Half Notes: Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise (2005)

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by Tom Johnson

The second installment in Stevens’ planned 50-piece “states” series took aim at Illinois. As a follow-up to 2004’s stunning Seven Swans, it struggles a bit, but is a rewarding and entertaining listen. Stevens’ music is pretty much entirely acoustic — banjos, guitars, piano. Those who want another Swans, which was such a quiet, darkly beautiful affair, may be slightly disappointed at first. Here he supplements the sound with horns and strings to produce some enjoyably bombastic pieces.

It got some buzz back then over a cover-art dispute with DC Comics, a rendition of whose Superman originally swept through the Chicago skyline. (Later editions had balloons obscuring the image.) Stevens was forced to request that stores pull stock of his album until the issue could be resolved. However, they were unable to get the big retailers to respond in time, and dozens of copies wound up on Ebay — one of which sold for $61(!). Collectors everywhere were snatching them up as fast as they could. The smartest buyers will, of course, be buying this for the music, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that the early pressings were also an instant collectible.

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