course. The mp3 bloggers I knew (whose only commonality, if any, was a shared inclination one way or another toward prog), were fans and thus further from my typical rock critical sources and so interesting to me in that regard. I admit when I saw Christgau gave the album an A- that helped, plus my brother was still living in Illinois at the time and I let that serve as signal too. So the rationales are put together for why we act. As for the album, I was put off by the same things that worried Christgau, Stevens's Christianity and predisposition toward classical music stylings, plus the damn thing goes on nearly 75 minutes, which makes it the equivalent of an old-fashioned daunting vinyl double-LP. (Remember when Guns N' Roses released two of those at the same time? But I see I am still railing against CD technology, even as it is dying.) It is also one of those albums packed with annoying whimsical sub-minute tracks. So Illinois is way too long, and it's usually too pretty and always too buffed-up clean for my taste. But there are pleasures. Everyone (meaning me, Christgau, and mass audience as statistical cohort) seems to be in agreement that the best thing here is the softly epic "Chicago," which swirls and dances about and is alluring. On non-musical levels, I do appreciate both the choice of theme and the way it is treated. I am fascinated and intrigued by individual American states myself, with all their associated factoids and cultural markers, and I like the things Stevens piles in here: Chicago world's fair of 1893, Superman, John Wayne Gacy, the great city of Chicago, Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, etc., etc. It's a splendid jumble and the sum effect by design inevitably puts one into an Illinois state of mind, desired or not. Stevens did this before, of course, with his home state of Michigan, altogether a more interesting state than Illinois by my lights. So I guess that will have to be the next step on my Sufjan Stevens journey, even if it is the earlier album, and mp3 blogs are all but gone.

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