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The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Jul
The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album
Sounds like … Danielson Famile, Half-handed Cloud, Daniel Johnston and other indie eccentrics from the Asthmatic Kitty and Sounds Familyre consortium of labelsAt a glance … a seamless though not necessarily revelatory addendum to last year's stunning Illinois, The Avalanche still attests to Sufjan Stevens' tireless ingenuityTrack Listing The Avalanche Dear Mr. Supercomputer Adlai Stevenson The Vivian Girls Are Visited in the Night by Saint Dargarius and His Squadron of Benevolent Butterflies Chicago (acoustic version) The Henney Buggy Band Saul Bellow Carlyle Lake Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself) Kaskaskia River Chicago (adult contemporary easy listening version) Inaugural Pop Music for Jane Margaret Byrne No Man's Land The Palm Sunday Tornado Hits Crystal Lake The Pick-up The Perpetual Self, or "What Would Saul Alinsky Do?" For Clyde Tombaugh Chicago (Multiple Personality Disorder version) Pittsfield The Undivided Self (for Eppie and Popo)

Since banjoing his way into the elitist indie scene with 2003's Michigan and 2004's Seven Swans, alt-folk singer Sufjan Stevens has found favor with highbrow audiophiles and mainstream critics, as well as believers disenchanted with mainline Christian music. He reached new heights in 2005 with Illinois, the most acclaimed album of that year and one of the most fanciful albums ever created by a man of faith.

With The Avalanche, Stevens continues his ever-productive streak. He allegedly had envisioned Illinois as a double album, but several tracks were cut when the proceedings reached staggering proportions. Illinois still boasted 22-tracks, but Stevens unearthed 21 more outtakes and alternate versions from the incomplete sessions, tweaked them, and reassembled them into this new project.

There's little to say about an album that sounds so much like its predecessor—from folksy story songs and obscure Prairie State references, to Stevens' imaginative arrangements and idiosyncratic use of banjos, oboes, glockenspiels and anything that makes a sound. We're treated to three more versions of "Chicago" that all manage to sound distinctive. "Dear Mr. Supercomputer" would have been welcome the first go around, bridging together imagery from other songs while hinting at Stevens' faith. Likewise, "The Perpetual Self" suggests who to turn to in the middle of despair.

Both projects are so similar, Stevens may as well have released the double album. The Avalanche isn't great on its own, but combined with Illinois, it's a testament to his musical genius, one so vast and inexhaustible that he tends to forget what he's already done and, at worst, even repeat himself.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.