Customer Reviews


25 Reviews
5 star:
 (13)
4 star:
 (6)
3 star:
 (4)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much an Outtakes Collection as it is a Sequel to Illinois!
Objectivity. Oftentimes it is an easy ideal to attain. Jean Piaget would claim that objectivity is something that is acquired by age and is an indicator of formal operational thought, and as such it is not possessed by all people. I, for one, have the ability to be objective from time to time. However, despite by conquest of objective thought, I find it increasingly...
Published on July 11, 2006 by Cale E. Reneau

versus
19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting "Leftovers"
Sufjan Stevens' "Illinois" seemed to come out of nowhere and capture the fancies of critics and listeners alike last year, even though the artist had been churning out albums from his tiny label for some time. It ended up on many "best-of-the-year" lists, including #1 on the Pitchfork Media list. And the accolades were well-deserved, as "Illinois" was a big-sounding,...
Published on July 17, 2006 by B. Niedt


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much an Outtakes Collection as it is a Sequel to Illinois!, July 11, 2006
By 
Cale E. Reneau "Mound of Wires" (Conroe, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Objectivity. Oftentimes it is an easy ideal to attain. Jean Piaget would claim that objectivity is something that is acquired by age and is an indicator of formal operational thought, and as such it is not possessed by all people. I, for one, have the ability to be objective from time to time. However, despite by conquest of objective thought, I find it increasingly difficult to remain objective when reviewing Sufjan Stevens. Why? Because he is my absolute favorite musician; possibly ever, but definitely currently.

For those unfamiliar with the "legend" of "The Avalanche," I will explain. Sufjan's 2005 release "Illinois" was a brilliant, moving piece of artistry that made dozens of top 10 lists across the globe (including my own). According to the Asthmatic Kitty website, the album was originally planned to be a double album, but was scrapped well into the production of the album. "The Avalanche" are the songs that did not make it to the final cut of "Illinois" plus a few extras. However, do not dismiss this album as a B-Sides album (Even though Sufjan humbly labels it a "Outtakes and Extras" collection). "The Avalanche" is an album that can stand entirely on its own.

The title track, "The Avalanche," is also the lead-off song on the album. For those fortunate enough to have obtained a copy of "Illinois" on vinyl, this song should sound extremely familiar, mostly because it's the same song that was featured on that release. For those of us who are without a vinyl-player, however, "The Avalanche" is a brand new song filled with precise instrumentation and beautiful lyrics. As a lead-off track, it serves its purpose in enticing the listener to hear more. What comes next only makes the listener happy that they did. "Dear Mr. Supercomputer" is another fantastic song that makes use of Sufjan's brilliant compositional skills, featuring exlaimatory trumpets and whimsical flute flutters that set the tone for what is undoubtedly the most up-tempo and musically exciting song on the album.

The next song, "Adlai Stevenson," gives a brief history of the former Illinois governor and twice-failed presidential candidate of the same name. Though brief in minutes, the soothing guitar riff and Stevens' haunting vocals manage to make this song a standout on the album, though, musically, it would perhaps be more fitting on "Michigan."

The next notable track is the acoustic version of "Illinois" favorite, "Chicago." In all honesty, I was never much of a fan of the original version of the song, though I know many people who have clamored over it on occasion. This acoustic version, however, harkens back to Sufjan's softer, "Michigan" side and, to me, outdoes the original in almost every aspect. For those who are fans of the original, the sheer fact that there are three new versions on "The Avalanche" should be enough to entice you to purchase this album. They are all equally as beautiful and entertaining. "The Henney Buggy Band" is the next song on the album, and it just so happens to be my favorite. The song is incredibly upbeat and uplifting, once again utilizing Sufjan's brilliant compositional skills and putting the full instrumentation to good use.

From here, the album seems to get much more somber as it goes along. Notable songs along the way include "Springfield," "The Mistress Witch From McClure," "No Man's Land," and "Pittsfield," all of which capture the soul of the state just as "Illinois" did. It's appropriate to note that this album is, at its core, very similar to the album that preceded it. The spirit and dedication that went into the creation of "Illinois" is just as prevelent in "The Avalanche." As such, "The Avalanche" isn't so much an outtakes collection or an entirely different album, as it is a sequel to the original. Like almost all sequels, there are things that it lacks in comparison to the original. Despite this fact, "The Avalanche" is still a must-own for any dedicated Sufjan fan and is sure to deliver weeks, perhaps months of gratifacation and Illinois-based nostalgia.

