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Asthmatic Kitty

Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams - Aporia LP

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In his memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back), Jeff Tweedy writes about jamming with his sons, which for him is not just a means of communicating with his kids but his version of tossing the ball back and forth, a casual activity that's also a bonding experience. Sufjan Stevens is a musician with a very different style and perspective than Tweedy, but it just so happens that music is also a key link in the relationship between him and his stepfather, Lowell Brams. Brams shared his love of music with young Sufjan, bought him his first keyboards and recording gear, and co-founded his Asthmatic Kitty label. The two would also pass musical ideas back and forth, with Stevens a key contributor to Brams' 2008 album Music for Insomnia. Over the years, Stevens and Brams would often jam when visits brought them together, and after Brams stepped down from operations at Asthmatic Kitty in 2019, Stevens reworked the hours of recordings into a 43-minute collaborative album called Aporia, with the noodling shaped into songs, though some might feel the word "songs" is used a bit loosely. Stevens and Brams cited vintage new age music and electronic film soundtracks as important inspirations on the music that became Aporia, and that's certainly reflected in the final product; while these sounds are imaginative and often inviting, they play like atmospheric soundscapes rather than the rhythmic and firmly structured compositions that represent Stevens' best-known work. Most of this material is instrumental, and the few tracks that do include vocals push the singing so far down in the mix as to blur any literal meaning. That said, as a guided tour through a sonic netherworld that represents a meeting point between Tangerine Dream, Wendy Carlos, and Mike Oldfield (and maybe a brief glimpse of the Residents' Eskimo), Aporia works; this music is best absorbed as an ambient experience, but the textures are strong enough that it never becomes boring, no matter how inward its gazed may be, and there is a focus and personality here that feels human despite the banks of keyboards and clouds of unfocused sounds. Merriam-Webster defines "aporia" as "a logical impasse or contradiction," but that's not quite how this album sounds or feels; this is sometimes an aural journey through a labyrinth, but it never sounds like the participants are lost, and if Brams has some time on his hands, he could find worse ways to spend it than jamming with his stepson again.