Well, whether he moves on from this state or not, it's hard to think that he left much out from this album alone. This thing is just packed. It weighs in at well over an hour, with 22 tracks. Yes, some of them are instrumental interludes that don't even scratch a minute in length, but others are stunning suites of multiple movements that close in on the double digits. Just like the rest of the album, even the scale of the tracks shows tremendous variety.
Honestly, the variety that he manages in an album that has subjects that all relate to one thing - Illinois - and all pretty much have the same instruments and styles, it's just astounding. One moment you're in the slow, serene piano chords of the opening track, and next you're the flourish of instruments marking "The Black Hawk War (And no, I will not repeat the rest of the title)". There's a eerie, light number about a serial killer that resonates on all the right frequencies and alternatives between ominous mumbling and astral falsetto. There's a simply beautiful little piece that covers every detail about
Earlier I mentioned in passing that Sufjan Stevens makes me fall in love with
Not that everything he writes specifically needs to take place in
So if that's what's going on, why bother choosing any one state to make half an album about things we all see at home? Well, it's so he can fill the rest of the album with songs about
I've already gone on about how gifted Sufjan is at simply writing simple good songs, but it bears repeating on this, his best-crafted album. The instrumentation is often chaotic, gigantic and winding, but no single component is ever grossly complicated. It is a Rube Goldberg machine of music, a hundred tiny, simple apparatuses functioning perfectly with one another in a convoluted masterpiece of a machine, but the end result is even simpler still. He shows a talent for writing great parts for every instrument involved, but few amount to more than just wandering scales, repeated chords or occasional plunked down notes. Even his backing vocals never become too complex, usually just supporting him on high notes, or creating a subtle background harmony. Every part might just be a small cog or pulley, but it works so gracefully that such easiness cannot be faulted.
Running with this machine analogy, it could be accurately said that the force powering the whole thing is the dramatic voice and lyrical prowess of Sufjan himself. Now, when I say dramatic, I don't refer to a booming, 500-horsepower voice that echoes over all others - no, I refer to the power of the whisper, the suggestion, and above all, his lyrics. His voice might never rise above a mezzo-piano, but his words hit like that cardinal did the window at the end of "Casmir Pulaski Day".
His lyrics still might be the strongest point on an album with no weak links. He speaks more descriptively than poetically, painting pictures of events, people and places, but making no effort to impart their impact any more than they do themselves. Such overblown emotional explanation would be unnecessary. Hearing each line, you can just imagine for yourself what your reaction would be. And it's probably right, because Sufjan is trying his hardest to relate to you and it usually works. Even on such fantastic and dreadful situations as full blown zombie apocalypse and the mind state of a rampaging serial killer, it seems so close to home.
I cannot imagine now how many hours I've spent listening in near worship of this album. Although it may not set out to redefine how I see music, revolutionize the way I think or simply blow my mind like some other albums, it succeeds at every goal it could have set for itself with flying colours. Here, Sufjan has committed a state to music, irreversibly tying so many emotions, so many thoughts, so many memories and so many brilliant ideas to this wonderful music and the wonderful state of