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Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche Album Cover

Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche

Reviewed by
8.5
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
SUFJAN STEVENS - The Avalanche

A little over a year ago, folk artist Sufjan Stevens released his critically acclaimed masterpiece, Illinois, an album that beautifully crafted folk, pop, and acoustic with a melody of different instruments which pleased the senses. A year later, he is one of the biggest indie buzz artists and is name-dropped by all sorts of music fans, whether they genuinely enjoy his music or just want some cred. To follow up the 22 songs that made Illinois, Stevens has released a 21 track b-side album, titled The Avalanche. With 18 new tracks and 3 different versions of “Chicago,” this kind of effort displays how limitless the sky really is for Stevens. Don’t be fooled by the “Outtakes And Extras” tag this album displays on the cover, as this album features songs that are better than the majority of any artist’s best stuff these days.

Because this a b-side album from Illinois, a lot of songs on The Avalanche are in the same vein (obviously). There are many songs that are stripped down as well as many upbeat songs that keep the album from staying on the same path. The album begins with the beautiful acoustic title track, as Stevens’ tenor paces the track, rising dramatically with the chorus. Following this track is the high energy “Dear Mr. Supercomputer.” Staccato vocals backed by the Illinoisemakers add to the twists and turns. “The Henney Buggy Band” is probably one of my favorite Sufjan songs ever, with a boisterous trumpet leading the way; Sufjan’s vocals alter between a calm baritone to an uplifting tenor. “Saul Bellow” takes the tempo down a bit with a gentle acoustic strum and nicely done vocal medley between Sufjan and Rosie Thomas. Another standout track is the folk-tinged “Springfield, or Bobby Got A Shadfly Caught In His Hair.” Group vocals highlight this track, as well as simple guitar riff that pierce through during the bridge. “The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself)” is another chill track that features the trumpet and another vocal melody between Sufjan, Thomas, and another female, which would be Katrina Kerns. The poppier side of Sufjan shows up in “No Man’s Land,” a bouncy track that molds the trumpet, piano, and guitar very nicely. The best track on this album weighs in at the twentieth track, titled “Pittsfield.” A delicate piece that really showcases Sufjan’s vocal talents; it carries the song and makes it standout above the rest, as well as the mix of trumpet and piano which guides you peacefully throughout.

My main disappointment comes from the 3 versions of “Chicago”: the acoustic version, adult contemporary version, and Multiple Personality Disorder version. If any of you can recall to my Best of 2005 list, I named “Chicago” (from Illinois) the song of the year, as its emotion, grace, and power made it stand out over the rest. The song means so much to me, and that is probably why I was so disappointed with these alternate versions, they lacked that extra “oomph” and they just don’t hit me in the way that the original did. Yes, I know they are b-sides and that there is a reason why they are on this disc and not Illinois. Still, being such a huge fan of the original, I was expecting more out of these.

In the end, this doesn’t measure up to his two releases, but was anybody truly expecting that? Instead, we get an album that shows that perhaps Sufjan Stevens should expand his next offering into a double album. It’s amazing how some of these songs didn’t make the cut, especially when they are heads and shoulders above most music being released today. Diehard Sufjan fans should already own this and appreciate it, but for those not familiar with him, please check out Michigan or Illinois (Illinois especially) before checking out The Avalanche. While it is a very good album, I don’t want first time listeners to be turned off when they could be listening to his better work. In the end, The Avalanche is a must-own for any Sufjan fan, and for new fans, check it out after you’ve listened to his earlier work.
Additional InformationTracklisting:
1. The Avalanche
2. Dear Mr. Supercomputer
3. Adlai Stevenson
4. The Vivian Girls Are Visited In The Night By Saint Dargarius And His Squadron Of Benevolent Butterflies
5. Chicago (acoustic version)
6. The Henney Buggy Band
7. Saul Bellow
8. Carlyle Lake
9. Springfield, Or Bobby Got A Shadfly Caught In His Hair
10. The Mistress Witch From McClure (Or, The Mind That Knows Itself)
11. Kaskaskia River
12. Chicago (adult contemporary easy listening version)
13. Inauguar Pop Music For Jane Margaret Byrne
14. No Man's Land
15. The Palm Sunday Tornado Hits Crystal Lake
16. The Pick-Up
17. The Perpetual Self, Or "What Would Saul Alinsky Do?"
18. For Clyde Tombaugh
19. Chicago (Multiple Personality Disorder Version)
20. Pittsfield
21. The Undivided Self (for Eppie and Popo)

