Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams – Aporia review

by Philip Moss

I first played Aporia on the way home from Damien Jurado’s show in Leeds in February. The motorway was slowly covering in snow, and the wind howled, as we returned to Lancashire on the M62. But the record made no emotional impact. In fact, it blurred into a distant background noise. Fast forward four weeks, and Britain – like so much of the world – is put into lockdown. And for some reason, I was drawn back to it; this time, however, the effect was wholly different.

Music is so much about time, mood and place. Something about the distorted drums and sci-fi synths that open this collection and – in fact – run throughout it now feel right. The opening trio of Ousia, What It Takes and Disinheritance still feel disjointed – but they now take on new meaning, as a metaphor, perhaps, for the times in which it is going to creep out into the world.

For long time Sufjan fans, this collaboration with his stepfather Lowell Brams – the same man whose name adorned his career best, Carrie and Lowell – will feel markedly different to most of what he has put his name before. Of course, his career’s been eclectic. But Aporia is a wholehearted leap in the ambient genre.

It isn’t until the fourth track, Agathon, that the album starts to carry real gravitas. Different to what’s come before, it feels more fully developed, and definitely improves with repeated listens. Its noodling guitars and pulsating backing track really does provide the perfect release during what are – for many – anxious times. Afterworld Alliance stands out too – this time recalling the feel of Kraftwerk’s Metal On Metal.

So much of what Sufjan has released before has hinged upon his distinctive voice – and it’s only on The Runaround where we get to hear it. Underneath the voice, though, are the same sonic textures that phase in and out throughout Aporia, and while much feels like a series of Garageband sketches and abstractions, it is these textures that bring the record synergy.

In the probably not too distant future, there will come a time when filmmakers are piecing together footage to create documentaries about the Covid-19 pandemic. In Aporia, Sufjan Stevens and Lowell Brams have created a ready made soundtrack.

Secret Meeting score: 77

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