Every day, Sufjan Stevens seems to drift farther away from his original brand as a doe-eyed indie-folk icon. Then again, he is long removed from his days penning the twee, folksy tributes to the midwest that he is perhaps best known for. These days, Stevens is probably best described as an experimentalist.
In the last few years, he has been behind projects as diverse as sentimental ballads about Tonya Harding or sprawling, orchestral tributes to his Olympian ex-lovers, and, for good measure, picked up an Oscar nomination along the way.
Even in Stevens’ eclectic discography, Aporia (★★★☆☆) truly stands out. A collaboration with his stepfather Lowell Brams, the entirely instrumental album is two-faced — soothing and meditative, but carrying a palpable sense of tension woven throughout.
For Stevens, whose lyrics are notably evocative, confessional yet enigmatic, richly layered with subtext and overt text, this album is an unusual outlier in that it eschews lyrics altogether. The only hint that it comes from Stevens at all is the vocal sampling, and even then, it would be difficult to recognize if we did not already know he was the one behind Aporia.
Despite being such a departure from the familiar for Stevens, as an instrumental album, Aporia mostly succeeds. Certain tracks, such as “Agathon” and “Ataraxia,” hint at post-rock influence, while others such as “Glorious You” and “Captain Praxis” lean towards a certain flavor of atmospheric electronica, somewhere between Tycho and Boards of Canada.
Owing partly to the short track lengths, it has enough ebb and flow to remain interesting and manages to establish its own coherent voice. Aporia builds a sonic landscape that is not quite captivating enough to get lost in, but is nonetheless an interesting listen, as well an enjoyable and soothing ride from beginning to end.
Aporia is available on most streaming services, including Spotify and Apple Music, and for sale on www.Amazon.com.
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