SUFJAN STEVENS: The BQE

ASTHMATIC KITTY: Back in October of 2007, Sufjan Stevens debuted The BQE—a visual and musical homage to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway—at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House in downtown Brooklyn. Originally commissioned by BAM for the Next Wave Festival, the BQE featured three simultaneous film projections, a 35-piece band and orchestra, and live hula hoopers for a 3-night run. One week following the performances, Sufjan and his orchestra went into the studio to record the soundtrack, but afterwards, feeling disenfranchised by the magnitude of the universe, Sufjan decided to shelve the project. Until now. Two years later, Sufjan found inspiration to mix the music, edit the video and expand the project to include photographs, liner notes, a comic book, and a stereoscopic image reel—a multi-media package that attempts to render this much-loathed urban expressway into a conscionable work of art. The release date is set for October 20, 2009. The double-disc album will include the original film on DVD, the original soundtrack on CD, a 40-page booklet (with photos and liner notes), and a stereoscopic image reel (aka View-Master®), created by illustrator Stephen Halker. MORE

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Sufjan Stevens
Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State
ASTHMATIC KITTY

Brooklyn-based avant-pop songster Sufjan Stevens is this week’s tasty indie flavor of the week–I’m told local mom-and-pop shops can’t keep this precious curio in stock. Ambitious above and beyond what you’d expect from the bedheaded slackerati, Stevens purportedly plans to write and record a series of state-themed concept albums–one for every state in the union. His birth state of Michigan–that gun-crossed land of lakes, militias and bad motorfingers–gets the first nod. It’s easy to imagine that the writing here is informed by equal parts been-there, actually-done-that experience and late-night guitar-in-hand meditations on the kitschy cartoon maps of the state that comprise the album’s liner notes. Alternating between mournful Charlie Brown-sad piano swoon and luminous ensemble suites of percolating electro-clatter, Michigan is a vivid song cycle about the milky white people who wrap their souls in snowmobile suits and hibernate under the blue-light glow of TV until spring or death do they part–whichever comes first. “I live in America with a pair of Payless Shoes,” he sings on “The Upper Peninsula,” evoking the kind of threadbare, Midwestern populism that Michael Moore has made a career out of. Even if it all gets to be a little too much by the end–and you kinda wish he had thrown in a few more thin-man piano ballads–you can’t help but appreciate the fact that somebody is actually trying too hard these days. — JONATHAN VALANIA

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