Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from Illinois Album CD (2006)

Artist: Sufjan Stevens

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Product Overview

The little secret behind the Illinois record is that it was originally conceived as a double album, culminating in a musical collage of nearly 50 songs. But as the project began to develop into an unwieldy epic, common sense weighed in - as did the opinions of others - and the project was cut in half. But as 2005 came to a close, Sufjan Stevens returned to the old, forsaken songs on his 8-track like a grandfather remembering his youth, indulging in old journals and newspaper clippings. What he uncovered went beyond the merits of nostalgia; it was more like an ensemble of capricious friends and old acquaintances wearing party outfits, waiting to be let in at the front door, for warm drinks and interesting conversation. Among them were Saul Bellow, Ann Landers, Adlai Stevenson, and a brief cameo from Henry Darger's Vivian Girls. The gathering that followed would become the setting for the songs on The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album.

Sufjan gleaned 21 useable tracks from the abandoned material, including three alternate versions of Chicago. Some songs were in finished form, others were merely outlines, gesture drawings, or musical scribbles mumbled on a hand-held tape recorder. Most of the material required substantial editing, new arrangements or vocals. Much of the work was done at the end of 2005 or in January the following year. Sufjan invited many of the original Illinoisemakers to fill in the edges: drums, trumpet, a choir of singers. The centerpiece, of course, was the title track - The Avalanche - a song intended for the leading role on the Illinois album but eventually cut and placed as a bonus track on the vinyl release. In his rummaging through old musical memorabilia, Sufjan began to use this song as a meditation on the editorial process, returning to old forms, knee-deep in debris, sifting rocks and river water for an occasional glint of gold. "I call ye cabin neighbors," the song bemuses, "I call you once my friends." And like an avid social organizer, Sufjan took in all the odd musical misfits and gathered them together for a party of their own, like good friends.

A careful listener may uncover the obvious trend on this record: almost every song on the Illinois album has a counterpart on the outtakes. Carl Sandburg arm-wrestles Saul Bellow. The aliens landing near Highland salute Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. The loneliness of "Casimir Pulaski Day" deepens even further in the foreboding soundtrack to "Pittsfield." At its best, The Avalanche is an exercise in form, revealing the working habits of one of the most productive songwriters today. As an illustration, the avalanche refers to the snow and rubble that falls off the side of a mountain, or, in this case, the musical debris generously chucked from an abundant epic. It's unlikely you'll find a mountain in the Prairie State so the metaphor will have to do.


