Sufjan Stevens’ new album Illinois is very, very strange. And very, very good.

And, judging by the critical response it’s getting, it looks like the most highly praised album recorded by a Christian singer/songwriter in many years. (Am I forgetting any similarly celebrated titles?)

Check it out. The song called “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” is so heartbreakingly beautiful, it’s worth the price of the record.

I remember when Leslie Phillips’s The Turning won raves in Rolling Stone, it heralded a new era for Christian music. Phillips, with producer T-Bone Burnett, raised the bar for excellence, poetry, and sonic invention with that album. Later, Chagall Guevara’s self-titled debut (and, alas, their only album) rocked Rolling Stone and won comparisons to The Clash.

Not that pleasing Rolling Stone is the goal. Heaven forbid! The magazine’s lost almost every shred of its integrity in the past twenty years. Paste and No Depression are now the ruling king and queen of music magazines. But still, it’s fantastic to see Christian artists setting a standard that inspires music critics, music fans, and musicians… instead of just church youth groups. Isn’t that the way Christ would have wanted it?

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