Make no mistake about it, "The Avalanche" is a fantastic album with songs that could undoubtedly be added to Sufjan's already-long list of greatest hits! With the release of "Illinois," and now "The Avalanche," one thing is for sure; I love this state!

Recommended for fans of Sufjan Stevens and Illinois enthusiasts alike.

Key Tracks:
1. "The Avalanche"
2. "Dear Mr. Supercomputer"
3. "Adlai Stevenson"
4. "The Henney Buggy Band"
5. "Springfield"

4 out of 5 Stars
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars just buy it, January 15, 2007
By 
Carol C. (Providence, Rhode Island) - See all my reviews
I'm a little unhip to the zeitgeist, being a mostly stay-at-home mom, infrequent (lapsed) family physician, and perpetual community nuisance. Until today, I was blissfully unaware of the critical acclaim for "Illinoise." However, I listened to it incessantly after my husband brought it home, and wound up with a copy of "The Avalanche" for Christmas.

That being said, I put on the title track of "The Avalanche," on Christmas Day, and was blown away by the beauty and complexity of its opening. This album has entered the pantheon of those I listened to daily for weeks or even months after their discovery, which puts it in the league of Emmylou Harris's "Angel Band," the first "Trio" album (featuring Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton), the Dixie Chicks' "Home," Billy Bragg's and Wilco's "Mermaid Avenue," Bob Dylan's "Good As I Been to You," and the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack, which is pretty serious company.

Moreover, I cannot say enough about "Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair." This tune, with its rich harmonies, stands up against the greatest CSNY songs.

I enjoy the three alternate takes of "Chicago;" as a jazz fan, I'm accustomed to hearing different versions of the same song back-to-back on archival recordings. But I'm aware that the casual listener may find this sort of thing perplexing.

I take exception to the notion that Sufjan Stevens revels in the sameness of his sound: I think that criticism could be directed against Lennon and McCartney, Brian Eno, k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, Elvis (Costello or Presley), Ray Charles, or any of the above mentioned artists. I would not have it any other way.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting "Leftovers", July 17, 2006
By 
B. Niedt (Cherry Hill, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Sufjan Stevens' "Illinois" seemed to come out of nowhere and capture the fancies of critics and listeners alike last year, even though the artist had been churning out albums from his tiny label for some time. It ended up on many "best-of-the-year" lists, including #1 on the Pitchfork Media list. And the accolades were well-deserved, as "Illinois" was a big-sounding, musical tour-de-force that can be mentioned in the same breath with Brian Wilson's "SMiLE". Now, a year later, comes a collection of "shamelessly compiled" (in the artist's own words) leftover tracks from the "Illinois" sessions, which seem to be released for the benefit of avid fans who can't get enough of the guy and are eagerly awaiting the next full-blown album. There are at least half a dozen songs here that would have been worthy of inclusion on "Illinois" (though this would have pushed it into 2-CD territory). The standouts are the title track, "Dear Mr. Supercomputer", "Adlai Stevenson", "The Henney Buggy Band", "The Mistress Witch from McClure", and "No Man's Land". There are also three alternate versions of "Chicago", the centerpiece song from "Illinois", all of which are interesting takes. After that, most of the tunes sound and feel like filler: some of them seem half-finished, demo-like, and often devolving into semi-inspired noodling, dissonance, and in one case, what sounds like radio static. But that shouldn't be surprising in a CD that's advertised as a collection of "outtakes and extras." It is still worthwhile, at least for fans, but for those who haven't become familiar with Stevens' work yet, I suggest you start with "Illinois".
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars He's an avalanche, August 27, 2006
Sufjan Stevens has reached a new level in his musical career -- the point where every shred of his art is of interest.

That's where "The Avalanche" comes from -- it's all the worthy leftovers from Sufjan's opus "Illinoise." While there are some that were cut for a good reason, most of them are delicate, original and well-written. Even the worst of Sufjan's scraps are better than whatever is playing on the radio.

It opens with the title track, a folky little number that blossoms out with the inclusion of tense piano and a woodsy flute. It's a basic little song about homesickness and travel, which becomes something slightly odder by the end. "Come on, Snow!/Come on, Car!/Come on, Hands!/Come on, Feet!" Sufjan exhorts happily.

Then we get some new twists and turns -- he dabbles in electronica-edged pop in the peppy "Super Computer" and the shimmery "Inaugural Music," effervescent folkpop, quirky indiepop to dance to, bluesy balladry, and some concept tunes such as the eerie, spacey expanses of "Pluto." They ought to use that in a sci-fi movie.

