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CD Review - Sufjan Stevens: The BQE 

Sufjan Stevens

The BQE

Asthmatic Kitty Records

click to enlarge sufjan_bqe.jpg

Editor's Note: This review was scheduled to run in October, but never made it into the paper. But since it's one of the cooler albums of the year, we're running it anyway!

The BQE is cinematic suite inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Hula-Hoop. It was commissioned by Brooklyn Academy of Music and performed live two years ago with the subject being the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. This stretch of road is considered to be one of the ugliest expressways in the country, but Sufjan's approach portrays it differently, as evidenced by the cover.

Despite being cramped and urban, Stevens' musical expressway is colorful and enchanting. Every movement spills into one another through a variety of fanfares, chorus lines, pensive piano interludes, the splashing of woodwinds and sometimes chaotic pacing and phrasing. "Movement II - Sleeping Invader" (one of many well-titled movements), blends fantastic melody, trumpet solos and the faint sound of a distant alarm clock ticking. Stevens persuades the listener to leave behind prior knowledge of a dirty, unkempt expressway and invites those listening to images of wonderment.

I played "Introductory Fanfare for the Hooper Heroes" for my wife and asked, "What or who does this remind you of?" Her response was spot on: PBS, Peter and the Wolf, and Sufjan Stevens. Few artists have garnered such respect while maintaining an original sound. Is Sufjan's work reminiscent of composers like Glass, Stereolab, and Ives? Certainly. But the adventurous oboes, trumpets, bells and crescendos are strictly Stevens.

I guess what impresses me most about The BQE is where Sufjan is willing to go with his musical sensibilities. He's always taking risks and striving for good art. Sure, releasing another state album (to complete his goal of one for each state) is what most want, but when that time comes, Stevens will most likely surprise us all over again.

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