Planetarium (album) by Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister
Release date: 2017-06-09
Overall rank: 5,107th
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Sufjan Stevens / Nico Muhly / Bryce Dessner / James McAlister bestography
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Planetarium track list
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|06/29/2019 10:19||nico1616||532 ratings||76/100|
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The Age of Adz and this one are probably my favorite Sufjan Stevens albums
It has its moments, but it isn't that good as it could have been. I think the worst part of it all is the autotune. I really don't get why would they use it that much, ruining otherwise perfect songs such as "Mars".
Favorite songs: "Neptune", "Saturn", "Mercury"
This is a sprawling and magical journey. It'll take you a million places, and they're all beautiful and mind-blowing.
I put this in the same category as the Age of Adz. It's a really cool concept, but it's a little to abstract & difficult to listen to at times. I found myself impressed at times, but other times struggling to get a grasp of what was going on. I kept on comparing it to Holst's The Planets - better, more stirring & more cohesive. I think I'll keep my solar system themed music tastes there.
Was surprised by how good this is, after reading some negative press. Yes, it's on the long side, and yes, there are occasional jarring/disjointed moments. But to focus on these small shortcomings would be to deny the many moments of sheer bliss on this record. Highly recommended.
My album of the year thus far. It's stunning. Just absolutely beautiful.
It's like "Illinois" meets "Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks" meets "Age of Adz" meets Heaven itself. Wow.
So I just listened to it all the way through, all 76 minutes of glory, and made notes as I went on each track. Now those types of reviews are usually (for me, anyway) quite boring. So, the basic gist is that I adore this album! It captures all the immensity of the cosmos as a human usually sees it - the various huge phenomena of outer space seem to evoke in me and in these musicians deeply intimate human emotions. The meloncholy loneliness of this record just absolutely dominates the whole thing.
The ambient pieces are stellar, the pop or "Normal" songs are stunning in the extreme. The lyrics are absolutely essential. The soundscapes are nothing short of miraculous to me. This is my favorite album since at least [i]To Pimp A Butterfly[/i].
I'm so smitten and inspired by this album. I didn't expect to adore it so very much.
Okay, you can read over my notes that follow if you are so inclined. Bless this album, these musicians, this moment in time, this location in space, Bless all of you and all of me.
"Neptune" starts the album off with such tender, raw emotional vocal delivery with such perfectly simple sad piano chords. It takes my breathe away and gets me completely into the groove of the album. What follows for the remainder of the opening track is just more and more beautiful, heartfelt vocals. The music here is all so delicate and beautiful. Then when the wordless crescendo happens at the end, I'm just absolutely moved.
"Jupiter" starts similarly, insofar as there are a few seconds of ominous ambient sounds, then that drops out and the beat comes in. This song also has this excellent space. Its austere to start, then the beep boopy synths play and the guitar plays its magic. This all mixed with the unparalleled brilliance of Sufjan's vocals and melodic touch. This song is just too good. I can't even.
"Jupiter" is also a restless, mesmerizing track. Its mercurial shifts from one beautiful idea to the next is just awe-inspiring. The most beautiful strings come in at about 3 minutes, then a minute and a half later, the auto-tuned, robotic, sad vocals just kill, this then abruptly leads to a percussive battering that comes out of nowhere, but works impossibly well. The vocals over top this more intense last 2 minutes are the standard excellence that is all throughout this album. Then the Horns! Bombastic, epic, emotional. Then the song ends. "Jupiter" is so freakin' good.
40 second ambient track with one swelling note is "Hailey's Comet". Okay. Love it. I love it cuz it evokes so simply the comet. It comes and goes on its way.
Ah yes "Venus"...echeoy, sad, somber, beautiful percussion parts with little guitar tinkling, Sufjan's vox - seriously, I think Stevens may be my favorite vocalist of all time. And this album is perhaps his greatest album vocally (okay, i'll just say it, this is his greatest album. Period.)
"Uranus" - It's excellent and beautiful and spacey. Relaxing, thought-provoking, I quite enjoy it. And the songwriter wisely avoided any asshole jokes, which is commendable. The choral vocals 1 minute in is just gorgeous, and the way that leads into the horns and the next development of the electronic percussive part with more of that amazing guitar tinkling. The textures and details of this song (and album) is what makes this so absolutely incredible.
