It's pouring outside the window on the west side of Manhattan as I write this. I am listening to Sufjan Stevens and trying to think if there is anyone that I'd rather listen to while in the comfort of headphones and shelter from the storm. I have come to the conclusion while searching through my iTunes that only Gillian Welch and Otis Redding are in the running for my favorite rainy day music. But for now, let's talk about Sufjan.
Sufjan Stevens, love him or hate him, is a pretty unique artist of this generation. His overly ambitious fifty states project is, to use a polite phrase, pretentious as hell, and he's floated back and forth from albums about Michigan to Christian folk songs to Christmas songs. He's a different kind of fellow, shy to the point of embarrassment on stage, but with a voice like a saint. The guy is by no means a rock star, but doesn't try to be the anti-rock star either. He's a normal dude (that happens to be extremely good looking) who wears baseball caps and t-shirts that don't fit him.
I loved Michigan and Seven Swans and was more than excited to buy Illinois when it came out last year. I listened to it constantly when I first moved to New York and it played constantly in the office I was working at. At first I was excited that someone was making an album about Illinois, my home state. But after a few listens, I knew that he could have made that album about Gary, Indiana, and it would have been just as beautiful. It was filled with his beautiful lyrics, a shy yet powerful voice, chorus singers, odd measured songs, and was a better version of Michigan. I can't imagine that anyone reading this hasn't heard at least one song from that album as Sufjan has exploded over the past year and he deserves every second of it.
The Avalance is a collection of songs that didn't make it onto Illinois, which is not to say that they weren't "good" enough. This is indeed another album full of songs about Illinois. There are a few different versions of Illinois' centerpiece, "Chicago," which is fine with me. The title track on this "album" is just as good, if not better, than anything on Illinois and not surprisingly, it's "a song intended for the leading role on the Illinois album but eventually cut and placed as a bonus track on the vinyl release," according to Asthmatic Kitty's website.
I won't talk about the album that much as this is an obvious review. If you like Illinois it is virtually impossible that you won't like this collection of songs. The production stays the same, the content stays the same, and the intimacy stays the same. Thanks for this Sufjan. We appreciate it.