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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. Sufjan Stevens, the singer-songwriter behind the endeavor, is an earnest and whimsical young man who aims to record an album based on every state in the union, though this is just his second attempt since 2003's Michigan. Lavish praise has been heaped upon this precocious twenty-something, who weaves personal recollections, historical narratives, and strange facts together to create lush portraits of Midwestern life. It's not maudlin stuff, and the atypical instrumentation (strings, choirs, trumpets, vibes) is beyond gimmick. Halfway through "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.," when Stevens has you feeling true empathy for a serial killer, it's clear that he really is an artist of the highest order. These are weird and lovely middlebrow ditties; we eagerly await the Broadway adaptation. --Mike McGonigal

Subtitled Come On Feel The..., Sufjan Stevens & The Michigan Militia have moved to Illinois (dubbing themselves the Illinoisemakers) but this new album is the same Sufjan we know and love. Fingerpicked ballads of delicate twang, tasteful orchestration, and titles that are murder on the ID3 tags. While this album unmistakably owes its inspiration to the sound of Michigan, Sufjan has managed to take his orchestra-like folk template and expand on it, tapping into unexpected genres and bringing unexpected instruments like strings and woodwinds to the forefront, all while relating tales of the state's history as well as possibly fictional stories about its residents. To sweeten the deal, Sufjan's vocals have also improved some: he's managed to make his thin, meek vocal presence a little more noticeable, and while that doesn't stop him from using members of the quirky Danielson Famile as his own personal choir, it's nice to hear him sound more assured on some of this album's mellower moments. Rough Trade. 2005.

Customer Reviews:

  • Doesn't make me want to visit Illinois.

    Slightly more "umph" than the Michigan CD, but still redundant and boring. A few clever and artistic moments, but not quite an entire album's worth. Playing a diverse array of instruments doesn't really make the songs any more musical. Overall, it's still a pleasant sounding and well-produced CD. Just too many 'da,da,da's, 'oh's, and repetitive chime sounds for me. ...more info
  • Don't buy this CD...
    ...if you need your music in 4/4, with a drumkit dutifully bashing away, and reliable chord changes every two bars or so. Don't buy this if you prefer stadium-friendly bombast. That's all fine of course, I'm just pointing out that you might struggle with this CD.

    If however, you enjoy imaginative, unorthodox compositions, with diverse instrumentation, unusual time signatures and engaging lyrics, I urge you to check out Illinoise.

    I've played this CD a great many times over the last few months and enjoy it more than ever. So many good songs to enjoy.

    Which brings me to my only complaint. 74 minutes is very generous, but it's really too long to create a meaningful sequence. I'd rather have a perfectly-paced 45 minutes.

    I subsequently purchased Greetings from Michigan and Seven Swans and am equally impressed with both....more info
  • Never tire of it
    I don't think I have ever taken the trouble to review anything before, but I feel compelled to promote the talents of Sufjan Stevens. The Copland-like rhythms, the feeling of open spaces, the broad range of subjects and ideas and the memorable melodies urge me to listen to this CD over and over again. I never tire of it. I believe his "Michigan" album reveals itself as a predecessor of "Come Hear the Illinois!" in the melodic schemes, but they mature into an incomparable album here. Also look for Sufjan's "Seven Swans" which has strong and haunting mystical, Christian and just lovely imagery in it, as well as tunes to return to repeatedly. My two favorites. I look forward to the next album!...more info
    I'll say this Mr. Stevens:

    Go on with yo' Sufjan self.

    Me, I am a fan.

    One bad*ss album my friend!...more info
  • What a great talent, and what a special record.
    Sufjan Stevens has a rare overflow of artistic vision, and this record is a terrific flash of that vision. He flows seemlessly from get-happy, upbeat numbers to stunningly somber ones (like Gacy). What's more, it seems like he made an effort to capture some of the essence of Illinois in his selection of subject matters.

