On March 24th the enigmatic Sufjan Stevens and his long time collaborator/stepfather Lowell Brams released their latest work, Aporia, a labour of love that has taken years to complete. The new release is a New Age-inspired soundscape that originated from hours of both artists and their cohorts jamming in-studio and results in a mini Electronica opus.
Aporia can be considered a companion piece to Steven’s 2017 other collaborative effort Planetarium and a follow up to Brams 2008 release Music for Insomnia. Aporia is best characterized as a musical narrative that tells the story of Stevens and Brams’ long time relationship first as stepson and stepfather and then as musical collaborators. For more recent converts to Stevens’ solo musical output be aware this release is not meant to be as easily approachable as Steven’s luminous 2015 Carrie and Lowell but instead is a showcase of Stevens and Bram’s stellar Electronica abilities.
Aporia boasts a lot of long time Asthmatic Kitty collaborators; Thomas Bartlett, D.M. Stith, Nick Berry, John Ringhofer, James McAlister, Steve Moore, Yuuki Matthews and Cat Martino. The album is also intended to be Lowell Bram's recording swan song as he has announced his retirement from recording and as head of Asthmatic Kitty Records. Each of the title artists conveys throughout the recording a clear control of the creative process putting their unique signature on every track.
Aporia launches with “Ousia” which is best described as a swirling sea of sound with forlorn clarion horns that are both melancholy and ebullient. “What it Takes” displays a more beat-driven offering and is very reminiscent of Planetarium. Sprinkled throughout the album is the apt use of Vox Populi that allows the recording to seem otherworldly as it provides a prospective soundtrack for eternity and the afterlife. Aporia’s playlist connects beautifully with Stevens et al’s interstellar rumination Planetarium. Elements of ethereal liturgy are apparent in tracks like “Disinheritance”, Determined Outcome” and Conciliation”. Other tracks look to display the full palette of what synths can produce, from the wonky feel of “Palinodes” to the heat of desert produced in “The Red Desert”. The real standouts for me were “Backhanded Cloud” which could have come straight off of “The Shining” soundtrack with its loads of foreboding and “Matronymic” with its buzzing diodes and wavering synth motif that harkens to Mogwai’s stunner “Atomic”.
Aporia with its 21 tracks and run time of 44 minutes is a miracle of brevity from Stevens, who in the past has released songs that run to 25 minutes. The three single releases from the album that are conveniently grouped together, “The Unlimited, the Runaround” and the prior Pride Day release, “Climb that Mountain”. “The Runaround” is my favourite, probably due to a Sufjan vocal, revealing how desperately I desire another solo vocal project from Stevens. Each of these tracks displays yet another piece of the puzzle completing the portrait of the release. The final three tracks are various permutations of digital Krautrock goodness. “Captain Praxis” is probably my fave with its frenetic Devo vibe. “Eudemonia” by contrast is more of solemn Krautrock hymn and “The Lydian Ring” is a crystalline enticing goodbye to Brams.
Aporia is not a pop recording, but instead is a noteworthy musical creation originating from two unique Electronica geniuses. The release begs for repeated listens and patience from the listener. The payoff is that each pass allows the music to mingle as colours run together to produce an evocative impression. If you admire ambient music acts like Tycho and Mark Pritchard, this release will be for you. Stevens once again with this release is followed his own creative path no matter the hot trends and flash in the pan pyrotechnics going on in mainstream music. This ability to follow his own way has turned him into a legend of sorts and Lowell Brams has been there all along the way nurturing Stevens allowing him to flower while following his unique muse. It is only apt these two artists create a final farewell to Brams as he retires. One can only wonder what Stevens will do next. I can’t wait.