sufjan stevens, bryce dessner, nico muhly & james mcalister Planetarium (CD, £8.25)label: 4ad
An album co-composed by four musicians: Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner of The National, contemporary classical music composer / arranger Nico Muhly and drummer James McAlister. Flanked by a string quartet and a consort of seven trombones, this unique collaborative ensemble have assembled an expansive song cycle that explores the Sun, the Moon, the planets and other celestial bodies of our solar system (and beyond) through soundscape, song, science and myth. The subject of the album is not just the wilderness of outer space but also the interior space of human consciousness and how it engages with divinity, depravity, society and self - what does it mean to be human? A musical and aesthetic journey as far-reaching as its subject: from lush piano ballads to prog-rock political anthems, curious electronic backbeats to classical cadenzas, which occasionally give way to ambient interludes and majestic brass chorales, buttressed by a percussive drive that keeps the momentum skyward. In spite of all the experimentation in sound and style, Sufjan’s vocals provide a clear and coherent centre of gravity and includes some of his most diverse vocal performances to date (from soft hush to guttural scream); whether he’s singing through effects pedals, vocoders, auto-tune or not, his voice delivers an ambitious flight map through the cosmos.
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