Fall is upon us, and as fate would have it, Sufjan Stevens has given us the quintessential album for the season. A Beginner’s Mind, Stevens’ fourth album in two years, is in collaboration with Angelo De Augustine, and together, the two mesh soft indie music with a more folksy aura, creating an album that sets itself apart from Stevens’ earlier work.
Whether you know him from his discography in the movie Call Me By Your Name, or his arguably defining album, Carrie and Lowell, fans’ general expectation of Stevens’ work is melodic indie songs, bridled with the pain of unrequited love or profound loss. His two most recent albums, Convocations and The Ascension, played with more electronic influences, but still maintained the themes of the general struggle of life, elucidated poetically. A Beginner’s Mind, however, diverges from the general melancholic feel of Stevens’ work.
The album starts softly, with “Reach Out” and “Lady Macbeth In Chains.” The two songs are slightly underwhelming, but serve as a good starter to the album, setting a soft feel. The album picks up with “Back To Oz,” a truly incredible song. Stevens and De Augustine’s voices mesh perfectly together, creating an airy and flowy melody. The guitar strums, present throughout the piece, are reminiscent of the final days of summer, creating a sort of whimsical feel to the song. The upbeat feel to the song as a whole is unlike Stevens’ previous introductions to albums, which often deal with much more solemn notes.
“You Give Death a Bad Name,” the fifth of 14 songs, is classic Sufjan Stevens in both the melody and the longing subject matter. The entirety of the song feels like it’s winding down, making it a perfect song to listen to on a rainy day. Stevens’ voice remains soft, avoiding sharp transitions and utilizing the power of repeated phrases, allowing him to plead his message.
“Murder and Crime” is probably the sweetest song on the album. With a light guitar strum guiding the song, De Augustine and Stevens flow through a sleepy ballad questioning the “whys” of life. “Where does everything go when everything’s gone? For my heart cannot break much more” ends the song, leaving the listener on an existential note.
The album has a general feel of softness and the beginning of fall. As the album progresses, the songs mellow out and align more with Stevens’ classical discography. The album, while beautifully composed, doesn’t leave as lasting an impression as Stevens’ previous work. The Ascension and Carrie and Lowell are such defining albums in his career, that it seems as though that he is challenged in outdoing his previous works.
Overall rating: 7.5/10.