    I can't wait for future works from this talented young man....more info
  • Like Michigan, only more polished!
    Less of a rainy-day feel to this album than to the Michigan album. As always, Sufjan's song titles crack me up. And then his music delights me and makes me laugh. Sheesh, that sounds cheesy. It's a good CD....more info
  • Interesting, but not the music....
    Some clever stuff...but as far as music goes, I just can't bring myself to enjoy it (with the possible exception of Night Zombies). It escapes me why this has shown up on so many best of 2005 lists....more info
  • Great Album
    Great Album from start to finish! I mean, you need to like Sufjan, whose music is so different and unconventional as it is. If you're not open to his brand of indi rock then you may not like it. BUT for those of us that enjoy progressive music, you'll love it!...more info
  • Great CD
    Not a lot on here that hasn't been said already. I will say, though, that there are not very many albums that I listen to anymore that I immediately like on first listen. Illinoise was one I was already clapping to by the end of my first run-through. Some terrific highs and lows, a few humdrum musical parts in between, but in the end these just add to the ambiance of the album. And after repeated listens I still hold this album in very high regard.

    On another note, watching Sufjan perform these songs in concert (with I believe it was a 13-piece band) was absolutely tremendous. Definitely a worthwhile live show....more info
  • Bland?
    Sufjan Stevens "Illinoise" is not worth the price of admission to this so called tour of Chicago. His main strength is his musicality and for that he gets 2 stars since he decided to start singing along with the music. By the time I got to the song about the crazy killer clown the world knows as gacy I had already formed my initial opinion, which is: Bland Music, uneventful, and certainly not cutting edge! Dedicating a song to this clown somehow made me think less of Mr. Stevens, his lyrics a little muddled, who cares where he drew his inspiration for this particular tune when in the end it sucks big oranges! Let's just say that is not one of those albums that you proudly play to everyone you know! There are far too many Hotties out there that Mr. Stevens is gonna have to sit this one out. And I hear he is going around the country picking different locales for his concept albums? Good Luck with that plan but I must go, Sam, where the grass is greener and the sun shines above the pounding waves. Give me music with Soul anytime of the day, is what I say! For those who treasure Sufjan Stevens, and of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions, may I suggest not rated so high next time? Just kidding! I bought it therefore is a keeper and will listen to it again when it gets mixed with a 1,000 other songs and who knows? Maybe the Blandness will reveal itself to be something more complex and appealing but at this juncture 2 stars for Sufjan Stevens. Why did I ever think it would even compete with the best out there? Probably by the so many kind reviews it received! PS: Today is February 2008 and even though this might mean very little I have to say that upon further listening to this CD I have changed from 2 Stars to 4 Stars. Yes, it did get to me and since fair is fair I rate it now 4 Stars, even if no one else notices this revision or cares, for that matter. Not too Shabby, not too shabby.......more info
  • This is over rated fluff
    I think that the creativity and uniqueness of these wispy songs (all focused on Illinois issues) overshadows the basic premise of popular music which is that it must be listenable.

