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Album Review

Sufjan Stevens, 'The BQE'

October 26, 2009

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Experimental
Sufjan Stevens The BQE
AsthmaticKitty
“The BQE,’’ with the Osso String Quartet, screens Nov. 6 at Tufts University.

Who but Sufjan Stevens, indie-pop pied piper and master crafter of quixotic musical tributes, would put his devoted fans on hold - fans who for four years have been patiently waiting for a follow-up to “Illinois’’ - while he crafts a cinematic and symphonic exploration of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway? Don’t get me wrong. “The BQE,’’ commissioned by BAM for the 2007 New Wave Festival, is an admirable, ambitious project. Stevens’s 40-minute orchestral suite brims with twittering woodwinds, blaring fanfares, twinkling arpeggios, and stately interludes. It’s a fanciful and deftly assembled showcase of textures and moods, lovely and capricious. Taken alone, however, the music made this listener pine for a fistful of Stevens’s evocative melodies and commanding lyrics to anchor the ornamentation. Add the film, though - a three-paneled collage of urban roadway footage interspersed with hula hoopers - and you’ve got the indie nation’s own “Koyaanisqatsi.’’ Happily, the package comes with a 40-page booklet that includes a lengthy essay by Stevens explicating, among other things, the existential juxtaposition of highways and hoops. (Out now)

JOAN ANDERMAN