I'm a recent but devoted convert to Sufjan Stevens, so I was really looking forward to listening to this album. It's the second album counting towards Sufjan's quirky and ambitious aim of recording an album in each State of the US. One of the things that I love about him is his blatant disregard for short and snappy song titles. Track 2 is a perfect example: 'THE BLACK HAWK WAR, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologise for the Inconvenience but You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, "I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands!"'. iTunes is going to be continuously scrolling on that one. Even without the title, the track is startling, with martial trumpets, drums and wordless vocals creating an amazing atmosphere.
'Jacksonville' is a jaunty, summery little number, though it still has Sufjan's persistent air of sadness. I think my favourite track on the album (though it's very hard to choose just one) is 'Casimir Pulaski Day', which is an intimate and tender portrait of the terrors and breathless anticipation of a teenage romance. It happens to also have a very sad ending:
Tuesday night at the Bible study We lift our hands and pray over your body But nothing ever happens I remember at Michael's house In the living room, when you kissed my neck And I almost touched your blouse
Many of the tracks, particularly 'Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of mankind, and I shake the dirt from my sandals as I run' (phew) have the feel of some of the modern minimalist classical composers like John Adams; there are pulsing tones and woven together musical lines, which create a mesmerising texture. It's an interesting development of his style, and makes me wonder if he is an admirer of Adams' music.