Like, Best of the Decade Edition (Music): ILLINOIS by Sufjan Stevens… and where the hell is his next for reals album?

Note: So I wasn’t going to do the whole best of the decade thing that’s become a big fad, but what the fuck? It’s fun.

I started thinking about my favorite album of the decade at some point a few months ago and I realized something strange. I’ve sort of stopped listening to new music in the last two years. This is inordinately strange for me. I used to scour ravenously for new bands and sounds and constantly badgered my friends who had similar inclinations. And now I find myself suddenly, well, disinterested. For two years, I’ve been listening to the same music I’ve always listened to (which granted, is a metric-fuck-ton) and revisiting albums I’d left behind.  It prompted me to picture myself in the future, 20 years from now, sitting and listening to some old Flaming Lips albums the way my dad still listens to his old reggae albums on vinyl (yay Ja Spirit!). Music’s like this train that rolls right along and you can go as long as you want. But when you stop to get off, you’re off. And right now, I’m off… I’m also content with this.

This is relevant to my point for one reason, which sadly involves another tangent: If you were to ask me what my favorite album of the decade was, I would have instantly answered Radiohead’s Kid A for some self-obvious and tangible reasons. For starters, it had a profound affect on me, both in terms of taste and how I physically listen to music. I still maintain that the album serves as the great Rosetta stone for how to listen for sub-sound and sub-melody. To boot, it just sounds so god-damn advanced. Like it’s made by those gastro chefs who can turn gasoline and cake batter into a some kind of edible ice tart. Which is not to say that’s what matters it music, just that it’s an easily tangible way to identify genius. So I started constructing lists and arranging stuff in my head and just always sort of assumed Kid A would be at the top of my list.

So now then, over the last month I’ve been listening to a bunch or albums from this era that I liked, and I found myself listening to Illinois by Sufjan Stevens over and over and over (I spend a lot of time in a car and still use good old fashioned cds. I’m not a luddite it’s just my Ipod was stolen forever ago and I’m still bitter about buying a new one. That shit’s expensive). And it was like some remarkable rediscovery of the album, far from it, it was something else entirely:

I realized: I listen to Illinois all the time.

I got the album when it first came out and it has never left my car. It has never been far off my Itunes. I routinely throw songs from it on mixes. I find myself whistling little bits from it. Most of all, I write to music and and I seriously can’t think of a better album to listen to while writing. I realized I literally don’t go two weeks without listening to a song from that album, and I’m not sick of it. And it’s been five god damn years folks.

I don’t consider myself to be predisposed to liking Sufjan Stevens. There’s a kind of inherent preciousness to his music that just begs for a nice reactionary/illogical criticism. But I have no interest in playing that role. I’m highly aware that there’s already a heckuva lot of, nay unanimous critical praise for the album, but it rolls off my shoulders. I really don’t care what people think of it. It’s really good and everyone knows it’s pretty good. It’s just I’ve merely been unaware of how much I truly loved it. Debate if you will, but I have nothing invested in this argument. It’s not like I’m trying to prove why it’s good, or relevant, or lovable, or sucks, or any of that nonsense we try to do when arguing about music.

It just is.

It’s an album that’s exists out of all other contexts for me. Something I enjoy on the most basic, if largely subconscious level for so many years. Unlike Kid A, which immediately go into my head and in my heart, Illinois has done than far more impressive feat of getting in my bones.

And that’s what I think matters. I could talk to you about the intensely personal song writing, the epic tone and feeling of the music, it’s rich sense of atmosphere, it’s alternating of upbeat with aching melancholy, while often slyly fading with its use of both at once. But all that sort of feels irrelevant. Music is the most intensely personal form of art you can relate with….

And this one got me in my bones.



-I went with Illinois and not “Illinoise” because it’s intentionally confusing withthe album cover/actual naming.

-SERIOUSLY, when the hell is he going to make another for real album and not some crazy mixed media thing or unreleased B sides? I’m jonesing.

-Honorable mentions:

Kid A by Radiohead – reasons aforementioned

Funeral by The Arcade Fire -I can’t think of a better debut album off the top of my head. Just amazing awe inspiring stuff.

Good News For People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse – sure it’s the popular album. So what? I’ve seen nothing but a long list of critics looking for reasons to include the other MM albums on their best of lists and I don’t get it. It’s great top to bottom, why can’t we acknowledge that there’s a reason this album hurled the band into the big time for a reason? I love The Moon and Antarctica too. Hell nobody love Sad Sappy Sucker more than me. So why do we have to pretend this one wasn’t even more awesome again?

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips – w/ this and MM, it’s the 2000s, otherwise known as when great bands that had been together for a decade got popular.

Late Registration by Kanye West – I’ve seen college dropout on more lists than this. Why? Because not as many people were into him then? There’s probably nothing more pretentious then a pretentious rant about critics being to pretentious, but seriously I don’t get this. The Jon Brion produced(!) Late Registration is just a superior, incredible album.

Others: Kala by MIA, Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio, Stankonia by Outkast, Z by My Morning Jacket, White Blood Cells by The White Stripes, Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol, Sea Change by Beck.


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