COME ON FEEL THE ILLINOISE by sufjan stevens

by Gordon


Pitchfork: 9.2             Rolling Stone: 4/5             Metacritic: 90             Spin: 91


Released: July 2005
  1. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
  2. The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You’re Going to Have to Leave Now, or, I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!
  3. Come On! Feel the Illinoise!
  4. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
  5. Jacksonville
  6. A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, but for Very Good Reasons
  7. Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!
  8. One Last ‘Whoo-Hoo!’ for the Pullman
  9. Chicago
  10. Casimir Pulaski Day [LISTEN]

  11. To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament
  12. The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
  13. Prairie Fire That Wanders About
  14. A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze
  15. The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!
  16. They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!
  17. Let’s Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don’t Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell
  18. In This Temple as in the Hearts of Man for Whom He Saved the Earth
  19. The Seer’s Tower
  20. The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders
  21. Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few
  22. Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run

   If you haven’t discovered Sufjan Stevens, you have the pleasure of knowing the experience lies ahead of you. If you have, you already know what it’s like. Whereas some newly-discovered artists creep into your life and take over your itunes for a month or two, maybe even a season, Sufjan tends to take over for an entire year, maybe two for some. My experience probably mirrors that of half the rest of his fans: I was in college. I heard the song “Chicago”. The rest was and still is a magical journey (that I’ve had the luxury of sharing with other friends who’ve been  journeying too).

   Come on Feel the Illinoise, the second of Stevens’ Fifty States Project (whereby the songwriter plans to release a themed album for every U.S. state), was the best reviewed album of 2005 according to Metacritic. A few things stand out about the album, perhaps the most obvious being that it boasts both a lengthy tracklist, and that most of those tracks boast lengthy titles, a subtle yet revealing indicator that you’ve discovered something “else”.

   “Chicago” may be many’s favorite, perhaps favorite of all of Stevens’ songs, and though perhaps cliché, still justifiably so. Restrained at times, Stevens’ voice (arguably the best instrument he owns) is the primary focus, accompanied with strings or keyboard bits. Otherwise the track, as is many times the case, teems with all the sounds of nearly every family of musical instruments, even a chorus of background singers.

   Upon my first listen, the first track, “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”, told me any doubts I had about this new (now no longer) musician could be erased. It displays some of the prettiest piano chords (in a style all its own), atop Stevens’ characteristic innocent singing. If the first track is a bit sad and serious-sounding (indeed many will continue to be), track three, “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” brings back happier melodies (one of the benefits of longer songs is multiple melodies) again full of layered instrumentation.

   “Decatur” (short title) strips down to mostly just a banjo-strumming Stevens, singing along with his brother, Marzuki. Melancholy tunes like this, neither too peppy nor too lyrically serious, are some of what Sufjan does best. Though the same effect can be seen in “Casimir Pulaski Day” (a personal favorite), it is achieved instead through a mix of more personal, emotional lyrics countered with light chords and instrument arrangements.

   One could give all twenty-two songs equal mention, but there’s something so personal about these songs, about all of Stevens’ discography, personal in a listener kind of way, that doing so might only muddle what he’s trying to do, or doing without trying. Admittedly, a  number of Stevens’ songs, on this album and not, don’t always do it for me. But they remain beautiful pieces of an entire collection nonetheless, maybe because of how special Stevens himself, and what he does with his music, seem to be. That is why, while I cannot say he is my favorite musician, he remains my favorite artist.

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