Sufjan Stevens: The BQE

RIYL: Danielson Famile, Andrew Bird, Broken Social Scene

While Sufjan Stevens’ latest opus, entitled The BQE (which stands for The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) is equal parts charming and epic, it’s misleading and inaccurate with regards to its subject matter. After listening to The BQE many times, it’s clear that Mr. Stevens has never had the pleasure of living in an apartment bordering the elevated parts of the aforementioned expressway. Come on, Sufjan! Study your subject matter! Where are the car horns, the gun shots, the cursing motorists and that asshole cabbie that just cut me off again, goddammit…sorry. Flashed back for a second there.

Clearly, Mr. Stevens’ view of the BQE is not drawn from frequent personal utilization. His artistic statement on this release is more reflective of the BQE’s creation in the 1950s than its current detour and pothole-ridden condition. Oddly enough, the press materials accompanying this record also reference the hula hoop as an influence. Maybe he’s saying that if you’re on the BQE or if you’re using a hula hoop, in each instance you’re standing still? If so, he’s got a great sense of humor. Influences aside, light and pulsing orchestrations complete with Sufjan’s now-signature flourishes comprise the musical makeup for the bulk of this release. While they do provide a different texture, the electronic elements of “Movement IV – Traffic Shock” feel a bit out of place, but are beautiful nonetheless. Whether or not it was his intention, Sufjan Stevens has clearly cemented his place as one of this country’s greatest modern composers. He has clearly found his voice in this medium, and deserves to become known as the Aaron Copland of his generation. With his “indie cred” possibly on the line, however, this could be either a blessing or a curse – although something tells me Mr. Stevens stopped giving a shit about mass acceptance many records ago. Here’s hoping that his contemporaries follow suit and make records they’re proud of, and discontinue making music just to please the ever-growing and utterly useless Pitchfork demographic.

To be sure, The BQE may provide some interim relief to Sufjan Stevens fans who’ve been waiting since 2005 for a record that isn’t comprised of outtakes or a collection of seasonally inspired recordings. However, they shouldn’t rush out and pick it up if they’re in search of brilliant lyrical content, as there’s not a single word uttered on the entire album. Additionally, if this is Sufjan’s nod to New York as part of his whole “a record for all 50 states” quest which left off on Illinoise, folks in the Empire State will presumably feel a bit cheated. Maybe he has just abandoned his “album per state” approach and will make an album for each major US roadway. If he continually falls victim to an apparent loss of words, there is — thanks to Bob Dylan, Sammy Hagar, Cyndi Lauper and Steve Earle — plenty of transit material from which to borrow if the highway continually calls to him. (Asthmatic Kitty 2009)

Sufjan Stevens MySpace page
Click to buy The BQE from Amazon