Two quick reviews of recently acquired concept albums.
Come On Feel the Illinoise!, by Sufjan Stevens.
Stevens' Illinoise is the second installment in a quest to make an album for each state. The first, apparently, was Michigan. Being unfamiliar with that work, I can only say that Illinoise is a delightful album for a couple of reasons.
First it provides lush orchestrations and filled-out songs. They are, basically, pop-rock tracks. But there are generous helpings of folk. The titles are amusingly long-winded and descriptive: "A Short Reprise For Mary Todd Who Went Insane, But For Very Good Reasons" and "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!" to pick two mid-length examples.
Many people called this the album of 2005, but being unversed in the numerous offerings of that year, I can only give this album my highest recommendation, with the assurance that it will appreciate with age.
69 Love Songs, by The Magnetic Fields.
A decade ago this album, with it's stark palindromic cover, seemed to be everywhere.
It is a beast of an album. You can, apparently buy the individual volumes, which as a three disc album may be worthwhile.
Oddly enough the topic of these 69 songs is often love songs, instead of love per se. Clocking three hours of listening the album's saving grace is it's deliberate variety. Pretty much every conceivable genre is covered, there are multiple male and female lead vocalists, songs from under a minute (the winking 'Punk Love') to full-fledged, multiple chorus selections ('Papa Was a Rodeo'). The main man behind the project has a gravely, Johnny Cash voice, and many of the songs have a bite or depressing edge.
Remarkably, though, while not every track is a personal winner, the sheer versatility will keep you on your toes. The tracks were arranged nearly randomly, so don't go looking for call-and-answer, or story arcs between songs. Surprisingly, if you have the time, you can throw these discs on one after the other and not get bored of what might have been a gimmicky offering.