mon 06/12/2021

Album: Sufjan Stevens - Convocations | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Sufjan Stevens - Convocations

Album: Sufjan Stevens - Convocations

Rich and complex requiem for a dad

Sufjan Stevens is not only prolific, multi-talented and wide-ranging in his experimentation, but he never fails to make interesting work. He’s undoubtedly one of the giants of American contemporary music. His originality and creative risk-taking have led to him being one of the most underrated artists of his time.

His latest album – over two hours of instrumental composition and made during lockdown – is a daring, profound and fiercely personal requiem to his recently-deceased father.

Convocations, hot on the heels of Stevens' s previous album The Ascension (2020) is a lengthy suite of both short and extended vignettes  - “Meditations”, “Lamentations”, “Revelations”, Celebrations” and “Incantations”. Many are less than two minutes long and others up to five.  There is immense richness here, a remarkably varied palette of sounds that Stevens combines in inventive and often surprising ways. There is too much drama to label this ‘ambient’: moments of entrancing and peaceful reflection but often interrupted or followed by moments that startle or disturb. Stevens navigates from sweet harmony to harsh dissonance in ways that focus the listener’s attention and reflect the complexities of emotional life more faithfully than music which espouses predictable and sugar-coated climaxes and resolutions. Grief is now understood by psychologists in terms of a number of different stages - which mirror the acceptance of mortality, and the rollercoaster of Convocations reflects this tortuous process, in which denial and acceptance play havoc with the mourner's balance.

Electronica is a genre which relies all too often on tropes, effects that are delineated by the technology. With Stevens, there are echoes of Stevens’ own sonic universe, but there is also a constant sense of exploration which can be pleasing as well as faintly uncomfortable. He plays with the mind-bending quality of harmonics, and the eerie feel of indeterminate pitch. There is beauty here, but also a certain terror – as if the abyss were never far away.

Sufjan Stevens has always been drawn to darkness, while seeing beyond the negativity that can freeze us into repression and denial. “Convocations” is not his first ‘requiem’ – or his first album of electronica: Carrie and Lowell (2015) was inspired by his mother’s death. This is the man who could sing sweetly and rhapsodize about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy (on Illinois, 2005). In this requiem for his father – reflecting as it does the unsettling yet inspiring experience of the Covid pandemic – he once again evokes demons as well as angels, producing a work of great maturity.

There is beauty here, but also a certain terror – as if the abyss were never far away

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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