We had an amazing yet exhausting day yesterday helping run the SunRype Tri-KiDs triathlon in Milton, Ontario. All in, it was a 16 hour day beginning with a 1:00am wake up and, so, we’re all taking it very easy today. Kelly is in bed snugging with the kitties, HRH is in her room doing God knows what with her iPad and I’m watching the new series of ‘Narcos‘ on Netflix. Later we’ll head into St. Catharines for a Lions burger as part of the Labor Day festivities in Merritton and visit with grandma and grandpa but first, I’m kicking around in the basement and listening to the ‘Michigan‘ album by Sufjan Stevens.
I suppose the actual title of the album is ‘Sufjan Stevens Presents…Greets from Michigan, the Great Lake State‘, but I’m not typing that out more than once, so ‘Michigan‘ it is.
The album was Stevens’ 3rd album released in 2003 and is essentially a concept album featuring songs referencing places, events, and persons related to the U.S. state of Michigan. The album was the first in Stevens’ fifty states project, a planned series of fifty albums to encompass all fifty U.S. states, however, that only two “state albums” were ever released before he admitted the project was a “promotional gimmick”.
I originally listened to the ‘Illinois‘ album last month on the flight out to Kelowna, BC in July and was completely taken with the album and Sufjan himself. I’ve since become a bit of a fan and, hence, when I saw this album for cheap at the SRCvinyl Niagara store a while back I snatched it up.
Before I get into the album itself, it’s interesting to note that the whole album was recorded and produced entirely by Stevens, using relatively cheap equipment for a market release. All of the tracks were recorded using 2 Shure SM57s and an AKG C1000, running through a Roland VS880EX, at a sampling rate of 32 khz (lower than the rates typically used in recording). Michigan was produced in Pro Tools, which Stevens has also used for his following albums. The instrumentation was recorded in various locations: a home in Petoskey, Michigan; Buxton School in Williamstown, Massachusetts; the N. J. Rec. Room in Clarksboro, New Jersey; and throughout Brooklyn, including Stevens’ own apartment and those of his friends and St. Paul’s Church. Stevens comfortably handles nearly every instrument on the album – an impressive task that includes various keyboards, woodwinds, guitars, and percussion – but also enlisted the help of Megan, Elin, and Daniel Smith from the Danielson Famile to help out with vocal duties, and the outcome is a haunting and hypnotic studio opus certainly worth getting lost in.
It’s also important to note that Michigan is where Stevens’ himself was born and raised making a good place to begin, even if he isn’t really going to follow through on the whole fifty states thing.
The album also has lots of those great song titles that I loved from the ‘Illinois‘ album like ‘Oh God, Where Are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?)‘, ‘For The Windows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti‘, ‘They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black (For The Homeless In Muskegon)‘ and ‘All Good Naysayers, Speak Up! Or Forever Hold Your Peace!‘. However, they are slightly more diluted and filled with heartbreak – not that that’s a bad thing. The album cryptically addresses Stevens’ frustration with the notorious job market in the city of Flint in a lovely ballad that opens the record (‘Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)’), and documents the depressing struggle the city of Detroit has fought to once again attain the elegance it had prior to the riots in the late ’60s; however, it also touches on a brighter side, as in the cascading ‘Say Yes! to Michigan!‘. It’s title is a reference to the campaign adopted by the state in the 1980’s and serves as the centerpiece as well as Stevens’ attachment and amour for the state he is from.
Musically, Stevens often plays his Jim O’Rourke and Stereolab cards, riffing along with complex polyphony in building loops and dynamics, but he also frequently imports lightly strummed guitars and stark banjo picking to break up the album and give it a rustic northern folk aesthetic.
In short, it’s gorgeous and the perfect relaxing, chill out music that my body and soul needed today.