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Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Chicago"

Sufjan Stevens "Chicago" (2005)

The album cover originally contained a drawing of Superman, which in later versions was covered by a sticker of balloons.



So much music has been tied up with The Second City. It's got a classic song from the 20s that has been recorded hundreds of times, most notably by Frank Sinatra. It's also got a song from the early 60s that Sinatra sang that virtually drove the early song out of people's heads. It's got its own musical, which opened in 1975. It's got a Progressive, Jazz Fusion Rock/Adult Contemporary band that named itself after the transit authority, then changed to just be named after the whole city. Graham Nash wrote a song in 1970 as a plea to the rest of his band mates to come and protest on behalf of the Chicago 8. There are also lesser known songs in the electronica, pop folk confessional, metalcore, and Tom Waits genres. So how does an indie singer-songwriter from Detroit come to write one of the most critically regarded songs about the city?

In 2004 Sufjan Stevens expressed an interest in writing an album for each of the fifty states of the US. The first he wrote back in 2003 about his home state of Michigan. When he eventually released Illinois, often called by the name on the cover: Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise in 2005 it was a lo-fi complexly orchestrated extraveganza. The titles of the songs were sometimes longer than the title of the album, he used over a dozen musicians, not including the choir, and played close to two dozen instruments himself. In more recent years, as he has released other non state related albums, there have been hints about others, but also statements that it was all a promotional gimmick.

The song is about growing up in general, and having one defining moment that encapsulates that growth in maturity. The vibraphone that starts the song is such an unheard song in music anymore that I love hearing it. the layers of sound just sit on top off each other perfectly, the strings in particular I really enjoy. There is a anoying little sound in the chorus that reminds me a little too much of a clock alarm, but overall I can't dislike the song over it. I like the trumpet, particularly because it is in the moment that the trumpet comes in that you realize that it's not a super hi-fi slick production with auto tune correction everywhere. It's musicians playing a song they love and with people they respect and appreciate. The layers of sound, and in particular the backing choir remind me of a band that does not have a place in the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die book: The Polyphonic Spree.

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