The most amazing song on here is the delightful horn dance tune of "Henney Buggy Band," where you can only imagine people frolicking in the streets. It just overflows with fun. "Let the bugles play the sermon on the raid/I kissed you on the face/I kissed you on the playground!"

Sadly, not every song on here is a masterpiece. Most of them are excellent pieces of work, sweet and musically adept. But there are some that just noodle around, like the ambient "Kaskaskia River." It starts, never goes anywhere, and just fades out. And it's not the only one that just sort of rambles.

With a few songs trimmed off, however, this would be a glorious collection of oddments. And for stuff that didn't make the cut, these songs are very polished musically and lyrically -- we get ripples of blippy synth, little acoustic songs, and all of it is trimmed with horns, banjo, tambourine, deep piano, flutes and other instruments. Who knows what else is in the mix?

Stevens himself sounds like he's having fun in many of these songs, especially "Adlai" and "Henney Buggy Band." His soothing voice croons, "Oh life, with your colorful surprises/Eleanor, how you put one on disguises/Oh Father John, you cannot tell me/What's right and wrong/You cannot tell me!" And he's backed by some very pretty backing vocals.

"Avalanche" is not on the level of the album it springs from, but it comes close enough to be worth treasuring. A little gem, with some flaws.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A slightly inferior version of the best album of the decade, July 11, 2006
It is a sad reflection on the quality of contemporary music when a musician's B-sides legitimately compete for the best album of the year. Songs such as "The Henney Buggy Band", "Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadlfly caught in his hair", "The Mistress Witch From McClure", and "Adlai Stevenson" compare favorably with the best on Illinois or Michigan. I do have two problems though with the cd as a whole. First, all of the songs I mentioned are in the first half of the cd. There's no mistaking that the second half has good songs as well, with the "Perpetual Self..." being a standout, but overall it's markedly inferior to the first half. It contains two of the 3 versions of Chicago and 5 instrumentals. The disparity is so striking, I feel that through song 10, "The Avalanche" is actually a superior cd to Illinois at the same juncture. It feels almost as if Sufjan ran out of tracks and insisted on making another 75 minute opus, so threw in, dare I say it, "filler". The second problem refers to the overall flow of the album. While both Illinois and Michigan melded harmonies, themes, and structure so seamlessly that it was almost impossible to skip a track, The Avalanche at times feels disjointed. This is less noticeable in the first half because the material is so breathtaking, but it eventually becomes quite evident. This material wasn't meant for the album format in the same way Illinois was. Now, on to the positives. While Illinois had a song or two that I simply didn't care for and would never listen to outside the context of a full listen, The Avalanche has no such problem. Even Chicago, a song that I've never been particularly fond of (yes, I'm one of the few) sounds significantly better in it's new incarnations. In short, while Illinois had probably 14-15 great tracks (I'll leave out the instrumentals ) and 1-3 ok tracks, The Avalanche has 10 great tracks and 5 good tracks. Another positive I'd note is the strength of the instrumentals on The Avalanche. While Illinois' instrumentals often felt essential simply because of the atmospheric bridge they provided, few if any were of interest as standalone tracks. The Avalanche actually has instrumentals that deserve to be appreciated and absorbed in their own right. This is especially needed in album that lacks the sonic cohesiveness Illinois possessed. Otherwise they'd feel like entirely dispensable tracks. Overall, despite the minor problems, this is one of the best albums I've heard all year. And listening to these "B-sides", one begins to suspect that Stevens is incapable of recording anything that doesn't fit squarely in that category.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my review, July 22, 2006
this is simply a great album that far exceeded my expectations for it. quite frankly i can't see how some of these songs were cut from Illinois. overall the album doesn't flow as well as Illinois, but that's to be expected from an album of extras and outtakes. some of my favorite tracks include:

The Avalanche, Dear Mr. Supercomputer, Adlai Stevenson, The Henney Buggy Band, Springfield, The Mistress Witch from McClure (my personal favorite), No Man's Land
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars An avalanche of good sounds, October 2, 2007
My friend introduced me to Sufjan Stevens a while ago when we exchanged mix CDs. On it was a lot of good Indie music from artists I never heard of, including three songs from these guys. Never heard of them, but after a few listens, these three songs started growing on me. I think they were from the Chicago album, including the title track. Eventually I decided to delve a little further into this dynamic group, and came across this item first. After just a quick listen on the sample page, I knew it was for me. I sort of bought it on impulse, which usually works out well for me. Just so you know, this review is coming from a person who has not heard any of Sufjan Stevens' other albums, but I am highly impressed with this one. It's big, clean cut, and very diversified. If this is and example of their "leftovers" from another album, then I can't imagine what the album's like! If you complain about the overwhelming factor of the work, you're simply complaining about too much of a good thing.

