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Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine - A Beginner's Mind (Album Review)

Monday, 04 October 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

With lockdowns easing all around the western world, recording artists will hopefully be finding themselves in renewed flushes of creativity—reunited with the musicians, non-home studios and touring schedules that helped to define their output before.

That said, lockdown has been an opportunity to create more insular, intimate work and ‘A Beginner’s Mind’, a collab LP recorded by Sufjan Stevens and label mate Angelo De Augustine, is a pretty good example.

It’s a concept album built out of a distinct working pattern: the two holed up in an upstate New York cabin, watching films by night and then workshopping songs by day, based on what they’d seen.

The album’s cover, a painting of a Ray Harryhausen Medusa, is a composite of this idea, referencing the Wizard of Oz (rainbow), Point Break (wave) and Silence of the Lambs (moth).

Wisely, songs tend to use the films as creative catalysts rather than being direct retellings of them. The result is fluid and serene, with familiar source material acting as a handy in-road to music that is often ephemeral and diaphanous. 

One standout moment comes on Olympus, which has selected the original Clash of the Titans films as the base text. With elegant acoustic playing, excellent vocal interplay and nebulous chorus, it marries the dual inputs marvellously. The words directly reference Greek epics while acting well as standalone lyrics. "Who will arrange my great escape?" they ask. "Tossing and turning, uneasy, it cost me the cross / Am I at rest or resigned in my chaos?"

As with the work of Grandaddy and (fellow Midwesterners) Bon Iver, this album is sometimes a little tediously sensitive, with breathy, meek singing that could either be described as an acquired taste or, to be a little less kind, weepy sex music. There is little doubting the quality of the compositions and integrity of the collaboration, but it simply doesn't grab the attention as well as its founding concept demands.

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