Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine Are a Musical Match Made in Heaven on 'A Beginner's Mind'
Published Sep 20, 2021Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine each make susurrant music that's rich with heart and striking imagery. De Augustine has released three albums, including his standout 2019 record Tomb, and Stevens has a fulsome back-catalogue that includes everything from Convocations, a 49-track ambient/electronic album released earlier this year, to 2004's lo-fi, banjo-filled folk record Seven Swans. While a pair of singles released in 2020 previewed the duo's sparkling connection, their first collaborative LP, A Beginner's Mind, confirms that they are a musical match made in heaven.
A Beginner's Mind is a collection of folk songs loosely inspired by films the duo have watched together which range from All About Eve to Mad Max. (Their label, Asthmatic Kitty, wrote a handy Twitter thread of all of those movies for those curious, and the musicians were at one point offering a Beginner's Mind "Movie Club Completist Pack," includes a Movie Club ID card, although its purpose is a mystery and the listing has since been removed.)
Fittingly, the album has a dusting of Hollywood glam. "Lady Macbeth in Chains" and "Back to Oz" have a similarly entrancing and sunny groove to them as if they've spent too long under the LA sun, and "The Pillar of Souls" and "Lost in the World" offer the most cinematic points of A Beginner's Mind what with their orchestral waves of melancholy. But lyrically, the album's 14 songs do not burst with screen-ready narratives, nor does listening to the record feel like browsing the racks at Blockbuster (RIP). Instead, the pair's songs are filled with the emotive poetics that they both excel at.
On each song, Stevens and De Augustine exchange parts with ease and nobody ever controls the spotlight. For Stevens fans who may appreciate his spells of electronic-focused experimentations but ultimately miss the heartache that's unique to his folksier material, A Beginner's Mind has what you're looking for. "It's Your Own Body and Mind" has a steady guitar melody that's reminiscent 2015's Carrie & Lowell, as does "Olympus," which also has Stevens and De Augustine perfectly braided together as they sing about love. De Augustine, meanwhile, dazzles as lead vocalist on sprightly songs like "Fictional California."
A Beginner's Mind will not wow you with grand theatrics but it will have you on the edge of your seat nevertheless. In the last breaths of the album's final track "Lacrimae," Stevens and De Augustine come together to quietly ask, "…why must this life be so cruel and shadowed in the gloom?" and then the house lights come on. (Asthmatic Kitty)