Sufjan Stevens is really a world unto himself. Though he is best known for being a singer-songwriter, having crafted a unique soundworld out of folk, indie rock, and chamber pop elements, Sufjan’s musical horizons extend far beyond that. In the last twenty years or so he has proven to be an artist in the truest sense of the word, embodying a spirit of fearlessness as he frequently ventures into uncharted waters, sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse – that’s up to you. Reflections is precisely such a release, one that sees him not as an indie-folk singer or an electronic artist but as a composer in the contemporary classical tradition.
With the help of esteemed pianists Timo Andres and Conor Hanick, Sufjans has manifested a work of contemporary classical piano music that plays much like a modern retelling of Debussy’s Images. For fans of Sufjan more familiar with Illinois and Carrie and Lowell, this album may seem to come out of the blue, but really he has been up to this sort of thing for a while. In 2019 Sufjan released The Decalogue which was his first release in such a vein, and his first collaboration with pianist Timo Andres.
Sufjan effectively one-ups himself here, adding another piano and another pianist into the mix. Reflections is thoroughly impressionistic in nature – imagine dancers in a world of ice and glass – with contemporary flourishes that are not overbearing and not overly indulgent in atonality or dissonance. The music on Reflections was initially scored as a ballet, and there is a certain rhythmic drive to all the pieces that keeps things from getting too tedious. There is nice emotional variety on display too and when judged solely as a work of contemporary classical music, Sufjan has crafted something truly wonderful. However for fans expecting something more personable, this is not the release you were waiting for.