- Personnel: Sufjan Stevens (various instruments); Craig Montoro (vocals, trumpet); James McAlister (drums); Daniel Smith, Elin K. Smith (hand claps, background vocals); Matt Morgan, Shara Worden, Katrina Kerns (background vocals).
- The second entry from sui generis singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens in his absurdly ambitious project to make a record for every state in America outdistances even 2003's superb GREETINGS FROM MICHIGAN in scope and beauty. A sweeping paean to the Lincoln state, ILLINOIS weaves together history, personal confession, and detail-filled scenarios with chamber folk, expansive orchestral pop, and back-porch pastoral settings for a stunningly progressive indie gem that sound like Brian Wilson, Stereolab, and Neil Young holding hands in heaven.
- Remarkably, in its intricate, gorgeously crafted surfaces, ILLINOIS lives up to its aims. In addition to its symphonic grandeur, the album also showcases Stevens's heartland folk, and some of the album's most shimmering moments are its most spare. "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.," for instance, is an absorbing narrative that features Stevens's sweet tenor couched by guitar, piano, and backing vocals. "Casimir Pulaski Day," similarly, rides a rootsy banjo and guitar groove while Stevens unfurls image-rich lyrics over a lilting melody. Witty, audacious, and moving, ILLINOIS manages to be spiritual, entertaining, and educational all at once, resulting in an utterly unique conceptual and musical statement.
Spin (p.64) - Ranked #8 in Spin's "40 Best Albums Of 2005" - "[A] Chicago World's Fair of the ear -- a rebirth of wonder, discovery, and progress..."
Spin (p.105) - "[The album] sounds as informed by middle-American community theater, church choirs, and John Adams' American operas as any canonical 'folk rock' it may resemble." - Grade: A-
Entertainment Weekly (No. 829, p.71) - "...[F]inespun songs variously inspired by Carl Sandburg, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., and the 'Seer's' tower....ILLINOIS sounds quaint and even magical." - Grade: B+
Uncut (p.86) - 5 stars out of 5 - "ILLINOIS is an extraordinary achievement, all the more so as Stevens played most of the parts himself."
Magnet (p.52) - Ranked #5 in Magnet's "The 20 Best Albums Of 2005" - "[The album] continues his brave/insane quest to document the whole of our great nation's quilt of quirks..."
The Wire (p.41) - Included in The Wire's "2005 Rewind: 50 Records Of The Year."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.60) - Ranked #24 in Mojo's "The 50 Best Albums Of 2005" - "A boundless cornucopia utilising choir, woodwind and Vince Guaraldi-like piano..."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.98) - 3 stars out of 5 - "[W]hen focusing on life's minute joys or its mundane horror, Stevens' voice is as true and profound as an angel."