Sufjan Stevens The Avalanche

Beyond the sheer scope of what Sufjan Stevens is attempting to accomplish with his 50 states album series, the true marvel remains the artistry and imagination of his music. As a collection of outtakes from 2005’s Illinois, The Avalanche suggests that even the prolific songwriter’s scraps are achingly constructed sonic wonders. Whereas Illinois contained a few bona fide historical lessons, here names like "Adlai Stevenson” (the intellectual governor of Illinois and presidential candidate) and "Saul Bellow” (Quebec-born novelist raised in Chicago) are dropped mostly as non sequiturs. "The Henney Buggy Band” is a rollicking affair, while "Springfield, or, Bobby Got a Shad-Fly Caught in his Hair” is perhaps the closest Stevens has come to exploring the sound and imagery of Neil Young. "Inaugural Pop Music for Jane Margaret Byrne” is a shy flirtation with electronica that leads into the unassuming epic "No Man’s Land,” a revision of Woody Guthrie’s "This Land is Your Land.” Of the three renditions of "Chicago,” the Sonic Youth-inspired "Multiple Personality Disorder version” stands out as the most interesting but there is no song here as tender as "Pittsfield,” which is an intriguing tale of working-class, domesticity. As usual, Stevens’s compositions are precise and multi-layered and his outpouring of ideas is truly fascinating on The Avalanche. (Asthmatic Kitty)