By Alec Warkentin
Easily one of the more ambitious albums of the year, Planetarium is a result of the combined efforts of The National’s Bryce Dessner, classical composer Nico Muhly, critical darling Sufjan Stevens and frequent collaborator James McAllister, in an effort to explore the solar system.
Much like Stevens “50 States” series, the 17-track release features pieces named after various celestial bodies, each meticulously arranged with credit to the classical backgrounds of Dessner and Muhly.
However, the similarities between Planetarium and the collaborators past works, for the most part, stop there.
Over an hour and fifteen minutes, the sordid crew traverse the musical sounds of the galaxy in a craft powered by buzzing ambience, silver-slick orchestration, and Steven’s own interest with autotune adding a pitch-modified madness to his usually placid and ephemeral vocals.
Standout tracks “Jupiter,” “Mars,” and the fifteen-minute-long epic “Earth,” present perhaps the best execution of this undoubtedly strong, if not blissfully experimental and exploratory, album.
The only real gripe about Planetarium could possibly come about due to it’s length, but for something inspired by the ever-expanding universe, anything short and sweet would be an injustice.
A brief example of the scope of Planetarium comes about on “Saturn,” the first track released from Planetarium, which finds the group interpolates Greek mythology and shimmering keys in an electronically-fuelled expressionistic expanse.
In short, Planetarium forgoes formula for ambition, classical for the future, and if any would dare attempt to score the universe, it’s these brave few.4AD, Bryce Dessner, James McAllister, Nico Muhly, Planetarium, Sufjan Stevens