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by Luke Baumgarten and Ann Colford & r & Sufjan Stevens, & lt;a href= & quot;http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=rQy1MLe70wI & amp;offerid=78941.451044077 & amp;type=10 & amp;subid= & quot; & Illinois & lt;/a & **** & r & Illinois is Sufjan Stevens' second album in a cycle that will (maybe, one day) see him writing a tribute album for each of our 50 states. Michigan, the first album, struck many people with shock and awe, leaving them forever changed and unsure how to cope. From a decades-old sea of indie posturing and cynicism had suddenly come something placid and reverential. Something, for God's sake, with glockenspiels.


Here, too, glockenspiels and piccolos twitter over all manner of horns, strings and choral accompaniment to revisit his recognizable sound, but with some digressions. Big distorted riffs, unique to a Sufjan Stevens project, propel "Man of Steel." The backing vocals on "They Are Night Zombies!" hint that he's been listening to Kanye West.


All said, it's Stevens' most varied work yet, folding in the queer bombast of Michigan with the pastoral veneration of "Seven Swans" while, occasionally, dabbling in something that might be called mere pop. Two states down. So far, so good. -- Luke Baumgarten





Tracy Bonham, & lt;a href= & quot;http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=rQy1MLe70wI & amp;offerid=78941.456374323 & amp;type=10 & amp;subid= & quot; & Blink the Brightest & lt;/a & **** & r & This album has grown on me with repeated play. Initially, I thought Bonham, who first saw national exposure with the hit "Mother, Mother" from her Grammy-nominated 1996 debut, sounded like just another young woman songwriter getting in touch with her outrage. After all, she's been part of Lilith Fair and has been compared to Alanis Morrissette and Sheryl Crow. But the classically trained Bonham has a surprising musical depth to her work, with melodies and arrangements that don't always go where you think they're going to. Her versatility as a multi-instrumentalist gives each song its own sound, from the pop-vocal optimism of "Shine" to the haunting soundscape of "Wilting Flower."


Bonham began as a violinist, and she incorporates a violin part into almost every arrangement, but these aren't sappy strings milking emotions. Her violin is part of the driving rhythm section on "I Was Born Without You," then opens "And the World Has the Nerve To Keep On Turning" sounding almost like a theremin. Bonham draws upon a myriad of musical influences -- classical, R & amp;B, and, indeed, other female alt-rock vocalists -- but the musical collage she composes is entirely her own. -- Ann M. Colford
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