Objectivity. Oftentimes it is an easy ideal to attain. Jean Piaget would claim that objectivity is something that is acquired by age and is an indicator of formal operational thought, and as such it is not possessed by all people. I, for one, have the ability to be objective from time to time. However, despite by conquest of objective thought, I find it increasingly difficult to remain objective when reviewing Sufjan Stevens. Why? Because he is my absolute favorite musician; possibly ever, but definitely currently.
For those unfamiliar with the "legend" of "The Avalanche," I will explain. Sufjan's 2005 release "Illinois" was a brilliant, moving piece of artistry that made dozens of top 10 lists across the globe (including my own). According to the Asthmatic Kitty website, the album was originally planned to be a double album, but was scrapped well into the production of the album. "The Avalanche" are the songs that did not make it to the final cut of "Illinois" plus a few extras. However, do not dismiss this album as a B-Sides album (Even though Sufjan humbly labels it a "Outtakes and Extras" collection). "The Avalanche" is an album that can stand entirely on its own.
The title track, "The Avalanche," is also the lead-off song on the album. For those fortunate enough to have obtained a copy of "Illinois" on vinyl, this song should sound extremely familiar, mostly because it's the same song that was featured on that release. For those of us who are without a vinyl-player, however, "The Avalanche" is a brand new song filled with precise instrumentation and beautiful lyrics. As a lead-off track, it serves its purpose in enticing the listener to hear more. What comes next only makes the listener happy that they did. "Dear Mr. Supercomputer" is another fantastic song that makes use of Sufjan's brilliant compositional skills, featuring exlaimatory trumpets and whimsical flute flutters that set the tone for what is undoubtedly the most up-tempo and musically exciting song on the album.
The next song, "Adlai Stevenson," gives a brief history of the former Illinois governor and twice-failed presidential candidate of the same name. Though brief in minutes, the soothing guitar riff and Stevens' haunting vocals manage to make this song a standout on the album, though, musically, it would perhaps be more fitting on "Michigan."
The next notable track is the acoustic version of "Illinois" favorite, "Chicago." In all honesty, I was never much of a fan of the original version of the song, though I know many people who have clamored over it on occasion. This acoustic version, however, harkens back to Sufjan's softer, "Michigan" side and, to me, outdoes the original in almost every aspect. For those who are fans of the original, the sheer fact that there are three new versions on "The Avalanche" should be enough to entice you to purchase this album. They are all equally as beautiful and entertaining. "The Henney Buggy Band" is the next song on the album, and it just so happens to be my favorite. The song is incredibly upbeat and uplifting, once again utilizing Sufjan's brilliant compositional skills and putting the full instrumentation to good use.
From here, the album seems to get much more somber as it goes along. Notable songs along the way include "Springfield," "The Mistress Witch From McClure," "No Man's Land," and "Pittsfield," all of which capture the soul of the state just as "Illinois" did. It's appropriate to note that this album is, at its core, very similar to the album that preceded it. The spirit and dedication that went into the creation of "Illinois" is just as prevelent in "The Avalanche." As such, "The Avalanche" isn't so much an outtakes collection or an entirely different album, as it is a sequel to the original. Like almost all sequels, there are things that it lacks in comparison to the original. Despite this fact, "The Avalanche" is still a must-own for any dedicated Sufjan fan and is sure to deliver weeks, perhaps months of gratifacation and Illinois-based nostalgia.
Make no mistake about it, "The Avalanche" is a fantastic album with songs that could undoubtedly be added to Sufjan's already-long list of greatest hits! With the release of "Illinois," and now "The Avalanche," one thing is for sure; I love this state!
Recommended for fans of Sufjan Stevens and Illinois enthusiasts alike.
1. "The Avalanche"
2. "Dear Mr. Supercomputer"
3. "Adlai Stevenson"
4. "The Henney Buggy Band"
4 out of 5 Stars