The last 2 and half minutes or so of this song is the first we hear of an extended ambient stretch. And this is just such introspective work. It's so absolutely engrossing. The amount of gorgeous detail packed into these last minutes is impressive. It evokes the barren space, the ominous silence, the human emotion that is added when observing and contemplating such a massive reality as the cosmos. Any fans of the ambient works of Eno or Budd or Rich I think will at least appreciate this. Anyone saying "Gosh, what's with these pretentious, time-wasting ambient parts?" I think has a point IF THEY DON'T LIKE AMBIENT, or ATMOSPHERIC MUSIC. If the album incorporated country music or Opera or Hip Hop, then the people who think those genres are pretentious would say "What's with all these pointless, pretentious ____ parts in this album?". That sentiment means next to nothing to me. This is an album of music. It is its own thing. If you were expecting something else than what these people made, then that is on you. Personally as someone who likes all the artistic choices - very definitely including the loooooong, (the longer the better methinks) atmospheric, ambient works - I find this album and this song ending a miracle of human creativity. Okay, that's all on that.
"Mars" has some serious;y distorted vocals, which are pretty cool. And the music continues to be intricate, with a heavy dose of horns floating in and out, a staticy soundscape, lots of little tinkly effects from something or other, a nice dash of movie score dramatics, and other stuff. This song may be a wee bit overstated for my tastes. But its interesting and when I listen to it closely more and more nice touches are revealed. "Mars" sees itself out with gorgeous guitar and very auto-tune pop vocals. While this may be my least favorite track thus far its still quite fantastic.
Now by this time, most people are thinking "Give me more atmospheric ambient soundscapes!". And this album delivers with the eerie sounds of "Black Energy". This could come straight from "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks". (I think I will be re-listening and reviewing that Eno classic soon, as that is [i]Planetarium[/i]'s clearest analog and influence.) Its that minimalistic, yet inspiring and deliberate. It does what it seems to have been made to do; makes me contemplate the massiveness of space, the mysteries, the awesome power.
"Sun" starts and is beautiful, as per usual. I just love this stuff. More absolutely beautiful, shimmery ambience. Sheets of tone, small shafts of higher pitched notes cutting into the awesome, foundational sounds.
"Tides" is another shimmery little 55 second gem.
"Moon" is the first "song", y'know with vocals and melodies in some time. Its a testament to the beautiful construction of this album, that I don't even particularly notice the absence of Sufjan's vocals. I am just looking around the soundscapes for 12 minutes, enjoying it and fascinated by every second.
As for "Moon", its got this little prominent percussion, like little clicks throughout which is so fun. It's like a little, hyperactive creature, giving off the occasional beep. The synths create stunning melodies with a nice tinkly (that freakin' word again?!) piano. Sufjan's vocals are nice. Then gone. The real star is that aforementioned little cute creature.
"Pluto". ah, "Pluto". Words can't express how much I love this track. I think its the greatest track I've heard this year. Its so absolutely stunning. The guitar is such brittle ascendancy. The vocals are soft, and cut to the heart of the human soul, the crescendo of the vocals bring tears to my eyes. Then those epic, kinda syrupy synths/"strings" come in and just feel so good . Followed by the horns. This is just such a gorgeous song. This track is to [i]Planetarium[/i] what "An Ending (Ascent)" is to [i]Apollo.[/i] This song should be the proverbial hall of fame of music. I can't fully express how magical this is to me. 4 and a half minutes of musical wonder.
"Kuiper Belt" follows on the heels of "Pluto". And its super cute. I get the idea of the Kuiper Belt while listening. I can "see" the ices zipping around all around me, as symbolized by the little beep sounds and rapidly popping, crackling rhythm. Very well done, gang.
"Black Hole" is scary. And short. I likes it.
