Artist: Sufjan Stevens
Album: The Avalanche
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
What does it say about the state of music that Sufjan Stevens can put out an entire album of outtakes and unused demos from his Illinoise sessions and still have a better album than all but 3 other artists this year? Does it speak to the wretched state of music, or does it speak to Sufjan’s genius?
I would like to think that it speaks to the latter. And I’m hoping that there are people out there who would tend to agree with me on this. I’ll wait for the proper fanfare in the standard magazines…but I’m banking on there being a ton of people on my side on this one.
For those of you who don’t know the story, it goes like this: Sufjan released the best album of the year last year in Illinoise. However, like with any other album, not every song that started as an idea for the album made it to that album (yes…even though it eclipsed 20 tracks, some were still left out). A lot of the leftover tracks were only 4 track demos that Sufjan recorded alone in his apartment, and the band never filled them out.
What he did for The Avalanche was to go back through all his tapes, pick out his favorite 21 leftover tracks, and release them as another album. The tracks that weren’t done, he took back into the studio and properly recorded them.
What he came out with is quite possibly the best b-sides album in existence. Though not quite as strong as Illinoise, it still has at least 6 songs that are so strong that you’re left shaking your head and wondering how they were ever left off of an album (those songs are “The Avalanche”, “Springfield (Or, Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair) ”, “The Mistress Witch from McClure (Or, The Mind That Knows Itself)”, “No Man’s Land”, “The Pick-Up”, and “Pittsfield”. I’m also on the fence with “Adlai Stevenson” and “Saul Bellow”).
The more I listen to this album, the harder it is for me to believe it was ever conceived as a b-sides album. The songs have a flow that work so well together that I can’t imagine to listening to them separately and it making any sense.
I will say this, though: it took me a little longer to get into this album than it did for me to get into Illinoise. I don’t know what that means to anyone other than me, but I think it’s worth mentioning.
Is this album worth picking up? You better believe it.
RIYL: Elliott Smith, Andrew Bird, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, etc.
Find out more about Sufjan, buy the album, hear parts of the album, and check out all kinds of other amazingly cool albums at: