Music in Review: “A Beginner’s Mind”

The Winonans music reviewer rates A Beginners Mind 3.5 of 5 stars

The Winonan’s music reviewer rates “A Beginner’s Mind” 3.5 of 5 stars

Matthew Drewry, feature reporter

A Beginners Mind” is a collaborative indie folk effort between Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine.
Sufjan Stevens is an indie titan. With nine solo albums under his belt and a myriad of collaborative albums, Stevens has experimented with nearly every sonic palette under the sun and collected critical acclaim with each subsequent release.
Angelo De Augustine is a California musician signed to Stevens’ “Asthmatic Kitty” record label and has opened for Stevens in the past and featured Stevens on his debut single “Time” for his first studio album “Tomb.” So it is a stylistic mentor-mentee relationship we see on “A Beginners Mind.” In producing the album, the two isolated themselves together for a month and watched movies for a month to craft the themes of the album.
De Augustine and Stevens released the 45-minute “A Beginners Mind” Sep. 24, 2021. It represents a stylistic return to an acoustic format for Stevens after a stint experimenting with electronic styles, and it is beautiful.
This is a soft, peaceful, intimate album, headed up by Stevens’ whispery album supported by the deeper tones of De Augustine and austere, pastoral musical backing that occasionally swell into very grand musical passages that only a composer like Sufjan could summon so effortlessly.
Some of these passages are major, epic highlights like the guitar solo on “Back To Oz”, the vibes and marimba passages on “Pillar of Souls”, and the gorgeous contrast between the simple harmony and guitar and gigantic vocal harmony on the closing track “Lacrimae.”
Beyond the music, the main lyrical themes on many of the tracks all based on movies, and some of them are pretty odd when you think about them deeply, like the title track “Beginner’s Mind” being based on Patrick Schwayze’s character in the heist movie “Point Break” or “You Give Death a Bad Name” being based loosely off of “Night of the Living Dead.” There is also the particularly odd “Silence of The Lambs” perspective laid out in “Cimmerian Shade” where the track is written from the perspective of a character to the director. My favorite track by far was “Olympus”, referencing the 1981 movie “Clash of The Titans” and its roots in the story of Perseus in Greek mythology.
There are even some Biblical themes tucked away in “Murder and Crime” and “(This Is) The Thing.” While these themes are clearly present and very unique, they’re not overbearing and the greatest theme of the album by far is the partnership between De Augustine and Stevens. There are a multitude of moments where it is impossible to tell their vocals apart.
I really enjoyed this album, but there are some definite shortcomings. There a couple songs where the musical climax feels wasted because the writing isn’t there, like on “Lacrimae” or some times where I wish there was a little bit more musical flourish like on “Murder and Crime.” I think as a whole this album would have benefitted from a slightly shorter runtime and potentially an abbreviated tracklist.
As a whole, I think this album appeals to a very specific mood and a specific audience. Much like some of Sufjan’s other music, It could quite easily be relegated to non-notable background music if attention is not paid lyrically or sonically to the nuance of the writing and recording. I think this album deserves an evening off, a nice candle and some high quality speakers or headphones to get the full listening value. I rate “A Beginner’s Mind” 3.5 out of 5 stars.