A Brief Statement of Introduction to the Track Listings for Imagined State Albums Project

May 03 2020

In 2005, Sufjan Stevens released Sufjan Stevens invites you to: Come on Feel the ILLINOISE, which most people just call Illinois. It was the second album of his Fifty States project, following Sufjan Stevens presents… Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lake State (mostly called Michigan). Illinoise was as far as he got in making 50 albums for 50 states before moving on to other things.

The album art of Sufjan Stevens' Illinois album, which features a stylized hand-drawn backdrop of Chicago, a picture of Superman, a picture of an old-school gangster in a pinstripe suit, a goat, and four alien flying saucers.
The Superman image was controversial due to copyright issues.

Illinois is an absolutely incredible album. It is an album that is by turns joyful and careful, celebratory and incisive, large-format and intimate. It has songs about death, songs about life, songs about family, songs about friends, songs about history, songs about the future. Its arrangements are powerful and also playful. It is the ideal form of a certain type of indie-folk. It placed on year-end lists, and even topped an “albums of the decade” list.

It is also unsparingly detailed in its attention to the good and bad of the state of Illinois–not just Chicago. (Although, of course, the single is called “Chicago.”) It looks at Illinois. It pays attention to Illinois. I don’t know how people in Decatur, Illinois feel about “Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step-Mother!”, but I imagine it feels good to have your city’s name prominently featured in of one of the best albums of the ’00s.

When I was 18, listening to this record, I wanted Sufjan to complete the project so that I could have an album about Oklahoma. I wanted someone to look at Oklahoma the way Sufjan really focused in on Illinois. And while the Flaming Lips, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Sam Anderson’s Boom Town have since brought varying measures of attention to Oklahoma, Sufjan Stevens never did write an album about Oklahoma. He stopped at Illinois.

But what if he had written about Oklahoma? What if he had written about every state? What if he had followed his own hype? What would those track lists have looked like?

I don’t know what Sufjan’s albums would have looked like, but I can imagine my own. I’m picking up the mantle. Over the next year, I’ll be posting track listings for imagined state albums here at Gospelized. Will I get to all 50? I have no idea. I hope so. But as Sufjan found: there’s a lot of states.

A moment for the technical stuff: I’ve used a random number generator to pick the order of the states I’ll be writing about; the number each state was assigned for randomization was its order of admission into the union. I am choosing to stick to the following form: no less than fifteen and no more than nineteen song titles, all words must be either part of the album title or song titles, each line numbered as if it were a track. If you are reading this and want to illustrate any of these state albums in an album art / poster style, I would be absolutely thrilled: email me at statealbums@gmail.com.

My hope is that these imagined track lists honor the states they describe and the people within that state. May these efforts read as a bit of attention, a serious look at your state, a poem of consideration on the way it was and is and even could be.

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