Label Asthmatic Kitty
SKU 202717578
UPC 656605830223
UPC 14 00656605830223
Format CD
Release Date 7/11/2006
Author Sufjan Stevens
Associated Artist/Work Original Soundtrack
Associated Artist/Work Osso
Associated Artist/Work Thomas, Rosie
Technical Info
Engineer Sufjan Stevens
CatalogID AKR 022
Lable Name Asthmatic Kitty
Released 07/11/2006
Original Release 2006
Number of Discs 1
SPARE Code n/a
Length 75m : 46s
Mono/Stereo Stereo
Studio/Live Studio
UPC 00656605830223
Album Notes and Credits
Personnel: Sufjan Stevens; Craig Montoro (vocals, trumpet); James McAlister (drums, percussion); Rosie Thomas, Shara Worden, Katrina Kerns (background vocals).
Recording information: Brooklyn, NY; Carroll Music Studios, New York, NY; Seattle, WA; St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn,; The Buddy Project, Astoria, Queens; The New Jerusalem Recreation Room, Clarksboro, NJ.
Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan.
Photographers: Sufjan Stevens; Denny Renshaw.
Primarily recorded in late 2005/early '06, THE AVALANCHE serves as a companion piece to Sufjan Stevens's lauded ILLINOIS, and shares the brightly melodic chamber-pop sound of that earlier release. On this 21-track offering, the Brooklyn-based indie-rock hero revisits his lilting "Chicago" on three different occasions, most notably an acoustic version that showcases Stevens's folk leanings. The gentle-voiced performer also nods to Prairie State luminaries on the woodwind-laced "Adlai Stevenson" and the delicate "Saul Bellow," a track that strongly recalls Stevens's esteemed peer Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine). Since he has focused on Illinois for two full-length records, it seems unlikely that Stevens will reach his once-stated goal of an album for each of the 50 states, but given the remarkable quality evident on even the supposed castaways from these ambitious outings, his ardent fans certainly won't fault him for it.
Professional Reviews
Rolling Stone (p.104) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Steven's charm, like that of his spiritual homeboy Neil Young, lies in teetering on the edge of cloudy-headed overindulgence..."
Spin (p.79) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[With] surprising synth bursts and craggy guitar noise that were sand-papered off its predecessor."
Entertainment Weekly (p.79) - "These wistful folk-pop leftovers are better than most acts' A game."
Q (p.116) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[H]is idiosyncratic instrumentation -- banjos and trumpets, along with some spooky echoes -- makes it all the more accessible."
Alternative Press (p.212) - "His sense of research, observation, and, most importantly, storytelling is as strong on these 21 tracks as it was on ILLINOIS' 22."
No Depression (p.116) - "THE AVALANCHE provides an interesting glimpse into Stevens' artistic process, as well as the best -ever musical dissertation on Adlai Stevenson."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.96) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[T]here are plenty of stirring woodwind/brass arrangements at which Stevens excels, and we get fascinating nods to one-time Illinois inhabitants..."
Artist Bio
Sufjan StevensSufjan Stevens was found in a milk crate on the doorstep of Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, in Detroit, MI, on Canada Day, July 1, 1975. He was wrapped in cellophane, and tagged on the wrist with the mysterious note: "I love you." Mr. and Mrs. Stevens had three other children: Jo-Jo, Zukey-Dukey, and Jam-Jam. Mrs. Stevens crocheted afghans for the flea market. Mr. Stevens was the custodian at the hospital. They had very little money, but very big hearts. They decided to keep the baby (using the milk crate to hold their National Geographics). They named him Sufjan Stevens, after Abu Sufjan Muhammad, the great Armenian Sufi warrior who slew ten thousand dragons to save the Fairy Princess. Despite his despondent looks, Sufjan was a good kid. Mr. and Mrs. Stevens did the best they could. They fed him carrots, they read him parts of the Bhagavad Gita, they combed his hair, they sang songs and tap-danced in the living room. Things were looking good!
Disc 1
1 Avalanche, The
2 Dear Mr. Supercomputer
3 Adlai Stevenson
4 Vivian Girls Are Visited in the Night by Saint Dargarius and His ..., The
5 Chicago
6 Henney Buggy Band, The
7 Saul Bellow
8 Carlyle Lake
9 Springfield, Or Bobby Got A Shadfly Caught In His Hair
10 Mistress Witch From McClure, The (Or, The Mind That Knows Itself)
11 Kaskaskia River
12 Chicago - (Adult Contemporary)
13 Inaugural Pop Music For Jane Margaret Byrne
14 No Man's Land
15 Palm Sunday Tornado Hits Crystal Lake, The
16 Pick-Up, The
17 Perpetual Self, Or "What Would Saul Alinsky Do?", The
18 For Clyde Tombaugh
19 Chicago - (Multiple Personality Disorder)
20 Pittsfield
21 Undivided Self, The (For Eppie and Popo)
ReviewSource E! Online
Review Sufjan Stevens has already set an impossible goal for himself: to make albums inspired by all 50 states. Even though the literary singer-songwriter hasn't made it very far down the list (only two so far, with a break for the Christian folk disc Seven Swans), he's confident enough to clean out the closet and offer an entire album of extras featuring nearly two dozen outtakes from his most recent conquest, Illinois. Most of these songs are just as good, if not better, than the ones that actually made the cut, with tracks like "The Avalanche" and "The Henney Buggy Band" even giving the real thing some competition in terms of orchestral pop magic.
ReviewRating 10
ReviewSource Slant Magazine
Review Since The Avalanche is still ostensibly an album of outtakes, there's perhaps an even stronger case to be made for excising the instrumental cuts this time, but that's only a minor quibble in the overall scope of Stevens's Illinois project, and it's even more inconsequential when taking The Avalanche as an opportunity to delve even farther into the creative process of a songwriter as gifted as Stevens.
Reviewer Jonathan Keefe
ReviewRating 9
Product Attributes
Artist Stevens,Sufjan
Music Format Compact Disc
Michael Endelman, Entertainment Weekly These wistful folk-pop leftovers are better than most acts' A game.
Neumu.net ...brings Stevens' exacting vision on Illinois into sharper focus.
Noel Murray, The Onion A.V. Club The Avalanche's best songs would've been Illinois standouts as well.

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