Album of the Week: Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James McAlister | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Album of the Week: Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James McAlister

Planetarium Out Today via 4AD

Jun 09, 2017 Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James McAlister Bookmark and Share

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There is always a question of chemistry when four musicians each with strong talent and personality come together for a concept project. However accomplished they may be in their individual and familiar pursuits, how good they sound together can go any which way. Planetarium is the offspring of such a union and in the serendipitous and circuitous manner it came together, there is the notion that it was destined to be. A feeling you’re convinced of when you listen to it.

It should actually come as no surprise that the innovative contemporary classical composition of Nico Muhly would be simpatico with the angelic voice of Sufjan Stevens, the masterfully dexterous guitar playing of Bryce Dessner and the beat wizardry of James McAlister. All have worked with one another in the past in some capacity and combination and all have been prolific and willing collaborators with other artists of shared vision.

Their vision shared for Planetarium, an outstretched musical exploration into what outer space would sound like in the shape of elaborate composition, began a few years back when Muhly was commissioned by Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven to conceive such a piece. Muhly called on his three friends to help him arrange it and a series of live performances alongside a string quartet and seven trombones ensued. But the recorded album was not a foregone conclusion and only materialized last year when Stevens and McAlister resurrected the live performance recordings, using them as the foundation.

The end result comes as a blessing. From the moment Stevens’ voice graces those preciously falling grand piano keys as only his does on journey opener “Neptune,” you just sense that you’re in for a thrill. Through an oscillating course of extravagant sonic collisions and spectral ambient movements, Planetarium fulfills and exceeds its lofty aspiration and is the rewarding culmination of an imaginative kinship. In all meanings of the word, Planetarium is stellar.

Read our review of Planetarium.

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