Review: Sufjan Stevens – Reflections

Artwork for Sufjan Stevens' 2023 album Reflections

Sufjan Stevens and Justin Peck combine on ‘Reflections’.

There’s always been a general perception (held at times less than secretly by parties on both sides) that the oil and water of high and low art are best kept very separated.

At times this supposed prejudice has been underlined (witness the allocation of low interest loans to ventures such as the English National Opera and Royal Albert Hall from the government’s COVID recovery fund) but equally there is an argument that the divide is a manufactured one.

Occasionally the two streams cross: Justin Peck, the New York City Ballet’s famed choreographer, first became aware of Sufjan Stevens‘ music through a chance listening to Illinois, his occasionally eccentric 2005 concept album about the American state of the same name.

Peck eventually took his interest further by adapting and incorporating some of Sufjan Stevens’ other work directly into his show Year Of The Rabbit which premiered in 2012 after the latter had OK’d the request by admitting, ‘I don’t know anything about ballet and I don’t care. But go for it’.

Following that the two became friends, sharing down time Manhattan experiences before the singer’s move upstate a few years ago.

Reflections is a studio version of a 2019 project on which he also collaborated with Peck, made from a score he composed and recorded by Timo Andres and Conor Hanick.

Many would be intimidated by the just the idea, but there’s no question of seeking to appeal only towards exclusivity in the seven pieces which make the release up.

There is an obvious gap however in imagining an audio-visual experience without the latter, so imagination is required when attempting to track the former to a spectacle.

Opener Ekstasis, for example, features a cascading, back-and-forth pan that seems like a conversation with an impetuous child, whilst the affirmatory notes of Euphoros rise and fall disobediently as if they’re trying to break free from some perceived captivity.

In places the tone is more contemplative, Mnemosyne’s gentle, repeated phrases eventually being interrupted by chattering higher points, whilst Rodinia is more coldly ambient and because of that a little harder to enjoy.

Even given the context there’s still more than you’d imagine to be had. The closer is entitled And I Shall Come To You Like A Stormtrooper In Drag Serving Imperial Realness, and whilst it doesn’t feature Wookies of any kind, its expressive contours refuse to dwell, often meeting themselves coming back the other way.

In answer to the question the opening statement implies, only a fool would deliberately try to limit their audience, so whatever label gets put on it work is work and art is art.

Sufjan Stevens’ Reflections is as much for fans of those who like jigsaws with missing pieces, but the only criteria for entry is an open mind.

Learn More