    This is a novelty work rather than a cd you can listen to repeatedly.It is not as good as depicted by the critics ...more info
  • Sweet and Honest Music-Making
    It's really hard to put Sufjan's music into a category. I suppose folk music is close - but it has a unique cadence which is hard to really define. This is perhaps why I love this music so much. Sufjan's voice is incredibly sweet and clear, and the music is gentle without ever once being insipid or dull. The blend of instruments at times creates an almost magical feel - banjo, oboe, strings, horn. The chorus of voices on some of the tracks is also clear and cool, as in "They are the Night Zombies."
    This album is dedicated to the state of Illinois, and there has also been one of Michigan. I guess it was probably too ambitious to do one for each state, and I think he has abandoned that idea - but the concept works well on this one. It has a city feel and there is a twinge of nostalgia in some of the songs. Mostly, however, the lyrics are unsentimental but thoughtful.
    This is the kind of music to listen to late at night, or early in the morning when you get up and are fixing a cup of coffee. It goes with the chirping of crickets, or the early morning twitter of birds. Relax and enjoy it - it is therapeutic. I found it inspiring and would highly recommend it. ...more info
  • Best Album Ever about the State of Illinois
    Don't get me wrong. This is a great album. He accomplishes exactly what he set out to do with uncanny ease: to produce the most non-threatening album ever made about the state of Illinois. Hell, it's even more non-threatening than the only band ever named after a city in Illinois. And that's saying a lot. I have to question when popular music took this turn into being completely innocent and non-confrontational. With Third Eye Blind? The Gin Blossoms? John Mayer? James Blunt? The fact is Sufjan and his ilk are a marketing campaign away from being VH1 darlings, a la Mayer and Blunt. It's music girls can play in their air-conditioned Camrys on the way to the office. It's music thier boyfriends can play while internally struggling with their buried homosexuality. And while the songs can be irresistibly catchy and it's produced beautifully, the whole preciousness of the album turns me off. Rock and roll is supposed to be threatening. And folk music? Folk music has its roots in confrontation, in questioning the status quo. This is where I get completely flabber-gasted by this "new folk" misnomer. Its not folk. It's like really well-produced alternative Mayer-rock. And that's it. Its not a bad thing or a good thing, really, I just think the praise being heaped on Sufjan is coming from the wrong angle. And for that I'm giving a great album- in all it's sterile, innocent beauty- two stars....more info
  • What music has been missing
    Although Sufjan Stevens has been around for several albums, his musical influence has not been felt as deeply as it should have been. He breathes fresh air into music and makes albums that defy classification.

    Many of the tracks on 'Illinoise' have a way of reaching inside and staying with you in a manner that is difficult to find in music. Many evoke emotions that are difficult, if not impossible, to commit to paper. 'John Wayne Gacy Jr.' is a particular haunting track. It is testament to Sufjan Stevens' talent that he manages to make a song about a serial killer sound moving and seemingly sympathetic.

    With lyrics that occasionally meander through U.S. history and beats to match, 'Illinoise' can sometimes feel like a throwback to the music of bygone decades. Perhaps the track 'The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts' is most typical of Stevens' eclecticism. Here he switches back and forth between his own harmonious sound and that of a church choir as well as a drum backing that sounds like something from a White Stripes album.

    It remains to be seen whether Stevens will follow through on his promise to make an album in each of the 50 states of the U.S. However if he does it will be to the massive benefit of the listening public....more info
  • Mixed Bag
    The album as a whole doesn't always make the grade, but aspects of it I found well worth the price of admission. For example, I found Casimir Pulasky Day overwhelmingly heartfelt and John Wayne Gacy, Jr haunting.

    The negative posts on this album repeatedly complain that Gacy fails to create sympathy... that doesn't seem to be the intent; rather, the intent seems to me to point out the common depravity of human nature. Call it trite if you want, but if you find that you can't see your own fa?ade covered ugliness you are in denial.

    Some melodies, after several listens, reveal an interesting complexity; one reviewer stated that "nobody would be humming this at work," which is only true if you didn't' listen to it more than twice or you don't recognize melodies more complex than the latest pop song. Unfortunately several of the tunes are simplistic, repetitive, poorly orchestrated and consequently not "hum-worthy."

    A mixed bag, but ultimately my life is richer having listened to it 30 some times then it would have been had I never heard of it at all. ...more info
  • Is Sufjan Stevens a Genius?
    No matter how dark his subject matter (serial killers, assassinated presidents, etc.), Sufjan Stevens' bouyant melodies and soundscapes carry the listener happily along. I have my issues with the album (hence the 4 stars): he seems to take himself too seriously, the choruses can sound a little too much like Polyphonic Spree, and so many musical interludes begin to feel like filler. However, the whimsical tone does not undermine his literate lyrics and the tunes are so catchy and memorable that my 6 year-old daughter can often be heard singing "Chicago"....more info
  • Exceeds the hype
    There are plenty of fans well-versed in the buzz of breakthrough musical acts who may feel repelled by Sufjan Steven's seemingly folksy hubris. The long song titles, soft-hearted folk balladeer reputation and overly-ambitious goal of releasing 50 albums that represent each US state seem to create an image of simple hype for a wimpy prodigy praised for his youth and prolificacy.

