Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine: A Beginner’s Mind (Asthmatic Kitty) - review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 27th, 2021  

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine

A Beginner’s Mind

Asthmatic Kitty

Sep 24, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine’s A Beginner’s Mind is as brilliant in execution as it is in design. Stevens and the similarly voiced De Augustine decamped to Upstate New York and proceeded to write songs inspired by movies they watched the evening before. Films ranged from early Hollywood classics (All About Eve), to campy B-grade horror movies (Night of the Living Dead), to a cheeseball surfer/heist flick (Point Break). The source material for the songs coupled with the artists’ open hearted approach, which recalls Stevens’ most earnest of Christmas carols, makes for a genius level mix of equally heartfelt and hilarious lyrics. A paramount example being, “Fix it all, Jonathan Demme,” in the middle of the gorgeous “Cimmerian Shade,” which uses Silence of the Lambs as its jumping off point.

Whether as a listener you try and suss out the cinematic references or just float along with a baker’s dozen plus of impeccably crafted chamber-folk songs is eternally and interchangeably up to you. On paper the prospect of two higher register voices (Stevens’ has a micron more huskiness) may seem like a high risk proposition, but as the duo proved on De Augustine’s “Blue” and “Santa Barbara” a few years back, it works amazingly well. Garfunkel & Garfunkel if you will. De Augustine was recording albums in his bathroom not so long ago (good ones mind you), so to see him performing as a peer alongside his label’s founder and elder statesman, over the course of a full album, is heartening to say the least.

A Beginner’s Mind benefits from the patented Stevens’ approach to structuring seemingly simple, but infinitely layered compositions. The opening “Reach Out” introduces the artists’ close-coverage vocal approach and musically blossoms out in a multitude of spots. Similarly riding on the sheer aural beauty of these artists’ gifts are later album gems such as the whisper-soft “Murder & Crime,” the piano and hammered string delicacy “(This Is) The Thing,” and the nylon-stringed choral closer “Lacrimae.” But in addition to these softer moments there are equally effective brisker takes like the drum kicked power of “Back to Oz.” While buried one-liners that synch up beautifully with the movies they were derived from are just icing on the cake. Stevens calls out Bette Davis’ All About Eve character on “Lady Macbeth in Chains”: “just an opportunist at heart.” The Night of the Living Dead zombies take a few swipes in the tongue-in-cheek titling of “You Give Death a Bad Name,” while Hellraiser III’s titular character is given a rare taste of empathy on “The Pillar of Souls”: “my skin is ablated with bleeding incisions.”

Similar to Stevens’ earlier career feint to record an album for each of the 50 states, the songwriting exercise that he and De Augustine stumbled into on A Beginner’s Mind could easily yield many albums worth of promising material. With a little time on their hands and access to a Criterion Channel subscription an endless multitude of outcomes are evident. A “why’d you have to go and do that” to Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle or some timely travel advice to Psycho’s Janet Leigh would just be the tip of Titanic’s iceberg. As art begets art, A Beginner’s Mind is both truly inspirational and a testament to what can come out of work-shopping with A-list performers. (www.asthmatickitty.com/artists/sufjan-stevens-angelo-de-augustine)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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