25 of 25 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
9 of 52 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super ( illinoise ) Man,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)Won't bore you with a long review but I just gotta say what a great album this is, heard it over the airwaves of my usual record store last week and bought it straight away on a first hearing although I had never heard of Sufjan Stevens. I then went on to buy Sufjan's other albums this week.
If your feeling down put this record on and you will soon get a pick me up.
A totally lovely melodic concept album (which follows on from Greetings from Michigan )with great orchestation as well as great acoustic singer songwriter songs. Some of the songs deal with dark subject matter but are none the less compelling and overall this is a very beautiful album. His other albums are nearly just as good but this is a good starting point to otherwordly music.I can't wait for his next United State offering.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illinoise - irresistable musical mystery tour!,
By A Customer
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)This is my first encounter with the Sufjan Stevens and I was pleasantly surprised!
It's like alt country meets Smile - full of great musical surprises, catchy melodies,
a huge palette of sounds and intriguing lyrics. This guy must be prolific and highly
talented. Best new artist I've heard for years. I hope he gets the credit he deserves!
Lovely piano and banjo sitching it all together into a crazy tapestry of sounds.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Get yourself in a state,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this album. I had heard of the grandiose project to produce an album about every state in the US (how much can one say about Rhode Island?) but wondered if the results would be rather whimsical. The first listen was not immediate but something grabbed me. After 3-4 listens I was utterly beguiled. Musically it jumps around in a way that reminded me of Badly Drawn Boy's 'The Hour of Bewilderbeast'. What comes across in the songs are feelings of joy and celebration tinged with nostalgia. Make room for this album. Can't wait for the next leg on the journey.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immense,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)Illinois, the latest instalment in Sufjan Stevens' ambitious (if not totally unrealistic) '50 states' project, picks up, in many ways, where its predecessor Michigan left off. Musically, Illinois's pastures are just as vast, with Stevens not content in merely exploring the stripped down folk subtleties of his last full length Seven Swans, but rather succeeding in building upon the sensitivity of that record and even broadening the scope of Michigan with a far larger musical palette. From the outset tracks like 'Concerning the UFO sighting near Highland, Illinois', with its rhythmically challenged piano and flute/choir accompaniment, and 'Come On! Feel the Illinoise! / Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition / Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream' with its Stereolab textures, demonstrate Stevens' relentless musical ambition and variety as well as a penchant for absurdly long song titles. Indeed, Steven's lyrical talents are also prevalent on the record, particularly in songs like John Wayne Gacy, Jr., which deals with difficult, if not harrowing subject matters in a truly moving way. This album is immense.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illinoise!,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)Only time will tell if Sufjan Stevens manages to churn out enough albums for all fifty states. Since 2003, he's covered only two of the states. Maybe he can combine some state names...
But whether or not he covers the whole USA, Stevens' will keep charming people with his music, as he does in his latest album "Illinoise." And no, that is not a typo. It's sort of folk -- dreamy acoustic pop, with songs about aliens, God, and wacky interludes. This is folk music for the Wes Anderson fans.
It opens with a dreamy intro about a UFO, written in elusive language that could hint at either aliens or a religious vision. Your pick which it is, but Stevens' sweet voice and birdlike instruments make it sound ethereal... before it switches over into the choral singing and inspiring horns of "Black Hawk War." By the time it's over, you'll feel like saluting.
Stevens uses that as a springboard for lighter material -- inspiring rock anthems, mellow acoustic music, and vaguely ominous balladry. Some of the songs wouldn't be out of place at a down-home barn dance, and others are sparkling indie bliss. And yes, some songs dabble at both styles, like the sweeping dancey "Man of Metropolis."
By the last stretch of the album, Stevens switches over to a folk-dreampop style, with cute little interludes between the songs. "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!!" wins for most unique title, but it also shows Stevens off in his eerie folk best. It's a sound that continues its melancholy way, right to the end -- the sparkling "Out of Egypt."
Yep, "Illinoise" is one of those albums that qualifies as an experience -- it's the sort of music that transports you away, and doesn't set you back down until it ends. Though it borders on maudlin in places, Stevens' songcraft and musical skill are enough to make every song on this album a treasure.
Stevens has your basic folk voice, but he uses it with such sweetness and smoothness that he sounds amazing. Sometimes he just sings as is, and sometimes he lets the chorus of backing vocals swell up behind him, singing harmony to every line. And then there's the music, which adds further harmony to his vocals. Ah yes, the music. It's a colourful patchwork of basic folk -- acoustic guitar, drums, bells, horns, piano and what sounds like a xylophone. It's bright in some places, dismal in others.
And it's full of Stevens' bittersweet lyrics, where he manages to make us pity a serial killer, mourn a city's passing, and wonder what those lights in the sky are. He has a definite way with words ("i can't explain the state that I'm in/the state of my heart... he was my best friend"). And though Stevens often plays coy about the spiritual undertones of his songs, the passion in them is undeniable ("In the tower above the earth, we built it for Emmanuel....").
