Reflecting on “Reflections” by Sufjan Stevens

May 24, 2023, 8:17 p.m. | By Lillian Paterson | 12 months ago

Sufjan Stevens' newest album might not be exactly what you’re expecting

Sufjan Stevens' newest album might not be exactly what you’re expecting (Courtesy of Sufjan Stevens).

If you’ve heard of Sufjan Stevens, it’s probably from the track “Fourth of July'' off his indie rock record “Carrie & Lowell,” or from the Grammy-nominated “Mystery of Love '' featured in the “Call Me By Your Name” soundtrack. 

Stevens’ newest project might catch you off guard, but if you’re a modern classical music lover and a fan of his first ballet score “The Decalogue,” (2019) then “Reflections” is definitely for you. “Reflections,” released May 19 is a seven-song ballet score in collaboration with composers Timo Andres and Conor Hanick. 

The LP starts off with “Ekstasis,” which is quick and unpredictable in its sound, with a random array of scales and notes. It goes back and forth from this cacophony to a slower more soothing pattern, before cutting off and ending. “Ekstasis” is a great introduction to the album in that it emulates both sides of the record: slow and calm, and fast-paced and full of excitement. Ekstasis' definition most closely emulates the word “ecstasy” — which is a perfect way to categorize this song. Starting off intense and ending slow, it's almost as if the composer is stuck in a trance. 

Next up is “Revanche,” a song full of chord smashes that aid the transition from a soft mezzo piano and an intense forte within the span of seconds. Out of all the tracks, it’s definitely the most disorienting to listen to. At a little over five minutes, it's one of the longer songs of the album; but instead of becoming boring quickly, the unpredictability of the song is gripping, even if it’s a bit of an overwhelming listen. 

Unpredictability is a major theme in this album — from quick, stinted staccato note changes to slow legato — Stevens makes a genre that usually sounds pretty dull into a patchwork of interesting sounds and rhythms. 

The next two songs “Euphoros” and “Mnemosyne” are opposites. “Euphoros” is the best song of the album sound-wise. It’s hard not to pay attention to it when listening — the incredible amount of technique that goes into those fast note and volume changes is extremely impressive. “Mnemosyne,” on the other hand, is pretty much a boring version of “Ekstasis.” It’s a sound on the album that’s been done before, and especially underwhelming after listening to “Euphoros.”

The first half of track 5, “Rodina” is equally as bland as “Mnemosyne,” but the song redeems itself in its second half, with a much more exciting tune. If the song wasn’t a whopping six minutes long, and if the first half of it was cut out, it’d easily be the second-best song of the album. Next is “Reflexion” which serves as a transition to the final song of the album “And I Shall Come To You Like A Stormtrooper in Drag Serving Imperial Realness.”

The album comes full circle with this final track. It calls back to previous songs in the album: “Ekstasis” with its staccato vibration and “Revanche” with its aggressive chord slams. And yeah, as far as modern classical music goes, the song definitely serves Imperial Realness. 

“Reflections” isn’t really an album that’s meant to be listened to — it’s meant to be performed with dancers. It’s boring at moments, which makes sense —-- any ballet score is incomplete without ballet dancers. Besides that, it’s especially admirable to see an artist stepping outside of the bounds of his audience, and exploring a genre that isn’t mainstream. “Reflections” is definitely not for everyone, but it’s a great soundtrack and a worthwhile listen.

Last updated: May 30, 2023, 9:48 a.m.

Tags: album review classical music

Lillian Paterson. Hey, I'm Lillian (she/her) and I'm a co-sports and co-op-ed editor for SCO. When I'm not being totally consumed by school work I like to play guitar and read! More »

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