Rhythm & Views

Sufjan Stevens

Even though Sufjan Stevens' 2005 masterpiece Illinois is 22 songs long, it was originally supposed to be a double disc; 21 songs were left undeveloped or axed in the final stages--an avalanche of songs, if you will. Aptly named The Avalanche, the long-lost sibling of Illinois brings all of those seeds and fetuses of songs to life.

Three alternate versions of "Chicago" are here, none as epic as the Illinois version, but each shows how deeply Stevens engages in his songs, fleshing them out in every way imaginable to find the best possible version. Places and people missing from Illinois show up here--Adlai Stevenson, Saul Bellow, Springfield, Pittsfield, Carlyle Lake--and the same overall tone of Illinois is present. The quiet "Saul Bellow" has a melody that builds into a sticky refrain, and the horn intro to "Dear Mr. Supercomputer" would have fit quite nicely after "Come on, Feel the Illinoise!" But there's a reason why these songs are outtakes; nothing really stands out the way songs on Illinois do. In other words, the good songs on The Avalanche are still good, but not as good as the good songs on Illinois.

That being said, The Avalanche is a nice perpetuation of Illinois--a way to extend the choral innocence and melancholia of Stevens' imagination. At the very least, it's enough music to last you on a drive across the Prairie State.

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