This free remix collection from Montreal-based producer Tor neatly combines the diverse, melancholy elements of Sufjan Stevens’ music with upbeat rhymes from a diverse cache of MCs. These aren’t quite mash-ups; rather, Tor employs each artist as if they should have made these tracks on their own and he’s the genius nudging them in the right direction. The 6 tracks sound so natural that a casual listener would be hard-pressed to discern that the rappers didn’t sample Sufjan themselves.
Any DJ could find plenty of material on Stevens’ wildly varied A Sun Came, and the juxtaposition of piano and wind instruments from “Dumb I Sound” gives OutKast’s “ATLiens” a entirely new life. Even Stevens’ holiday music is mined to great effect, as appropriately spooky vocal and melodic elements from “Star of Wonder” mesh gorgeously with Aesop Rock’s verbose flow from “None Shall Pass.”
Tor excels at marrying the dramatic tones of Stevens’ music with the perfect voice, and this success is exemplified as he blends Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s philosophical braggadocio with the evocative guitar of “John Wayne Gacy Jr” and Gift of Gab’s uplifting rhymes with the hopeful guitar of “The Dress Looks Nice On You.”
There’s nothing haphazard about his use of Grand Puba’s tasteful “I Like It” in conjunction with the delicate crescendos of Stevens’ “The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders,” and there’s some explosive, alchemical dance-funk achieved when “They Are Night Zombies” meets Brother Ali’s cathartic “Talkin’ My Shit.”
The collection only has one slight misstep, as Big Daddy Kane’s intense raps overwhelm the fragile acoustic guitar figure and breathless vocals of Stevens’ “Kill,” but the track is hardly an abomination. Illinoize is one of the finest remix achievements I have heard, and you can’t beat the price.