Sufjan Stevens has followed his critically acclaimed 2005 release Illinois with The Avalanche, a companion piece that feels more like a sequel than the outtakes collection it actually is. It's full of just the sort of lush arrangements and uplifting melodies that made Illinois such a rewarding listen, but this time around the narratives feel slightly less like an elementary school field trip. The song titles are still long-winded, and there are plenty of brief instrumentals between the shout-outs to people ("Saul Bellow") and places ("Springfield," "Pittsfield"), but the lyrics this time are subtler, less literal. In many places, especially the opening title track and "The Mistress Witch from McClure," these compositions are akin to his work on Seven Swans, perhaps Stevens' most personal work to date. In addition we get three versions of Illinois' "Chicago," which really shows the Holland, Mich. native's talents as an arranger. The acoustic version is one of this set's more poignant moments, while the "Multiple Personality Disorder" version has an off-kilter slant, with odd, repetitive guitar lines and brief bursts of organ. Considering that these are all songs cut from another album, The Avalanche is surprisingly fleshed-out, and many of the songs here are on equal footing with those found on Illinois. Still, while Avalanche is strong enough to stand on its own, it can't help but exist in the shadow of its predecessor, and as a result it feels a little redundant. How poignant and precious can one guy really be?
Cory D. Byrom writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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