Sufjan Stevens

The Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from the Illinois Album

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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. Shades of Stereolab pepper both the manic "Dear Mr. Supercomputer" and the nostalgic "Adlai Stevenson," while the elegiac "No Man's Land" echoes the sense of discovery that fueled Illinois' "Chicago," the latter of which appears three times in various disguises throughout the record. The Avalanche slows down considerably near the record's end, but so did Illinois, making an even better case for the "Super Director's Cut" that would fuse both albums into one mammoth slice of esoteric Americana pie.

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