July 6, 2006


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Sufjan Stevens, The Avalanche: Outtakes & Extras from Illinois Album
Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2006

The reluctant (nudge) indie-folk wombat and ski-cap knitter returns, Katrina the Hot Ford Model and the rest of his bizarre entourage in tow, to relieve himself at last of the other 20-odd songs fans weren't privileged to hear on Illinois. To pronounce the oft-imitated Stevens laid back would be like saying jackrabbits tend to get amorous — influenced by specialty product like Mike Oldfield, Stevens' unassuming, muted, fragile falsetto combines the earthiness of Nilsson with the vocal gymnastics of a boys choir. Mushed all together, the 50 songs that make up the two albums adhere to no coherent purview aside from sharing mechanical traits like banjo, oom-pah choruses, fluffy symphonics and so forth, hence this set of takes, weirdly awesome as ever, does work as a standalone. "The Henney Buggy Band," for instance, settles into an unworried "Marrakesh Express" vibe with the help of mariachi rhythms and tin-soldier drum rolls, and "Dear Mr. Supercomputer" waltzes through Third Eye Foundation's freak-chill looking glass dragging some jazz brass along for the ride. A-

— Eric W. Saeger

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