Release Date: July 11, 2006
Record Label: Asthmatic Kitty Records
Official Website; Official Myspace
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 32
01:47 PM on 07/12/06
#2
FeynmanWannabe
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Excellent review, Drew. You pretty much hit the nail on the head.
01:48 PM on 07/12/06
#3
Russ Hockenbury
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I was talking to my friend (who's a pretty damn talented and recognizable musician) the other day about Sufjan Stevens and we both kind of agreed that while Sufjan is talented, he's just a bit too "epic". Take that for what it's worth.
01:48 PM on 07/12/06
#4
trustmeimokay
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Nice review.

This album is fantastic. 'No Man's Land' is incredible.
01:50 PM on 07/12/06
#5
matt_rawlings
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Great review, I will pick this up soonish
01:52 PM on 07/12/06
#6
GoWaitInTheCar
The World Won't Listen.
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I really like the acoustic version of Chicago.

The Pick Up probably my favorite song on this disc, I really can't pinpoint why, I just love it.
01:53 PM on 07/12/06
#7
HoldFastHope
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What's wrong with being epic if that's what you're going for? Sufjan is a master at what he does and completely transcends genres. For the first time in a while I really liked a review and I think it was right on. 83 is not too high, not too low for a b-side album with some gems. I can get really sick of the pop-punk gushing, but you guys pick it up from time to time. Nicely done.
01:56 PM on 07/12/06
#8
lifeishell
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While I liked Illinois, his states idea will become a failure if he keeps pumping out the same genre of music.
01:58 PM on 07/12/06
#9
parallelism
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I almost completely agree with the review. The only disagreement I have is that personally, I loved the alternate versions of "Chicago." While I still don't think they match up to the album version from Come On, Feel the Illinoise, I think that those types of drastic changes are refreshing every once in a while.

It's crazy how he can release a b-side collection from an already amazing album and still manage to blow most of this year's releases out of the water. Sufjan Stevens must shit diamonds and pure gold.

Originally Posted by Russ Hockenbury
I was talking to my friend (who's a pretty damn talented and recognizable musician) the other day about Sufjan Stevens and we both kind of agreed that while Sufjan is talented, he's just a bit too "epic". Take that for what it's worth.

That's a completely understandable approach, but for me personally, that's another one of the things I love about his music. It sort of makes me feel like I'm not really on Earth.
01:59 PM on 07/12/06
parallelism
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Originally Posted by matt_rawlings
Great review, I will pick this up soonish

Do it, it's well worth it.
02:01 PM on 07/12/06
Drew Beringer
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Originally Posted by parallelism
I almost completely agree with the review. The only disagreement that I have is that personally, I loved the alternate versions of "Chicago." While I still don't think they match up to the album version from Come On, Feel the Illinoise, I think that those types of drastic changes are refreshing every once in a while.

It's crazy how he can release a b-side collection from an already amazing album and still manage to blow most of this year's releases out of the water. Sufjan Stevens must shit diamonds and pure gold.

I see where you are coming from. The different versions are not bad in any way, I was just expecting more.
02:02 PM on 07/12/06
kittypants
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2 releases? He has like 5
02:08 PM on 07/12/06
Drew Beringer
Senior Editor - @drewberinger - Locked Groove
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Originally Posted by kittypants
2 releases? He has like 5
No fuckin shit, I know this. But I am not going to recommend all his stuff right away to a new listener! Rather just Michigan and Illinois cause those are his best albums imo.
02:10 PM on 07/12/06
straylighthaste
Where the streets have no name.
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i LOVE sufjan and am completely obsessed. cant wait til he comes to nyc.

edit: pretty spot on review, btw.
02:18 PM on 07/12/06
parallelism
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Originally Posted by Drew Beringer
I see where you are coming from. The different versions are not bad in any way, I was just expecting more.

Ah, yeah, I can understand that. The Illinoise version just has so much punch to it and so many different crazy things going on at once, and yeah, I agree that musically it's pretty hard to top.

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