We're loaded with 21 tracks here and all are good. Some are of the shorter variety, but mostly this CD is made up of regular length songs beginning with "The Avalanche". To give you an idea, the average length of a song here is probably about 2.50. The next two songs are great, however there are a few that are just sort of...well, noise. Take "The Vivian Girls Are Visited in the Night by Saint Dargarius and His Squadron of Benevolent Butterflies", otherwise known as track #4. I suppose it's not bad if you like that sort of thing. It just adds a little extra texture and makes this CD what it is. There are three different versions of "Chicago" which is fun. My favorite is the "adult contemporary easy listening version" (otherwise known as track #12) but they are all excellent. "The Henney Buggey Band" is one of my favorites, very lively. Some are instrumental, such as the next two, tracks 7 and 8 so this CD maintains a nice balance in variety. "Springfield or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair" sounds a little Crosby, Stills and Nash to me, mostly because of the drums and vocal harmony. An interesting track. "The Mistress Witch From McClure" is a soft, gentle track set with nice brass. The vocals are also excellent. My next favorite is the combo of "Inaugural Pop Music" that flows smoothly into "No Man's Land", one of the best songs here. You wouldn't know you were listening to a CD of "excrement" if you heard this song blindfolded. It is album worthy, and 4.45 long. The last group of songs ends the CD quietly, like a whisper. You're sort of surprised when it's over, but I guarantee you'll be wanting more.

This is a fine album of supposedly bits and pieces, its real strength being in its completeness as a whole. Some of it you can throw away, some of it is gold. But if you like the group, then you will love this.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great songwriting, but it's a bit overwhelming. Kinda like an avalanche...., March 6, 2007
I look at it this way. If you still haven't heard of Sufjan Stevens, you've probably spent the past 18 months or so hiding under some musical rock somewhere. And that can be understandable to some extent - everyone does have their own musical tastes, preferences, likes, and dislikes, all of which can confine the average music listener to only being exposed to quite a narrow slice of the musical spectrum. However, I would like to assume that most of the people who would potentially be reading my written/typed words have heard of Mr. Stevens and his multi-state recording project, not to mention his traveling folk orchestra (the Illinois-makers). Thus, I will proceed henceforth under the impression that you have some inkling of this man and his offbeat, yet defined musical style.

Wow... Simply wow. This album represents quite an ambitious musical undertaking, one that few artists would ever dream of undertaking, and I'm not even talking about the 50 States Project. In its most rudimentary form, many people have released CD's full of B-sides, out-takes, rejected tracks, and other assorted songs that didn't quite fit on any other released album. Thus, in and of itself, Avalanche isn't really that revolutionary - many groups throughout music history (whether they themselves or greedy record executives) have created something of this nature and they're usually released to mixed reviews (i.e. Led Zeppelin's Coda). Big deal, right? Aren't most of albums of this nature just a vain attempt by bands to milk their loyal fan bases for extra money (i.e. Pearl Jam's series of live concert releases from their US and European tours a few years back)?

However, where this album stands up and makes people take notice is that Mr. Stevens went back into his journals and pages of scribbling from the recording sessions for Illinois, found all of these songs, finished writing them, cleaned up whatever rough studio version might have exited, and compiled yet another CD (nearly 80 minutes worth) for his listeners. The aspiring, wannabe, wish-I-could-be songwriter living inside of me is excited to listen to these songs, as many of them are truly works in progress. Here is a writer/artist/sings who's willing to open up to his listening audience and declare, "Hey! Here are some broken fragments of songs, some not-so-good songs, and some could-have-been songs! I'm not afraid to release a CD that's not picture-perfect!" When I first heard of the release of this album I was quite excited, because the makeup of these songs and how they were collected was really compelling to me.

But then, the more I listened to the album and gained a decent glimpse into the content of this album and what it represented, my cynical side began to expose itself. I fight my cynicism rather often, as it can be difficult to repress, but it comes to the fore when I think about this album. I enjoy it; in fact, I really enjoy it, but this album screams out, "Over-Indulgence!" And I don't like thinking of artists of various descriptions, whose work I regularly enjoy, as crassly commercial beings, out to make a quick buck with their creativity. But, if you've ever heard any of the programming on any radio station owned by Clear Channel (or other large media conglomerate), you'd know that people sell out and do so often and regularly.

