Come On, Feel

Illinois by Sufjan Stevens

Don't ask me to explain the cult-like fanaticism Sufjan's fans all seem to exhibit. Don't ask me why people credit Sufjan as an amazing musician when many, many other musicians can do exactly what he does, sometimes better. If I were a much more pessimistic person than I am at this very moment, I would suggest that the majority of people love Stevens' work because of his supposed "50 States Project" (which was revealed to only be a promotional gimmick).

I am not a Stevens fanatic, but I don't hate him either. In 2007 I had to grudgingly admit that Illinois was enjoyable after finally deciding to sit down and listen to his albums. Possibly the most off-putting thing about Sufjan Stevens isn't even his sometimes annoyingly soft voice (it lacks expression) or the incredibly long song names — the most off-putting thing about Sufjan Stevens is the fans he gets. God, are they annoying.

But that's not necessarily related to the quality of his music, is it?

For people who love to dissect albums, Illinois is rich with references, large words and historical tidbits about, believe it or not, Illinois. But let's be honest here, at 74 minutes, this album is kind of drag (this coming from someone who sat down and read lyrics along with Have One On Me). Of course, you have to commend the orchestration, the meticulous detail and patience that Illinois employs. The harmonies, strings and horns are all surprisingly heartwarming (it's hard to remain cold to a line like "We were in love, we were in love/Palisades, palisades/I can wait, I can wait").

The best moments on the album, at least for me, are the livelier moments. But I use the word "lively" in a very loose sense; the liveliest Stevens manages would likely be "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Ahhhhh!!", but even this track fluctuates between the driving "I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S" chant and Sufjan's soft voice. Other high points for the album would be "Decatur, or Round of Applause For Your Step Mother!", "Casimir Pulaski Day", "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out To Get Us!", and "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland IL".

Illinois is an exercise in patience, both for the artist and the listener. Heavy with historical references that could be fun to explore if you didn't already have a life, Sufjan manages to make an amazing tribute to Illinois, calling attention to small things that most people would likely overlook. You don't need to be from Illinois to enjoy an album that seems to explore the lives of everyday people.

(P.S. I do not hate Illinois, it's actually my favorite album by Stevens. But god, do I hate his fans. Especially you, Alec Duffy, with your listening parties! And anyone who actually goes to those damn things.)

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