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Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche

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    A little over a year ago, folk artist Sufjan Stevens released his critically acclaimed masterpiece, Illinois, an album that beautifully crafted folk, pop, and acoustic with a melody of different instruments which pleased the senses. A year later, he is one of the biggest indie buzz artists and is name-dropped by all sorts of music fans, whether they genuinely enjoy his music or just want some cred. To follow up the 22 songs that madeIllinois, Stevens has released a 21 track b-side album, titled The Avalanche. With 18 new tracks and 3 different versions of “Chicago,” this kind of effort displays how limitless the sky really is for Stevens. Don’t be fooled by the “Outtakes And Extras” tag this album displays on the cover, as this album features songs that are better than the majority of any artist’s best stuff these days.

    Because this a b-side album from Illinois, a lot of songs on The Avalanche are in the same vein (obviously). There are many songs that are stripped down as well as many upbeat songs that keep the album from staying on the same path. The album begins with the beautiful acoustic title track, as Stevens’ tenor paces the track, rising dramatically with the chorus. Following this track is the high energy “Dear Mr. Supercomputer.” Staccato vocals backed by the Illinoisemakers add to the twists and turns. “The Henney Buggy Band” is probably one of my favorite Sufjan songs ever, with a boisterous trumpet leading the way; Sufjan’s vocals alter between a calm baritone to an uplifting tenor. “Saul Bellow” takes the tempo down a bit with a gentle acoustic strum and nicely done vocal medley between Sufjan and Rosie Thomas. Another standout track is the folk-tinged “Springfield, or Bobby Got A Shadfly Caught In His Hair.” Group vocals highlight this track, as well as simple guitar riff that pierce through during the bridge. “The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself)” is another chill track that features the trumpet and another vocal melody between Sufjan, Thomas, and another female, which would be Katrina Kerns. The poppier side of Sufjan shows up in “No Man’s Land,” a bouncy track that molds the trumpet, piano, and guitar very nicely. The best track on this album weighs in at the twentieth track, titled “Pittsfield.” A delicate piece that really showcases Sufjan’s vocal talents; it carries the song and makes it standout above the rest, as well as the mix of trumpet and piano which guides you peacefully throughout.

    My main disappointment comes from the 3 versions of “Chicago”: the acoustic version, adult contemporary version, and Multiple Personality Disorder version. If any of you can recall to my Best of 2005 list, I named “Chicago” (from Illinois) the song of the year, as its emotion, grace, and power made it stand out over the rest. The song means so much to me, and that is probably why I was so disappointed with these alternate versions, they lacked that extra “oomph” and they just don’t hit me in the way that the original did. Yes, I know they are b-sides and that there is a reason why they are on this disc and notIllinois. Still, being such a huge fan of the original, I was expecting more out of these.

    In the end, this doesn’t measure up to his two releases, but was anybody truly expecting that? Instead, we get an album that shows that perhaps Sufjan Stevens should expand his next offering into a double album. It’s amazing how some of these songs didn’t make the cut, especially when they are heads and shoulders above most music being released today. Diehard Sufjan fans should already own this and appreciate it, but for those not familiar with him, please check out Michigan or Illinois (Illinois especially) before checking out The Avalanche. While it is a very good album, I don’t want first time listeners to be turned off when they could be listening to his better work. In the end, The Avalanche is a must-own for any Sufjan fan, and for new fans, check it out after you’ve listened to his earlier work.

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