Sufjan Stevens has developed a pattern of a ‘folk roots return’ and then ‘experimental-style’ album-releasing back-and-forth over the last few years. Today, Sufjan is back on track with the gentle, lush sounds that attracted many fans in the early days of Greetings From Michigan The Great Lake State, Seven Swans and Illinois.
A Beginner’s Mind is Sufjan’s fourth collaborative effort, joining forces with contemporary folk artist Angelo De Augustine who has opened for Sufjan live on tour. The two folk masterminds cooped up in a cabin in upstate New York, watching films to gain musical inspiration. Just from a glimpse at the tracklist, “Lady Macbeth In Chains” might make you think of a heavy metal or hardcore punk banger, yet Stevens and Augustine transcend us to a meditative, carefree musical atmosphere.
Earlier this summer, the two gorgeous singles “Reach Out” and “Olympus” were released, which gave us the first taste of another return to folky beginnings for Sufjan Stevens. If the gentle ukulele strummings on “Reach Out” didn’t hook you right away, I bet you were sold on the skyrocketing angelic harmonies that drive the song forward. “Back To Oz” brings listeners into an electric folk world with bold, percussive guitar cords that serve as the pulse of the song. This song almost sounds like it could have been a B-Side on Illinois.
Our beginner’s minds are brought into a dreamy atmosphere on “The Pillar Of Souls” which captivates listeners with a steady flow of serene dynamics and relaxing vibes. The next song, “You Give Death A Bad Name” brings to mind the melodies and guitar riffs we all fell in love with on his earlier album Seven Swans. The intriguing title of this song truly speaks volumes for the power it serves the listeners.
The title track “A Beginner’s Mind” is a beautiful piano ballad that could have been an alternate track on Michigan more specifically The Avalanche the outtakes and b sides album associated with Michigan. The Sufjan signature echoing harmonies bring exciting energy into the pre-chorus of this song, as the masterful head voice falsetto truly allows us to let out all the emotions we need to.
“Murder And Crime” serves up another soft folk relaxing energy that is propelled by stunning harmonies and a steady acoustic beat. “(This Is) The Thing” is probably the standout track of the album, which proves Sufjan to remain one of the great folk songwriters in the current indie community. His piano songs have that signature formula sound that we can’t deny our attraction and gravitation towards. “Its Your Own Body And Mind” sounds like a nod to the late folk legend Elliot Smith, as Sufjan implements a grungy, dark, lo-fi sound on the track that transcends us into a dark room solely lit by candelight.
Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine have served up a powerfully melodic and peaceful new project that is sure to be talked about for some time. Albums like this truly showcase Sufjan’s genius talent and make him stand out high amongst the rest of the indie folk community. We are very lucky to be graced with this beautiful music and another return to his incredible folk and singer /songwriter styles.
Scott J. Herman