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Friday, May 20, 2005
I must admit, I've been a bit confused with people's reactions to the new Sufjan Stevens album ("the one about Illinois"). I'm especially baffled by the idea that the lengthy titles indicate some sort of mental illness. Have you really never seen a McSweeney's? They seem wholly appropriate, drawing on the same filligried Midwestern Victoriana that Chris Ware does, and to similiar effect, i.e. to take some of the air out of the subjects being discussed. Which is nice, although a dry sense of humor wasn't what I was expecting out of a guy who, the first time I saw him live, was drowned out by the band playing next door!

If I had to point you to just one thing, I think it would be the transition between parts one and two on "Come on Feel the Illinoise!" Now, I must admit, if there's a disappointment here, it's the fact that Stevens doesn't really seem to be embracing too much stylistic variation in his trip through these many states, although I do like his "state songs" style much better than the quieter one displayed on Seven Swans. Still, we've been through Detroit and Chicago now, and there didn't seem to be much effort to reference the signature sounds of those cities (unless you want to count the vibraphones as a Tortoise nod).

But this transition is a significant exception. Sure, on either side of it are two fairly standard-issue, if pleasing, Sufjan vamps. In between, though, the break into one of the best little segues I've ever heard, worthy of a whole song for itself, and, although the instrumentation is that of a traditional concert band more than anything else (trumpet, clarinet, vibes, bass, drums, bells, xylophone, flutes), it sounds most like a disco breakdown, a comparison that would be even more obvious if the instruments playing this little part were different.

So, I went ahead and did that. For comparison's sake, here's the original:

Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise Transition Orig.mp3

And here's the electronic version, with a few minor changes (beat and bassline, mainly) but everything else intact except for the instruments used:

Illinoise Transition Electro.mp3

Sure, it's not perfect, but I only spent about an hour on it, so all things considered, it was pretty easy to do. And I love it! Breaking it down like this just made me appreciate it more, and if it doesn't end up being one of my favorite pop moments of the year, well, then, I'm crazy. I think people might be put off Sufjan for some of the choices he makes, especially lyrically and instrumentally, but if a horn-hater like me (sad but true!) can embrace this, I think anyone can.