Upcoming Surfjan album: an Avalanche of Illinois outtakes, more “Chicago”

By Oliver Mosier

Sufjan Stevens’s newest album will hit stores…The new album from Sufjan Stevens…The Avalanche is Sufjan Stevens’s newest album

So there you have it, the outtakes of this article, something very rare in journalism. Apparently, this nuance was lost on Sufjan Stevens when he was compiling the material for his newest album. Because—unlike the beginning of my article—his album bears no resemblance to something dominated by outtakes. Three versions of the beautiful “Chicago” notwithstanding, The Avalanche is an album of essentially new material. It is a beautiful counterpoint to Illinois, the album from which it originated.

Despite coming from Illinois, the material on The Avalanche reminds this listener of his album Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State. However, the subject matter of The Avalanche is very much Illinois. When Sufjan Stevens first planned the album Illinois, he dreamed of a 50-track double album. When this idea was rejected, so was an unbelievable wealth of usable music. The title track is a solid opening to a record amassing 21 songs in total.

Each song incorporates the various strengths of Stevens, a talented multi-instrumentalist. Altogether, the songs create a remarkably diverse collection of music honoring the state of Illinois. It is fairly well known that Sufjan Stevens plans to complete his “50 states” project, with a goal of recording an album honoring each of the 50 states. So far, Michigan and Illinois have been the only lucky ones. And now, it looks as though Illinois is getting even more publicity with The Avalanche.

The opening riff of “Springfield or Bobby Got A Shadfly Caught In His Hair” has a simplistic appeal; the song as a whole is a piece of musical charm. The song “Saul Bellow” should instantly hit a chord with any University of Chicago student, and songs like “Adlai Stevenson” and “Pittsfield” are interesting musical collages.

More direct connections to Illinois are the three versions of “Chicago.” One is an acoustic version, one is an adult contemporary easy listening version, and the last one is a multiple personality version. Each one brings something new to the table. The first strips down the production of the original song while the second possesses an even mellower attitude. The final version brings the frenzy inherent in fast-paced dance music. Recently I took part in a road trip from Omaha to Chicago, playing “Chicago” as we neared our destination; I suppose next road trip we’ll have several versions to satisfy our urge for relevancy.

The Avalanche does not hit stores until July 11. This review has been written a long time in advance, but the album—which has been previewed on his web site—is a wonderful one that truly gives us a peek into the artistry of Sufjan Stevens. He’s a rare talent, and with The Avalanche, his musical ingenuity is on full display once again. Find the album in advance if you can.

With Stevens having already turned 30, 48 more albums seem a bit daunting. His task also appears improbable if he plans on releasing albums of extras and outtakes all along the way. If Stevens releases an album every year for the next 47 years, he should be left with one. In that case, his last choice should be an obvious one. Hovering around 80, Sufjan can settle down in a nice beach community in Boca Raton. (This is of course assuming that Boca is still the flourishing setting for one’s golden years in 2053.) There, between games of bocce ball and bingo, Sufjan Stevens will be allowed to release his final album—Farewell From Florida. Good luck, man. You are most certainly going to need it.