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Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens

A July 18 post from the Web site of Sufjan Stevens’ record label, regarding his new album Illinois, which was released July 5:

“We’re very sorry, but the new pressing of ‘Illinois’ will not arrive until July 26th-28th, and we’ve sold out of the first pressing. You may be able to find it at a local or online store, but if not, please check back. Thanks for visiting our website!”

For the week ending with July 9, Waterloo Records in Austin had the new record ranked as its number one bestseller. By July 12, they were completely sold out of the album. The new issue of Rolling Stone magazine has a lead review of Illinois, and it earns four stars.

All of this gets to the point that right now, this very minute, you’re witnessing the emergence of the next indie rock star. Stevens is only 30 years old, from Detroit and now lives in Brooklyn, and he’s developed momentum with two previous releases: 2003’s Greetings From Michigan and 2004’s Seven Swans. Both of these albums were strong in their own right. The former, an ambitious beginning to Stevens’ proposed 50 albums for 50 states project. The latter is a whimsical – and sometimes very Christian – folkie opus.

In the indie rock world, he’s been known primarily for the sometimes religious undertones in his work. And, not surprisingly, that has scared off many indie rock devotees. With Illionois, though, it’s going to be very very hard for those same people to stay away. The new album returns to the “50 states” project, but marries the indie rock opera of Michigan (think Polyphonic Spree) with the subtle curves of Seven Swans (think Bright Eyes).

Illinois will undoubtedly be named one of the best albums of 2005, by year’s end. It’s an engaging, adventurous piece of work. Every track blossoms with smart lyrics and smarter arrangements. At one moment, it feels like The Arcade Fire. Another moment, it feels like The Flaming Lips. Either way, it feels like something flammable. Chronicling various characters and locales in Illinois, the songs feature hard-to-remember titles like “Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step Mother!” and “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.” What’s inside those songs, however, will not be easy to forget.

The religious subtext is easy to overlook, but regardless, not overbearing or arbitrary. Stevens is telling a story, and his story happens to be about American spirituality. But, it’s also about UFOs, Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandburg, and Superman. Don’t think you know what to expect by Illinois. Fans of his earlier work will find it easy to love, but it’s also so far above and beyond anything Sufjan Stevens has done before. If you’re the kind of music fan that seeks out new classics, Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois delivers “classic” over 22 beautiful tracks.

But, there’s more. From his bio:
“Sufjan’s other interests include graphic design, painting, running, knitting, crocheting, weaving, quilting, cleaning, photography, haircutting, and dry wall installation. He collects stamps and wheat pennies. He cooks legendary omelets and can whip up a sushi feast at the drop of a sake glass. In high school he played second string guard on a district champion basketball team and created his own language, now spoken by only two other people.”

Give Illinois a few more weeks, allow some time to be re-stocked in stores, and many more people will be speaking his language.

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