Come On Feel The Illinoise!
Sufjan Stevens is an American multi-instrumentalist and songwriter.
His fifth album (titled Illinois for short) was released in 2005. It was touted as the second album in a sequence Stevens said would eventually cover all fifty US states (although he later admitted that this was a publicity gimmick).
It's a remarkable record, in which the artist plays most of the instruments himself (except, as he was at pains to point out, the "sophisticated drum parts"), but is also often accompanied by a string quartet and a choir.
The styles encompassed are dizzyingly various, touching on Americana, show tunes, jazz and even Steve Reich.
There are two true standout tracks: the first, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. is a song about the notorious serial killer of that name, and its subject matter is startlingly at odds with the sparse and beautiful melody and lyrics which avoid sensationalism to present a less judgemental take on the story.
The track I have cued up for you here, however, is the ninth of twenty two, Chicago. The lyrics touch on the autobiographical, and are delivered in Stevens' slightly breathy, youthfully na´ve voice. But the arrangement! The production! That is where the track scores (if you'll excuse the pun; and bollocks to you if you won't) heavily. The density and drive of the arrangement are powerful without ever drowning out the fact that there is a beautiful song in evidence, something enhanced by an unfussy and clear production.
I'd heard John Wayne Gacy, Jr. on the legendary Dr Demento's show not long after the album was released, but it was only a couple of weeks or so ago that I first encountered Chicago but - as with this track - I can't divulge the context in which I heard it; it would give too much away.
Anyway, enjoy your visit to The Windy City with Sufjan Stevens.