Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Sufjan Stevens: Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty, 2005]
Scornful though one may be of Stevens's beliefs that "classical music" is "high art" and Christ Jesus died for our sins, it would be rigid in the extreme to deny his melodicism. There's not an unattractive tune on a record rife with counterpoint and interlude; musically, it's so inspired--and because it does its appointed work simply and unhurriedly, so unpretentious--that nonbelievers had better accept that he's getting over on talent, not talk. Religion arises mainly in the immensely touching, and unorchestrated, "Casimir Pulaski Day," where the cancer death of a teen love occasions something resembling doubt. The historically inclined may object that Steven's portrait of the great state of Abraham Lincoln and Ozzie Guillen is impressionistic to the point of whimsy, and I myself would die a smidgen happier if I never heard another song about a mass murderer. But this album radiates positive energy, and in today's alt, that's a precious thing. A-