The indie rock artist’s new album is cinematic but pointlessly optimistic for listeners in a bleak time.
I’ll be square with you, I only like Sufjan Stevens some of the time. I loved “Carrie and Lowell,” but I still can’t make it all the way through “Silver and Gold.” Unfortunately, Stevens’s most recent album, “Aporia” falls into the latter category. I guess that is to say, if I’m honest, “Aporia” is a bit of a dissapointment. Taking the work on its own merit is something I can’t do when it’s being created by an indie rock God like Sufjan.
Is it something I’ll listen to while studying? Maybe. Something I’ll listen to for literally anything else? Not really.
“Aporia” is a collaborative work between Stevens and his stepfather, Lowell Brams. While being presented as an album, the work is more of an accumulation of jam sessions between the two. One of the influences Stevens cited for the album were movie soundtracks. Listening to it reminded me of one of my favorites, the soundtrack to the film “Tron: Legacy,” composed by Daft Punk. While the movie is no good, the album still holds up.
“Aporia” is new age music, it’s more of a soundscape that invites you in than an album that conveys something to you. Songs range from 30 seconds to about three minutes in length, and, since there’s not really any singing, they blend into one another. As they do, I imagine the likes of Harrison Ford or Ellen Ripley fighting off some aliens or vanishing in rainy alleys. “Aporia” is cinematic, but without the film to match it, it feels redundant. The purpose of a film soundtrack is to tell a story that supports the main event: the film. Without the thesis of a film, one might question whether “Aporia” ought to exist.
There’s this fear that I always hold with artists whose work I admire, where as they grow and mature, finding happiness or peace or whatnot, their work diminishes. It’s a complex issue that can be a slippery slope of idealizing mental illness and depressive tendencies, but sad songs have never been abrasive to me. Those works that come from the darkest places always hit deeper, because they come from a place that I am familiar with. This is the case with Sufjan for me, songs like “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” or “Flint” have a certain rawness that appeals to me. They feel lived in in a way that “Aporia” never does.
It’s been a rough month. Days are blending together and the sky feels strange most of the time. So this little album, which is truthfully more of a wall full of polaroids that point to jam sessions between a stepfather and step son, seems like it should be uplifting. Too bad it feels like a Band-Aid with meandering purpose.
Of course, I would be loath to say that this review is anything other than subjective. The difference between a positive and negative review for most critics can simply be the difference in mood. I just passed the three-week mark of quarantine. In a different age where COVID-19 wasn’t so uprooting, I might have been more receptive to “Aporia.” As it stands, consuming media has become tiring. I’m pulled to old comforts. My reaction to “Aporia” I think, is a case of that classic adage “It’s not you, it’s me.”