Earlier this year, Sufjan Stevens released Carrie & Lowell, his seventh studio album which was roundly lauded as his best work. But the definitive Sufjan album—the one that best exemplifies his ambition, his cinematic scope, even his silliness—is 2005's Illinois, which came out 10 years ago this week.
Where Carrie & Lowell was born from a place of intimate mourning, with Stevens channeling the grief from his mother's death, Illinois originated as pure artifice. A continuation of the ludicrous "50 States Project," a semi-jokey attempt, that began with 2003's Michigan, to chronicle the vastness of the entire country, one album at a time. It was a traveling salesman gimmick, but it brought out the grandeur in his songwriting—regional folklore unearthing universal emotions.