If you're looking for someone to be in charge of Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine's new album, A Beginner’s Mind, blame The National's Bryce Dessner. After all, it was his home in New York's Catskills Mountains where the two watched movies at night for a month and then spent the next day writing songs about those movies and recording their efforts. The films they watched covered the whole spectrum: Silence of the Lambs, Night of the Living Dead, All About Eve, Wings of Desire. They name it, they saw it. By the end of this month, they had created one of the most fascinating collections of songs loosely connected to movies you will ever hear.
By now, Sufjan Stevens has become a well-known product, someone who records in a variety of styles and creates projects that cover everything from songs to states (Illinois and Michigan) to more electronic work like The Age of Adz and Planetarium (with Dessner , Nico Muhly and James McAlister) and Convocations (an instrumental set of five albums that examines his grief over the death of his biological father). Angelo De Augustine isn't quite as well known though, despite being with Asthmatic Kitty and touring with Stevens in the past. The two are soul mates and just as some people finish other's sentences, they often finish each other's lines in the songs on this record.
Over 14 songs, the two show a kind of vocal interplay that makes it difficult to determine exactly who is singing. Not that it matters because the material they sing about is never less than fascinating. "Reach Out," based on Wim Wenders ’Wings of Desire, begins with light guitar picking while the two sing about how their home has felt in their previous relationships.
In the interpretation of All About Eve, "Lady Macbeth in Chains" compares Bette Davis ’character Margo Channing with the Shakespeare legend. The two sing like "As the flame is on the reservoir / The darkness arises so much brighter" and compare how the former Broadway star is barely able to cope with advancing age because she continues to elude roles.
"You Give Death a Bad Name" uses George Romero's Night of the Living Dead as the starting material. Instead of a zombie movie, we are given a meditation examining the concepts of climate change and American exceptionalism: "Anthropocene, live it, give a fight / Shot in the heart, God bless America / Failed from the start, what are?" are you waiting? "Where Stevens and De Augustine are going with these songs is just as interesting as the films they are based on.
As fascinating conceptually as the finished product is in reality, A Beginner’s Mind continues to show why Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine are the kind of artists who are never less than totally committed. Your travels seem to be bearing incredible fruit.