Album: Sufjan Stevens, The BQE (Rough Trade)

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The Independent Culture

Never an artist noted for thinking small, with The BQE Sufjan Stevens brings us his gesamtkunstwerk about the piecemeal construction and subsequent decline of the notoriously congested Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York.

A three-screen film interspersing hypnotic footage of the 12-mile highway with the hula-hooping antics of three alien superhero sisters (!), it's available as a CD/DVD package with accompanying booklet or as a vinyl double-album with a comic book. I've yet to see the entire film, but the soundtrack is typical Stevens, minus vocals: fidgety, fluttering woodwind brushed aside by bustling brass in a repetitive manner that recalls both the 1960s minimalism of Riley, Glass and Reich, and the earlier American representational tradition of Ives, Copland and Gershwin. These sections are interrupted occasionally by twinkling celesta, shimmering strings, and whirls of synthesiser noise – most effectively when the slowly-built orchestral momentum of "Linear Tableau with Intersecting Surprise" segues into the chattering electronica of "Traffic Shock". The mood shifts subtly from a sort of benign majesty at the outset to a more queasily discordant tone in the later stages, presumably reflecting the collapse of the project's idealistic origins. A typically idiosyncratic endeavour from America's most intriguing young composer.

Download this Linear Tableau with Intersecting Surprise, In the Countenance of Kings

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