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Album Review: Aporia by Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams

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Sufjan Stevens is a Detroit born singer and songwriter. While probably being most well known for his Illinois(e) project, he has been around for a good 25 years. A lot of his other projects are lost in his discography. On his latest album, Aporia, he enlisted the help from his step-father, Lowell Brams. According to Sufjan, the result of this album was from a jam session. He said most of the jam session was horrible, but he was able to find a good ten percent of magical moments. To me, many of these tracks just seem like a mesh of little snippets that are incomplete.

The first track off the album is Ousia. It starts out with a washed-out sound, that almost sounds like an ocean wave. There's a mesh of several different instruments, but I've mostly heard brass and woodwind instruments in here which draw you away from the harsh sounds that come in every now and then. There's also an electronic synth that appears in the track every now and then.

What It Takes is a complete turn around with a drum rhythm kicking us off. However, it does bring us another droning synth part and what potentially sounds like some inaudible voices. If not, it's probably some string or woodwind instruments. Halfway through, you're just left with a droning note, as well as a light piano part. The piano part is oddly reminiscent of parts of the Hospice album by The Antlers.

The next one, Disinheritance doesn't have much uniformity. It just sounds like a bland wall of string instruments. Don't really have much to say about this one.

Agathon is one of the few tracks that are over three minutes in length and has some sort of uniformity to it. It starts out with a simple drum beat with a reverbed clap track. The drumbeat eventually grows in intensity as the electronic, dance-like beats come in later in the track. The guitar solo is another nice touch blended in later.

Determined Outcome is probably their best attempt at a noise/ambient track with the reverbed notes passing through. There's also a high pitched, almost painful at times, note that drones on to the track. Misology also adds to the ambient/noise atmosphere. It sounds like it's a mix of chorus voices, but with no real direction to it. However, it does lead to the following track of Afterworld Alliance. This track is a little more electronic in nature with an underlying synth melody. There are also some elements of industrial music towards the middle before the terrifying THX-esque sound comes in. If you've been to the movie theaters pre-2010, you might know what I'm talking about.

Palinodes is the shortest track, just 33 seconds in length. It opens with a high-pitched sound, with some looping effects. It then opens up to ambulance/emergency vehicle sounds in Backhanded Cloud. Headphones users beware. This is probably the most unpleasant track off of the album. The only good part of this track is it ending and getting to hear a beautiful track after, Glorious You. The sweet wall of violins are a nice change of pace from the other previous, grab bag of tracks.

If you've ever played GTA and have a broken police car siren, that is what For Raymond Scott sounds like. It does go along with the electronic aesthetic of Matronymic. It just sounds like a broken machine or computer. Both tracks are short, just under a minute each.

The Red Desert is definitely a more complete and uniform track. It almost sounds like it is a dance track with the octave jumps from the synth. It also has a reverbed electronic guitar sound that actually sounds pleasing to listen to.

Conciliation is another minute long track and as I've said before, this doesn't really add anything new to the mix. Very minimalistic in approach, but there's nothing new that they haven't tried already.

Ataraxia is different from what they've tried so far. It almost sounds like a midi track, or a retro video game sound to it. I wish it would have been a bit longer, but I guess that wasn't the direction they were planning on.

The Unlimited gives off an eerie and ominous tone. The droning notes on this track or a little more screechy compared to the other tracks we've heard on here. However, The Runaround is a little more listenable. It's also the longest track from the album. It does have some vocals toward the end which gives it a more listenable vibe for the casual listeners.

Next, we are brought to Climb That Mountain. It opens up with some joyful ascending bell tones. The feeling I'm getting from this is a more, calm aesthetic. However, it is quickly ruined by the distorted electronic notes halfway through the track. They build it up to be this huge epic track, but it's ruined by some of the layers in the instrumentals.

Captain Praxis is like a video game sounding track with all of the quick, jumpy 8-bit sounding electronic notes. It's another one that has some direction in the first half of the track. The track after, Eudaimonia also has a somewhat electronic sound to it.

The last track of the album is The Lydian Ring. It's actually a pretty short track to end the album, just over a minute in length. It's kind of a mix off all the different sounds they've used on the 'jam session'.

I was definitely not a fan of this project. While I have been a fan of some of Sufjan Stevens stuff in the past, the ambient/noise side is definitely not a good route for him. I have dabbled into ambient/noise music before, but this is definitely not a good one at that. There's no direction and a lot of the tracks change direction mid-track and from track to track. While they did have a jam session, this just seems like something completely different. There's nothing new or creative about this album, unfortunately. Maybe I wasn't in the right mindset when listening to it, but I haven't enjoyed it with several different listens.

Overall Rating: 3/10
Favorite Tracks: Agathon, The Red Desert, The Runaround

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