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Come On Feel The Illinoise—9  


Released: 2005

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!"
-Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition
-Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream

06 A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But for Very Good Reasons
07 DECATUR, or, Round of Applause for Your Step Mother!
08 One Last "Woo-hoo!" for the Pullman
11 To the Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region, I have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament
12 The Man of METROPOLIS Steals Our Hearts
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!! Ahhhhh!
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
-Part I: The Great Frontier
-Part II: 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

(Yep…that’s the actual track listing). 


The album begins with the sound of a door opening, and like Dorothy opening the door to the Technicolor world of “Oz,” you are in for a beautiful, surreal, uncertain, and tuneful journey.  On “Illinois,” Sufjan Stevens’s second album in his insanely ambitious One Album for Each of the Fifty States Project, the author takes a giant leap forward.  A sonic, charismatic, movie-for-the-ears leap forward.  Almost everything about this album is so enthralling; managing to be both challenging and welcoming.  Like a historical cinematic epic, the album is too long when you look at the actual minutes and seconds, but just sit back, grab and soda and some snacks, and let yourself take evrything in.   


Whether they are backed with head bopping banjo pop, orchestrated travel sounds, majestic choir voices with structured harmonies, or electric campfire anthems, Stevens dutifully namedrops all things Illinois in the lyrics, and eardrops enough heartwarming melodies to better most artists’ entire career.  Each tune seems to build into the next…almost as if you are driving across the state, compiling all that it has to offer.  Individually, the tracks are fascinating, but listening to them separately is missing the entire essence of the album.  An essence that is as unique as it is captivating.                


Concerning the UFO Sighting near Highland, Illinois” gets things off to an otherworldly start, with calming piano, swirling birdlike orchestration, and two minutes of sheer mood.  Stevens’s voice is just so inviting, made even more so by the gorgeous harmonies.  The Black Hawk War” is another two-minute mood piece, this time without words… it cleverly intermingles a strange chorus, with high-pitched horns, and a marching beat of triumph and sadness, exactly demonstrating a war.  These two numbers act as an introduction, wearily welcoming you into Stevens’s unique case study.       


The first major piece of work and first real glimpse into Stevens’s realm is the amazingly titled, “Come on! Feel the Illinoise!  This track recalls the sound of the best parts of “Greetings From Michigan” as it is a seven-minute epic, with so many voices, so many directions, so many instruments, and so many emotions that all just blend together into one all encompassing, mesmerizing classic.  You can’t listen to it with any hope of following along or trying to figure out its patterns or melodies…just sit back and let it transport you to Stevens’s version of Illinois.  And at your first stop on his vision, your heart gets ripped out with “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.  This delicate, moving, absolutely stunning piano and guitar ballad is Stevens at his most touching.  The lyrics act as a biography to Gacy, but cleverly compare all of us to the killer in the final verse.  After hearing it for the first time, I was shell-shocked…and writing this, after hearing it dozens of times, I’m still just bowled over by such a deplorable, but accurate sentiment, in which the listener actually feels understanding for a serial killer.  And that “Oh my Goddddddddd” hook is kneeweakingly gorgeous.


The next stop on Stevens’s tour takes you to “Jacksonville.”  This tune displays an other side to Illinois with its five-minute backwoods, banjo groove.  The fragile orchestration is, as always, perfect, as are the strange background vocals and haunting aura.  Out of nowhere, energetic horns play happy sounding harmonies that are completely out of place, but still work, adding to the unusual mood.  The banjo continues on “Decatur,” but here it is joined by an organ, and a more bluegrass approach, showing you more cluttered musical roots of Illinois.  Your head can’t sit still on this bouncy pop, mid tempo, good time number, with ridiculous lyrics.  The applause at the end is the perfect coda and lead directly into the centerpiece of the album, the aptly urban, “Chicago.”  Pete Townshendish…clever and catchy instrumentation, rolling choruses, heartfelt and beautiful vocals, unbelievable structure and flow… put this kid on your new favorite artist list and tell a friend.


Casimir Pulaski Day,” follows and features a singsong, but harrowingly effective melody and story lyrics about first girlfriends and innocence that eventually turns drastic and all wrong.  Eerily, the poppy melody continues on throughout the lyrical shift in mood.  After a short, somewhat creepy Spanish atmospheric piece, “The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts” comes riffing in.  Hard rock… punk relative to its company…this song starts off thrashing, but slowly shifts to the normal Stevens hymn: beautiful and tuneful.  But then halfway through, the ROCK returns and kicks the tune onto another level…another other side…a pounding electrical side with a choir.  The Wayne’s World “dit-a-loo…dit-a-loo…dit-a-loo…” ending makes way for the wind-chimey, scary, Munchkin chant, with battle drums, and Disney production of “Prairie Fire That Wanders About.”  This is two-minutes of absurdity that I can’t get enough of…         


Forty-six minutes into the album (barely halfway through), “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us” musically does sound like a soundtrack to a wasp chasing you, which Stevens uses as a strange metaphor for falling in love with your same-sex best friend.  The lyrics are fascinating; leaving large gaps in the story but telling it completely, while the music seamlessly matches the affair, producing yet another winner.  As if responding to the forbidden tale of loss, “They Are Night Zombies!!…” comes creeping in, with a tight, R&B strut, and female Zombie chanting.  Are you kidding me?  Who the hell is this guy and what the fuck is this song?  It absolutely rules in all its eeriness and is so utterly different from the rest of the record.  I’m not sure what it has to do with Illinois, but then again, this is just a record of observation, not understanding. 


The Seer’s Tower” is a doom laden piano track with sinister, angelic chanting.  What is going on?  Things are getting religiously disturbing pretty quick with Zombies and this song about Emanuel and gravesites.  I’m starting to want to get the hell out of this side of Illinois, and go back to the cartoon music before I freak.  Luckily, “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders” brings back the earlier, lush, happy sound.  It is nothing short of great, but the track is seven minutes long and is already an hour into the album.  Plus, “Part II” is a little frightening like the previous numbers, but does create an enormous build up to the ending line, “It can only start with you.”  This would be a fitting final, but it is unfortunately ruined by an unnecessary, closing, five-minute, warped piano piece that only helps to take away from close to perfection


Although the record ends on an anticlimactic note, Sufjan Stevens has surely created an awe-inspiring masterpiece with this cyclic album.  Rumor has it that Oregon and Maine are up next in his conceptual project, but it really doesn't matter... Based on the first two albums, I will be buying all Sufjan Stevens’s subsequent records regardless if he continues with this inspiration or not.  Come on Feel the Illinoise” earned him that small piece of homage with its night out at the movies atmosphere and Oscar worthy performance.      

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