Magnificent evocation of life beyond Detroit Rock City
Seven Swans recently introduced British audiences to Stevens, an original and compelling singer-songwriter we’d happily recommend as an heir, of sorts, to Elliott Smith. It was, however, his fourth album, and this first UK release of his third is every bit its equal. Rather than the spare tales of love and faith that dominated Seven Swans, 2003’s Michigan is a diverse and ornate song suite about Stevens’ native state that draws as much from the intricacies of Stereolab as it does the directness of folk tradition. It’s a peculiar hybrid, but an amazingly successful one which Stevens uses to score these songs of poverty, suburbia and wilderness. Great songs proliferate here, but what’s most remarkable is how Stevens invests such a daunting project with so much emotional weight as well as sociological and geographic detail. For those who’ve already picked it up on import, two more Michigan songs round up the Rough Trade edition, both so good you can’t help thinking Stevens should have modified the lyrics and saved them for another state, given he plans to eventually release albums based on all 50.