Stevens Spit-Shines Rough Expressway

    Sufjan Stevens
    The BQE
    Asthmatic Kitty
    7/10

    Indie-folk softie Sufjan Stevens is not your typical brooder. Aside from his ability to play every instrument ever created, Stevens has also remained serious about his super-ambitious “Fifty States” project: He aims to complete a record named for every state in the U.S. So far, he has completed two, including the much-acclaimed Illinois.

    So it’s not surprising that this month, Stevens is releasing a radical multimedia project about a more specific location. BQE, for all those out of the loop, refers to New York City’s infamous Brooklyn–Queens Expressway. Stevens’ experimental work is a symphonic and cinematic interpretation of the oft-clogged thoroughfare, along with artsy triptychs of everything from Ferris wheels to hula-hoopers.

    Stevens himself managed to shoot the original footage, compose the music, and perform (with a backing orchestra) through the film’s entire 40-minute soundtrack. At times, his music accentuates gracefulness with barely there, intricate strings. Interlude “Dream Sequence in Subi Circumnavigation” begins this way, but escalates into chaotic and powerful orchestration reminiscent of a grand automobile mishap.

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    On “Traffic Shock,” Stevens eccentrically composes electronic elements to convey the adrenaline rush induced by a nighttime ride through city lights. The fairytale-like “Isorhythmic Night Dance With Interchanges” begins with a charming blend of piano and flute that gradually intensifies into symphonic grandeur.

    Needless to say, Stevens’ latest project is anything but a monotone soundtrack. Stevens himself has described the BQE as “one of the ugliest expressways in the world” — yet his ode to an unimaginative place makes it the most fantastic location in the world. Each emotional state, from mischievous to full-on panicked, is clearly conveyed through each piece of music and slide of film — making the BQE more of an experience than an album.

    Clearly, Stevens’ imagination cannot be contained within the molds of American humdrum nor need for sleep. He might just have the wherewithal to record 48 more albums to complete his “Fifty States” collection after all.

    — Grace Liu
    Contributing Writer

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