'Aporia' Review: Sufjan Stevens & step-dad Lowell Brams team up for a brilliant futuristic synth-heavy jam
Sufjan Stevens is known as a staggeringly-talented indie music artiste who wears many creative hats. If there's one common thread that underlies his contributions to music thus far, it's that Stevens absolutely loves epic concepts. He'd originally embarked on a gargantuan plan of making 50 albums, one for every state in the United States, before settling for making two considerably brilliant concept albums in that vein, 'Michigan' and 'Illinois'.
Besides these, he's also made an album of sacred songs ('Seven Swans'), an electronic record about the Chinese zodiac ('Enjoy Your Rabbit') and a magnificent ode to the apocalypse ('All Delighted People'), amongst many others. One of his strangest albums to date perhaps was his collaboration with Lowell Brams on the avant-garde 'Music for Insomnia', which was made over a decade ago now. The duo share a close bond, and for good reason — Brams is Stevens' stepfather, and the latter's formative years, the pair bonded over their musical tastes and even founded the label Asthmatic Kitty Records together in 1999.
Their latest collaboration together, 'Aporia' was originally scheduled for release on Friday, March 27, but they decided to release it three days ahead of schedule, in the hope that it would cheer some folks up. As we all know, the entire world has recently entered a state of lockdown thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so the pair felt any bit of entertainment would be a welcome addition to the playlists of people who were stuck at home. A statement from the duo read, "The word ‘aporia’ is Greek in origin, literally meaning ‘without passage’ or ‘at a loss.’ This is a good description of how many of us feel right now. We harbor no delusions of grandeur—this record is hardly the most important thing in your world right now—but we also believe that music is sacred and has the ability to bring beauty, wisdom, truth, and light to our lives in difficult times. We hope this music can bring you meaning, hope and encouragement today.”
As for the album itself, it's missing one key ingredient that most of Stevens' finest works never lacked — his voice. Although the album is not entirely without vocals, (Stevens sings on the gorgeous tracks 'Runaround' and 'Climb That Mountain') for all intents and purposes, this album sounds like a carefully planned, well-executed, immersive jam. It showcases a father and son perfectly in sync, experimenting together with their Prophet synthesizers and pedalboard rigs, pulling off their best imitation of the 'Blade Runner' and 'Drive' movie soundtracks. Those comparisons aren't necessarily a bad thing — this album is chock-full of gorgeous moments. "You know how it is with jamming: ninety percent of it is absolutely horrible, but if you’re just lucky enough, ten percent is magic. I just kept pulling out these little magical moments,” Stevens was quoted as saying in an official release for 'Aporia'.
Some of the album highlights include the gentle washes and swells of album opener 'Ousia', the krautrock-inspired beats of 'What It Takes', the pulsing keys on 'Agathon', the pitch-shifting descent of 'Determined Outcome', the vehicular thrum of 'Misology', the shimmering haze of 'Backhanded Cloud', the morse code of 'Raymond Scott', the Daft Punk-esque 'Red Desert', the woozy warbling of 'Conciliation', the Mike Oldfield-esque 'Ataraxia', the machinist grind of 'The Unlimited', the shape-shifting 'Runaround', the vocal melody on 'Climb That Mountain', the bustling pace of 'Captain Praxis', the gentle shimmy of 'Eudaimonia', and the out-of-this-world pull of 'Lydian Ring'.
The album also contributions from many famous guest stars, including the likes of John Ringhofer from Half-handed Cloud, keyboard/trombone player Steve Moore from Sunn O))), Yuuki Matthews of The Shins, and drummer James McAlister from The National. All in all, this is a magnificent effort from the stepfather-son duo, and it will probably take multiple listens to fully absorb its shimmering scope and dreamy majesty. It will be interesting to see how Sufjan recreates these tracks live — that would be a surreal experience indeed.