Illinois is an incredible album and without a doubt Sufjan Steven’s best. The second in his 50 states series, Illinois is an amalgamation of American folk and gospel with lush orchestral instrumentation. And maybe I’m biased because it’s my childhood instrument, but the trumpet hasn’t been better used in an album in years. I loved his Michigan installment partly for nostalgic reasons (I lived in Michigan between the ages of 3 and 9), but since I have no ties to the state of Illinois, I love this album for its music alone. To the frightening “John Wayne Gacy” to the folksy “Casimir Pulaski Day” to the Reichian “Out of Egypt.
An engrossing musical road trip, Illinoise takes you through ghost towns, grain mills, hospital rooms, and the City of Broad Shoulders, with guest appearances by a poet, a president, a serial murderer, UFOs, Superman, the goat that cursed the Cubs, and Decatur’s famous Chickenmobile. Along the way, Sufjan Stevens weaves variated musical styles (jazz, funk, pop, folk, and Rodgers and Hammerstein-like flourishes) and the textures of 25 instruments into a tapestry of persons and places famous, infamous, iconic and anonymous.