From Beyonce’s Lemonade to Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, the volume of uber successful concept albums is at an all time high. No present day concept albums however, draw any remote similarity to Sufjan Stevens’ 2005 indie-folk classic Illinois. Both this album and Stevens’ 2003 album Michigan were promoted as part of a “50 states” album series, though Stevens admitted years later that the series was a complete hoax designed to attract publicity. Regardless, Stevens fondly dedicates every song in Illinois to the cultural ecology of the prairie state, which he heavily researched through societal visits, secondary testimonies, and historical text. The extensive exploration is represented in strange and off-putting song titles, each of which are essentially full sentences that illustrate a vivid story though intentional descriptive overkill. Those elongated tracks names are also representative of Stevens’ abnormal investigative vision in production. His layered experimentation reflects the work of a orchestral composer rather than a musician, transforming the genre of folk into a work of art which required a staggering 8 to 10 members to perform on tour.
Sure, music preferences are driven by opinion, but Illinois has nearly enough critical acclamation to support a god damn doctorate thesis. How praised could an album you’ve likely never heard of possibly be, you ask? Where do I start…
Illinois was ranked by the NPR music show “All Things Considered” as both the best album of 2005, as well as one of the 50 most important recording of the decade. Similarly, the music critiquing source Pitchfork Media rated Illinois as the best album of 2005 and one of the top 20 Albums of the 2000s. Amazon.com also rated the album #2 in the Editor’s picks for the Best Albums of 2015. The album is labeled as one of the “100 Albums That You Must Own In Your Collection” by renowned vinyl record subscription service Vinyl Me Please, while Rolling Stone Magazine also rates it in the top 100 albums of the 00’s. Need I go on?
Favorite Tracks: Casimir Pulaski Day; Chicago; Concerning the UFO sighting near Highland, Illinois; Jacksonville; Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step-Mother!; The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts