Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Number One

Acoustic guitar, piano, wurlitzer, electric bass, drum kit, electric guitar, oboe, alto saxophone, flute, banjo, glockenspiel, accordion, vibraphone, recorder, casiotone MT-70, sleigh bells, shakers, tambourine, triangle, electric church organ and vocals. One man performed all those instruments on one triumphant record. Sujfan Stevens Invites You to: Come On Feel The Illinoise! (or Illinoise for short) by Sufjan Stevens is the greatest record of the decade and my generation. If you’ve noticed the trend, the things that I connect to home, are my personal favorites. If you were ask my dad what the greatest state in the union is, you would have to put a gun to his head before he’d say Illinois (even then, I’m pretty sure he’d take the bullet). To me, that’s okay. Rod Blagovsafkjgawiugasvbitch makes us look bad, but who cares. Illinois is the best state because is has so much history: Lincoln, The Great Fire, the Cubs, Al Capone, Frank Lloyd Wright, ect. ect. Illinoise celebrates the grand history of the state, good and bad. It’s something to marvel when you can a.) keep listener’s attention with songs/stories about a state b.) make those stories feel personal to the listener and c.) create a record that makes modern listeners excited, even when it’s so heavily anchored in classical music. Even it’s more playful moments, Illinoise is beautiful from start to finish. My favorite thing about the core of Sufjan’s songwriting is the humane details in his lyrics. I remember the line “In the morning/through the window shade/When the light pressed up against your shoulder blade/I could see what you were reading” stuck out in my mind. As a songwriter, I tried to recreate it, but Sufjan has a special gift of being aware of the little beauties in life. So the least I could do was to notice the little beauties in his music. The strange time signature and the smooth transitions to common ones. The orchestration, the harmonies, the silly lyrics that don’t seem so silly by songs end. Like I said, he doesn’t hide the shame Illinois has. We’re reminded of John Wayne Gacy and the things he’s done. The strange thing I’ve always felt with this song is that Sufjan seems to be understanding of Gacy. Maybe not the actual things he did, but more so the monster he became. It’s a strange element of the song, and it’s one that haunts you long after the fact.

I have a friend who I never see anymore. We were in music theory together in high school and he showed me Sufjan Stevens. After a few days, I came back to him and sung my praises. I was pretty baffled when he offered me tickets to see Sufjan Stevens...the next day...for free. No time to prepare! I didn’t know the words to many of his songs! People would stare! Oh, the horror! That proved to be meaningless as the next day, my musical life would be greatly altered. One by one, the band came out, all wearing these large nondescript wings. Then to my great shock, an orchestra come out, also with wings. After awhile, one last man came out: Sufjan.

Everyone has a good cry to a sappy song now and again, but never have I ever cried to due instrumental music. Well, Sufjan and his orchestra were so perfect, I cried. Twice. The Seven Swans track, “Sister”, and Illinoise track, “The Predatory Wasp Of Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” Why is this important? Well, it shows the great strength of Sufjan’s music and the great strength of music in general. Whether or not you, dear reader, and I agree on this album or any album on my list, we can agree that music is a powerful thing that gets us through life (amongst a few other essential things).

“Oh, Great Goat, the curse you gave us

Oh, Great Ghost, protect and save us

Oh, Great River, green with envy

Oh, Jane Addams, spirit send thee

Oh Great Illinois”

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