"Saturn" is another standout. Its the most radio friendly song here perhaps. The auto tuned vocals are used perfectly. The synths are fascinating and invigorating. Ear candy. And the vocals are so catchy and emotional. The beginning reminds me of a pop song from the 90s. Despite listening to this song about 20 times, I can't place it. That feeling of familiarity continues throughout this song. Then it jumps into pop high gear. Its a beautiful, accessible lil gem.
I don't get much from "In The Beginning". I suppose its a 1:15 audio representation of the beginning of planet earth. Its okay. But it mostly just is a beautiful lil build up to the most ambitious (and close to greatest) track on this album of albums...
..."Earth" is a 15 minute sonic journey. The beginning comes in, and it feels like you're soaring through fog, with brief glimpses of the inception of life, short visions of the gradual rearrangement of the surface of this massive rock we call home. All is not idyllic, for mixed in with the beautiful, come more and more prominently feedbacky distorted sounds. Never "Ugly" or hard on the ears, but disconcerting. This something troublesome brewing here, the music seems to be making clear. Then the wail comes in and drowns all, a state of utter terror, then ah yes, the angelic voice of Sufjan comes in, seeming to document the first arrival of life.
I don't wanna continue the play by play on this song. Its too long, too overpowering. It needs to be experienced. But lets just say the vocals, and instrumentation are all so beautifully composed and built up and up, and express such profound feeling and thought, that I may even possibly call THIS the greatest piece of this album. It's so different than "Pluto". The whole album should be listened to on repeat, but these 2 are the moments of highest divine inspiration.
The shifts throughout "Earth", I can't stress enough, are mindbogglingly inspired and inspiring. This is the kind of track that makes me feel truly revitalized in all artistic pursuit. The guitars are gorgeous, the percussion is so intricate and "right", the way the vocals warp and change from section to section, and the 2 minutes of ambient beauty with its eerily muffled spoken word is excellent and gives one time to take in what you've just heard, before the final song...
Then soft, absolutely gentle piano comes in and marks the majestic "Mercury" (my new theme music). And finally Sufjan comes back like an old friend, no effect on his voice, just singing all whispery, like a galactic nursery rhyme. I reassuring, life-affirming acknowledgemnt of the inate loneliness that mankind feels when taking in something small or something as HUGE as the galaxy. Just pure, plaintive, human emotion to bring this masterpiece home. Simple guitar, simple piano, the simplest of bassline, and Sufjan's vocals, that's all I need, This is a perfect closer to a near-perfect album.
In closing this is my favoite album in years. I truly am in awe of it. The album manages to take in such a huge concept, such an ambitious idea, and just nail it through and through. The 4 people who droive this album managed to express the immensity of the Cosmos by playing in to the strange feeling of smallness and loneliness that can overtake a individual human when he starts really taking in the allness of all.
The lyrics, which I haven't touched upon, are brilliant. They aren't dry, they take in the literal objects and their features that exist Out There, but also quite brilliantly they speak eloquently of mythology in its relationship to man's ancient conception of space and the objects in the sky they've so long wondered about. They are poetic, visually beautiful, nuanced. Sufjan along with being one of the great living musicians, a genius of meoldy and vocalization, is also an other-worldly lyricist.
This album is such a godsend. And its my fave album since at least To Pimp A Butterfly
This is a frustrating album waiting to be reorganized and rearchitected and reimagined into a stellar one. Would definitely see it live in a heartbeat now that we know the level Sufjan elevates his art on the stage w/ the C&L project.
No this is not AOTY, stop overrating Sufjan Stevens.
While there are some standout tracks it's too big and unfocused for it's own good. With tracks that have no point existing other than to fill gaps between stellar ones. A very bloated work. Pretty sure this will get down-voted, but I'm just expressing what I believe.
First listen, and it only has a few standouts. For the most part, this is a cohesive and ambient journey through space that does not rely on specific tracks. It's a little bloated, but besides that, this is a really solid album.
Really interesting, fascinating album that I definitely need to listen to more in order to fully appreciate. It's a little long but there's a lot to like throughout. Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus are a few of the highlights. My biggest complaint is that Sufjan uses an auto-tuned/robotic voice too often but at least it's a creative choice rather than to cover up bad singing, which I can respect. If you're looking for an atmospheric album that will take you on an journey through space, give this a listen!
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