Sufjan Stevens: Illinois

April 20, 2011

Roll: 3 – 11 – 9
Illinois by Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens didn’t mess around with the second installment in his project to write an album about each of the 50 United States. Any tribute to Illinois, the state that is home to both Chicago and gave birth to John Wayne Gacy,would have to be epic and it is.

Perhaps a little too epic.

Even if it is a masterpiece of modern baroque folk, “too much of a good thing” is more than a pithy saying. If by the time you get to the 19th out of 22 tracks, “The Seer’s Tower“, you’re not a little mentally and emotionally exhausted, you weren’t really listening to the album.

Sufjan has the ability to write incredibly delicate minor-key melodies and flesh them out into triumphant major-key symphonies. The effect is only heightened by his earnest, velvet-edged voice and for the first half of the album you can’t help feel like you’re listening to what Heaven must feel like.It’s a near-perfect expression of history told through popular song.

Yet, like a cat who suddenly decided they’ve had enough petting, I’ve never been able to listen to the album all the way through before something in my heart rejects all the spectacular beauty and says “enough!”
This usually happens around “They Are Night Zombies!” but sometimes it’s as soon as the close of the fourth track, an impossibly beautiful ballad about serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

And it’s really too bad since I’ve rarely listened to the gorgeous homage to Terry Riley‘s In C and Phillip Glass which closes the album called, “Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind…

It’s too much, it’s too much, it’s too much!

Though this didn’t stop Stevens from releasing a second full volume of out-takes from the sessions called The Avalanche. Which, though not as relentlessly euphoric, I’ve also never listened to all the way through in one sitting.


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