    The solution, as with any bad impression you get of a praised figure in the pop echelon, is to listen to it, of course. The sincerity immediately shines through the appearance of snootiness, as fully developed and realized songwriting; a lush, imaginative palate of instruments; and a choirlike swirl of backup singing serve as a backdrop for Stevens' gentle, unobtrusive voice to deliver the listener epicly personal lyrics. The elements build together to feel anthemic, urgent and angelic.

    Illinois is, without a doubt, worth a listen. Despite the personal feel and melancholy tone there are spots of elation along with the humor of the longwinded titles to keep the world knowing that Sufjan Stevens isn't out to shower you with remorse or emotional turmoil, but instead to offer a glimmering look at the joys of life and the knowledge of self-worth....more info
  • Jesus would listen
    WTF. It's pronounced IlliNOY. Not IlliNOISE. I'd give this album -5 stars if I could. I bet if I tried to give it 1 star, Amazon wouldn't post it, because they want to inflate their big pockets with money from consumers who read their favorable reviews and then get in line to add more money to the pockets of the Amazon superheavy moneybags guys.

    This album is awesome. I really like the guitars. I think every record album should have more guitars. And not those little Hawaiian guitars, but those big pointy ones like in hair metal videos. Double the fun if there are two guitars in one. Sextuple the fun if the guitars are neon green. Sufjan Stevens reminds me of my friend, Patrick. He goes to Illinois for college. I don't know how many instruments he can play....more info
  • Brah?
    What in tarnation is this? And who listens to this? Are you like rolling down the street with your windows down. Yo check it. Sufjan...kicking it out. Heck no. I would be embarrased to have anyone see me and hear these sounds. It's like...I don't even a bad production of Jesus Christ Super Star. ?
    I can't even beleive it. I feel like an idiot listneing to this garbage. Who rocks it like this.? Where do they find these people.
    And there are like mad people dying in Africa and stuff...what would they think of you if they saw you listening to this...They would know that they are really going to die. Oh no. Look at those crazy Americans. We are dead for sure now. No way they are gonna help us, when they can't even help themselves.

    ...more info
  • Originally Amazing...
    ...Sufjan Stevens is the only artist known to man who has embarked on a project this expansive. this is his second album in a series of recordings based on each of the fifty states. the different melodic techniques he uses are accessible to nearly anyone who takes the time to listen. his songs go from driving, pulsing beats such as the track "they are zombies" to the beautifully poetic "predatory wasps of the palisades." this album is a change from his previous album on the state of michigan which was mostly carried by a folk influence. if you have not yet heard of sufjan stevens, it will not belong until you become one of the elite cadre sharing the revelation that you've become a party to....more info
  • Perfect
    Sufjan Stevens puts a lump in my throat....

    I feel both sad and happy when I listen to either Illinois, Michigan or any of the great songs this wonderful man has written.
    Look for Lord God Bird, a song he wrote for NPR about Arkansas...

    Sufjan is an indescribable feeling to me.......more info
  • I think you all missed the point.
    I have been reading the reviews on here and to the one and two star ratings I say, I think you missed the point. Sufjan is not trying to wow anyone, he's not trying to be "hip" or "progressive" he is being himself. This is a singer/songwriter to the core. He's not trying to make people feel empathy for Gacy. He is saying that when we all look deep inside ourselves, we are all just sinners. This an amazing Cd from a twenty something artist that has been making his folky/jazzy music for years now. I strongly recommend his earlier music also. Try "Dumb I sound" on his debut "A Sun Came" it is one of the most haunting songs I have ever heard, and I have heard ALOT of songs. One thing I have noticed about Steven's music is that no matter what mood I am in, I can turn on his music and drift away. Highly Recommended Cd. Standout Tracks. "Decatur", "They are night zombies", "Casimir Pulaski Day"...more info
  • Top of the Class
    Some may say there are similarities emerging within Sufjan's catalogue, but this only strengthens the hold he has on his audience. This is a smashing mix of rock, pop, folk, ballad and quirky asides. There are alpine highs and submarine lows as well as pure hair raising moments ("John Wayne Gacy Jr). Its a beautiful thing to behold....more info
  • One of the Best Albums Ever Made
    Each time I listen to this album, I'm left speechless. Every single selection is so carefully crafted, and no matter how unconventional, the entire album has matchless originality, sincerity, and musical integrity. It is really unlike anything I've ever heard.

