Release Date: Jul 11, 2006
Record label: Asthmatic Kitty
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Singer-Songwriter
Sub-titled "Out-takes and extras from the Illinois album", this fresh helping from Sufjan Stevens is the New Yorker's second 75-minute CD in a year and his sixth full album since 2000. But his prolific output is not the most striking thing about him. Like a child prodigy, Stevens (31) is fixated with youth in his songs' obliquely confessional perspectives, but precocious in his intellectual range - he hymns Saul Bellow and 1950s presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, for example.
Sufjan Stevens' Come on Feel the Illinoise was a long, gorgeous, and occasionally convoluted kaleidoscope of folk, pop, and orchestral rock fused with personal regional history that somehow managed to lure listeners of all ages and genre allegiances into its pompon-wielding arms. Like Illinois, The Avalanche -- leave it to Stevens to release a 21-track collection of outtakes and extras from a record that boasted 22 -- is stuffed with a surplus of unnecessary and pretentiously titled instrumental Band-Aids like "Vivian Girls Are Visited in the Night by Saint Dargarius and His Squadron of Benelovent Butterflies," "The Mistress Witch from McClure (Or, the Mind That Knows Itself)," and "The Palm Sunday Tornado Hits Crystal Lake" that would serve more purpose on an early-'70s Yes album than they do here, but they're augmented by some truly noteworthy songs that prove Stevens' prolificacy is as much a byproduct of his obvious gifts as a writer as it is by his need to record every idea that pops into his head. Opening with the title cut, a loose, banjo-driven ballad that develops into a pulsing day drive from the East Coast to the Midwest (The Avalanche is named for a car, not the terrifying mass of ice, snow, earth, and rock that swallows numerous skiers each year), Stevens constructed an alternate version of Illinois that is almost as good as the original.
In music as in most imaginable venues, earnestness is considerably more rare than cleverness. The revelation that the doe-eyed young singer Sufjan Stevens had a rather shrewd sense of humor – a long-overdue revelation, perhaps, but in any case one more or less deferred until about a year ago – was refreshing, but it didn't exempt him from the expectations imposed by the poignant honesty of his first state-themed album, Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State. The Avalanche, an exhaustive collection of outtakes from the second of those albums, the grandiloquent Come On Feel The Illinoise, is cleverly earnest, not earnestly clever, and in that split hair lies the difference between a solid record and the kind of exceptional one we have rightly come to anticipate.