When you’re dealing with someone as enigmatic and prolific as Sufjan Stevens, the bar’s always going to be significantly raised. The man’s responsible for some of the decade’s finest music; it feels like he’s been bordering on the “genius” tag for quite some time now. Sadly, he’s taken a few steps back from music and has been quoted in many interviews as stating that music may be something he closes the book on soon enough.
Where that leaves us is some kind of a wonder because in all honesty, I was definitely hoping that the fifty states idea would see its supreme fruition. In the meantime, Stevens has generously devoted an album’s worth of classical music in the form of The BQE. A documentary inspired by the confusingly-designed, uniquely-built, congested Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Throughout the depiction of the expressway, we are also met by three super cute ‘hula heroes’: Botanica, Quantus (hello indeed) and Electress who specialize in the lost form of hula-hoop. Through shots of the road that vary from mechanically slow to furiously quick, Stevens’ music plays the role as the catalyst.
It’s being entirely billed as a documentary and the forty minutes showcase Stevens as an individual who is definitely talented and remarkable. The footage is every bit engrossing and just as the music compels and propels, so does the film. The three aforementioned females act as singular interludes with their hula hoops twirling around their arms, legs and hips as they look on at the camera with adorable smiles. But with a steady hand at both the camera and the music score, Stevens is in the spotlight proving his worth with every changing moment.
Putting the documentary to the side, the DVD version comes, thankfully equipped with a CD version of the soundtrack. It’s a compliment to Stevens when one notices that listening to the music alone is rewarding and yet, the shots from the documentary are what run vivid in your head. The music, itself, is beautiful in every possible sense of the word. There are uplifting moments where the music comes to a swell and the back-dropped drums and trumpet toot away and there are those subtle beauties where a clarinet and flute pair up to deliver a richly melodic line. Stevens’ full orchestra is put on display with corresponding conductor, Michael Atkinson, putting in double work between this and Osso’s own, Run Rabbit Run.
Stevens even chooses to delve into his electronic storybook with “Movement IV: Traffic Shock.” Rather than employing his instruments, he reaches for his synthesizer to draw up a scattered use of electronic flurries and fills. Throughout his opening ambience that leads into the fanfare of aptly titled “Introductory Fanfare for the Hooper Heroes” through his tender closing, “Postlude: Critical Mass,” Stevens is channeling composers like Ives, Gershwin and Wagner. From a purely classical standpoint, excellent 20th century composers are still trying to capture their own sound and yet here, we have someone with both a style of his own and an exceptional influential ode.
There’s caring warmth spread through the music that fittingly makes everything sound absolutely terrific. Just listening to the growth and steady building of “Movement II: Sleeping Invader” as the cars pass by on their daily commute gives the documentary an absolutely captivating feel. There will always be new projects and opportunities that will endlessly appear but when you’re able to turn one into a creative process that reaps success, it’s utterly outstanding. For this is what The BQE truly stands for; if nothing else, it will have many fanatics calling for more and more music from Stevens and with good reason.