The Avalanche

Studio Album by released in 2006
The Avalanche's tracklist:
The Avalanche
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Dear Mr. Supercomputer
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Adlai Stevenson
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The Vivian Girls Are Visited in the Night by Saint Dargarius and His Squadron of Benevolent Butterfl
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Chicago (acoustic version)
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The Henney Buggy Band
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Saul Bellow
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Carlyle Lake
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Springfield, or Bobby Got a Shadfly Caught in His Hair
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The Mistress Witch From McClure (Or, the Mind That Knows Itself)
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Kaskaskia River
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Chicago (Adult Contemporary Easy Listening version)
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Inaugural Pop Music for Jane Margaret Byrne
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No Man's Land
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The Palm Sunday Tornado Hits Crystal Lake
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The Pick-Up
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The Perpetual Self, or "What Would Saul Alinsky Do?"
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For Clyde Tombaugh
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Chicago (Multiple Personality Disorder version)
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Pittsfield
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The Undivided Self (For Eppie and Popo)
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The Avalanche review

The Avalanche contains extra material from 2005's Illinois

A singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Sufjan Stevens (IPA pronunciation: [‘suf-ian]) started his venture in the music world as a member of Marzuki, a folk-rock band based in Holland, MI. Following the release of two full-length albums with the group, Stevens decided to go solo in late 1999, investing fully in a career that was waiting to shine by itself. During subsequent months, Stevens moved to New York City, where he continued dedicating himself full-time to his solo recordings. He is known for his lyrically focused and instrumentally rich songs that often relate to faith and family. It seems only right that the newest Sufjan Stevens release is titled The Avalanche. The man has simply overwhelmed the masses with music, and almost all of it has been very, very good. His albums have enjoyed wide critical success in the United States, particularly Michigan (2003) and Illinois (2005). The Avalanche contains extra material from Illinois, which recently won the New Pantheon Music Prize. The little secret behind the Illinois record is that it was originally conceived as a double album, culminating in a musical collage of nearly 50 songs. But as the project began to develop into an unwieldy epic, common sense weighed in and the project was cut in half.

Sufjan invited many of the original Illinoisemakers to fill in the edges

Sufjan gleaned 21 useable tracks from the abandoned material, including three alternate versions of Chicago. Some songs were in finished form, others were merely outlines, gesture drawings, or musical scribbles mumbled on a hand-held tape recorder. Most of the material required substantial editing, new arrangements or vocals. Much of the work was done at the end of 2005 or in January the following year. The centerpiece, of course, is the title track – The Avalanche – a song intended for the leading role on the Illinois album but eventually cut and placed as a bonus track on the vinyl release. In his rummaging through old musical memorabilia, Sufjan began to use this song as a meditation on the editorial process, returning to old forms, knee-deep in debris, sifting rocks and river water for an occasional glint of gold. Sufjan invited many of the original Illinoisemakers to fill in the edges: drums, trumpet, a choir of singers. Stevens plays the banjo, guitar, drums, and several other instruments, often playing all of these through the use of multi-tracking. While in school, he studied the oboe and English horn, which he also plays on The Avalanche; he is one of the few musicians in popular music to use these instruments.

Almost every song on the Illinois album has a counterpart on the outtakes

A careful listener may uncover the obvious trend on this record: almost every song on the Illinois album has a counterpart on the outtakes. Carl Sandburg arm-wrestles Saul Bellow. The aliens landing near Highland salute Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. The loneliness of Casimir Pulaski Day deepens even further in the foreboding soundtrack to Pittsfield. At its best, The Avalanche is an exercise in form, revealing the working habits of one of the most productive songwriters today. As an illustration, the avalanche refers to the snow and rubble that falls off the side of a mountain, or, in this case, the musical debris generously chucked from an abundant epic. It's unlikely you'll find a mountain in the Prairie State so the metaphor will have to do. If you were lucky enough to get the b-sides to the Michigan album, you'll know that some of those tracks – such as Wolverine – were just as lovely, if not more so, than the "real" album tracks. The Avalanche keeps us one more album and promotional cycle away from hearing Stevens’ next great opus, but still that’s well over 70 minutes of new Sufjan goodness. Beginning with Michigan, Stevens announced an intent to write an album for each of the 50 U.S. states, although in interviews he wavers between utter sincerity and self-deprecating irony when describing the idea.