Sufjan Stevens – The Brooklyn Queens Expressway


God I love Sufjan Stevens.  The first thing I ever heard by the man was ‘Seven Swans’.  What a gorgeous album that is.  Simple and beautiful it draws you in with its gentle tales and stories.  Compare and contrast this with the full on extravagance of ‘Welcome to Michigan’ and the stunning ‘Come On Feel The Illinois’ and you’d be surprised it was the same artist.  For me, Illinois is one of the most important records of the past 10 years easily.  On that record Mr Stevens crossed the divide between pop music and theatre, producing a masterpiece of its time.  Flamboyant and extravagant one minute, quiet and serene the next it really is a brilliant, brilliant piece of music from start to finish.  And what’s more, ‘the Avalanche’ an album of out takes from the Illinois sessions was also stunning.  All in all he produced around 40 tracks worthy of top marks on any blog or in any music mag.  It’s enough to make you sick really.  Or it would be if it’s as good as he gets.  But with this new album ‘The Brookyln Queens Expressway’ Sufjan Stevens has gone and pushed the boundaries once again and done so with such success that it really is quite annoying that he’s only 34! 

This piece of music, and that’s what it is, a piece of music, is actually relatively old having been first performed about 2 years ago in New York.  And once again, Sufjan Stevens successfully manages to negotiate a tricky cross over this time between straight out pop and classical symphony.  This is why I love the man so much.  Once again he has pushed himself and pushed the boundaries of what he’s known for, yet retains his identity completely. For whilst this is undoubtedly a step into the classical world of composition, it remains completely identifiable as a piece of work by Sufjan Stevens and I guess ultimately a pop record.  Despite the fact that his voice never once appears on this album it is unmistakably a piece of work by him.  All the floaty instrumentation you associate with Michigan or Illinois is present and correct and in a typical Stevens way the music swells and drops, swells and drops.  I am yet to watch the DVD footage that accompanies this album, for it is as much a soundtrack as it is a classical composition.  But as a stand alone piece of music, this is once again above and beyond the standard of others.  I mean, I love instrumental music and I love classical music too so this might not be up everybody’s street, but for me this is as good as instrumental music can get.  Classical in arrangement but never once losing its pop sensibilities, this really is a great piece of work, once again, from a man who seems to be able to churn out brilliance on demand.  And it’s not even his new, new album.  Run Rabbit Run is due out at the end November.  I assume this will be more orthodox Sufjan Stevens, but the beauty of the man is that you never can tell until the record is on your stereo and I’m not really sure what orthodox Sufjan Stevens is anymore!  Ultimately, if you are a fan of Sufjan Stevens I would recommend this record as it’s fabulous.  If you are a fan of classical music, again I’d recommend buying this record.  I would not recommend it as a starting point for those who know nothing of the man.  But as a piece of music I find it stunning and as a musician he never ceases to amaze me.  Wonderful stuff.  You can check him out here.  Enjoy.

There’s a whole story behind this record which adds to its charm.  The Brooklyn Queens Expressway runs from Southern Brooklyn, New York to the Grand Central Parkway in Queens, New York.  It was completed in 1960 and has become something of a controversial portion of interstate in New York.  The  BQE album by Sufjan Stevens is a mixed-medium artistic exploration of the BQE.   I am looking forward to watching the DVD soon to see how the music fits.  If it’s anywhere near as good as the music in isolation then it’s going to be well worth watching and I think ultimately that is how the music is meant to be viewed, in the context of the film.  Not out at all this week.  So that’s on the to do list for sure!

TSP Grade = B+


Deer Tick – Born On Flag Day


Deer Tick.  What a great name! I watched a show on reptiles last night and even though I love wildlife shows, some of the things I was watching did make my stomach turn a little.  I think the same applies to creepy crawlies.  I’m not afraid of spiders or bothered by daddy long legs in any way, but seeing them close up always does make my stomach turn a little.  So a Deer Tick is not the prettiest little creature in the world I’m sure you will agree and it certainly does not help conjure up images of the most appealing music.  Isn’t it weird how a name can really draw you to a band or put you off.  I mean, a band called the Deers in my head would suggest a kind of folky, lo fi sound yet when you add the word Tick on at the end it changes everything.   I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  It certainly wasn’t what I ended up listening to that’s for sure.  So what did I end up listening to I hear you say?

Well, this is a band for anyone who loves The Felice Brothers, The Builders and the Butchers, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, early Wilco, Bob Dylan, The Ba or indeed anything smothered in rocking country blues.  From the word go it sets it’s stall out with a foot stomping track called ‘Easy’ and by the time tracks 3 and 4  ‘Smith  Hill’ and ‘Song About a Man’ kick in, if you’re not drawn in by this band then I’m not sure you ever will be.  ‘Straight Into The Storm’ ups the tempo with some straight up rock n’roll.  A real foot stomper of a track which cannot fail to get you smiling, dancing, singing along and ‘Friday XIII’ keeps the mood upbeat before the album slows towards it’s conclusion.  ‘Hell On Earth’ is a simply lovely piece of music to finish the record with.  It’s over too soon though.  Or perhaps it’s not.  Perhaps that’s the beauty of this record.  It’s short, it’s sweet and it makes you want more.  And the great news is that they are playing Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh on 4th December and the Captain’s Rest in Glasgow on 5th December.  If you love your country alt rock I would highly recommend that you clear you diary and make sure you get along to check out these guys live.  Sure, it may not be anything new, it may not be anything ground breaking but it’s a great little album from a band with great potential to go onto bigger and better things.   Check them out here.  Oh and for the record, they seem to call their fans Tickheads.  Which is simply genius.  Enjoy.

TSP Grade = B