Sufjan Stevens - Illinois

Mike Mantin 04/07/2005

Rating: 5/5

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.