    I feel like Sufjan is directly communicating with the listener throughout every song. He has pushed me to research almost every aspect of the state of Illinois throughout the CD. His incorporation of both personal and historical elements is masterful. For example, the content matter of "Casimir Pulaski Day" seems to have nothing to do the title holiday unique to Illinois, until I noticed one of the last lines of the song, where he discreetly references remembering his lost friend "on the holiday". But he makes that subtle reference the title of his song, and it is nothing but appropriate. And "They Are Night Zombies!! . . ." seems like the most bizarre, far-out, self-indulgent piece of music, and it is, but it mentions a huge range of cities in the title state throughout the song, as well as some goosebump-worthy lyrics of a man speculating about death.

    The instrumental songs somehow also incorporate the same elements as the songs with lyrics. How could I bring myself to skip over "A Short Reprise for Mary Todd. . .", a tribute to Lincoln's wife, when the chords just hauntingly melt into one another?

    Sufjan Stevens' uses a very effective minimalist approach, where he spells out a simple if unusual musical theme as many times as he can with appropriate variations within each song. Therefore, his music feels comfortable and appropriate to the listener. I have never heard another artist so capable both technically and musically. I hope that every one who listens to this album can feel what I feel, because no album that I have ever listened to has spoken to me like this album has....more info
  • Yep, he's a genius
    This is one of those Masterpieces of Art that slowly grows in you. Original and inspired, honest, humorous and full of emotion, all at the same time without being pretentious. Can be listened to again and again, since every song is full of layers - if you know what I mean.

    The only sad thing is that this was the first album I heard from the guy, so when I listened to 'Michigan' I was rather disappointed. That one is ok, but you don't yet see the genius that is to be found in this one.

    (I really like 'The Predatory Wasps of the Palisades' (track 15) and 'Come on! Feel the Illinoise' (track 3), btw.)...more info
  • Rewards with time and patience.
    Ok where to begin. I am some what astonished by the few reviews I have read for this album that have been negative (i.e. 2 stars or lower). Not because "oh these people are idiots, or this music is just to much for them" but precisely the opposite reason. There were a few reviews that were 2 stars or lower from people who wrote somewhat intelligent and thoughtful comments. My advice to these people is to just give this some time to sink in. I know that it is not above these people, and If they give it a few extra listens it will eventually catch them.

    I first purchased Michigan, and gave it 2 full listens, and shared almost identical feelings with a few of these reviewers. "This music is technically good, but no soul, or passion", I remember thinking one time. On another occasion "This is good; in that his lyrics are ok, but not fantastic, music is composed well, but not groundbreaking, and at the end of the day, it just lacks the confrontation and balls that indie rock and rock in general should have!" "Why would anyone think this holds a candle compared to Arcade Fire?" I have certainly come around since then, and well yes, admittedly, it does not trump Arcade Fire, it is certainly not beyond reproach for some one to think differently.

    All that being said, the scope of ideas contained with in Illinois encompass all that Michigan did, and then some. On top of that he pulls this off on an album that is much more fluid and seamless. Often I will look up at my cdp to find the disc already on track 17 when I would have assumed it was on track 12. As I have become more familiar with this album, of course this has stopped happening since I know that "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!"is track 16 so obviously its past track 12 for instance. The whole point of this album is to display compositions and ideas in such an original way and keep us entertained well doing so to the point that at the end of it, we do feel transported to a different time and place. The astonishing thing here is that Sufjan pulls this off with such aplomb that it nearly seems effortless.

