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 The Avalanche - Sufjan Stevens
The Avalanche Title:
Artist:
Year:
Tracks:
The Avalanche
Sufjan Stevens
2006
21

Sufjan Stevens has to be one of the most ambitions musicians of all time, as currently he is embarking on an attempt to make an album for every state in America, which is 50 in total, 6 more than Bob Dylan has managed to release in over 40 years. Last year he completed the second record in his epic undertaking wih the multi-award winning indie gem Come on Feel the Illinoise, or Illinios for short; (the album art also sneaks in a cheeky reference to the previous record, in that Sufjan is wearing what looks like a Superman cape, as on the cover of Illinios Superman had to be removed from the cover due to legal issues.) And this year he has decided to try and emulate the success of debatedly the best album of last year by releasing a collection of outakes and extras from the aforementioned album.

Luckily the album rarely sounds as though it is just a collection of songs bunged together with no real care or precision, but instead it seems as well planned out as Sufjan's previous efforts. Even though it seems from the song titles; such as Carlyle Lake and Pittsfield; that the album is merely going to consist of descriptions of places and events in lyrical form set to backing music Sufjan does not take the easy way out. Instead he writes insightful songs about love, family, death and the whole spectrum of human emotions, using the state merely for occasional points of reference when relevant.

The album opens fittingly up with the title track The Avalanche, it is a stereotypically Sufjan Stevens track, with guitars and banjos opening the song, building up to an orchestral finish. It is an apt opening to a record that isn't a typical Sufjan album, as it contains a wider variety of songs than Illinios did. Probably the smartest move was to include songs that are a lot more pop based than Illinios, like Adlai Stevenson, but there are some more interesting inclusions in the album with the Stereolab-esque Dear Mr. Supercomputer, in which Sufjan even manages to find emotion in machines. In addition to poppier sounding songs there is also a Fleetwood Mac reference in the album in the track Carlyle Lake with the lyrics; "Oh stop thinking about tomorrow. Don’t stop thinking about today."

"...great music that fans of Sufjan Stevens will enjoy
listening to over and over again..."

It is hard to imagine that these songs weren't good enough for Illinios because some of them are absolutely brilliant. Personally I belive that The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself) is easily better than some of the songs on Illinios if not all of them, which makes you wonder why Sufjan decided to leave this track for the extras. The song details a portrait of a dysfunctional family set to simple guitar and banjo riffs and is easily one of the highlights of the album. Listening to this and other excellent songs such as Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair, shows you how hard a job Sufjan Stevens must have had when he was making choices regarding what to leave out of the Illinios.

From Illinios probably the best known of all the songs, and arguably the best, is Chicago, which has now even be referenced in a Snow Patrol line; "Put Sufjan Stevens on; and we'll play your favorite song; "Chicago" bursts to life"; bringing the song to a whole new set of potential fans. On this album there are three separate versions of said song from the beautiful acoustic version, to the wonderfully weird 'Multiple Personality Disorder Version', to the quite average; ' Adult Contemporary Listening Version'. The 'Multiple Personality Disorder Version' not only has the weirdest most unique namebut also is so bizarre in comparison to the original Chicago that you will want to listen to it multiple times in an attempt to completely understand its abnormality. The 'Multiple Personality Disorder' isn't the only quirkily named song on the album, the album includes other mouthfuls like The Vivian Girls Are Visited In the Night By Saint Dargarius And His Squadron Of Benevolent Butterflies, which appears on the record just before the brilliant acoustic version of Chicago.

The album doesn't have the musical consistency of Illinios with some songs considerably better than others, but there is still a decent amount of great music that fans of Sufjan Stevens will enjoy listening to over and over again and trying to figure out which songs match up to which other songs on Illinios. It isn't the ideal choice to give to someone wanting to discover Sufjan but more a record for those that already know him and his music well. Overall in comparison to Illinios it isn't as strong a record, but it would be surprising to see Sufjan Stevens get the best album of the year for two years running, even with his musical skill and ability, not to mention his knack for writing beatiful songs.


The Avalanche

Buy The Avalanche - Sufjan Stevens now at Play.com
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