“Planetarium” shines brightly with wonder and amazement like discovering an uncharted star or planet in a galaxy far, far away. The magical arrangements of cosmic forces soar extraordinarily high above the atmosphere composed masterfully by a group of multitalented individuals. Seventeen tracks made from titles dealing with astronomy, the cosmos, and Mother Earth, Planetarium is a showcase soundtrack for what playing in the heavens might sound like.
The collaboration consists of alt-soft indie guru, Sufjan Stevens, and his multi-instrumental percussionist mate James McAllister, with Bryce Dessner of The National, along with, and finally complimenting the group, classical-pop-contemporary composer whiz kid Nico Muhly.
Stevens, Dessner and Muhly are familiar with each other having worked together on the brilliant 2009 charity release “Dark Was The Night.” Dessner not only rocks with his full time band, but is also a composer, has a master’s degree in music from Yale University, and was commissioned by both the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic for compositions.
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McAllister, a drummer, is a long-time contributor to many other Sufjan Stevens albums who is also a multi-instrumentalist musician and producer. Muhly a new wave maestro, who can compose or arrange old school classical or can mix it up with a modern pop and indie viewpoint, has composed and arranged works with the likes of Bjork, Grizzly Bear, Phillip Glass and even BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
These virtuosos are obviously connected by the interest in finding different ways to compose experimental music and how music and the universe connect with each other and how it affects spirituality.
As with all new experimental or avant-garde material, the effect or results may be directly influenced by the experience of each individual. “Planetarium” is much like looking up into the wondrous sky and seeing many beautiful stars, in that it takes a little while for the brain to absorb the surreal effect. Therefore, the more one listens to “Planetarium” play the more enlightened and pleasurable the listening experience becomes.
The planet Neptune named after the Roman god of the sea, and the planet Jupiter, who is known to have four moons orbiting it, are both tracks worthy of extra listening periods. “Neptune” starts with dainty playing keyboards interweaved betwixt Sufjan’s soft lullabies as McAllister and Dessner fill the song with beautiful beats and rhythms creating a feeling of calmness-as if flying across the stars on a silver surfboard.
The videos the group has posted online have visually creative qualities that match the vocal lyrics of the 17-track experience. At times Sufjan seems to sound like he’s in orbit having conversations with the interstellar planets lost in space. “Pluto” has Sufjan’s vocals hauntingly playing over synthesized beats backed by the magical sounding orchestral blend very well.
“Jupiter’s” includes drum beats and vocals echo as an autotuner transforms the digital sounding synthesizers into a strange and lonely feeling when Sufjan says, “Father of Light, Father of death give us your wisdom, give us your breath…Under your foot, carpenter’s cape sermon of death says Jupiter is the loneliest planet.”
Open to individual interpretation the listening experience of the compilation of tunes may vary from listener to listener. If you are looking for music sounding like The National, or traditional takes on music by Sufjan, then this music might not be for you.
However, if you have an open mind and a thirst for new exciting takes on what the cosmos might sound like, then take a window seat on this spaceship and enjoy the view, as the ride and the experience these creative musical geniuses offer is like none other.
“Venus, Saturn, and Uranus” are sure to please fans. The bravura of “Earth” begins as if the earth was just created and plays wonderfully for 15 minutes. However, The group project saves the best for the last with the “Mercury.” The final planet in this solar system manifesto, finds Sufjan’s magnetically and softly whispering “And I am weightless you ran off with it all, and I am speechless, all that I’ve said to get it right, and I am confident you ran off with it all,” as the mystical instruments of never-ending guitar, bass and keyboards rhythmic beats cycle after each other as if one has a front row seat gazing passing star after star, planet after planet. “Planetarium” is a release worthy to listen to on earth, and all over the galaxy.
“Planetarium” is out now via 4AD