My relationship with Illinois

There are a lot of albums I like so much that I couldn’t pick a favorite from among them. Every one does something so unique that it doesn’t really make sense to order them in the first place. However, Illinois by Sufjan Stevens has a reasonable claim on the title of my favorite album by virtue of the length and depth of my relationship with it.

I first heard Illinois when I was in middle school. My brother, a college student at the time, played it for me on a car trip, and I remember being immediately impressed. The quirky instrumentation and bright colors and textures of it really didn’t sound like anything I had heard before. At that time my own taste in music was still developing, and I listened to a lot of things back then I have no interest in revisiting. Sufjan Stevens is one of the few artists I enjoy as much (more, probably) today as I did back then.

One of the many benefits of having a big family is that music gets passed around among siblings. Once an album becomes a favorite among the family, it becomes a distinct piece of family culture. It takes on more context and dimensionality than it would if you only listened to it on your own. Illinois is a prime example of this. It continued to work its way through so many periods of my life, partially because I kept coming back to it, and partially because my siblings’ shared enjoyment of it kept it alive in my musical consciousness.

Now, each song in the album carries connotations and nostalgia from across my personal history. I can summon distinct feelings of each song being with me & there for me in different eras, times at which they were particularly meaningful, people I bonded with over them. In so many ways, I’ve changed so much in the nearly 15 years Illinois has been in my life, but the album itself provides a tone of emotional continuity across that gap. It’s a beautiful thing music can do, something I’ll always be grateful for, and something no other album can do for me in quite the same way.

Have you heard Illinois? Do you like it? Do you have another album that does something like this for you? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​