Showing posts with label sufjan stevens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sufjan stevens. Show all posts

Sunday, June 11, 2017

video review: 'planetarium' by sufjan stevens, nico muhly, bryce dessner & james mcalister

My lord, this was a weird listen, but eh, it happens.

Next up, hoping to knock out two reviews tomorrow, so stay tuned!

album review: 'planetarium' by sufjan stevens, james mcalister, bryce dessner & nico muhly

I don't even know where to start with this one. When I saw that this album had not only been requested early, but had received by far the most votes on my schedule thanks to Patreon, I was blown away. Not for Katy Perry, not for Rise Against, this - but hey, I was curious too, these sorts of supergroup collaborations don't come around every day.

So background here: apparently this started as a commissioned orchestra piece that was performed live back in 2012, but never properly recorded, so Sufjan Stevens rounded up a murder's row of talent to take this score into fresh territory. And we've got heavyweights here: Sufjan is a powerhouse in his own right, but when you add in the guitarist of The National Bryce Dessner, classical composer Nico Muhly, and drummer James McAllister, you've got a stacked lineup of talent. And considering these are all songs written about space and our solar system... look, we don't get enough good music celebrating space, I'll just say that right now. Now on the one hand I was really excited to dig into this, but I also know that this could very well play like that Lights & Motion record I covered months ago, a potent piece of music that can feel a little unengaging or abstract to the point of frustration. But still, I was fascinated by what this quartet could do with this material - it's too odd and distinct of a concept to ignore, so what did we find in Planetarium?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

video review: 'carrie & lowell' by sufjan stevens

Well, this took WAY too long to get to - it happens, but man, I want to ease back on wait times for these records. 

Now only one more record to knock off my backlog, but first, let's tackle something light, shall we...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

album review: 'carrie & lowell' by sufjan stevens

Man, it's taken me too damn long to get to this review, especially considering this is a guy I've been wanting to talk about for a while but have always had a hard time nailing him down. Because of the many, many artists I've talked about, Sufjan Stevens is damn close to one of a kind - and for the longest time, I had just ignored him because on my first few listens through his debut, he was just another quirky singer-songwriter from the indie scene that had critical acclaim and little else that really stuck with me.

And man, was I wrong in spectacular fashion. After a hard left-turn into weird electronica, Sufjan Stevens dropped the absolutely incredible Michigan, a tribute to his home state that had such an incredible balance of sound and tone it's incredible. Sufjan might not be the biggest presence as a singer - one of the reasons I've found him difficult to get into in the past was that he tended to feel overtaken by his instrumentation - but his writing and hooks were impressively detailed and eclectic, with a vibrant energy and life that made the odd kitsch of his instrumentation incredibly endearing. Is it a little over-long, off-kilter, and oddly corny at points? Yeah, but I didn't mind it, because the songwriting was so well-grounded and human that it clicked incredibly well.

Ever since then, though, Sufjan Stevens' work has struggled to recapture that balance. The closest for me came on Seven Swans, which eased things back perhaps a bit too much to bring the songwriting into tighter focus - which I'll admit clicked because most albums exploring religion with Stevens' complicated brand of framing have a lot of potential to really connect with me. His follow-up state album Illinoise went in the opposite direction and was even more elaborate, and while it did hit some spectacular highs, it didn't quite stick the landing as well for me. And then came The Age Of Adz, a weird, warped record diving back into electronics in a way that felt even more garish than before - and honestly, it doesn't quite connect, at least for me.

So when I heard that Sufjan was stripping things down to folk again and opting for a much tighter, personal focus, I was looking forward to it, especially considering the titular characters of his late mother and stepfather are placed in greater focus. Of course there'll always be moments of indulgence that are quintessential parts of his records, but it's been over a decade since Seven Swans - so what did Sufjan Stevens deliver as he came home?