Sufjan Stevens retrospective

Stereogum:

 

Conventional wisdom states that Undisputed Era Of The Album took place in the 1970s. But thanks to technological circumstances and the growth in popularity of independent labels, the first decade of the 2000s was arguably just as grand an era for the album as any other — not financially-speaking, no; but in terms of offering a form for musicians to deliver big artistic statements? Absolutely. And perhaps no artist took better advantage of this confluence of technological and cultural trends than Sufjan Stevens.

In 2003, following a pair of less-than-extraordinary LPs, Stevens stunned the independent music community with the epic concept album, Greetings From Michigan. A boldly ambitious and extraordinarily unique record, Michigan celebrated the quiet, pristine beauty of the Upper Peninsula, the Great Lakes, and other windswept natural wonders. Its emotional power center, however, lay in the album’s somber laments of the economic decay plaguing erstwhile industrial centers like Detroit. Stevens was hardly the first musician to document financial squalor with such empathy and poignancy. But unlike folk singers like Woody Guthrie, Stevens’ observations were largely apolitical, as mini-tragedies like “Flint” and “They Also Mourn Who Do Not Wear Black” aimed straight for the heart, leaving behind gaping emotional wounds that couldn’t be healed by swing state politics. Arriving four years before the global economic crisis — and over a decade before #FeelTheBern became a rallying cry for broke white Millennials — Michigan was a prescient omen for Americans who would soon join the citizens of Detroit in absorbing the impact of the wealthy’s decades-long campaign of reckless, criminal impropriety...

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