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Sufjan Stevens / Lowell Brams - Aporia (Album Review)

Tuesday, 31 March 2020 Written by Helen Payne

Dull is definitely not the word to use when describing ambient music. However, with no chorus hooks or poetic lyricism on hand, and an audience whose attention span is dwindling by the day, it’s sometimes a little too easy to get lost in the atmospheric noise and drift off into other, more focus-stealing thoughts.

On ‘Aporia’, Sufjan Stevens and Lowell Brams (his stepfather, co-founder of his label Asthmatic Kitty, and title character of 2015’s ‘Carrie & Lowell’) lean into this feeling of letting go, attempting to head off those intrusive thoughts at the pass. They carve a space that allows the listener to simply think about nothing for a little while.

Most of the tracks on the album provide a delightful feeling of floating softly above clouds, but some take that idea further than others.

Opener Ousia is truly a musical version of a top-notch spa treatment, while there’s a sense of zero gravity on Eudaimonia as each synth passage drops off to sleep until we’re left with just a handful of dozing notes.

Between them, it seems Stevens and Brams have an impressive vocabulary. ‘Aporia’ means an irresolvable internal contradiction, and it’s a concept the duo are more than happy to entertain. While allowing our minds to wander freely, they also gently guide us like yoga gurus on a mindfulness weekend.

But elsewhere there are nods to uncertainty as the experimentation creates magical, abstract moments in time--they are dynamic enough to provoke a sense of alertness and shifting thoughts. Palinodes, for example, is a sketch of truncated blips, and the curious For Raymond Scott is an unfinished childhood mashing of keys. We’re also treated to the robotic Captain Praxis and the Red Desert, with both making bids to be the theme tune to Netflix’s latest sci-fi series.

What It Takes utilises repetitive percussion for a more rhythmically structured song, taking on some of the more experimental tropes of Bon Iver’s recent work by combining busy, juicy bass hits with skittering high hat spatters, before falling underwater into some sparse, sustained notes, just like its brief follow-up Disinheritance.

While Stevens and Brams may not have broken any fresh ground with ‘Aporia’, they have managed to create a little meditative headspace for listeners searching for an escape. It’s a confident, reassuring album for uncertain times.

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