Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

Andy Battaglia

By Andy Battaglia

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A resplendent showcase for a songmaker of the highest order

There are songwriters and then there are songmakers — artists whose craft extends beyond lyric and melody. As the sprawling Illinoise shows, Sufjan Stevens is a songmaker of the highest order. Intricately orchestrated and handed forth with a gilded touch, songs like "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and "Jacksonville" jostle through different parts and movements with hardly a note out of place. Whether he's picking a banjo or guiding a horn section that matches indie-rock glee with actual chops, Stevens knows exactly what he wants to hear before he hears it. Then he listens; his vocal delivery, so tender and unassuming, leaves the impression that he's just as curious about his creations as an unwitting listener left to puzzle over a concept album about the most Midwestern state in the union. The Illinois theme neatly links songs about everything from Abraham Lincoln to UFOs, but it's better to think of it as merely one element of an album guided by magic and wonder.