Of all the endeavors indie-folk statesman Sufjan Stevens takes on—for better, for worse, or for those just simply out there—one thing is certain: the man thinks in epic proportions and partakes in grand ventures. Amid his multi-instrumental talents, exploratory themes, and concepts; Sufjan Stevens has embarked on an illustrious career path, earning a spot among the indie elites of the past decade. From Christmas albums to large-scale multimedia projects and everything in between, his work endures as an affirmation of the creative musical process that has remained all too stagnant in recent years.
The pinnacle of this originality arrived in the form of his proposed ‘Fifty States’ project—Steven’s lofty plan to create an album for each of the fifty individual US states. For years, this idea captivated the indie-music world, as he started with his native state in Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lake State (2003). While he recorded Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Come on feel the Illinois (2005) as his follow up in the ‘Fifty States’ project, he later called the project a ‘joke,’ as he essentially called it quits with this hyped concept. Nevertheless, Stevens graced fans with these two magnificent albums.
Although Michigan was impressive and moderately successful in its own right, Illinois prevailed as the better of the two works, accomplishing what Michigan set out to achieve (but fell short of). While Stevens remains most prominently known for the indie-rock staple “Chicago” or its progressive folk brethren “Jacksonville,” this album’s splendor remains in its wide scope. Illinois not only uses lush theatrics to dazzle with "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" or “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders: Pt. 1: The Great Frontier/Pt. ...,” but seamlessly transitions from dramatically whimsical orchestrations into beautifully introspective moments like "Casimir Pulaski Day."
Sufjan Stevens implores listeners to travel on a journey with him as he ventures though and discovers all things Illinois, and ultimately rewards them for their commitment to the near 80-minute sprawling masterpiece. While traversing across Illinois, it remains difficult to determine whether it is the journey or the musical caliber that is more alluring component. But then again, Illinois does both so brilliantly, that it becomes a moot point. Just go along for the ride, I promise it is worth it.
More from the War on Pop's Decade in Review:
#5 The National - Boxer (2007)
#6 TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)
#7 The Strokes - Is This It (2001)
#8 The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday (2005)
#9 Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock Opera (2001)
#10 Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
#11 My Morning Jacket - Z (2005)
#12 Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
#13 Jay-Z - The Black Album (2003)
#14 Beirut - The Flying Club Cup (2007)
#15 Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Naturally (2005)
#16 Daft Punk - Discovery (2001)
#17 The Black Keys - Rubber Factory (2004)
#18 LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007)
#19 Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light (2009)
#20 Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
#21 Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008)
#22 Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007)
#23 Beach House - Devotion (2008)
#24 El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2007)
#25 Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)