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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tuneful, inventive, fun and oddly moving
Not many albums show the influence of Steve Reich, Love, The Beatles and Paul Simon. Even fewer have, in addition, crazily self-mocking album titles and a comic-book cover. Add to that mix the rehabilitation of the banjo, and you're down to one album. This is a melodic, joyous and eclectic piece of work. Verges on whimsy in a faintly Belle-and-Sebastien way at times, but...
Published on 7 July 2006 by Eclectic / clueless

versus
9 of 54 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too much ill noize
I subscribe to a great magazine called Uncut. This magazine has introduced me to some really great acts such as Wilco and Richmond Fontaine and opened my eyes to classic artists such as Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris. When Uncut voted Arcade Fire's Funeral and Sufjan Stevens' Illinois as albums of the year 2005, I decided it would be worth a try checking out these...
Published on 10 Jun 2006 by gnagfloW


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tuneful, inventive, fun and oddly moving, 7 July 2006
By 
Eclectic / clueless (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
Not many albums show the influence of Steve Reich, Love, The Beatles and Paul Simon. Even fewer have, in addition, crazily self-mocking album titles and a comic-book cover. Add to that mix the rehabilitation of the banjo, and you're down to one album. This is a melodic, joyous and eclectic piece of work. Verges on whimsy in a faintly Belle-and-Sebastien way at times, but doesn't quite fall over the edge into syrup. Even chord sequences and fingerpicking patterns you've heard 101 times before (Casimir Pulaski Day) are lifted by real emotion and heart-on-sleeve lyrics ; this one sounds hearfelt and oddly moving, recapturing childhood innocence in a way which could so easily go into pure mush. Risky, but wonderful.

One previous review which baffled me was the one which said there was a shortage of melodies... another, more positive one says it's 'worth the effort'. No effort required ; it's packed with melodies, and they hit the spot from the very first play. Another review quite rightly mentions the rhythmic drive and inventiveness of some tracks ; try 'The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders' for a punchy rhythm which avoids rockist clichés. There's an engaging amateur-hour feel to some of the vocals and backing vocals, which is not to say they're out of tune, just that they sound and feel like real human voices, not massively treated and studio-enhanced ones.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gloriusly rich, intelligent, beautiful music, 12 Sep 2005
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
there is so much that can be said about sufjan's latest cd, come on feel the illinoise, but i'll cut to the chase - it is absolutely stunning. for anyone who likes any of his music this cd is a must. it follows the same strain as michigan, not seven swans(or a sun came for that matter), and is in my opinion his best work to date. every song has a vast variety of unorthadox instruments in a way that every song gains from every one of them. like michigan, each song has a long witty name, sometimes to the ridiculus stage. there are 22 tracks, a few of which are fillers (clapping, some string sections etc) but the actual songs are utterly amazing.
there are more than 90% stand out tracks (in my opinion anyway) but my personal favourites are *Come On! Feel The Illinoise!: Parts I & II ( this sounds very much like someting on michigan, but even better!), Jackson, Chicago, Casimir Pulaski Day (my personal favourite off this album), The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts (heavy electric start - gloriusly soft ballad), The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us, The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders. There are several more but they have such long winded names.
This cd is currently all i can play in my cd player, it is unique and beautiful. I recommend it to everyone and anyone who likes good music.
P.S I am going to see him in concert in 2 days! woo
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saint Sufjan is a God like Genius, 28 May 2009
By 
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
Quite simply Sufjan Stevens is a God like genius but it took me a while to realise it. I got hold of Illinoise in August 2005 after hearing `Chicago' on the Mark Radcliffe late night BBC Radio 2 show.

Got to be honest I found it hard going in places at the start. It reminded me a bit of Genesis' Lamb Lies Down and Camel's The Snow Goose. Not necessarily flattering comparisons if your view of `prog rock' diminished after the punk wars, as mine did. How wrong I was.

I don't know what it was but something kept dragging me back to it. And maybe after a full six months it slowly began to dawn on me that it was a masterpiece in every sense. After a year I rated it as my all time favourite album and three years after that it still is. And I've had quite a few favourite albums over the years.

After a beautiful opening with (I'll have to abbreviate some of these titles!) the simple piano refrain and vocals of Concerning the UFO Sighting... it goes epic with The Black Hawk War. The two tracks together remind me of how many great novels and films start. You get a taster of the main event. Then it's back to the beginning where it all began. Bit pretentious I know but I can't put it any other way than that.

Then we're off. I won't mention all the tracks but John Wayne Gacy Jr is the best examination of the life of a serial killer and the parallels it may have with your own story, ever put to music. A niche market I suspect. Chicago is majestic and epic and clearly something Saint Sufjan must have considered his best work to date at the time (hence the variations available on sister album Avalanche). You can hear a smidgen of it on Little Miss Sunshine as they scramble to get on the VW at one point.