It's going to be hard to top the eerie folk of "Illinoise," but Sufjan Stevens will undoubtedly do it. Whatever state he chooses next. Bittersweet and beautiful.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ahh that sufjan, he the man!,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)having been swayed by this guy over several albums, it seems he's just been getting geared up to release this, his most complete and satisfying album yet. i liked the fact that releases such as 'enjoy your rabbit', 'seven swans' and 'greetings from michigan' had a lot of experiment on them, but sometimes he came over as a folsky Prince, almost too many ideas!! but on this one, well he hits the bullseye on every track. the emotional scope of this LP is beyond belief, and will kick into touch those who think Bright Eyes are the cutting edge of experimental folk (or whatever the hell this is). this album will (or more likely should, as no doubt whatever sophomore stylistic mess franz ferdinand release will top the polls) be to 2005 what arcade fire's 'funeral' was to 2004 (not a misprint why did it take 6 months to get released here damn them!!), lyrically and melodically jaw dropping, this guys prolific genius makes bands like coldplay and oasis who lock themselves in studios for years (and for what??!!) look embarrisingly bereft of even a sniff of this guy's talent. nice one sufjan, two states down and 50 to go, and i can't wait!
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Album of 2005,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)I picked up this album on a whim, partly because I liked the cover art, and partly because the name sounded familiar. I rarely recognise an excellent album at the first listen, but the sheer quality of Illinoise was hard to miss. The rambling, nonsensical song titles worried me - I thought this might be some sparse, pretentious "experiment" (like GY!BE).
Happily, I was wrong. The album is more like a lavish musical theatre production, with a wide array of instruments and backing vocals. There is very little wasted space on the ~75 minute album - every song features strong lyrical elements. Now and then, the Broadway-esque glitz fades and you get songs like "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and "Casimir Pulaski Day" - simple and moving. The variety and consistently skilled execution is dazzling.
On the strength of this album, I will definitely be looking into Sufjan Stevens's's back-catalogue.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illinoise, a joy,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)Each track on this record is a mini tribute to the state of Illinoise (the second in Sufjan Stevens' mammoth attempt to set every state in America to music) Over the course of the ride he covers everything from Superman & Al Capone to the dusty Prairies and the Great Lakes. The songs range from gentle acoustic lullabies to grandiose mini operas with trumpets, flutes and kettle drums all thrown in with great effect.
The scope of this album is just staggering. The music, the quirky and sometimes very long song titles, the voice, everything about this record is big!
Ok, some may find it portentious and irritating but there is no denying Sufjan Stevens' unbeleiveable talent. He sings beautifully, he plays every instrument under the sun, he produces and writes all the songs, now that is talent unmatched in today's manufactured pop world.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)I had heard of Sufjan Stevens, but never heard him. Then someone lent me "Greetings From Michigan" and I resolved to hear more of the man. Accordingly, I purchased "Illinois" shortly after its release. And it blew me away.
To put it quite simply, this is not only the best album I've heard this year, but is perhaps one of the most beautiful albums that I can remember. Describing this music is meaningless - words simply cannot do it justice.
Listen and fall in love
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, rich, textured music that retains a personal edge,
This review is from: Illinoise (Audio CD)And I thought he was a folky singer of over earnest scrappy songs. "Seven Swans" ranks as one of the major disappointments of my recent music buying. It's alright but nothing special so consequently I was trepaditious about buying this album. Some times it takes a leap of blind faith to land the most precious of things for this is so far removed from the fragile undercooked asthetics of "Seven Swans" it's not only in a different State ( Maintaining the albums theme here folks) but a different Continent.
So while it continues Stevens's propensity for embracing small people story telling it does so with music that is luxuriant, ambitious and often baroque. Utilising a string quartet, choir, and numerous extra vocalists Stevens celebrates and commemorates notable landmarks and historical events in Illinois while still maintaining a sense of the personal.
The song titles are works of imagination in themselves and showcase a vibrant sense of humour. A forty second burst of wheezing cello is called "Lets hear that string part again, because I don't think they heard it all the way out in Bushnell". Over the albums intimidating 74 minute length there are quite a few of these brief instrumental interludes and there is no denying that's it's a rigorous exercise in patience to listen to Illinoise in one sitting .But it's undeniably worth it. The first third of the album is relentlessly superb culminating in the gloriously giddy "Chicago" which has a vertiginous string arrangement, a lovely brass arrangement and tells us "All things go". There is luxuriant banjo on "Casimir Pulaski Day" There is a song about serial killer John Wayne Gacy set to swirling piano and hazy acoustic guitar. The brief but plangent "To the Workers of The Rock River Valley" sounds like a soundtrack snippet from a great indie movie. "Decatur" has a melody as pretty as a vermilion sunset over a picture postcard English village but even more impressively rhymes the title with "Alligator", "Aviator" and "Emancipator". "They are the Night Zombies" has the kind of funky string arrangement Isaac Hayes produced in his pomp and some quirky vocal chanting.
After this track the album runs out of steam, and a convincing argument could be made that it would be a stronger album if it had ended there. But Stevens obviously had a narrative he wanted to conclude and who am I to argue with that. Unfortunately the songs lack the verve and melodic creativity the rest of Illinoise showcases. Even the handclaps on "The Tallest Man" fail to rescue it. Still Illinoise is an impressive achievement and I for one far prefer Stevens producing this rich, ambitious and deeply textured music to the rather drab mundane material he produced for the majority of "The Seven Swans" album.
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