Please don't misunderstand me here - I am not accusing Sufjan of exploiting the ears and wallets of hipsters across the nation by cashing in on the well-deserved acclaim of Illinois. Far from it actually - I think that there are many portions of The Avalanche that are excellent. To be honest (and a fawning fan), I could listen to every single variation (both studio, live, or otherwise) of "Chicago" that Sufjan could ever release. When traveling and performing, he takes pains to recreate and reformulate "Chicago" on a regular basis; he is simply not content to let the song stay as it is, and such an idealistic approach to making music makes me really happy. And just like on Illinois, the "Name" songs on The Avalanche (as in, the songs referring to specifically to people, whether real or fictional) are standout tracks, filled with quality lyrics and his best compositions. I mean, who else would actually write songs entitled "Adlai Stevenson" and "Saul Bellow"? I am in no way denying this guy's talent - Mr. Stevens is a great songwriter, one of the most talented that any genre or subgenre has heard in years.

But, in the long run, I think my problem with this album is that Sufjan is running the risk of watering himself down. A songwriter can simply release too many albums, too many tracks, too many concepts, and too many ideas, and, in the process of doing so, can potentially diminish his or her impact upon music history. Accordingly, there's just too much here, as in, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer length, depth, and breadth of this album, and it's only a collection of B-sides. Sufjan would have done well to engage in a bit of the same self-editing he employed when casting these songs off Illinois in the first place.

I wholeheartedly concur with the idea a great friend of mine had when he reflected upon the entirety of the record - I would have preferred to purchase this album as a succession of 3 or so EP's. Yes, that means I probably would have spent more money, but I would have found much more enjoyment from the collective purchase. Each EP would have included one or two different versions of "Chicago" and, from there, the songs would be collected thematically - "Name" songs, "Place" songs, and then other assorted bits and pieces of things. I would have been really excited about that. I would have been able to decide which version I wanted to enjoy and not feel bad about skipping across songs that I really don't want to hear, because I don't like skipping around - I'm a fan of listening to an album in its entirety, the way that the artist made it to be.

So, if ever I get into a conversation with Mr. Stevens, I think what I'd tell him would go something like this - "Hey! Sufjan! Great work on The Avalanche! Next time though, do a better job with track selection. I want to hear your best work, and not just your `Eh, this is OK' kinda stuff. I'd appreciate it."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I think a distinction can be made..., July 12, 2006
By 
J. Jones (Vernon, CT USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
As several of the customer reviews of this album already delve into poetic prose about the sonic beauty of "The Avalanche" and Sufjan Stevens' music in general, I will not take up space trying to sell the album to potential buyers. However, I notice that a trend of most of these reviews is to either criticize the "flow" or continuity of this album as compared to Stevens' other works--or to say that this simply can not be labeled an "outtakes and extras" album.

First of all, I think the album is amazing. I love all of Sufjan's work (even "Enjoy Your Rabbit"). However, I side with the people that think that this album does not have the cohesiveness that his other records do. Yet, I do not say this as a criticism. None of the other critics have mentioned "Seven Swans," Stevens' post-"Michigan" offering. "Seven Swans" consists of many songs that were left off "Michigan." Unlike "The Avalanche," the material was re-tooled to make "Seven Swans" the beautiful piece of art that it is. I'm sure that if Sufjan wanted "Swans" to be an "outtakes" album, it would not have had the wonderful flow that did.

Lastly, I read somewhere that Sufan intended for this to be a semi-"holdover" album, until his next "50 States" album comes out. Maybe this is the reason for "The Avalanche" to be "shamelessly compiled" in the first place. All things considered, I don't really mind at all. It satisfies my appetite for new music from Sufjan Stevens, while it whets my appetite for what great album (with all its flow and sonic beauty) will come next.

By the way, I love all the versions of "Chicago." It is truly an amazing insight into the artistic and creative process to see how the same song can be so subtly transformed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illinois' Lost Twin, July 11, 2006
By 
As other reviewers have noted, this album is far better than an "outtakes" album should be. More importantly, the sound of the majority of the songs (i.e. instruments, tempo, vocal techniques)is consistent with that of Illinois, and will absolutely please fans of it.

If any differences can be noted, there are a few more "harder" sounds on the album (electric guitar, electronic tones and clanks) but they are still pretty far between- nowhere near "A Sun Came!" I would normally name a few stand-outs but there are so many, it's pointless. Even the multiple versions of Chicago (a risky move) are each unique and more than tolerable.

Generally, album coherence is not something I squabble about- White Album anyone? - so, I won't start here. Sure, it's not as silky smooth as Illinois, but there are so many gems on the album, listeners probably won't mind. And if you're still reading this, you're probably already a fan of Sufjan, so go out and get the album already!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.