The `genius' clincher for me was getting into the lyrics of `Casimir Pulaski Day'. Quite simply, it's the most joyfully sad song I've ever heard. Obviously it's only my interpretation but rather than write something obvious and sentimental, he chose to give us almost unconnected treasured memories of someone who he loved and who has passed away from `cancer of the bone'. He doesn't invite you in and there's no narrative to make it easy but somehow that makes it even more poignant to me. I find it so painfully beautiful I have almost blubbed a few times listening to it. I'm not prone to sentimentality myself but if you have ever lost someone it's just such a beautiful way of remembering them. And then, in the very last line, he even manages to question his own faith in God. If anyone has any inside knowledge on the song that casts doubt on my interpretation please don't tell me! I'm happy in my ignorance and the song `belongs' to me in this way now.

It's probably his most multi-paced album. The Man of Metropolis starts almost like a sub-metal romp before settling down into more lo-fi verses interspersed with the same terrific rock guitar backed harmonised chorus. And there are many minor musical noodles and diversions along the way that may leave you a bit baffled at first but make complete sense if you believe like me that this album has a narrative running through it. Great use of brass and strings all the way through although his greatest achievement (begun on earlier albums) is perhaps the rehabilitation of the banjo (e.g. on Decatur).

The album concludes with another epic in The Tallest Man. No lyrics; just a build up of strings and percussion (if a xylophone is percussion) and err.. other stuff. Sounds like something for the closing credits of a great film.

Four years down the road I still play Illinoise at least once a week. I've never had that relationship with an album before. And I've got his whole back catalogue now of course. `Michigan' is a triumph but not quite on the same scale. `Seven Swans' is even more stripped down and introspective but the songs are lovely and get better with each listen. There's some great original material on his Christmas albums too as well as the covers. And 'The Avalanche', the 'Illinoise' sister album is supposedly outtakes? No it should have been a double album. This man provides real `growers' with his albums and those are the best kind. Even `Enjoy Your Rabbit' has its plus points. At least it's an attempt to do something different and confounds his 'lo-fi' status.

My only criticism? It's four years old. Even the Stone Roses didn't take this long for new material (I don't count the multitude of collaborations with others as `new'). Get a move on man. I gather his commitment to produce an album for every one of the US states was meant to be taken with a pinch of salt. Just as well as, alphabetically, he'd be dead by the time he got through the states beginning with `A' alone.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer Brilliance, 6 Jun 2007
By 
M. Adam - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
A grounding in classical music leaves me with an automatic habit of listening out for the way someone uses their instruments and creates harmony and paints pictures with music. The result being simple music sounds boring, and complex music sounds like they chucked in a whole load of stuff to sound clever.

Sufjan Stevens has given me the unusual treat of simplicity and complexity into one truly beautiful collection of tracks. He uses more instruments than I'd be able to name, in more combinations than I'd be able to work out just from listening and melds it with lyrics more real than anything I've ever heard before. The variety is something to be noted, from Chicago that drives you forward, to The Seers Tower, a bare and haunting piece of music.

This CD is something to be absolutely treasured, anyone can lose themselves in it, and take something away from it, it can be listened to over and over without losing its effect. It shows life at its best and its worst, but at its most real.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 31 Jan 2006
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
This is a truly wonderful and remarkable album. The second step in Sufjan Stevens’ trek around the fifty (US) states, it represents a massive step forward from the earlier Greetings From Michigan (which is merely very good).
To be honest I thought that this would be an album that I would admire but never really like. Nothing could be further from the truth: this is an album that bears and rewards repeated listening. It is complex and sophisticated both musically and lyrically but it remains accessible, engaging and enjoyable. Stevens plays most, if not all, of the instruments in these complex arrangements (I have no idea how he manages to perform live) and the lyrics are strong, packed with wit, humour and invention. Music and lyrics complement each other beautifully.
There are so many highlights on this 22 track album that it almost seems a shame to pick out individual tracks but amongst my favourites are: John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (a haunting song about serial killer Gacy), Chicago (which never fails to lift my spirits) and the wonderful Casimir Pulaski Day.
For me, the best album of 2005.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful trek around Illinois, 7 Aug 2005
By 
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
This is the second album in Sufjan Stevens' trek around the USA, which should see him make an album about all 50 states, after 2003's ode to his home state, Michigan. It's incredibly diverse, both in its exploration of Illinois and in its exploration of music. Subjects range from a UFO sighting near Highland, Illinois in the opening track, to writer Carl Sandburg visiting Stevens in a dream in the pun-tastic 'Come On! Feel The Illinoise!' (don't let that put you off, this is about as far away from Slade as you could possibly get). But this is far more than a history lesson set to music. After telling the story of serial killer John Wayne Gacy set to haunting acoustic guitar, Stevens suggests that "in my best behaviour, I am really just like him". As well as being lyrically astounding in its ability to craft such an exciting picture of a relatively dull state, 'Illinois' is full of grand, beautiful arrangements. Though Stevens strums little more than an acoustic guitar on the gorgeous 'Casimir Pulaski Day', the likes of 'The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts' and the aforementioned title track are immense, miles away from the banjo-plucking minimalism on previous album 'Seven Swans'. Like fellow album of the year 'Funeral' by the Arcade Fire, this is truly incredible music to immerse yourself in. An absolute essential.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musical Brilliance, 27 April 2007
By 
B. Jeffrey "Jeffers" (Cheshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
Having not heard anything of their music and purely based on reviews, I decided to give it a go. From the very first track, to the very end including the melodically composed short tracks to the curiously lengthy track names,I was taken back on how unique and brilliant the album was.

