Illinois review by Sufjan Stevens

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Jul 5, 2005
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 10 Gem
  • Users' score: 9.3 (30 votes)
Sufjan Stevens: Illinois

Sound — 10
This album is unique. There's no other way to put it. It can go from happy and bouncy to soft and morbid to driving to laidback and everything in between. Stevens uses all kinds of orchestration for this record, using a strings ensemble, choir, brass ensemble, woodwind ensemble, acordion, vaious organs and electric pianos, as well as the frequent use of a banjo to add to a basic rock ensemble. The songs tend to be reminiscient of old TV showtunes, using simmilar orchestrations and uplifting melodies. In fact, I think only one song is actually in a minor key. The album is impressive, showing both a versatility in lyrics as well as an amazing ability to arrange and orchestrate. Being a concept album showcasing various events, people, and places Illinois is famous for, it's songs vary greatly in purpose and feel, though the whole album maintains a relatively happy feeling (except for in "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and "The Seer's Tower", both of which maintaining an eerie feel). Stevens had managed to meld early TV showtune styled orchestrations with a light alt rock with folk rock with progressive rock, with nearly every song using either an uncommon instrument, an exotic time signature, or both. This 22 track album features several, to put it plainly, filler tracks, which aren't really music and don't really add to any of the stories. To be honest, I get the feeling they were made merely to take up space and give Sufjan an excuse to come up with more wierd titles. Most of the titles on this album are wierd and long, including probably the longest song title I have ever seen (track 2): 01. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois 02. 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!' 03. Come On! Feel the Illinoise! (Part 1: The World's Columbian Exposition Part 2: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream) 04. John Wayne Gacy, Jr 05. Jacksonville 06. A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, but for Very Good Reasons 07. Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother! 08. One Last "Whoo-Hoo!" for the Pullman 09. Chicago 10. Casimir Pulaski Day 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 (Part 1: The Great Frontier Part 2: Come to Me Only with Playthings Now) 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

Lyrics — 10
The lyrics are, for the most part, clever as hell. The wordplay is beyond impressive at times, and his vocal melodies tend to play off the instruments in catchy and unexpected but awesome sounding ways. Since each song is about a different aspect of Chicago, from serial killers to superman to politics to music, the album is a showcase of Stevens' uncanny ability to write catchy and impressive lyrics. Because of the orchestration and simplicity of the choruses at the end of "Come On!! Feel the Illinoise!", it's definitely my favorite stanza on the album: "Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated Are you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart? Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level Are you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?" His voice is soft and breathy, which is laidback and relaxed sounding. He keeps pitch, without any evident use of autotune or anything of the sort, though he layers and layers vocal tracks at times, which creates a warm and thick feeling to the already densly orchestrated album.

Overall Impression — 10
The album, to be honest, is relatively unique. Not much can be compared to it that I can think of. "Chicago", the driving song that might be most known off the album, sounds a bit like Coldplay, specifically "Clocks" (A Rush Of Blood To The Head, 2002). "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts", the hardest song on the album, sounds like a cross between the Foo Fighters and the Strokes, being one of 2 songs to feature distorted guitars, and the only one to have them as a primary part of the orchestration. I wholeheartedly recommend this album to everyone, no matter what you listen to. It's so different from the mainstream sound were used to that it, at the very least, would be interesting to try.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Great album alright, takes me back a few years. Not sure about a full 10, it's a bit drawn out in spots but overall its a great listen. If you like it check out Danielson too
    Love the album and the artist, but I do agree that the song titles are a little too much... Still, I'd give it an 8.5/10
    the album name is Illinoise not Illinois... but it is a very solid album, extremely unique yet familiar at the same time
    Progis8strings wrote: One quick thing. The song titles are absurdly dumb. It's alright to be unique, but that's just pushing it.
    I agree. I cringed when I saw the title of the second track.
    hard to believe no one reviewed this before. definitely one of the finest albums crafted in the past decade or so. have to agree with the score.
    imr5011 wrote: the album name is Illinoise not Illinois... but it is a very solid album, extremely unique yet familiar at the same time
    you're wrong, it's just 'illinois' despite what it says on the album cover but the reviewer did spell weird wrong twice..
    One quick thing. The song titles are absurdly dumb. It's alright to be unique, but that's just pushing it.