SUFJAN STEVENS Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State (Asthmatic Kitty) Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I was warned that Sufjan Stevens was a proselytizing spiritual freak before listening to this disc, which raised my hackles a bit. But the only transcendental experience on Michigan is Stevens's conflicted celebration of his home state. The second album by the Elliott Smith-voiced multi-instrumental phenom (he plays everything from oboe to English horn to glockenspiel here) is a staggering road map of small-town vignettes. They read like heartbreaking home movies starring struggling misfits and sound like an indie rock reinvention of traditional folk music. Fellow Christian musicians the Danielson Family chip in backing vocals for these tales of hapless believers who search for hope in Upper Peninsula K-Marts and the depressed "prison" of contemporary Detroit. Stevens errs on the side of self-indulgence, and the songs can go on for way too long, but when he cuts the crap - as on the elegiac Romulus - his stories blow you away. Sufjan Stevens opens for Royal City at the Horseshoe Saturday (December 13).