sat 02/03/2024

Album: Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine - A Beginner's Mind | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine - A Beginner's Mind

Album: Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine - A Beginner's Mind

An intriguing album of music inspired by film

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustin's new album, A Beginner's MindDaniel Alum Jasper

For those amongst you who listened obsessively to the soundtrack of Call Me By Your Name, the idea of an album by cult singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens of ‘film music’ will probably fill you with deep joy. Although this isn’t a collection of music made for film.

It’s a collaborative project between Stevens and Angelo De Augustine with films as their first point of inspiration. The pair spent a month in upstate New York watching films in the evening, then co-writing corresponding songs the morning after.

The ensuing lyric edits, chord re-writes and production are much less about music that would sit alongside specific scenes or characters from Point Break, Return to Oz, Mad Max or The Thing and more about existential themes of life, loss, death, humanity and the search for meaning in a world that has the capacity and potential to seem meaningless.

A Beginner’s Mind is an album of meditative ambience, with stylistic sound layers, vocal whisper hush and tingle of lo-fi folk that is recognisably Stevens. It has a tonal sound, anchoring and reassuring, complimented by the alternative acoustic of De Augustine.

Listening to “Beginner’s Mind”, a stunning piece with flowing lyricism, soft piano, breathy high range vocals and delicate chorals, you wouldn’t know that Point Break was the catalyst. It is lyrically standalone, working on a more esoteric level that suggests we all have waves to ride that might at any point overwhelm us. “(This Is) The Thing” is the other standout track, with its wise poetry, scratchy backing, gentle waves of sound and lush harmonies – there’s not a whiff of “The Thing” which inspired its direction.

“Lady Macbeth In Chains” is a drole take that perhaps analyses the Bette Davis classic All About Eve more directly with a quick tapping pace, upbeat clap and a look at why the character might have behaved the way she did; “Back to Oz” references the film in words, with a retro golden sheen of major chords and sunny tambourine clamour.

Part of me thinks I’d rather not know that the tender, wistful “Cimmerian Shade” with its country infused guitar picking and memorable chorus “I just want you to love me, I just wanted to change myself/Beauty resides where your spirit dwells” is actually based on Silence of the Lambs. Or that the delightfully Simon and Garfunkel-y “Fictional California” with its message of “open the light to the darkness” is actually borne from teen cheerleader flick Bring it On Again. But there is a wry sense of humour here as well as a deeper look into the fallacy of redemption within the American dream.

The line “shade of the oculus” in the whimsical, contemplative guitar track “You Give Death a Bad Name” – based on Night of the Living Dead – perfectly captures the omniscience of the lyrics, and whether the intention here is architecture or a game.

It’s a concept that welcomes new perspectives. You can choose either to trace image and narrative back to the Hollywood source; probe embedded narratives of false aspiration and conflicting spiritual ideas that have been projected onto America, shaping the consciousness of a nation since cinema began, or you can read something entirely new into the music that emerged from this imagination springboard. It’s the duo’s reading between all these layers that makes the album so altruistic and so full of human spirit.

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