Sufjan Stevens Come On Feel the Illinoise, 2005
I tried to tell a friend about this album the other day and was basically unable to describe it accurately while also making it seem like something he should check out. I think that's because this albums SHOULDN'T work as well as it does. It should be a complete pretentious mess! But it's not. It's a beautiful work of art that everyone should hear and enjoy.
I first heard about this album from my wife. One morning, she was checking her email before going off to grad school. I was still in bed, because I had a second-shift job (nowhere to be until 3pm). She started reading me this article (possibly from the Yahoo homepage?! Could it have been??) about this album with super ridiculously long titles and, (I was about to say "for whatever reason", but that's disingenuous. I know the reason) because Sufjan Stevens knows how to title an album in a catchy and memorable way, the album title stuck with me until right before Christmas a number of months later, when I decided to purchase the album for myself (this might not be true. it MIGHT be that I got the songs from my friend Riley and felt really bad about it. but I own the CD...so it could have been that and then guilt made me buy the CD later? Whatever. Not important.) and boy was I surprised at what dulcet tones graced my ears when I listened to the album for the first time. It was unlike anything I'd heard before, and remains unlike anything I've heard since, even from Sufjan himself!
It's half avant-garde indie concept album and half 1950's musical soundtrack. The songs have a way of sneaking under your skin, up your bloodstream and into your heart. Listen to "Casimir Pulaski Day" at your own risk. It's weapons-grade songwriting.
I should say that this album DOES have ridiculously long titles. The longest, and my favorite, is the title for a 2:15 long instrumental track:
"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!'"
Which is certainly one of the songs that that article mentions.
All of that novelty stuff falls by the wayside when you actually listen to the music. Sufjan purrs the lyrics which are sometimes silly and sometimes bone-chilling. He epitomizes the latter in the 4th track of the album, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.". The video is below. It's not the official video, but it's one that I think captures the heebie-jeebieness of the song.
If you don't take my word for it, and want a higher authority than me, then I should also point out that this album made #1 on Paste Magazine's "Best Albums of the 2000's" list. High praise, indeed.
Sufjan Stevens - Come On! Feel the Illinoise!: Part 1: The World's Columbian Exposition/Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream
Sufjan Stevens - The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!
You can buy Come On Feel the Illinoise at Amazon, Amazon MP3, and iTunes