Sufjan Stevens

State of animation: Sufjan Stevens

The Michigan songwriter has promised to write a song for every state, and while that may sound ambitious, with his talent, don't doubt the possibility. He certainly isn't going anywhere. Stevens is a nimble songwriter heavily influenced by early '70s pop melodicism, but while he can go in for a baroque pop richness worthy of Belle & Sebastian, he's just as sharp on tender, lo-fi ballads reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum. The folk-rock amble may hark back to his first band, Marzuki, but it's just a shade in a strong palette of colors and moves. Earlier this month, he released Illinois, the second state in his ambitious undertaking. Hints of Neil Young reside in "Jacksonville," while "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." more recalls Truman Capote's In Cold Blood for its chilling, ambiance-rich detail.

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