The album, not the state!
If you read my favorite nine albums of 2005 post, you may have noticed a mini-discussion on Sufjan Stevens' Illinois. The jist of my comments was that I had not heard Illinois yet because I wanted to let the hype around it die down. Illinois was garnering number one on almost every Internet musiczine, and that was just a little too much for a contrite person like me.
That said, I have been following Stevens' music for a long time. I was into Danielson Famile (an extremely wacky band Stevens was in) at the end of the 90s (or as I like to call the 90s, 'the decade that almost made sense') and have followed his solo career throughout the 00s (or as I like to call the 00s, 'the decade where no one gets along that well, and a lot of people are kind of scared'). I was intrigued by the things I heard about Stevens' 2001 album, Enjoy Your Rabbit , thanks to a glowing review from Opuszine.
Somewhere around this time I started DJ'ing at KLSU, LSU's radio station. At KLSU I had access to just about any music I wanted. Steven's 'Michigan' and 'Seven Swans' came out during this period, and while I didn't buy them, I heard all the singles and whatnot and liked them, though Steven's voice, sort of a whispy moan, got on my nerves every now and then.
Upon news of Illinois' release, I came very close to pre-ordering, but decided not to. Unfortunately, the album was immediately recalled due to a dispute with DC Comics over a picture of Superman featured on the cover. Most everyone who pre-ordered got their album, though, and it became a collector's edition. This angered me because:
a. I was mad at myself for not pre-ordering
b. I was pissed that I was going to have to wait to get the album now
When the album finally came out, for whatever reason, I didn't pick it up. It garnered huge critical accolades, and at the end of last year, exploded. This automatically turned me off because I'm a jerk in this regard, and I freely admit that this is a character flaw that for some reason I embrace.
Anyway, as I said I would, I eventually picked up the album. I gave it a month, which is usually a good cooling down period for me.
So what do I have to say?
This is a very good album. Great even. Stevens' voice still irritates me a bit (my own voice irritates me a lot, though, so I think this is a fair statement), but like most items of personal taste, after prolonged exposure, his voice doesn't bother me that much.
If I had heard this album last year, it would most probably have made my top nine (Plus, I'm a sucker for concept albums, so even if the album was not as good as it is, I still would have mentioned it in my 'also' list).
Would I have given it my number one spot?
That spot still belongs to Coldplay's X & Y. I gave Coldplay the 1-spot because I think X & Y is universal, and I do not think Illinois is. Illinois is monumental, but it is not for everyone. The folkish style of the music and Stevens whispery vocals will surely turn off many listeners. While I believe four out of the five members of my family own and enjoy X & Y (and my father DOES NOT buy CD's, so really, I shouldn't even be counting him), only two own and enjoy Illinois.
And on this note, I should clarify that I do not think all music should be universal. That is just stupid. Being such a strange person myself (and certainly somewhat of a loner) I am very happy that there is music catered to my own tastes. I can't imagine many people I know enjoying Portishead, or GYBE!, or even Project 86, but I am so, so happy these bands exist and fill my own musical needs. At the same time, I find attempting to create something universal is also a high goal, and actually being successful at this goal is something I feel I should praise. This is, as I said in the original post, why I gave Coldplay the 1-spot.