Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche - 7.2

Call it burnout or backlash if you have to, but it's hard not to compare the two albums and find this one wanting

I'm Back. What? You didn't even notice I was gone? {Insert ironic foghorn sound here}

On with the business at hand, namely Sufjan Steven's album of odds and sods, The Avalanche. Chris Dahlen makes many good points about this collection in his review, the main being that it is the Danny Devito to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Twin. While slightly amusing, it pales in comparison to the bronzed Austrian god that is Illinois.

Unlike others here at Tuning Fork I am a Stevens fan and believe that Illinois contains some of the most beautiful music of the last couple years, Jesus references or not. And if those religious shout outs make you uncomfortable you can always change them in your head from God or Jesus to Krotog or Bentrak. That way you can avoid your discomfort, enjoy the songs and get the added bonus of being amused by pretty falsetto odes to outer space monsters.

Anyway, I am a fan, but an additional 75 minutes of material culled from the same sessions is the definition of overkill. This needed to be scaled back into a 4 or 5 track EP and left at that. Three versions of Chicago? Totally unnecessary, especially as each one pales in comparison to the album version (although I must say the Multiple Personality Disorder Version is strangely compelling). Yes it is interesting to hear the artist working his way to a final version, and I am sure hardcore (if that is the right word) fans of Stevens will be delighted to be able to put all four versions on their I Pods and play them all in a row. But for the vast majority of us this is just redundant, and diminishing returns are never something that is very endearing.

Apart from that there is a lot of filler here. Some of it is pretty, some of it is so same sounding to previous works as to become indistinguishable in my head.

I don't find the 50 states project to be as gimmicky as others seem to, as you need a jumping off point for any artistic endeavor and it just happens that Stevens uses this framework to make his music. I am jealous of any artist that can just jump right in and start, as i often need a push or gimmick to get myself started. I think a lot of people are like this. My wife is a painter, but she often starts off drawing crude stick figures to get herself going before moving on to the more complex areas. I love these stick figures as they show how her mind works, but to bring this analogy to port, i wouldnt pay $12.99 for them.

Bravo to Stevens for getting so much material from each state. But the original album was just at the limit of too much, so this pushes it over the edge. The final tally is two and a half hours of music. That is too much on this subject (full disclosure: I own the 3.5 hour cd set of the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, so my footing here may be a little too slippery). Dahlen acknowledges this is is lesser product of a greater work, yet the rating is still a healthy 7.2. I would place it more in the 4 or 5 range and sit quietly waiting for the next proper album: Dang, Its Delaware.