Grab your layperson’s guide to orchestral music terminology. It’s time for a couple of non-folk conceptual albums from arty wunderkind Sufjan Stevens—actually, one is rearranged by Osso. Both of these albums will alienate some fans of Stevens’ virtuosic lyrical-orchestral songsmithing in Illinois. However, if you can muster the attention in contemporary zap-saturated A.D.D.
During the past four years or so, each new shred of news from Sufjan Stevens is met with baited breath. His latest record is no exception. The audio-visual experience, fondly known as The BQE, centers on the history of New York’s Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and its conceit works because of its composer’s breadth of influence—Stevens adroitly flits from Broadway showiness, 1950s pop and astute minimalism, digital age panoramas, Looney Tunes revelry and good old-fashioned Romanticism.
Sufjan Stevens seems to be on a one-man mission to prove that the art of the concept album did not go out with lava lamps, bellbottoms, and draft cards. After all, he made his name by turning out pieces of a concept so big (his one-album-per-U.S.-state project) that no one ever expects him to get to the end of it. Sure, he's had time off for good behavior, turning out stuff like Seven Swans, but fun's fun and big ideas were still boiling on the pot, so Stevens leaped wholeheartedly into The BQE.
The BQE, Sufjan Stevens' multimedia work celebrating the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, premiered in 2007 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Onstage, it was an audiovisual three-ring circus, with 16-millimeter video screening images of the roadway while costumed female hula hoopers gyrated in the foreground. Now, he has packaged the experience in a boxed set, complete with an essay in the liner notes, the DVD, a comic book, and a View-Master reel.
Perhaps the best place to begin with the new Sufjan Stevens album is to state that it’s not the new Sufjan Stevens album. Not really. For starters, it’s less an album, more the soundtrack to a film and musical suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It’s not new either – its live incarnation was premiered almost exactly two years ago in New York, replete with orchestra, film footage and, brilliantly, hula hooper ‘heroes’ (subject of the Stevens-penned accompanying comic book).
After successfully navigating his way into the mainstream with 2005's epic Illinoise, ultra-prolific indie pop prince Sufjan Stevens had no intention of laying low. Instead, he released a set of Illinoise outtakes, a five-disc collection of Christmas songs, and staged a "symphonic and cinematic exploration of New York City's infamous Brooklyn-Queens Expressway" that included a self-made Super 8 mm film, a full orchestra, and a small army of hula hoopers performing live in front of a sold-out Brooklyn Academy of Music. While it could be argued that the ambitious BQE serves as the "New York" chapter in his abandoned 50 states project, it hardly fits in with the other two entries.
Sufjan Stevens's symphonic tribute to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be sold as a lushly appointed CD/DVD package with "stereoscopic 3D Viewmaster reel". Euros Childs's fifth solo album is already available in its entirety (via blog.myspace.com/euroschilds) as a free download, and is to be sold in CD form only at live shows and (at some unspecified point in the future) by mail order. The strange thing is, if you had to say which one of these records makes the best use of the album's capacity to compress an entire creative world view into a representative artefact, Son of Euro Child would win out every time.
On his newest release, Sufjan Stevens takes on Robert Moses, master builder of New York City. He focuses (literally - there's an accompanying original film) on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). [rssbreak] The instrumental music works in a cycle, with movements and interludes beginning with the ominous Prelude On The Esplanade. Something bad's about to happen, in a 2001 monolith sort of way.
Sufjan Stevens: The BQE – 92/100Osso: Run Rabbit Run – 76/100 Stevens remakes the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — and gets a makeover himself Though we’re nearing the five-year anniversary of his last proper studio album, Sufjan Stevens has stayed active since his landmark Illinois. In November 2007 he debuted The BQE, a multimedia tribute to the seemingly mundane Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that included an orchestra, three simultaneously projected films and live hula hoopers, and that was performed over three nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ever the perfectionist, Stevens took two years to record and edit this combination CD/DVD set which presents the project in its entirety with an essay by Stevens, a comic book and a vintage View-Master reel added for good measure.
When you’re dealing with someone as enigmatic and prolific as Sufjan Stevens, the bar’s always going to be significantly raised. The man’s responsible for some of the decade’s finest music; it feels like he’s been bordering on the “genius” tag for quite some time now. Sadly, he’s taken a few steps back from music and has been quoted in many interviews as stating that music may be something he closes the book on soon enough.