    Get it, listen, then listen again, if it still hasn't struck you, let it lie around and when you are bored with music, throw it back on, and be prepared to enter a whole new world of ideas. Be prepared to enter Illinois!
    ...more info
  • Come on, feel the chills
    This is not an album that will grab you on first listen. But give it a few spins, and it is sure to blow you away. It is so good, it gives me chills. An astounding work of art....more info
  • On the Music of Sufjan Stevens
    Frankly, the music of Sufjan Stevens is a bit too twee and precious for my everyday tastes, but I'll be the first to admit that he comes close to touching something that exists in all of us -- that innate and intangible sense of "place" and "home" the likes of which famed authors John Steinbeck and Thomas Wolfe respectively attempted to dispel and recapture. This is more than simple reportage and anecdote; it's nothing less than a youthful attempt to get one's arms around the unifying spirit of, what seems obvious to Stevens, this "nation under God" -- something for both believers and agnostics to appropriately ponder....more info
  • An album for the head and the heart
    I'd heard a great deal about Sufjan Stevens here on Amazon. What really hooked me was the album Illinoise, which features as its first song a tale of the UFO sighting in 2000 over Highland, Illinois. I live in Missouri, near St. Louis, so I remember the news reports. Anyways, curiousity rewards this listener with an entire album's worth of very fine music. To keep my review simple and not repeat what others have already said (and very well indeed), I'll just say Sufjan Stevens is a brilliant artist who will make you think and make you feel. Illinoise is an outstanding album and a great place to start if you'd never heard him before. Very much worth the money. 5 stars....more info
  • Audacious and Spacious (yet down to earth)
    Stevens' bold plan to concoct an album of songs inspired by each of the 50 U.S. states might be unattainable, but "Illinois," the second installment in the series, is strong enough to represent the border regions of Indiana and Iowa, too. Airy vocals, exquisite orchestration, eclectic instrumentation and the unlikely pairing of schizophrenic arrangements with catchy hooks helped to make it the top-rated 2005 release on online review aggregator MetaCritic. The sparse accordion, banjo and electric guitar ode to Decatur is one of my favorites....more info
  • What's the point?
    I don't ususally write reviews to put things down, figuring that if I don't like something, perhaps I just don't get it, so I should keep thoughts to myself. But this album topped so many critics lists for 2005 that I feel compelled to comment: It's just not that good. It's not that I don't get it. Yes there are a lot of clever things going on, and I've really tried to like it. But what does it all add up to? What's the point? Try as I might, I find it boring and tedious. For me it completely lacks any true soul of what music should be about and be trying to say. I realize that is a personal observation, so you may still really like this. For me, I'll stick with my own favorite of 2005, "You Could Have It So Much Better" by Franz Ferdinand. I guess I like to get my fill of clever lyrics with rocking guitars and cool dance beats rather than flute recorders and choirs....more info
  • Experimental Artist
    I've never heard of Sufjan Stevens until recently, when one of his songs was played on an independent radio station in Seattle. I was absolutely captivated and had to hear more. I bought the album and was so impressed. This man can play every instrument and has a quiet, lullaby voice. He is pure talent and I enjoy his music everyday. If you like musicians who experiment with style and are thoughtful lyricists - this album is for you. ...more info
  • 2 stars for cleverness
    but you get the feeling he wrote the songs as an afterthought to clever titles.

    maybe clever the first time through, but I can't imagine why you'd listen again....more info
  • So THIS is what all the fuss is about...
    Great stuff. Different. Half of this album feels like you've stumbled into a grade 6 concert band/choir rehearsal. I'm on my second run through and I'm enjoying it more than the first. Definitely worth purchasing, if you want something a little more off the map. His voice... transports. That's a good thing....more info
  • great for the work at home artist
    This lovely album kept me company for hours of sketching and painting. Great, intelligent lyrics, and mellow but upbeat music make this the ideal artists companion. I'll definitely check out more of Sufjan Stevens work....more info