Zombie Politics

I drank your milkshake.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Album of the Week: Sufjan Stevens' "Illinois"

Every week a bunch of shitty records come out and lots of people buy them (or, more accurately, illegally download them off Al Gore’s The Internet®). But sometimes there are some good things released on this, a shimmering Tuesday morning. Every week I’d like to pick one such album, and talk a little bit about it. For our inaugural “Album of the Week,” I am (of course) choosing Sufjan Steven’s “Illinois.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, that parenthetical “of course” is a little off base. Missy Elliott has a new album coming out this week called “The Cookbook” and I was truly excited about that as well. Except that when I heard it my initial reaction was that it was positively lackluster compared to her other works. Although it does have that M.I.A. cameo on the last song and it might be a “grower.” I’ll post my thoughts at a later point, no doubt. Back to the subject of the post…]

So, Sufjan may not be such a crazy motherfucker after all. When he announced, with the release of his also-masterful “Michigan,” that he would be doing an album about all fifty states, well, it was hard not to chuckle, or at least let out a hearty guffaw. I mean… FIFTY STATES? I am a young dude, spry and energetic, but just thinking about making fifty albums about fifty states makes me physically exhausted. How he must feel (he is a slightly older dude), well, he probably wishes he just kept his fucking mouth shut about the whole thing. Anyway… This is album two in that series… state two.

“Illinois” is brilliant; it’s a sprawling, beautiful take on a state that no one really thinks about (not that many people in today’s busy world take time to meditate on entire states, although I often daydream about North Dakota). Compared to “Michigan,” this is first and foremost its obvious sequel, as many of the songs borrow structure or motifs from that album. But this one is more sophisticated, sonically, resonating deeper and with more power than the previous “state.” It’s so easy to get caught up in the emotional storytelling of the songs that you sometimes forget how spectacularly you’re being wowed (or that you’re listening to a sympathetic ballad about notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy). This (like Green Day’s “American Idiot”) is a Big Important Album (notice the capitalization), one that flies in the face of David Browne’s asinine Entertainment Weekly essay from a few months ago wherein he declared the “album” as a singular art form, dead. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t fun, or that you aren’t going to be able to slap one of these songs (many of which are lengthily titled) on a mix tape – because “Come On, Feel the Illinoise!” fits those descriptions to a tee, while also making you want to re-read “Devil and the White City” again.

Anyway, it’s the album of the week. July 5th, Bitch.


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