Each track is as different as the next, and all are exeptional, including "Jacksonville" and "Chicago". Sufjan really shows extraordinary talent on making such a tasteful and tuneful, and has an excellent vocal capacity.

The tracks are upbeat and relaxing and encorporate a variety of instrumental talent and vocal brilliance, to give an oustanding album that is highly recommended and well worth purchasing. I know I wont hesitate to purchase the other Sufjan albums.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JUST GENIUS!, 21 Aug 2005
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
What an amazing album. I've listened with interest to Sufjan's previous albums, all of which have moments of outstanding beauty, but 'Illinoise' represents the full flowering (to date) of his musical genius. The Amazon review gives a good indication of the influences on this album but still doesn't prepare you for the sheer musical breadth and daring of this joyous work. Despite the cornucopia of musical styles from jazz to show-tunes to acoustic folk and electricified alt.country, plus dipping his toe into the serial rhythms of Reichian minimalism, the sound is extremely coherent and wholly original to Stevens.
His skill as an arranger can be fully appreciated on the title track and 'Chicago' and 'They Are Night Zombies'; whilst his ability to pen beautiful ballads is in full affect on the haunting 'John Wayne Gacy Jr.' which pulls off the amazing feat of recounting the life of a serial killer while at the same time breaking your heart!
Apart from the odd excursion into acoustic melancholy, the general mood of the album is up-lifting, summed up in the line, "We celebrate our sense of each other" in 'The Man Of Metropolis', which expresses nicely the positive humanism which pervades the spirit of Steven's writing.
So far, each of Sufjan Steven's albums has represented a progression, a next step in the realisation of his talent. It's a daunting thought that his next album could be even better than this. Personally I can't wait to find out!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Come on feel the Illinoise!, 21 July 2005
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
After the glorious Michigan and Seven Swans, Sufjan Stevens has proven a brilliant and diverse songwriter and this album proves it further. He seems to have somewhat expanded his band on this album. After the opener, which almost foils the rest of the album with its subtlety, comes a brilliant orchestral piece called "the Black Hawk War", which, for some reason reminds me of cartoon films like Snow White but more bombastic!
Next comes "Come On! Feel The Illinoise!" (at one point sounding very similar to the Cure's Close to Me) which is reminiscent of Michigan's "All Good Naysayers, Speak up or Forever Hold your Peace" with more layers and twists and turns a plenty as is "The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders" . Other highlights are the stunning "Chicago" which reminds me of the Polyphonic Spree on a good day, "Decatur" a beautiful little banjo ditty, the short and oh so sweet "Prairie Fire that wanders about" and the numerous instrumental interludes, which really link this album together.
In fact, the whole thing is one big higlight. It fulfills the subtitle "Come on feel the IlliNOISE" in parts and in others is one of the most beautifully sculpted albums that could hit your ears. The scary thing is the attention to detail and the stunning arrangements created just a year after Seven Swans. The sort of thing that'd take most bands 3 years. Let's hope we get all 50 states recorded, that'd be really something!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sufjan frenzy, 12 July 2006
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)
Having recently purchased "The Avalanche", and stumbling across, to my absolute glee, three unreleased christmas albums by Sufjan (available for free download), I was gripped by an almost overwhelming urge to go back and review every other Sufjan album - though I've already done Enjoy Your Rabbit and The Avalance.

Okay, first off, the type of music. If you've read some of the other reviews, then you'd be best skipping this paragraph because you'll already know it. "Breezy, whimsical Christian-inspired folk music" is a good starting point, but it doesn't do this music justice. Ridiculous choruses and wind instruments galore, this album is at once uplifting (as on "Come On Feel The Illinoise Part 1"), heartbreaking ("John Wayne Gracy, JR"), confusing ("Decatur, or, Round of Applause For Your Stepmother!") and and frustratingly inaccessible at times (the sheer length of the album, and the large number of short instrumentals). This album shifts between slow ballads, to fast paced singalongs, to whatever "The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" is, with almost too much banjo, this truly is a one-of-a-kind album.

Sadly, it's this uniqueness which is often its downfall - I, myself, am a huge fan of Sufjan, and of this album in particular. However, I read the review by 'Litli Ulfur', and a lot of it does make sense - the melodies are often repeated throughout, and ideas are used over and over again. Simply reading the names of the songs embeds the word "pretentios" on the inside of your eyelids.

So, put simply, you might like this album, or you might not. Which kind of makes the above review a bit pointless. But I would urge you to at least give this album a listen, because you might, like me, find it one of the most intriguing albums you've ever heard.

Oh, one more thing, I was reccomended this album by Amazon after telling them that I liked Sigur Ros, and it sounds like a couple of other people were as well. This album is not like Sigur Ros (well, not much), so be cautious when pressing the "Add To Basket" button. Though, you should really be careful when buying any music.
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