Jul 07, 2021
By Mark Redfern
Photography by Daniel Anum Jasper
Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine have teamed up and announced a new collaborative album together, A Beginner’s Mind, and have shared two songs from it, “Reach Out” and “Olympus.” The former was shared via a VHS-shot video featuring their dogs Joku and Charlie. A Beginner’s Mind is due out September 24 via Asthmatic Kitty. Check out both songs below, followed by the album’s tracklist and cover art.
Stevens is based in New York, De Augustine lives in Thousand Oaks, CA. Both artists are already on Asthmatic Kitty and the album came together during a month long songwriting retreat between the two of them in a friend’s Upstate New York cabin. At the end of each day they’d watch a movie to unwind and the movies started to inform their songwriting, so much so that the songs on A Beginner’s Mind are each loosely based on a film.
A press release describes the album in more detail: “The resulting album is 14 songs (loosely) based on (mostly) popular films—highbrow, lowbrow and everything in between. They wrote in tandem—one person writing a verse, the other a chorus, churning out chord progressions and lyrics willy-nilly, often finishing each other’s sentences in the process. Rigorous editing and rewriting ensued. The results are less a ‘cinematic exegesis’ and more a “rambling philosophical inquiry” that allows the songs to free-associate at will. Plot-points, scene summaries, and leading characters are often displaced by esoteric interpolations that ask the bigger question: what does it mean to be human in a broken world?
“Stevens and De Augustine wrote everything with a deliberate sense of shoshin—the Zen Buddhist concept for which the record is named and an idea that empowered the pair to look for and write about unlikely inspiration without preconceived notions of what a film had to say (The I-Ching and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies also served as incentives along the way). The movies became rhetorical prompts, with the songwriters letting their distinct reactions and creative instincts govern their process. The underlying objective was empathy and openness, absent of judgment: to observe with the eyes of a child.”
For the project’s artwork they commissioned Ghanaian artist Daniel Anum Jasper. In his home country in the late ’80s films were often viewed via mobile cinema screenings out of the back of pickup trucks and were advertised via newly illustrated movie posters, with the artists often given not much information about each film. Jasper was one such artist and was asked to work in this style again. His artwork appears on the cover of both the album and three 7-inches singles from the album.
A Beginner’s Mind Tracklist:
1. Reach Out 3:43
2. Lady Macbeth In Chains 3:42
3. Back To Oz 4:25
4. The Pillar Of Souls 4:04
5. You Give Death A Bad Name 5:11
6. Beginner’s Mind 2:36
7. Olympus 3:07
8. Murder And Crime 3:43
9. (This Is) The Thing 3:13
10. It’s Your Own Body And Mind 2:27
11. Lost In The World 3:20
12. Fictional California 3:03
13. Cimmerian Shade 5:01
14. Lacrimae 2:05