Ayo Jegede
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March 10, 2004
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Sufjan Stevens
Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State

death has a curious way of either subtly arresting a life or violently snatching it away from others. those who have suffered loss at the hands of a natural occurrence mourn, but they do so with some comfort. so long as the death is in line with moral and ethical correctness or neutrality then the life was at its maximal potential. the greater type of death--as witnessed by historical and theatrical annals--is the one which upsets our code of fairness. plays such as Antigone and Julius Ceasar have evoked the greatest sense of loss which cannot be assuaged, sometimes to the point that those who bear the burden hoped it requited upon them. events such as 9/11, the massive earthquake in Bam, and the senseless murder of Swedish politician Anna Lindh hold an ever greater spot for us. all of these events weren't forecasted, effectively multiplying their spontaneity and senselessness. they deplete the mourning process of its cathartic powers and abrogate a deepened commitment to fair play. under these circumstances a life isn't merely lost; an entire state is reduced to rubble.

Sufjan Stevens's Greetings is, as the title denotes, about Michigan based mainly on its precipitous decline in the 60's. at first glance one would believe that Stevens was a bit too ambitious since the album art and song titles are references to some part of the state--the concept album loses influence when the subject matter is too distal to the listener. but what these devices do is enshroud the experience, properly narrowing and universalizing an abstract, solipsistic process of mourning. songs like 'Holland' and 'For The Widows in Paradise, For The Fatherless in Ypsilanti' compact the great tragedy of a state through tales of people, giving the songs a heft which underscores the susurrous vocals, trumpets, and banjos. songs about the economic depravity of a state ('Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)') are radically more intimate because he employs lyrics that are personal and emotive, rather than ticking off a fact sheet. there is a moment of jubilation in the entire dirge, though. 'Say Yes! To M!ch!gan!' is an unexpected but fitting incursion into pop that lifts the entire album for a little bit. still, there is no denying the eulogistic nature of Greetings; Stevens sings and plays with the message of a man (or state) immersed in the tears of The Great Lakes.

seldom do albums come out with such a focused display of musical, lyrical, and overall thematic prowess. seldom do artists so young as Stevens know how to convey themes and ideas that have taken countless veterans most of their lives. seldom do albums such as Greetings examine the death of a state through the eyes of its residents.

Release date: July 1, 2003
Label: Asthmatic Kitty
Rating: 9.5 / 10

[RMR]