Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
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!’
Come On! Feel the Illinoise!
Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition
Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But for Very Good Reasons
Decatur, Or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!
One Last "Whoo-Hoo!" for the Pullman
Casimir Pulaski Day
To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament
The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
Prairie Fire That Wanders About
A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze
The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is out to Get Us!
They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!
Let's Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don’t Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell
In This Temple as in the Hearts of Man for Whom He Saved the Earth
The Seer’s Tower
The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders
Part I: The Great Frontier
Part II: Come to Me Only with Playthings Now
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
Out of Egypt, Into the Great Laugh of Mankind, And I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run
“Illinois sounds like The Sea and Cake collaborating with the high-school band from a Wes Anderson film on banjo-driven, pulsing meditations on Vince Guaraldi’s music for Peanuts.” MMThe Guardian’s Dave Simpson said the music sounded like “The Polyphonic Spree produced by Brian Eno.” WK This was the second (following 2003’s Michigan) in a supposed series of fifty albums devoted to each of the states of the union, although Stevens has since acknowledged that it was just a promotional gimmick. WK
Indeed, “the singer-songwriter behind the endeavor is an earnest and whimsical young man” MM whose “lush (yet still distinctly lo-fi) indie pop melodies draw as much from classic rock as they do progressive folk.” JCM Pitchfork Media’s Amanda Petrusich called the album “strange and lush, as excessive and challenging as its giant, gushing song titles.” WK “These are weird and lovely middlebrow ditties.” MM
Conceptually, Illinois “weaves personal recollections, historical narratives, and strange facts together to create lush portraits of Midwestern life.” MM “Glorious road trip-ready cuts like The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts, Come On! Feel the Illinoise!, and Chicago have an expansiveness that radiates with the ballast of history and the promise of new beginnings.” JCM
Stevens made a conscious choice to focus on history instead of current events. He read literature by Illinois authors Saul Bellow and Carl Sandburg, studied immigration records and state history books, and road-tripped through several Illinois locales. WK He “references to everyone from Abe Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright…to John Wayne Gacy – the latter provides one the song cycle’s most affecting moments.” JCM In that song, Stevens manages to get the listener “feeling true empathy for a serial killer.” MM PopMatters’ Michael Metivier called the song “horrifying, tragic, and deeply sad without proselytizing.” WK
“Jacksonville, with its four-chord banjo lurch, mines ‘Old Man’-era Neil Young, disco strings dance around They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!, while the rousing pre-finale The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders is pure Peanuts-infused Vince Guaraldi as filtered through the ambiguous kaleidoscope of Danielson Famile spiritualism.” JCM
Critics praised the album for “its well-written lyrics and complex orchestrations;” WK the latter were often done just by him through multi-track recording. WK He is a classically trained oboist with his arrangements influenced by his knowledge of classical and baroque music. WK Sufjan has been compared to other musical artists as diverse as Neil Young, The Cure, Death Cab for Cutie, Nick Drake, and Steve Reich. WK The literary quality of his work even earned comparisons to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman. WK Metacritic said it was the best-reviewed album of 2005. WK