SUFJAN STEVENS, BRYCE DESSNER, NICO MUHLY, JAMES McALISTER – ” Mercury “

Posted: April 30, 2017 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
Tags: , , , , ,

Planetarium is an album co-composed by four musicians: Bryce Dessner, James McAlister, Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens.  Flanked by a string quartet and a consort of seven trombones, this unique collaborative ensemble has assembled an expansive song cycle that explores the Sun, the Moon, the planets and other celestial bodies of our solar system (and beyond) through soundscape, song, science and myth.

The subject of the album is not just the wilderness of outer space, but the interior space of human consciousness and how it engages with divinity, depravity, society and self—what does it mean to be human?  This existential question rings clear from the opening lyric: “What’s right and what’s wrong?”  The 75 minutes of music that follow provide a complex thesis: to be human is to be a total mess.  The result of this creative alliance is a musical and aesthetic journey as far-reaching as its subject: from lush piano ballads to prog-rock political anthems, curious electronic back-beats to classical cadenzas, the vast musical styles seek to explore the diversity and mystery of our cosmos.

Planetarium is a concept album that occasionally gives way to ambient interludes and majestic brass chorales, buttressed by a percussive drive that keeps the momentum skyward.  In spite of all the experimentation in sound and style, Sufjan’s vocals provide a clear and coherent center of gravity.  The album includes some of his most diverse vocal performances to date (from soft hush to guttural scream), and whether he’s singing through effects pedals, vocoders, auto-tune or not, his voice delivers an ambitious flight map through the cosmos.

The project started when the Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven commissioned Nico Muhly to create a new piece for their audience, and Nico immediately thought of his friends Bryce and Sufjan.

‘Mercury’ by Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister. Taken from the album ‘Planetarium’, released 9th June on 4AD Records:

“I’d known Sufjan for years,” says Nico, “and Bryce and I had been in each other’s business” — but, says Bryce, “we’d never worked on something this ambitious together.”  Each of the four brought their discrete and complementary strengths to the project.  Nico’s experience with composing music for cathedral choirs and symphony orchestras provided the framework for the piece, while Bryce brought his own sense of composition and orchestral color.

“Of the three of us, Bryce is the most virtuosic at his instrument,” said Nico.  A studied and accomplished classical musician, Bryce was also fluent in Nico’s unique musical language, and added a layer of rhythmic complexity to the songs.”

Sufjan became the driver behind the “song” part of the song cycle.  (Bryce: “I think ‘seven trombones’ was enough to lure Sufjan into it.”)  Sufjan also brought lyrics, and with them, the larger ideas around which Planetarium revolves: mythology and astrology, the ancient concept that stars and planets of the night sky represent gods, heroes and monsters.  As the project evolved, the group expanded the idea to encompass science and astronomy.

Sufjan also introduced frequent collaborator James McAlister to Bryce and Nico, and James brought the beats—drums, percussion and electronic sequencing.

In addition to the previously announced Paris show, Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, James McAlister will perform music from ‘Planetarium’ live at three special US concerts this summer. Listen to new track ‘Mercury’,

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