Album Cover
Sufjan Stevens
Asthmatic Kitty
July 01, 2003


In a genre overrun with whiny blog entries set to acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens's latest, Michigan, is a welcome change of pace: a combination of Nick Drake at his most sullen, Tortoise at their most joyous, and "Roger and Me" at its most musical. The mixture results in an album of drastically ranging emotion - the quiet whispered sadness of one song is countered by the overwhelming joy of the next, and the one's presence only makes the emotional impact of the other that much more striking.

As a tribute to Stevens' home state, each song is about Michigan, a city in Michigan, the state of things in Michigan, a memory of life in Michigan. "Flint" opens the album with slow, somber piano, over which Stevens mourns for the city's "unemployed and underpaid". Unexpectedly and seamlessly, it fades into "All Good Naysayers, Speak Up!", a light, festive tune that brings to mind the theme music to "The Sims". "For the Widows in Paradise" and "Holland" are disarmingly depressing guitar songs, as is "Romulus", a highlight of the album: "banjo" and "beautiful" are two words not usually paired, but here they are combined to amazing effect, and the lyrics dealing with memories of shame and death (in Michigan) create impossibly dense layers of emotion and complexity. The other end of the spectrum sees "Say Yes! to Michigan!" and "Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!", carefree, joyous tunes about the not-so-depressing memories of Michigan: "If I ever meant to go away/ I was raised, I was raised/ In the place, in the place/ Still I often think of going back/ To the farms, to the farms/ Golden arms, golden arms/ To remind me." Somewhere between the two extremes lie "Tahquamenon Falls" and "Alanson, Crooked River", mystifying sheets of rain-like vibraphone chimes in innumerable layers. Each song, whatever the style, is performed beautifully, and with genuine emotion.

The wide range of emotions expressed can, depending on your mood, make Michigan difficult to listen to all the way through, but at least part of the album should, no matter your mood, go down extremely well. Stevens, with Michigan, has effectivly redeemed the post-Mangum singer-songwriter, and shown that there is still a non-whiny-emo meaning to the term.

Noah Jackson

Track List

  1. Flint (For the Unemplyed and Underpaid)
  2. All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!
  3. For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
  4. Say Yes! to Michigan!
  5. The Upper Peninsula
  6. Tahquamenon Falls
  7. Holland
  8. Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)
  9. Romulus
  10. Alanson, Crooked River
  11. Sault Saint Marie, Sleeping Bear
  12. They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For the Homeless in Muskegon)
  13. Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)
  14. Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
  15. Vito's Ordination Song